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An interactive look at crime and punishment

Room by room, you search the house. Then, in a bedroom, a brunette wearing a tank top points a gun at you. You fire — and a green dot flashes on her body. She falls to the ground.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Room by room, you search the house. Then, in a bedroom, a brunette wearing a tank top points a gun at you. You fire — and a green dot flashes on her body. She falls to the ground.

This video firearms simulation is just one of the exhibits at the new National Museum of Crime and Punishment that allows visitors to step into the shoes of those who enforce the country's laws.

The museum opens Friday, giving tourists the chance to perform an "autopsy" on a bruised dummy or drive a patrol car in a high-speed chase, among many exhibits.

"With most museums you walk and read and walk and read," museum owner John Morgan said. "Here you walk and read and you do, you do, you do. I think that's what is going to differentiate us from other attractions."

Attracting tourists in Washington's now crowded museum scene may prove to be a difficult task.

Crowded landscape
The crime museum, which charges about $18 for adults and $15 for children ages 5 to 11, is likely to face competition from several new entries, including the Newseum and the Madame Tussauds wax museum.

A somewhat similar National Law Enforcement Museum is expected to open nearby, and officials there are closely watching the reception that the crime museum gets from tourists.

And there is always the stalwart and admission-free Smithsonian museums, which may draw Americans cutting back on costly vacations as food and fuel prices spiral upward.

"I think there's an uphill fight for a new museum opening charging that much money and presuming to attract families," said Douglas Frechtling, a tourism studies professor at George Washington University.

"In D.C., it's easy to substitute a free attraction for a paid attraction," he said.

Hands-on to attract youngsters
The crime museum boasts of a number of hands-on exhibits that it believes will draw the crowds. Such interactivity is key for attracting families, Frechtling said.

"Look at the younger generations — they're all experience-oriented," Frechtling said. "If it's not interactive, I can't see it's going to appeal to them."

Last week, crews were working on the museum's exhibits and finishing the studio for Fox's "America's Most Wanted." The museum plans to have the studio open in time, allowing visitors to periodically watch John Walsh host the show.

Morgan, who also owns WonderWorks amusement parks in Florida and Tennessee, said the idea for his newest creation came to him about five years ago, while visiting Alcatraz Island, the notorious former federal prison in San Francisco Bay.

He wanted to tell the nation's story of crime and punishment.

"We as Americans, we as people, have a deep, deep fascination with crime and punishment," he said. "It's the curiosity. It's the unknown. It's just behind the curtain."

Morgan, who also runs an Orlando, Fla., law firm, financed the $21 million crime museum.

Inspiring responsibility, showing consequences
The museum has exhibits, such as one on the colonial era that shows copies of drawings of harsh punishments, such as nailing a person's ears for violating a moral code, and biographies of today's computer hackers and identity thieves.

In a crime prevention section, there are several tips on how to stay safe and report crimes. Parents can have their children's fingerprints copied at the museum and then provide them to authorities if their kids go missing.

There's also a punishment section, which includes a place where visitors can pretend to go through the booking process, mug shot and all. They can stand in the museum's jail cell with a bunk bed and metal toilet.

Morgan said he isn't glorifying crime.

"I think people who come through this attraction will get that at the end of the day you need to be responsible for your actions, there are consequences to your actions, and that crime does not pay," he said.