Monday, February 9, 2009

The largest shooting range in the country is set to open this week in Northern Virginia with a focus on helping residents, members of the military and police officers protect themselves in schools, homes and other real-life situations.

“It is unrealistic for anyone to think you will always be engaging or defending from a fixed position, where someone is just directly in front of you,” said Scott Marquez, president of the Silver Eagle Group Training Facility and Private Club, in Ashburn. “A lot of people in this area and around the country carry a firearm for self-defense, yet have very little training.”

The sprawling, 65,000-square-foot facility includes three firing ranges, a training classroom and “scenario areas,” including a two-story home and spaces designed to look like family rooms or nightclubs with sofas and a pool table.

Mr. Marquez said he conceived the facility after years of traveling to others across the country and asking owners what changes they would make.

“It was good, because as much as I learned about how they operated and what they did - almost everyone had a story about what they would do if they had it to do all over again,” he said. “Gathering that sort of information was extremely valuable.”

As a result, the Northern Virginia facility includes raised baffling so the ceiling and targets in the ranges do not appear too low, wider lanes so shooters don’t feel “squished” against the walls of the ranges and a speaker system that allows officials to talk to every shooter at once or to an individual shooter.

The facility also offers self-defense training for groups and families, and sessions can be conducted in low-light settings or complete darkness.

“You have the right [to a gun], and you want to make sure you have the knowledge and responsibility that goes with it,” Mr. Marquez said.

The scenario rooms are divided by doors, intersections and alleys, which he said is vital to training exercises.

“If you´re not interacting with the interior and the exterior of the structure, then it´s not a realistic training experience,” Mr. Marquez said.

Officials said they can handle any size group and that the facility even includes space for scenarios inside a bus, an airplane, a sport utility vehicle or an 18-wheeler.

They also said the facility is prepared to help customers at every level of experience and offers a variety of training options.

People new to guns are taught with marking rounds, which are similar to paintballs but can be loaded into a real gun.

The facility also has a range of payment options - from day passes to the Founders Package, which includes a complimentary AR-15 style Bushmaster semi-automatic rife, valued at roughly $1,000.

“The Founders Wing is not designed like a normal country club,” Mr. Marquez said. “Most people in this area already have a country club membership. They already have the green carpet and brown chairs, so they don´t need that again. We purposely gave it a different look.”

Besides a pro shop, boardroom, laundry services and coffee bar, the club features custom-made furniture and is decorated in shades of blue and gray.

Mr. Marquez said the club level has a woman’s bathroom in anticipation of female members.

Officials said more than 30 federal agencies have tried the facility, started by a group of three former Secret Service agents in 1979 under the name MVM.

Scott K. York, chairman of the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors, told a business publication the county plans to train its officers there.

Officials also are planning “adventure vacations” at the facility.

Those who attend the grand opening Friday through Sunday, at 44620 Guilford Drive, also will see some of the most advanced environmentally friendly systems at a shooting range.

For example, running water has been installed at the end of the firing ranges to reduce the friction when bullets strike and to carry away the potential harmful lead dust created by the impact.

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