Austin Rifle Club new member evaluation

In an effort to improve range safety, the Austin Rifle Club now requires all new members to pass a safe gun handling, range etiquette and shooting evaluation, covering the skills necessary to be capable of safe unsupervised practice. New members are evaluated at ARC by an ARC Range Safety Officer. Training from one of the ARC authorized training providers, such as KR Training, can be used as part of the evaluation process.

These are important procedures and concepts every gun owner should know. Unfortunately, my observation in 20+ years of teaching and shooting is that the vast majority of untrained or poorly trained shooters don't understand these topics in sufficient detail, or fall into the trap of thinking that the details described below don't matter when handling an unloaded gun, or don't apply to them because they "have been shooting my whole life" or a dozen other excuses. In my files I have many examples of incidents in which people were injured as a result of negligent gunhandling at shooting ranges and in informal shooting on rural property. Those incidents occurred because someone didn't do one or more of the things discussed below.


Range Rules

Know what the safe directions are and where the firing line is. There are usually other rules as appropriate for the type of shooting done on that berm or shooting area. The 3 universal NRA Gun Safety Rules are

1) Always keep the muzzle pointed in the safest available direction.
2) Always keep your finger off the trigger until ready to shoot.
3) Always keep the gun unloaded until ready to use.

Cold and Hot Ranges

A "cold" range means that the only guns handled are the ones properly presented at the firing line, or shooter's box. All other weapons are unloaded and cased (or holstered), or unloaded and locked open at all other times.

When you come onto a "cold" range, there is a designated unloading area at the entrance. This is specifically for you to unload ANY AND ALL loaded guns you have brought to the range. This includes your duty weapon and/or your concealed carry pistol.

Most commercial shooting ranges and facilities used for shooting competitions are run as "cold" ranges.

A "hot" range means that shooters are allowed to have loaded weapons off the firing line. Typically this means holstered handguns and/or long guns carried on a sling. Many tactical and defensive firearms training classes conducted at the intermediate and advanced level are run as "hot" ranges. but even in the law enforcement, military and private sector training community, beginner classes are still run as "cold" ranges until students demonstrate sufficient safe gun handling skills to be approved to train on a "hot" range.

Muzzle Direction

Know where the designated back stop is, and keep your muzzle that direction at all times. If it's not OK to shoot the ground or into the sky, then "down" and "up" are not safe directions. If it's not OK to shoot the person standing next to you on the firing line, pointing your gun at them as you rack the slide isn't OK either.

Muzzle direction is THE most important gun safety rule. If you screw up and fire a gun when it's pointed in a safe direction, it's embarassing and maybe your ears ring or you have to replace something inanimate that got broke or damaged. If you fail to keep the gun pointed in a safe direction, injury and death can result. If you point a gun at someone and it's not justified as an act of self defense, it could be considered "aggravated assault".

It's NEVER acceptable to point a gun at someone in training, in fun, or as a result of not paying attention to what you are doing. There is no exemption to this rule for an unloaded gun. Treat all guns as if they were loaded at all times.

Trigger Finger

On target, on trigger. Off target, off trigger. It's that simple.

Find a place that is NOT the trigger or the trigger guard on your gun. The frame, the slide, the cylinder, the ejection port will all do. That's where your finger should rest when you are handling your gun. The ONLY time your finger should be on the trigger is when you have the gun aligned with a target you intend to shoot.

Firing Line Concepts

The "backstop" is the big mount of dirt, hillside, or mechanical device at which it is safe to shoot. The safest way to shoot a rifle or a pistol is to have a backstop where the bullet hits at a right angle and is completely stopped.

The "firing line" is a line parallel to the backstop where everyone that is shooting is located. For safety reasons everyone that is firing should be at the same distance from the backstop.

"Downrange" is the direction toward the backstop. "Uprange" is the direction away from the backstop.

If someone is downrange of you (closer to the backstop than you are), you should not handle your gun. The most common safety error untrained shooters commit is handling their gun while others are downrange resetting targets. It doesn't matter if your gun is unloaded and the action is open. It's still unacceptable and unsafe for you to handle it while people are downrange.

Any time you are shooting you need to consider not only where the bullets that hit your intended targets go, but also where your missed shots might go. That includes everything from making sure you aren't damaging the target frames and hangers to making sure you are keeping all your shots in the backstop.

If you are on a range with a 25 yard shooting area, and you want to practice at 7 yards, the safest way to do this is to put your target as close to the backstop as you can, and stand 7 yards from the backstop. That guarantees that any shots that miss the target will still impact the backstop. If you stand at 25 yards from the backstop and you shoot over your target, that bullet continues to go up, and it may fly over the backstop and hit people or property downrange of the backstop. If that occurs, you are criminally and civilly liable for any damage your bullet causes.

Some ranges, for various reasons, do not allow users to redefine a firing line closer to the backstop. If you are on a 25 yard range, practicing targets at 7 yards, and you must use the 25 yard firing line and move the targets closer, mount the targets at a height that there is at least one-third of the backstop visible above the target from your firing position.

The "Cease Fire" command

Anytime you are shooting or handling guns on a range and you hear someone yell "Cease Fire!", you MUST immediately stop shooting, unload your gun, lock it open, set it down or holster it, and step back from the firing line. "Cease Fire" does not mean "in awhile, after I get done firing the last few rounds in my gun". It means NOW.

Anyone can call a "Cease Fire" at any time, if they observe an unsafe situation. Range safety is everyone's responsibility.

Bringing your gun to the firing line

When you arrive at the range, your gun(s) should be in cases, boxes or bags, unloaded. You should know what direction your gun is oriented in the bag, so when you get to the firing line and take your gun out, it will be pointed downrange - not at you or at the person standing next to you on the firing line.

Unloading your gun

You need to know how to unload your gun and be able to do it without help, while keeping the gun pointed in a safe direction. Again, that means pointed into the backstop, not up at the sky, down at the ground, or down the firing line at other people. One of the most common gun safety errors we correct in every class is unsafe muzzle direction when shooters are manipulating the slide of a semiautomatic pistol.

Locking the action open

You need to know how to lock the action of your gun in the open position. It's good range etiquette to leave the action of your gun locked open, ejection port or loading gate easily visible to someone walking down the firing line.

Safe shooting

You need to be able to control where your shots go when you practice. I have, unfortunately, observed untrained shooters practicing at indoor ranges, shooting targets at 3 yards and missing so badly that bullets are hitting the side wall and floor of the range - because the shooter has absolutely no understanding of basic shooting skills. Part of the ARC evaluation is to shoot 5 rounds at a large, close target, and hit it.

Safe reloading

When practicing, you will want to reload your gun with more ammunition. When doing this, the gun must be pointed in a safe direction, with your finger OFF the trigger, touching something that is NOT the trigger (frame, slide, etc.) To pass the ARC evaluation, you will have to demonstrate that you can reload your gun safely.

All done

The evaluation will end with the student unloading their gun, locking the action open, showing the range officer that the gun is unloaded, and then putting the gun back in its bag, box or case, all while keeping the gun in a safe direction. When you put your gun away, the right procedure is to bring the empty container to the firing line, put the gun away and then take the container from the firing line. It is unsafe and incorrect to take the gun from the firing line back to your car or even a few steps uprange (behind other shooters) to put it away.