Range rules—when too safe makes you unsafe

Have you ever been to a firearms range where you were not allowed to point your gun in the air during reloads?  Well, that can be downright dangerous.

Firearms ranges have restrictions.  I get why.  The big L-word: liability.  I’ve been to both indoor and outdoor ranges that have restrictions.  Most ranges are static.  Although I prefer ranges with movement, I totally understand static ranges.  People walking around could get hurt.

Some ranges have no rapid fire.  Bummer, eh?  But, there may be noise ordinances or they just want it quiet(er?).  Plus, some shooters might not be able to control muzzle climb and walk rounds right up into the roof (assuming there is one) or over a berm.  And we can’t forget that ranges are businesses, so shooting up ammo fast might make shooters leave earlier and, thus, not rent more time.  As we all know, time is money.

Many ranges don’t allow drawing from the holster either.  I can understand that, too.  If I owned a range, I wouldn’t want anyone drawing and shooting unless they went through some training that proved to me they were safe.

But, there’s one range rule that can be downright dangerous.  Not necessarily at the range, but in real world applications.  That rule is against pointing the muzzle in the air during loading and reloading.

When you reload your pistol, your strong arm should be bent and the palm of your shooting hand—the hand holding the gun—should be canted inward.  The muzzle is naturally pointed in the air at about a 45-degree angle and the finger is off the trigger.  This reloading position or area (sometimes referred to as your “work space”) allows you to briefly look at the mag well in order to insert the mag.  It also allows you to keep your eyes up and towards the threat or target.

Now, let’s consider an outdoor, open-sky range.  When the berm isn’t high enough and just beyond the berm is, say, a large building full of people or a parking lot full of cars, there’s a chance that someone might lob a round over the berm at cause injury.  That’s a real scenario and, in fact, I know of two such cases.  And talk about mass chaos once the stray round went flying—just one round at both of these ranges caused damage.  Luckily no one was killed at either.  Unfortunately, in the first scenario, I believe someone’s was hit, and in the second scenario, a guy got shot in the ankle.  Of course, lawyers got involved and a substantial financial settlement was awarded.  Rightly so.

The range policy changes that followed, however, were a knee-jerk reaction in the wrong direction.

In the latter scenario, where the guy got shot in the ankle, the range was relocated.  The new open-sky berm was huge, and nothing was behind the range.  Good move.  But, because of the location no shooters could shoot on the new open-sky range with the huge berm making it a waste of money and a wasted opportunity for new shooters to learn on.  Coincidentally, there was a new, no-blue-sky mandate, essentially forbidding anyone from point their gun towards the “sky” at any time.  Bad move.

A mathematician and engineer who didn’t know anything about bullet ricochets or range development, created the range—you know, the same guy who built the range with the small berm with several buildings and a lot of people in the background.  Bad move.  To make matters worse, the people in charge of the range didn’t understand defensive shooting, even though that’s what they were supposedly teaching. That’s when things got really stupid but I’ll spare you the details.

What followed was this: the new range policy said no shooter could ever point their pistols upwards, indoors or outdoors (they now worried about shooters blasting rounds into the ceiling) and it was heavily enforced.  So shooters at that range were taught to reload with their heads down, which I watched in turn, ingrain some really poor tactics.

The argument was that someone might—might—shoot into the air during a reload.  (A lightning bolt also might zap you, too).  But consider, if someone did shoot a round into the air, however rare the chances of that if they were trained properly, with the new changes it wouldn’t kill or even injure anyone.  However, if that same shooter got into a firefight and needed to reload, there is a much higher chance that they could get killed by taking their eyes off the target or because of their inability to reload quickly because they were taught wrong.

The “train as you fight” concept was completely rattled.  Suffice it to say, muzzle control is essential.  No shooter should put their finger on the trigger and point in the air or over the berm.  Duh.  But, it’s also foolish that a range is in an area where the backstop isn’t sufficient to stop rounds.  And by backstop, I also mean whatever’s on the other side of the berm.  If you want to train, train right.

In the real world, firefights are dynamic.  People move. You should move.  Standing still can get you killed.  In the real world, no one’s restricted to one or two shots.  Rapid fire is welcomed and encouraged.  Shoot until the threat has stopped, right?  While shooters may not be able to do that at some ranges, understandingly, if the range doesn’t allow you to reload the right way, buyers beware.  In real life, you’d better practice the way you fight because when all else fails, you’ll fall back on what you’ve been trained to do—even if it’s the wrong thing.

The views and opinions expressed in this editorial are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the position of Guns.com.

Safety warning: Jeffrey Denning is a long time professional in the art of self-defense and any training methods or information he describes in his articles are intended to be put into practice only by serious shooters with proper training.  Please read, but do not attempt anything posted here without first seeking out proper training.