Every public place we go has an expectation of what is acceptable behavior. At a nice restaurant we keep our voices low and use our table manners. At church we act respectfully and show reverence. At the park we can be loud and goofy and run around. At the airport we will be going through x-rays, can't carry certain items, and are subject to search if the authorities have reasonable cause. At the grocery store you stay to the right of the aisle with your cart except to pass... oh you weren't aware of that one? At the DMV we stand in line for hours and wait patiently. Ok, that one is a little hard to follow, but you get the point. There are Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) for everywhere we go, it ensures safety and efficiency, it shows respect, it is citizens reaching a common ground of what is publicly appropriate and what is not. There is an "etiquette", if you will, for most public places and many private businesses.
I had the experience of shooting at an indoor range over this last weekend. It was my first time shooting at this particular range but I couldn't help noticing some safety issues during my time there. I won't mention which range this was but having previously worked at two different ranges over several years I've seen some common mistakes made by well-meaning people, and I've also seen some of the craziest scenarios which could have been avoided with a little bit of awareness and education. So I thought it might be helpful to provide some guidelines on what I like to call "Range Etiquette". In my classes I've devoted a section to this very thing because the majority of shooters will find themselves going to gun ranges to practice, and whether they're indoor or outdoor there will always be some basic expectations regarding procedure and safety. Listed below are some of the most important rules to follow when shooting at a range. These "rules" are not always posted at ranges, and some are considered common sense (which I've found too often to be "not-so-common"), but by keeping these in mind and following these guidelines you can help prevent damage or injury not only to yourself, but to others around you.
- Never walk in with an uncased firearm
-Most indoor ranges will cite you immediately and make you leave with it unless you can bring it in to the shop and/or range cased... that is if they don't draw on you first because they think you are holding them up.
- Always keep your finger off the trigger and your action open unless ready to fire
-This means that even when the firearm is at your station or lane(or in the staging area behind the line), if you aren't actively shooting it, or need to walk away for any reason, you should unload the firearm and set it down with the action open.
- When moving your firearm from staging area to firing line keep it pointed down, with the action open and finger off the trigger
-I can't tell you how many times I've been flagged by somebody's muzzle (not knowing if it was loaded) when they were either done shooting and bringing it back to their bag, or when they first arrive and are taking it out of their bag. This mistake, at some ranges, can get you kicked out pretty quickly.
- At your station keep your firearm pointed downrange, at all times, no exceptions.
-I have actually seen a person shoot into the side of their lane barrier (the lane on the other side of it was thankfully empty at the time) because they were trying to clear their firearm or thought it was unloaded. I've seen a 30-06 rifle fired into the ceiling resulting in a sprinkling of drywall, I've seen holes in the benches, and the list goes on... don't point your firearm anywhere but downrange).
- No running or playing near the firing line or set-up area
-Obviously this applies more to children, but I've seen adults messing around right behind the firing line also. Tripping on empty brass, falling into a shooter, or making a sudden sound which can startle a shooter are all just some of the bad things that can result from this. If you bring your kids to the range make sure they behave, this goes for "big" kids too.
- Keep voice low, do not yell or scream (unless you have to call a "Cease Fire")
-If you go to the range often enough you will inevitably have to shoot next to a pair or group of shooters who are amped up and high-fiving and chest bumping and yelling about who shot best... or some similar scenario. As rude and obnoxious as this might be, it can also be dangerous, especially to newer shooters who can be startled more easily causing unintentional damage or injury... to the range or to the offending party.
- Be alert and aware of your surroundings
-If there are shooters being reckless or dangerous it is definitely your duty to address it, even if it is only to alert the staff at the range. If it continues then it is best to leave the situation, your own safety is your responsibility. If you see an emergency, like somebody in front of the firing line or a serious injury, don't be afraid to call a "Cease Fire" if necessary.
Bottom line: If you see something, say something!
- Treat other shooters with respect
-Often times you don't know the person next to you. You won't know their skill level, background, or if they've been in combat or a victim of assault. You don't know if they are learning to protect themselves because of a traumatic experience. You don't know if the lady next to you is nervous and just practicing so that she can feel more confident at home. You don't know if your well-meaning words of advice means she will never shoot again. Maybe they've been shooting for 30 years or maybe they just started a month ago. Don't judge others' intent or their skill, everyone learns at a different pace and for different reasons. For some, it might simply be therapeutic and they aren't looking to be corrected. Whatever the situation, it isn't your place to teach or critique unless the person asks you to.
Be nice, be alert, be respectful, and I'll see you at the range!