EAST LYME – If Viking Firearms has their plans approved, the vacant building that formerly housed Bob’s Discount Furniture, just off Interstate 95, will be a shooting range of sorts – but one where real guns and ammunition won’t be allowed.
At the Viking Firearm training center the “firearms” will shoot only infrared lasers at targets displayed on 12-14 foot screens. It’s a concept similar to laser tag, except participants don’t shoot at each other – just targets on screens – and the laser-shooting “facsimilie firearms” made by Texas-based Laser Shot are meant to simulate how actual guns work, CO2-driven recoil and all.
“It’s not far away from laser tag, but it won’t be people running around and chasing each other around walls trying to shoot each other. It’s targets,” East Lyme Police Detective Mark Comeau, one of the owners of the venture, said. “We don’t promote shooting at each other.”
Comeau and Matt Fleisher, president of the Niantic Sportsmen’s Club, say they want their center to be a safe, convenient and cost effective way for people to practice shooting, or just to have fun competing with friends to see who can hit the most targets on their screen. “Competitive socializing,” Comeau called it.
“You could shoot at turkeys on the screen, it could be just regular targets, it could be bouncing balls, pirates on a ship,” Comeau said. “It’s like an upscale arcade in a sense, but this is military-grade equipment that is reduced down to fit this kind of need. You could come here to train and practice shooting, without spending ammunition that is hard to get.”
Comeau, who also teaches firearms training, said the center – which he hopes to have open in April – would offer training rooms where beginners could comfortably learn how to shoot without live ammunition. It would also offer a large, modular room with moveable screens that could be used for more in-depth, scenario-based training for law enforcement.
There won’t be any real guns or ammunition allowed at the center, Comeau said – and there will be metal detectors to make sure nobody brings them into the simulated ranges.
“It has to be safe,” Comeau said. “There cannot be any chance of a mistake.”
The idea first came to Comeau about 8 years ago, but he said technology just wasn’t available or affordable on the scale he envisioned. The technology is still expensive, but the quality has become much better in the past few years, and it’s not like a grainy video game anymore, he said.
“Being a [firearms] trainer and seeing the craziness with ammunition now, the lack of supply and all that’s going on – people still want to train,” Comeau said. “And people aren’t able to, because it’s so expensive to go and pay $1 a round. But you still want to have the practice.”
The screens will allow the center to provide law enforcement training, including training in de-escalation scenarios, Comeau said. They can program different scenarios that will respond to the actions and statements of the person receiving training, and curved screens will allow for an immersive experience, he said. Those simulations can help officers practice talking through a situation so that it doesn’t come to shooting at all, Comeau said.
“It’s interactive,” Fleisher said. “You say something, and the computer says something back to you. And if I’m running it, and I want to change your response, just a click of the mouse and I can instantly change how it’s going to react to what you say.”
Fleisher, a painter by trade, said his job will be to get the former furniture store to look like the upscale center they envision. Fleisher and Comeau said they want to provide a unique attraction to East Lyme, and also to bring life back to the vacant building, in a prime location off Exit 74. The landlord has bought into the idea, and they hope the town will as well.