I was recently in another state after attending a gunwriter’s event waiting for a flight back to Alaska. I was with a friend who, in addition to other training, offers private shooting lessons. We headed to a range where he was meeting a student, while he explained that the range we were heading to was a great little range, not too busy, great for teaching students.

We arrived at the range, met his students, and were there only a few minutes before some interesting folks showed up. You could’t miss them. There were only four people shooting at the range when they arrived. They wore black tactical pants, pistols and magazines in tactical thigh rigs, black military patrol caps with CRSO embroidered in bright yellow across the front and back, and bright yellow long-sleeved shirts with Safety Officer down the sleeves and NRA Certified Range Safety Officer marked on the front and back of each shirt. They also wore their arrogance for all to see.

The person who owned the range introduced them and said that they were making changes and would have trained volunteer range safeties on site at all times. So far, it sounded pretty good. The RSOs immediately began strutting around making loud, abusive corrections to every shooter.

My friend immediately found that it was impossible for him to continue training his student effectively. Every drill he attempted to teach was stopped by the RSOs who said that the drills were unsafe and questioned where he had ever learned to be an instructor, and most importantly, was he an NRA certified instructor. Now my friend has more real-world experience fighting terrorists in a very elite military unit than most instructors even dream of. He has instructor certifications from several governments and degrees in counter-terrorism and security operations. Next to all of that, an NRA instructor certificate (which he also has) seems superfluous.

The RSOs then began hassling an elderly shooter that was having multiple jams with his pistol. He seemed to be trying to determine whether it was a magazine problem or an ammunition problem, but never discovered the issue because the range Nazis told him his pistol was unsafe and he was about to be kicked off of the range for shooting it.

About this time, another one of my friend’s students showed up. He was a very new shooter (his first time on a live range), and my friend asked me to instruct him. We had just started working when the RSOs pounced.

First, as he began to place his empty, slide-locked-back pistol on the shooting bench, the barrel began wandering to the left. I immediately controlled the muzzle direction before it was an issue and respectfully reminded him to keep his pistol pointed downrange. Suddenly, from my elbow, a range safety was loudly correcting both of us. We continued and the student showed signs of making the same mistake again. Again I immediately corrected him. Again a range safety was yelling, telling me that he would kick me off of his range. They questioned whether I was fit to instruct at all and kept stressing NRA certification. As we continued after the interruption, he was struggling with putting it all together for the first time – drawing, firing, hitting the target, and reholstering, as inexperienced shooters will. There were no safety issues – just a bit of noticeable uncertainty in his actions. The RSO vultures were circling again. This time, they let us know that his reholstering was not smooth enough to be safe, and wanted to know if his belt was a certified holster belt. He said no, it was just a plain leather belt that he wore with his jeans. Not good. No one could shoot on “their” range without a made and advertised for the purpose holster belt, they informed us. We would have to leave the range. I took off my belt, gave it to him, and continued instructing with one hand holding my pants up. Sometime later, one of the RSOs came up and expressed his sympathy for me, saying that he had students just like that guy. Of course, he said it loud enough for the student to hear.

I can say positively that I would never take a new shooter (or anyone else) to that range.

Every instructor and range safety officer in America should have good training. The NRA instructor courses and RSO courses are a standard, and every RSO should take one of these courses. For instructors, further instructor training is recommended, but the NRA courses are a measurable standard and form an excellent base. An NRA training certificate does not make you better than anyone else, though. The student I was instructing that day was a very skilled doctor. He had raised several children to adulthood, and they now had professional careers and children of their own. He is intelligent and affable, and it angered me to hear a younger person disrespect him because he was not yet skilled with a firearm.

If we treat others with arrogance and disrespect, we will wreck their shooting experience and alienate them from shooting activities. Here are some things to think about if you have an opportunity to act as a range safety or instructor, or simply help others to learn to shoot safely:

We don’t need to be drill sergeants.

Don’t yell at people unless it is absolutely necessary to stop an immediate serious safety risk. Don’t treat people like they are stupid or worthless. On a civilian shooting range, we encounter a wide variety of people, from new shooters who are looking for advice to experienced shooting industry members. Treat them all with respect. People don’t respond well to being bullied.

I was once shooting on a military qualification range, and saw a young soldier trying repeatedly to qualify with his weapon. On a practice qualification he shot about 18 out of 40. This lead to attention from one of his NCOs, who began to yell at him and berate him as he tried again and again. His next score was maybe 15, and then progressively down from there. When he finally hit only 6 targets, shooting while his NCO knelt next to him and yelled at him each time he missed, I approached his Platoon leader and requested permission to work with him. The NCO was not happy, but I received permission to work with him for the rest of the day and to let him shoot the qualification the next day with another platoon. I got him calmed down and then started diagnosing his problems and addressing each one. The next morning he qualified with 34 hits out of 40.

Don’t assume that your shooting skill or some training certificate makes you better than someone else.

I remember when I first went to college, there were a large group of students who spent their spare time playing the video game Mortal Kombat. I had little interest in video games, and better things to do with my time. Therefore, I was beneath their notice. I soon realized that they based their social standings and their opinion of and respect for others solely on their skill playing that video game. Ridiculous? Sure, but no more so than a guy who thinks he can treat a doctor like an imbecile simply because the guy happens to have a certificate and a cool tactical RSO uniform.

Help new shooters enjoy their experience.

The number one reason new women shooters give me for being hesitant to go to a range (or a gun store) is the fear of being ridiculed by more experienced male shooters. While very few shooters will actually ridicule a new shooter, there are, unfortunately, a few who do. If inexperienced shooters already have this fear, how do you think they will react to being yelled at by an RSO? Instead of yelling or throwing your weight around, how about helping them learn both safety and shooting techniques?

Range owners or managers also need to think about how the attitude of their personnel, whether employed or volunteers, impacts their reputation.

I live very close to a very nice range facility. I never shoot there. I drive at least 45 minutes away to shoot at different facilities. The last time (several years back) that I shot at the nearby range, I was testing a customer’s pistol-caliber AR upper. I had no sights on it, since i was only testing function, and I was testing several magazines with it. When I began rapid-firing it (necessary to check function of both action and magazines), the guys running the range called cease fire over the loudspeakers and descended upon me in force. I explained that I was test firing an upper, but apparently this was too much for them to comprehend. I was informed several things about myself that were revelations to me. The long version included many words and phrases unfit for publishing, so I will just hit the main points.

  • I was a punk who didn’t care about skill. I just wanted to blow money and send rounds downrange as fast as I could pull the trigger. I didn’t even have sights on the rifle or targets set up.
  • I was the kind of person who causes guns to be banned by giving gun owners a bad name.
  • I was a wannabe who disrespected real soldiers and marines who fought for my freedoms, which I was throwing away by being a punk  who blasted ammo downrange with total disregard for the way I was wrecking the image of gun owners. If I had ever actually been in the military or fought for my country, I would know why my kind of video game wanabe soldier personality type was so offensive to real soldiers. Maybe I was the type who did drugs and drive-by shootings.
  • I was not the kind of person that they wanted on their range. I should go away and never come back, and tell my punk friends not to come back either. I should join the Marine Corps, learn how real men shoot rifles and defend their country, and then I might be welcome on their range again.

There were a lot of things that I wanted to say to them. I wanted to tell them that because of my combat injuries, I was forced to change careers, my children were out of food, and I did not even have the fuel to drive to a more distant range. I desperately needed to get this upper back to a customer so I could get payed and buy some food. I wanted to say that if they had a problem with the way I shot, maybe they should take it up with certain Army sniper instructors who trained me. I wanted to tell them I have never touched drugs, and while I may have been involved in some drive-by shootings, they weren’t in American cities. I wanted to tell them that I spent enough time in hard training of one kind or another that I did not really care to be belittled by some old guys on a range trying to live in their past glory as former Marines.

I did not tell them that though, because they are former Marines (I think – they had USMC hats, anyway) they did serve their country, and by their age I would assume were most likely Korean or Vietnam War veterans. They are also older than I am and I have no idea what they have experienced, accomplished, or learned in their lives. Therefore, I treated them with respect and took their advice. I have never returned to that range, and have since advised hundreds of other shooters to avoid that range. In talking to others, I find that my story is not unique and most others try to avoid shooting on that range when possible.

Think about that story the next time you are tempted to allow the Gestapo to occupy your range.

This article originally appeared on Dylan Saunders’ website, 7.62 Precision.

Image Courtesy of stevendepolo via Flickr

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8 thoughts on “Firing Line Etiquette: Don’t Be a Range Rules Stickler

  1. Sad to say but I have seen this to many times. Hats off to Ben Avery range in Maricopa County Arizona for solving their problems and finding range safety officers who are quiet competent and professional.

  2. I tip my hat to you, Dylan, and how you took the upper road by not saying anything to the “gents” who were giving you a hard time on the range. Sometimes, you just have to keep your mouth shut, especially when it comes to dealing with people who have such a large amount of ego and pride that they’ll do anything to win an argument. I really hope fellow shooters will take this into consideration and have patience with novice shooters. I know that there are shooters out there who are just shooting at the range to waste ammunition and time, but people shouldn’t be so quick to judge. That’s the problem with animosity and intimidating others. Too much snap judgement. Thanks for the article!

  3. I’ve been an instructor and competitive shooter for well over 30 years and I never trust a guy with an arm band. Sadly, a lot of people are drawn into being certified instructors and range officers because they can’t shoot and want status. Same is true with hunter safety instructors. Rather than subject my students to this kind of abuse, I would have left the range.
    There is NEVER a need to shout unless it’s to warn others of a situation that endangers them or it is part of some advanced training program.
    Good instructors sometimes shout at students in defensive drills to elevate tension and attempt to replicate high stress situations but this is never done with new students.

  4. I don’t like ranges because of disrespectful people like you are writing about. I am not an expert in self defense and I know it. But I feel like a do alright with a pistol or rifle. I grew up in the country shooting game for dinner and target shooting in the woods. I learned to shoot practicing on flying bees and bugs.

    1. You’re kidding right? A little sensitive aren’t you? I don’t think he meant any offense to you personally…He used a powerful example to show the great distress these thugs caused to new shooters and his personal sensibiliities…

  5. Really sorry you had those experiences. Talk about someone giving shooters a bad image – the guys who said that about you should look in a mirror. I know something about teaching shooting and about teaching people in general – I am not NRA certified, but I was a rifle, pistol, and shotgun instructor in the Marine Corps and, after I retired from the Corps, for the NM Corrections Department at their Corrections Academy (and I have degrees in education and psychology) and I helped a lot of Marines qualify and many shoot expert, as well as quite a few cadets at the Academy. Bullying people accomplishes very little except distracting them, making them anxious, and making them want to avoid that situation from then on. It’s pretty basic to start with the assumptions that a person has a reasonable amount of intelligence and is doing the best they can based on their level of knowledge and experience. Those guys were not representative of the Marine Corps, not my Corps anyway.

    I would never hesitate to intervene in an unsafe situation – I have a brother who’s paraplegic due to a careless fellow shooter, so I take that issue personally – but again, the right way is to immediately make it safe however is necessary, but with no more force or unpleasantness than necessary, then carefully explain what was wrong and why, and how to do it right. I’ve taught my wife and now-adult children to shoot, and done so in such a way that they enjoy it instead of dreading it as a situation where they’d be belittled and picked apart. We go to a couple of ranges, one private and one run by the city, where thankfully the people in charge are careful but not abusive. We’ve started teaching our grandkids, and the first thing they learned is that they have to have the safety rules memorized before they’ll even get to practice handling an unloaded firearm; but we’re doing it in a positive way, encouraging their interest and recognizing their efforts in learning an important skill.

    Semper Fi!

    J.R. Finley, Captain (Mustang), USMC retired

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