Virtual gun range prepares customers for real-life dangers
FORTY FORT, Pa. (AP) — Customers entering REDCON Tactical Simulation Training in Forty Fort never know what to expect when they walk through the door.
They might encounter a bank robbery and hostage situation, home invasion, carjacking or argument between a man and woman that suddenly turns violent. In a split second they have to decide: Should they pull out their pistol and fire?
The scenes are among more than 200 live-action scenarios that play out on a wall-size simulator screen at the recently opened virtual gun range. The crimes depicted are fiction, but the dangers portrayed are very real, said owners Sean Blinn,41, and Tom Husband, 61, both of Forty Fort.
“We put you in the shoes of a police officer and some of the things they have to deal with when making a split-second decision,” Blinn said. “It is essentially a sandbox where you can increase your marksmanship training as well as have fun doing it.”
“You see how quickly something turns from a calm situation to one that’s a threat,” Husband added.
The business, which opened in March at 125 Welles St., is the first privately owned virtual gun range in the state, Blinn said.
A specialized software program offers customers a wide range of scenarios, many of which depict life-threatening situations. Other scenarios are more lighthearted, including a standard shooting range simulation featuring stationary targets and a kid-friendly game that rewards shooters with points for taking out bouncing barrels.
Customers utilize a replica handgun, known as a Shot Indicating Resetting Trigger (SIRT) pistol, that shoots a laser beam at a target — either inanimate or human — that appears on the 150-inch simulator screen. The pistols mimic the feel and sound of a live-fire handgun, including the recoil action.
The “shots” fired register within nanoseconds. If the customer aimed properly the target is knocked down or, in live action scenarios, the actor falls to the ground. For live action scenarios, the software can also initiate a report showing more detailed information on where the “bullet” struck.
Blinn and Husband said they opened the business because they wanted to provide the public an alternative to live-fire ranges in the region.
“You can come in here and you don’t have to worry about the loud noise, you don’t have to worry about accidental discharges,” Blinn said.
The cost is $20 per hour for a single shooter. If two or more people come as a group, the fee is reduced by $5 for the second and other shooters. That’s significantly less than live-fire ranges, which typically charge $18 to $20 per hour plus 15 cents for every round of ammunition fired, Husband said.
The range is open by appointment Monday through Friday, 5:30 to 9 p.m. Walk-ins are welcome Saturday from noon to 9 p.m. and Sunday, noon to 6 p.m.
Most customers are civilians ranging in age from children to senior citizens. Some are attracted to the life-size video game atmosphere the range offers. Others are gun owners who utilize the range for more serious purposes, such as working to improve their marksmanship.
A certified firearms instructor and U.S. Army veteran, Blinn helps experienced shooters hone their skills and guides new shooters on basic shooting principles, including how to hold the pistol, how to position the body and how to use the gun’s site to properly aim.
It’s interesting to see how people react to unexpected situations, Blinn said.
“We put them in a scenario and they either give you a ‘deer in the headlights look’ or they shoot at the wrong time,” Blinn said. “A threat can develop very quickly and you have to decide whether or not to shoot the person. That’s something that has to be practiced over and over and over again.”
On a recent visit, a reporter brandishing a SIRT pistol similar to a 9 mm handgun quickly took out a virtual intruder who attempted to pull a handgun from his back hip when confronted in a garage.
It was a good shot, Husband said, but perhaps a bit premature.
“He could have been pulling a cellphone out,” Husband said.
The business is a part-time venture for the men, who also hold down full-time jobs. Blinn works for the U.S. Marshals Service in Scranton, while Husband works for Golden Technologies in Old Forge.
They invested about $100,000 in the business, which includes the purchase of the SIRT pistols, software and renovations to the building, a former warehouse. So far they’re just about breaking even, Blinn said.
Most of their marketing is through their Facebook page and word of mouth. They’re now working on marketing to the local law enforcement community.
The range won’t replace mandatory training police officers must go through each year to qualify to carry a gun, Blinn said. It can help officers sharpen their skills in reacting to real-life situations depicted in the live action simulations.
“My biggest hope is we can have police organizations start utilizing the facility. That way they can feel comfortable with knocking the dust off those critical skills and reaction when they are actually out on the road and have a subject in front of them and they have to make a split second decision,” Blinn said.
Information from: The Times-Tribune, http://thetimes-tribune.com/