November 25. 2012 6:24PM

Contractor and ex-cop team up to open gun shop

Union Leader Correspondent

Chris Chronopoulos, left, director of Blackwater Firearms, and Dan Whitman, a manager at the store, pose before a wall of assault rifles available for rent. The new Hudson store will feature a "live fire" range in a full-sized semi trailer. (SIMON RIOS PHOTO)
HUDSON - When a successful local builder teamed up with a former SWAT team member in a business venture, it was almost guaranteed that the outcome would be big - and high caliber.

Steve Desjardins is the contractor, and Chris Chronopoulos is the former cop. Together they formed the state's latest gun shop, Blackwater Firearms Co., and they're bringing something to New Hampshire gun enthusiasts that is sure to cause a bang - a live fire trailer where shooters can simulate warfare.

Chronopoulos was planning for a shop of his own before crossing paths with Desjardins, who was introduced to him by a mutual friend in 2011.

"We started talking about a training facility and some guns and he says, 'Yeah,'" he said. "We hooked up, and we had the same interests, and we just kicked it from there."

Chronopoulos brought the tactical and law enforcement knowledge to the table while Desjardins had the space and knew about purchasing guns. Desjardins owned Pelham Firearms, which was dissolved when Blackwater was established. The new store, which opens Dec. 15, is located at 13 River Road in Hudson. It shares a building with Desjardins' construction company.

Blackwater doesn't claim to have the largest arsenal in the state. But Chronopoulos says it's the only gun shop with a trailer out back where customers can shoot to their hearts' content.

The steel-ensconced semi-trailer is outfitted by Laser Shot, a Texas-based company that develops and manufactures firearms simulator systems and live-fire training facilities. Chronopoulos said the trailers are used on aircraft carriers by the U.S. military, and by law enforcement agencies including the Middlesex County Sheriff's Department in Massachusetts.

He said Blackwater is one of the first to open for civilian use.

The range is 34 feet long with ballistic rubber walls and a bullet-absorbing, 8-by-8-foot screen at the end. At the front of the trailer, sectioned off from the range, a computer operator offers the shooter a range of targets or video game-style scenarios.

Shooters can opt for laser guns, CO2 guns, or real guns ranging from .22 to .308 caliber. "If we have a female or any type of person who's not too familiar with a weapon system," laser guns can be used, Chronopoulos said. The lasers (and bullets) are interfaced through a thermal imaging camera to the software.

Before moving on to real guns, shooters can move from lasers to CO2 weapons. "It sounds like it's doing the actual cycling of the weapon, but it's just shooting a laser with a CO2 blast, so it feels like you're shooting. And then we move them up to a real firearm, right inside here."

The shooting is a mix between the video game "Call of Duty" and an indoor shooting lane. Shooters can engage in combat with digital "bad guys," choosing from a variety of enemies.

Though he wouldn't give an exact figure, Chronopoulos said the trailer cost between $300,000 and $500,000. Users rent the trailer for $1 a minute, and can either rent guns (between $20 and $40) or bring their own. Ammunition must be purchased at the store.

In terms of weaponry, the store will have offerings for gunners of all stripes, from the hunter to the skeet-shooter to the home defense guru and beyond. Blackwater is considering adding hunting bows to the lineup as well.

Most guns for sale are available for a $20 rental fee to "try before you buy."

Chronopoulos estimated that once it's fully stocked, the shop will carry about $1.5 million in firearms inventory.

Blackwater is a Class 3 dealer, authorized to sell fully automatic weapons such as M-16, MP5 and Kalashnikov variants. Owning a machine gun requires a $200 tax stamp - in addition to the price of the weapon, which can run between $15,000 and $30,000 and must be of pre-1986 vintage - and a Class 3 license through the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms. Or customers can rent an automatic rifle at Blackwater for $40 plus the cost of ammo.

Blackwater will also offer classes by NRA-certified instructor Edward Hammersley of Tewksbury, Mass. National Rifle Association courses range from basic pistol operation to shotgun to muzzle loader to turkey and deer hunting. Armors courses will also be available, including courses on the workings of the AR-15 and AK-47 assault rifles.

"We're here to teach safety," Chronopoulos said, "because enough people out there think guns are a bad thing, but it's a great sport for some people.They love it."

"We're not a bunch of running around, gun-toting crazy people. We're here to educate, because a good educated person and a firearm is the best person you want."

In addition to the trailer, Blackwater aims to construct a 100-foot indoor range to expand its offerings.

The facility is located about a half-mile from Pete's Gun and Tackle, Hudson's decades long mainstay for guns and ammo. Mike Goyette, the store's owner, appeared before the Planning Board in early 2012 to raise issues surrounding the establishment, Chronopoulos said.

Though he was unavailable for comment, Goyette has taken steps toward opening a firing range at his shop.

Blackwater is awaiting approval by Hudson's planning board to open the live fire trailer to the public.