Guns and Gear

True Story: Tough range safety officers gone berserk

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By Doug Howlett,

I was wrong. I realize that. And I admit it.

Yes, I had technically, though unintentionally, just broken a rule.

It was a slow Sunday afternoon and for most of the shooting session with my wife and her father, we had been the only ones on the private access range.  When I was done shooting, I dropped the empty mag from my .45 and locked the slide open, checking once and then again that the firearm was clear. It was.

Keeping the firearm pointed safely toward the floor, I turned, took the two steps to the cart where my case was lying open and still pointed down, closed the slide and laid it inside. That’s where I messed up.

A moment later, a large guy was tapping on my shoulder, identifying himself as an RSO (a Range Safety Officer) and explaining the scope of his authority. He told me they had cameras rolling at all times at the range and he could go back, look at the video and write me up for any infraction of the rules and bring me before the board. He didn’t realize my father-in-law was the member, and I was simply a guest. I still wasn’t sure of what I had done.

I’m sure veteran public indoor range users reading this are probably shaking their heads. They know where I messed up. That’s right, I hadn’t cased my gun inside the station.

It’s a common rule at many public indoor ranges, which are often crowded, and must ensure firearms are always pointed in a safe direction-near universally downrange. It makes perfect sense, and I should’ve known as much, though I admittedly do most of my shooting on private property, at less crowded outdoor ranges with more space or at events where, while safety remains a priority, shooters are often switching between multiple firearms, either to actually shoot or to take photographs. In most of these situations, shooters aren’t dealing with cased personal guns, but shooting firearms taken from a single table or area behind the line. The times I have shot at more crowded public venues, the only place I had to put stuff was inside the station, so casing and uncasing my handgun in the station was inevitable.

I honestly had never thought about it beyond that. I follow basic safe firearm handling practices by ensuring my gun is unloaded when not on the line and pointed in a safe direction at all times. The RSO’s wife had been watching through an observation window at the rear of the range and alerted her husband. The dude chided me, noting in that moment I laid the gun in the case, it was technically pointed to the rear of the range. I politely listened. I hadn’t cased the gun inside the station, so I made no arguments. I let the guy finish, thanked him for pointing out my mistake and finished cleaning up. We again spoke before I left and enjoyed a cordial conversation. He wasn’t a bad guy.

But Are We Cutting Off Our Nose to Spite Our Face?

As I thought about it later though, had I been checking out the range as a prospective member, the incident might have put me off a little. My treatment hadn’t left me feeling very welcome. I didn’t mind the guy calling me out, but he could’ve done so by simply informing me of what I had done wrong and pointing out why it was an important rule to follow. I would’ve left feeling appreciative and better informed, not feeling like some reckless lug.

You can never be too safe, but spend any time at a range and it’s a good bet we’ve all run into that overzealous RSO who treats his responsibility like he’s running the Gestapo. It’s a put off for sure and the type of intimidating behavior cited as a top reason in a Southwick Associates survey of why three out of four shooters don’t belong to or frequent ranges.

More importantly, it’s a teachable moment lost when a person is made to feel foolish, and quite possibly a chance squandered to make that shooter a safer, supportive member of the shooting community.

While you won’t see this guy on the marketing materials for your local gun club, he’s the reason many shooters don’t want to join or renew, at least one study suggests.

While you won’t see this guy on the marketing materials for your local gun club, he’s the reason many shooters don’t want to join or renew, at least one study suggests.

Has This Happened to You?

What do you think? Safety officers are tasked with keeping the range safe for everyone. It’s a huge responsibility. But does this responsibility always demand gruff action regardless of the infraction or can the response be dialed down to match the situation? Have you had a similar encounter either as a shooter or as an RSO? If so, how was the situation handled? We’d love to get your thoughts.


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