EDITORIAL: Being Safe at an Unsafe Range

 Have you ever been at a shooting range where other people are acting in an unsafe manner? What did you do? Was it something you’d do again today or do you think you could have handled it better?  Unsafe practices happen more often at shooting ranges than some of you may think they do.

safety3A while back I wrote a piece about knowing your gun before going to the range. The incident that inspired the article involved two couples who didn’t seem to know anything about the guns they were shooting, and on top of that they didn’t seem to want any help either. Needless to say it was a somewhat freightening situation, and ultimately my wife and I left.

The article sparked a little debate about individual responsibility and the appropriate reaction. Today we hope to explore appropriate avenues for dealing with potentially dangerous situations at a range.

 You can leave

Of course, it’s always within your rights to just pack up and get out of Dodge if you feel something is unsafe at the range. Some outdoor ranges have little or no supervision or staff available to stop potential tomfoolery. If you feel the best thing to do is just to remove yourself from the situation, then do so, because there’s no reason to stick around and risk injury. After all, we aren’t dealing with someone holding a pool cue incorrectly at the next table; we are dealing with someone who is potentially misusing a gun.

You can educate

If you want to educate people about what they are doing dangerously wrong, you of course have that option, too, but keep in mind that they might not want it.  In a situation with no range master, it could be up to all of us to step in and help. If approached correctly, a receptive person will likely listen to a more experienced shooter. The reality, though, is that it may embarrass them and cause unnecessary problems on top of the already obvious ones.

Range-Safety-1Remember that tone and attitude go along way when giving instruction — this goes back to the Golden Rule. Try to respond appropriately and a person will be receptive to the information.

Report them

If you find yourself at a range with staff present, I would consider immediately dropping whatever you were doing and notifying appropriate personnel of a potentially dangerous situation. It isn’t considered tattletale behavior if people can reasonably be killed due to someone’s neglect. Don’t think twice about notifying those in charge if you see something outrageous at the shooting range.

In addition to that, the rules at every single professional range that I’ve been to prefers that the staff help instead of a fellow patron. In their house, it’s their responsibility to enforce safety. Your job is just to be safe.

Lead by example

It probably goes without saying that humans learn from each other, and practicing safe range etiquette yourself is one of the best ways to educate others. It may sound cliché, but safety really does start with you. It’s also very good practice to make sure you are doing things right before calling others out on their mistakes.

1. Wear ear and eye protection – This sounds very simple because we all wear ear and eye protection when shooting … right?  Do you wear protection at all times when at the range, though? There is no way to predict when someone is going to break out their .500-caliber handgun and go to town unexpectedly. My advice is to keep your ears on for the entire range session. If others see you doing that, they may do it, too.

Don't say, "Awww." (Photo credit: Pistol Prowess)

Don’t say, “Awww.” (Photo credit: Pistol Prowess)

2. Leave firearms OPEN when on the bench – It’s really important that those around you know a gun isn’t chambered and ready to go while it’s lying on the bench. Everyone should be able to glance down and see that the firearm is safe. If it’s a revolver, open the cylinder so everyone around can see it’s empty. If it’s a semi-auto, lock the slide back and take the magazine out. If it’s a rifle or a shotgun, make sure the chambers are open and locked back. Also, firearms sitting on the bench should always, always be pointed downrange.

3. Watch that muzzle – Never sweep your gun or point it anywhere but downrange or at the ground. Not only is it extremely unsafe, it makes people highly nervous. Fire your gun at the target and then leave the chamber open and the business end pointed downward when you walk back toward the bench. Anything else is simply and completely unacceptable. If I had a nickel for every new shooter I’ve seen sweep the muzzle, I could probably secure a new Dan Wesson.

4. Be aware! – One of the best possible things you can do at a busy range is to watch everyone else. Know what the people around you are shooting, gauge their experience level, and keep a vigilant eye out for danger. It won’t do you much good to know what to look for if you aren’t even looking.


Certainly these are just basic ideas. Commonsense stuff. We all have a part to play in range safety — for others and for ourselves.

What are your thoughts?

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