Retired police officer, veteran opens firearms training academy in Millers Falls

Leon “Lee” Laster of the Western Massachusetts Training & Education Academy runs through a simulator at his Millers Falls business.

Leon “Lee” Laster of the Western Massachusetts Training & Education Academy runs through a simulator at his Millers Falls business. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

Leon “Lee” Laster of the Western Massachusetts Training & Education Academy runs through a simulator at his Millers Falls business.

Leon “Lee” Laster of the Western Massachusetts Training & Education Academy runs through a simulator at his Millers Falls business. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

Leon “Lee” Laster of the Western Massachusetts Training & Education Academy on East Main Street in Millers Falls.

Leon “Lee” Laster of the Western Massachusetts Training & Education Academy on East Main Street in Millers Falls. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

The Western Massachusetts Training & Education Academy on East Main Street in Millers Falls.

The Western Massachusetts Training & Education Academy on East Main Street in Millers Falls. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

By DOMENIC POLI

Staff Writer

Published: 05-09-2024 10:21 AM

MILLERS FALLS — The Western Massachusetts Training & Education Academy offers an array of firearm courses taught by certified instructor and U.S. Marine veteran Leon “Lee” Laster. But you won’t find live ammunition on site.

That’s because the new business at 41A East Main St. uses a state-of-the-art firearms simulator to teach clients in any of its 12 classes.

“It was always a dream,” Laster said inside the 1,400-square-foot space he opened on April 20. “Every skill you learned in here can transfer to the actual live range, with live fire, and do just as well. So this is kind of like a crawl-walk-run type [of] progression.”

A simulator provides benefits like cost savings, as expensive live rounds and range fees are eliminated, and safety, because the environment is free of gun-related injuries or property damage.

The pride and joy of Laster’s new venture is the Ti Outdoors interactive infrared system equipped with 800 firearm scenarios, from marksmanship exercises to de-escalation situations to zombie attacks. Laster’s offerings include courses on safe handling for youth, a women’s-only introduction to handgun basics, and simulated entertainment. There is also a seven-week academy in which participants learn about criminal law, constitutional law and the state’s use-of-force requirements. Clients receive feedback on their performance after each simulation, enabling them to identify areas for improvement and track their progress.

“I wanted to do something to set me aside from everyone else,” Laster said. “There’s a lot of people doing great training around here. My job is not to compete with them — the only competition I’m in is [with] myself. When I look at that guy in the mirror, I’m in competition with him, to be a better person every day.”

Laster, 52, decided to pull the trigger and open his own small business nearly three years after retiring from the Montague Police Department due to medical issues following a 23-year career. He grew up in Cleveland, Ohio, and moved to western Massachusetts in 1995, following two years in the Marine Corps infantry.

“It’s kind of been my passion,” he said of firearms training. “And I noticed that lawmakers have no shortage in making laws but no one’s making a place to educate people. So that was my task. I wanted to educate the public on the rules and regulations and all the things they should know.

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“I’ve always felt in my heart that I was a country boy — always loved being outside, fishing. And this is a perfect place,” added Laster, who is also a carpentry shop paraprofessional at Franklin County Technical School.

He said firearms are tools that serve various purposes — competitive sports, hunting, recreation, and personal protection and home defense.

Laster, a U.S. Concealed Carry Association member, started offering firearms training as a side job in 2006. Having previously trained only his fellow officers, he began teaching a class for people who wanted to obtain a state license to carry a firearm and started hearing everyday citizens’ questions about guns.

“There’s not one basic curriculum for this stuff,” Laster said. “A lot of people are unsure what those rules are, how they apply.”

Call 413-422-1009 to schedule an appointment. A class schedule and pricing information is available at westernmaselfdefense.com. Laster can also be reached at lee_laster@hotmail.com.

Reach Domenic Poli at: dpoli@recorder.com.