By David Breen and Steven Lemongello, Orlando Sentinel (TNS)
On a visit to Kissimmee, Fla., you can skim the surface of Lake Toho in an airboat, taking in the area’s natural beauty.
At Osceola Pioneer Village, you can check out what life was like for settlers in the late 1800s.
And if those aren’t really your speed, you can shoot zombies in the head with a machine gun.
A real machine gun.
Visitors can pull the trigger at Central Florida’s “first Automatic Adrenaline Attraction” as Machine Gun America has opened this month on the U.S. Highway 192 tourist strip.
The new attraction allows visitors — including children as young as 13 — to fire machine guns and other firearms in a variety of themed environments, from “007” to “Western shootout” to “Gangster Land.”
Customers can sign up ahead of time or choose a package when they arrive.
Fans of The Living Dead can “Brave the zombie apocalypse with the help of fully automatic firearms. Don’t forget, shoot ’em in the head.”
A ladies-only theme is available at “Automatic Divas.”
Wes Doss, an Army and law enforcement veteran, is the attraction’s safety and training director.
He notes that although the concept is new to Central Florida, similar attractions have flourished in Las Vegas.
“While it might seem a little out of the ordinary, these have been enormously successful elsewhere,” Doss said. “The foreign tourists are just massive enthusiasts.”
Many of the staffers are military veterans, and some have moved from Las Vegas to work at the attraction. Among the Vegas transfers is Natasha Schweitzer, who previously worked at attractions such as Battlefield Vegas and Machine Guns Vegas.
She said business was “crazy busy” there, with visitors from the U.S., Europe and elsewhere eager to try out the firearms.
On a recent day, Schweitzer showed visitors around the range, demonstrating the safety measures that have been put in place. Customers wear ear and eye protection on the range at all times. And after an AK-47 lets out its deafening roar and the shell casings start flying, it’s easy to see why.
For a novice, the recoil, the acrid smell of gunpowder and the noise — even filtered through heavy-duty ear protection — come as a surprise.
Gun ranges in Central Florida have made headlines in recent years after a series of suicides. And this summer, an instructor was killed at a range in Arizona when a 9-year-old girl lost control of a fully automatic Uzi she was firing.
At Machine Gun America, no one younger than 13 is allowed on the premises, Doss said. And staff steer younger shooters to firearms that are comparatively easier to handle on an individual basis, he said. And range safety instructors are within arm’s reach of customers on the range at all times, able to step in immediately if needed.
For folks who may not be up for the real thing, military-grade simulators and video games are also available. There’s even a VIP lounge that can be booked for special events.
Pre-registration is available at machinegunamerica.com. “Live fire” experiences start at $99, with simulations starting at $30.
The attraction is housed in a strip mall not far from the U.S. 192 exit off of Interstate 4. It’s next door to a gift shop, and across the street from the shops and rides of Old Town and Fun Spot USA.
The proximity of heavy-duty firepower to other businesses doesn’t present an issue for law enforcement.
“We have no concerns with any business operating in the county as long as all regulations are met,” said Twis Lizasuain, spokeswoman for the Osceola County Sheriff’s Office.
After the newness of the concept wears off, Doss is confident that Machine Gun America will blend into the local attraction landscape.
“It just happens to be a little higher on the adrenaline scale than a gift shop or a miniature golf course.”
Photo: Joe Burbank/Orlando Sentinel/TNS