Steven Lieberman holds up an AR-15 rifle that has been modified for virtual shooting in front of a simulator used at the Artemis Defense Institute in Lake Forest.
ISAAC ARJONILLA, ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER
LAKE FOREST – “Stay back or I’ll shoot her!”
A tall man in a gray hooded sweatshirt, jeans and sneakers pointed a black handgun at the forehead of a blindfolded brunette tied to a kitchen chair.
“Drop the gun! Drop the gun!” Tom Halvert shouted, pulling a Glock 22 from a waistband holster and raising it to chest level.
Halvert’s hands trembled: Pop, pop, pop, pop, pop.
A spray of blood; the woman’s head slumped to her chest.
Halvert slowly re-holstered his Glock, his eyes fixed on the glowing 12-by-8 screen showing the gruesome aftermath of the simulated scenario.
“I knew it was fake, but I was still really nervous,” the Lake Forest resident later said.
Defeating those normal reactions to stress in a combat situation is the idea behind Steven and Sandy Lieberman’s Artemis Defense Institute, an indoor tactical training facility slated to open full-time March 23 in Lake Forest. It is the only such facility in Orange County, according to the Liebermans.
Halvert is among the first civilians to take aim at the simulator screen, traditionally used by law enforcement and the military. While local police are already buzzing about the new facility, ADI’s main intent is to teach civilians “judgmental use of force.”
The simulations place users in scenarios to which they can respond with options including voice commands, pepper spray, Tasers and guns.
ARTEMIS IS BORN
The Liebermans of Aliso Viejo were looking for second careers and had planned to open a gun store when they came across the tactical training simulators sold by Tempe, Ariz.-based VirTra.
Steven Lieberman, a lifelong shooting enthusiast, said he was flabbergasted by the quality of training possible on the virtual ranges – without the risk and expense of live ammunition. He had trained virtually before but found the scenarios one-dimensional and unrealistic, with fake guns that felt like toys.
The couple scheduled a demonstration at VirTra headquarters. VirTra has three simulators: the 100, a single screen; the 180, with three screens; and the ultrarealistic 300, which surrounds shooters with five screens.
“They put me on the 300, and when I was done I had to wring my shirt out. … I looked at Sandy and said: ‘This is the best training tool I’ve ever experienced,'” Steven Lieberman said.
They brought the 100 to Lake Forest in November; the 180 and 300 are set to arrive later this month. Aaron DeCorte, vice president of sales for VirTra, estimates there are only 20 virtual-only facilities open to civilians in the nation.
VIRTUAL VERSUS LIVE
Dubbed “The Lab,” the airy high-ceilinged ADI warehouse is a place for experimentation and mistakes without the risk of injury.
“We want that to happen here so it doesn’t happen out there,” Steven Lieberman said. “So this is the place to experiment; this is the place to try new things; this is the place to learn.”
To stay sharp, shooters should hit a range at least once a week, Steven said. With the cost of the time, targets and ammunition, that can run $30,000 annually, he estimated. A 30-minute lesson on the single -screen simulator at ADI costs $30.
Simulations are based on police officers’ reports. One scenario pits the trainee against a workplace shooter wearing body armor; another puts the user in the place of an officer confronting a pimp harassing a prostitute in a Venice Beach parking lot.
ADI can also film specific simulations for customers interested in practicing to defend specific locations, such as their home or workplace.
The simulations at ADI range from basic marksmanship, where shooters aim to hit objects such as rows of cactus, to live-actor scenarios, such as the hostage-taking narrative.
When faced with a combat situation, people do three things: fight, flee or freeze. “We want to eliminate the ‘freeze,'” Steven Lieberman said.
Combat sends heart rates sky high, which does more than just get adrenaline flowing: It can also distort the senses, play with hearing and sight and affect rational thinking.
ADI’s simulations contribute to “stress inoculation,” reducing the body’s natural reaction to combat, he said. When shooters work through the programs, they are building muscle memory to inure them to the physiological effects of stress.
For the brave, ADI even has a device the wearer places on the back that shoots an electric impulse during a simulation to mimic the sensation of getting hit by an enemy bullet.
In the wake of the December massacre in Newtown, the Liebermans temporarily reconsidered their plans, wondering if opening a firearms facility was the right move.
After hearing news of skyrocketing gun purchases, many likely by people not trained in firearms, they decided to forge ahead.
Steven Lieberman is a self-described Second Amendment proponent, but gun ownership comes with an obligation, he said: “You have the responsibility to train.”
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Q and A with OCSD weapons instructor Dallas Ferrell
Orange County Sheriff’s Department weapons instructor Dallas Ferrell has been training deputies for 10 years at the Katella Training Facility in Orange.
Ferrell, who shoots around 200 to 250 rounds a week during training, said safety is the No. 1 objective and without it no one should own or use a gun.
While the department doesn’t utilize virtual firearms training for its deputies, Ferrell said the method has many benefits, especially for civilians who have no experience.
Q. How often do you keep up with firearms training to stay sharp?
A. Daily. We start every day by doing the same repetitive task associated with safety, and I count that as training. My partner and I check each other’s weapons before we go on the range to make sure they’re safe. We treat every weapon as if it’s loaded at all times, whether we know it’s loaded or not. And you don’t point it at anything you’re not willing to shoot or destroy. We keep the fingers off the trigger until we’re up on the target.
Q. What do you think of virtual firearms training?
I think there’s definitely a place for it in the law enforcement training, or any kind of firearms training, mainly in the training of knowing when to shoot and when not to shoot. Just because you have a gun in your hands and you have a bad buy in front of you, doesn’t mean you’ll shoot him. There are mitigating circumstances, and simulators are good for training in a shoot/don’t shoot situation. When you have a static target, that target isn’t reacting to you or anything. You shoot because the target is there. In a simulator situation, that target is actually reacting with you. That’s the huge advantage of simulator training.
Q. What are the pros and cons of virtual firearms training?
A. Pros: It’s a full immersion into a high-stress situation. You actually get the feel of being in an adversarial situation as opposed to just a static paper target on the range. It makes your stress level go up. Your adrenaline kicks in, which is more like a real thing, if you will. It’s inexpensive. It’s all one scenario that can be used over and over again. If you were to duplicate that under live fire, you’d be firing a lot of ammunition.
Cons: The actual building (up) to that point (of training). The basics have to be taught first and learned first. If you take an untrained person and throw him into a simulator, it’s overkill. You have to build up to it, if you will.
Q. What do you think of training civilians through virtual firearms?
A. Any training of civilians is a good thing. I don’t think there will ever be a substitute of a live, classroom situation. I’m huge on the safety aspect. A lot of civilians will buy a gun and shoot it two or three times, go home and put it away and say, ‘OK. I’m trained. I’m ready.’ There’s a word we use: Perishable skill. If you don’t use it on a regular basis, you lose it.
Q. What are some of the most important tips you have for those who own guns?
A. Know your gun, and memorize and practice the four principles of firearms safety. No. 1. Treat every weapon as if it’s loaded. 2. Don’t ever point it at anything that you’re not willing to shoot or destroy, and that includes the neighbor’s Mercedes. 3. Keep your fingers straight, and off the trigger until you’re up on target and ready to fire. 4. Always be sure of your target and beyond, meaning not just your target there, but what’s behind it. Is a neighbor’s child or someone in the background of whom you’re about to shoot?
If you’re not safe with a gun, you shouldn’t own one. You’ll be more of a threat to your loved ones. The last place you want to get into a gun fight is in your house, because you’re surrounded by your loved ones and bullets go through your wall, including your (own) bullets.
– Mona Shadia, Orange County Register
By SARAH de CRESCENZO/ ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER
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