I recently attended my local shooting range’s annual board meeting and an interesting topic was brought up for discussion. There were a number of excellent arguments coming from various perspectives and the gun club board will now decide what their policy will be moving forward. Should it be a “Cold Range” or “Safe Range” policy?
“Cold Range” Policy
Historically, many shooting ranges have had a policy that prior to entering or passing a certain point on their property, all users were supposed to take all of the loaded firearms that were in their vehicle or on their person into a booth with bullet proof walls and unload the guns. After all of their guns were unloaded, they could continue onto the property and the only place that they could load their guns back up was on the firing line when the range was hot. This is commonly called a “cold range policy.” An unloading station is essentially a “portable safe direction” as explained in this video.
“Safe Range” Policy
Many other ranges have had the policy that firearms that are in a holster may remain loaded, and that the only time that any gun may be handled is for personal defense or on the firing line when the range is hot. This is called a “safe range policy.”
It is of course not prudent to follow either of these policies because, “that is the way we have always done it” or because, “those people over there have always done it that way.” Members of our club and the board should be applauded for considering this issue and pro-actively evaluating safe solutions based on the best contemporary contemplations.
Gun club members with a variety of backgrounds weighed in on the issue. Everyone that brought up an argument did so with the intent of helping form a policy that would make things safer. Some members backgrounds were primarily in competitive shooting, others were in self-defense and or firearms training.
A few possible scenarios that were discussed included a person that carries a concealed firearm that arrives at a range to practice with that firearm. The pistol is in a secure holster on their belt and they walk up to the rifle bay to sign the daily sign-in waiver sheet, then walk over to the pistol bay where they will put a target downrange while the range is cold, and then make the firing line “hot.” The person would then remove their pistol from their holster for the first time and unload there defensive carry ammunition and load up their range ammunition and then commence firing.
Some members believed that it would be safer for this person to have pulled into the parking lot, walked over to an unloading station, draw their pistol and unload it, then return it to their holster before walking up to sign-in and then walk over to the pistol bay where they would load the gun when the range was hot.
It has been my observation that many long-time members that are infrequent range users do not adhere to basic safety practices. When they arrive at the range, their gun is fully loaded and in a case or scabbard. They bring their cased gun from the parking lot up to the shooting area in this loaded condition. I think this is a bad idea because unlike holsters, gun cases and scabbards are not designed specifically to prevent the trigger from being accidentally pulled.
Some members talked about previous events in which a person at a shooting range with mental issues would turn their gun on themselves to commit suicide or begin shooting others at the range. This perspective was that human beings have a right to have a tool at the ready at all times in order to defend themselves.
A shooting instructor mentioned several of his experiences with U.S. military veterans with PTSD that remained on the firing line near guns while the instructor walked down range to put up a new target. The instructor suggested a scenario that the person picked up a gun & magazine and started shooting people on the range. With the instructor 30 yards away down range without cover or concealment, he would not have rapid access to a tool of defense. I have considered this scenario as well and believe that there is merit to this argument, though I am not very concerned about it and typically don’t carry a concealed firearm.
One member suggested that range users that are concerned for their safety should be able to draw their unloaded gun, insert a magazine, rack the slide and then defend themselves and others against an attacker. This is a good reminder for me to practice more! I am not as disciplined as I should be in my practice, and I suspect that most people are not as fast at loading magazines and racking slides as they should be. Many concealed carry practitioners only put on one piece of hardware in the morning, their gun holster. This “quick mag draw, insert & rack” suggested solution would require them to also put a mag pouch on their belt. Overall, when I consider taking this argument to it’s logical conclusion beyond a shooting range policy, the idea of CCW holders and law enforcement also keeping their guns unloaded until they need to use them, then drawing, inserting a mag, racking the slide… I do not agree that is is reasonable.
It has been my experience from spending thousands of hours at various shooting ranges over the years, that about 20% (OK, more like 75%) of users do not read posted signs, know that range’s policy or adhere to basic safety practices. This is in part the fault of ranges that have “Safety Rules” that are too wordy and long winded, and are only offered in one format – written word. As shooting ranges develop policies and periodically review, improve and change them, this “human factor” of reality needs to be seriously considered. Rules should be short, sweet & simple. If a rule is not universally known, a system of communicating these rules should be implemented. Videos briefings would be prudent.
Many people bring their firearms to the range in an open fashion and carry their rifle or pistol from the parking lot up to the shooting area without it being enclosed in a case, holster or other container. Many times, the action is closed. I wince, but as a range user, I do not confront everyone unless their safety practices are extremely unsafe. The demographic that I have noted is most unsafe is the one I fit into, middle-aged and older males that have been a member of their gun club for 5+ years and consider themselves “experienced.” Because of their expertise, many incorrectly believe that, “safety briefings might be needed for new shooters, but not for me.”
I have also frequently noticed people doing a show and tell standing by the hatchback of their vehicle in the parking lot. Having a rule saying that all guns should be taken to the unloading station before handling them in the parking lot and prior to doing a show and tell does not seem to me to be likely to be followed and therefore this policy lacks utility. Again, human factor.
If even 2 out of every 10 users are going to ignore a particular rule, then rules made specifically for that 20% of people are not of much use. It is almost as silly as making a law that you cannot shoot a person with a green hat, this is a silly law because there is already a law that you cannot shoot people wearing any color hat. A new rule should only be made if it accomplishes something of use.
The various possible rules that the gun club might adopt, or might have had in the past without member’s knowledge, are designed for the safety of users. It seems wise for policy makers to develop rules that have the highest probability of lowering risk.
At the meeting, members discussed having the policy that all guns on the property should always be unloaded unless the person is on the firing line and the range is hot. This would encourage all range users to assume that other people on the premises would abide by these rules. If any member observed another member in violation, they could notify their new friend of the policy and depending on their personality and social skills, order or cheerfully ask them to comply with the range policy.
A “safety station” like this one is frequently enclosed in a bulletproof booth. This particular ad copy is silly in that they suggest their product will prevent an accidental discharge. Obviously, the way to prevent a discharge is not to touch the trigger. Their device does not prevent a discharge, it simply captures the discharged bullet.
It occurs to me that it is wise to treat all guns as if they were loaded at all times. A gun that is secured in a holster, whether concealed or not, will not discharge a bullet. The gun will only discharge when the trigger is exposed and it is being handled and the trigger is pulled. It does not seem to add any value to handle a loaded gun at the range prior to being on the firing line.
Some range users on both sides of the argument have a worldview that is grounded in the Germanic tradition of “rules” and believe that slowing to 1 mph while passing through an empty intersection is less safe than coming to a complete stop. Others have a worldview based on fluid practicality and general principles.
For those with a strong leaning toward rules, it is unwise to have a rule that will make them a rule-breaker. For example, a person that believes the strict rule to drink exactly eight glasses of water everyday, will feel guilt if they miss even one day of drinking the full eight glasses. This will place them in the category of being a “rule breaker” which is not comfortable for them. I bring this “psychology factor” up to suggest that whatever rule is made should not include any “winks or nods” and should be very clear and direct as to what is expected.
The board of directors that control the shooting range in Jackson Hole have an interesting and important decision to make. None of the input, perceptions or worldviews that have been discussed come from a place of malintent. Everyone agrees that the reason for having any rules of this nature would be to help make things safer at the range and to clarify expectations.
Having considered both options, and taking all arguments mentioned and other issues into consideration, I have come to the conclusion that the safest course of action is to have the following policy:
Shepard Humphries’ Recommended Safe Range Policy elements:
- Range users may only handle guns when the range is hot. A gun in a case, holster or scabbard should not be touched when the range is cold, however a closed case, secured scabbard or retention holster that covers the trigger may be handled.
- Loaded firearms may only be handled on the firing line area between the yellow and red lines and only when the range is hot.
- Firearms in the shooting area behind the yellow line may only be handled when the range is hot and if the action is open. The muzzle must be pointed upward with the muzzle higher than 6 feet off of the ground.
- Any gun on range property that is not on the firing line or in the shooting area should only be handled if that gun is not loaded and the action must be open. Alternatively, the club could have a rule that all guns must always be in a case or holster unless on the firing line. This would include taking it out of a car and carrying it to the shooting area.
- All loaded guns should remain in a holster or case when the range is cold unless there is an emergency.
- At least once every 24 months, ALL range members must watch (or re-watch) the latest Safety & Range Use Briefing Video.
- OPTIONAL: They must then demonstrate understanding through a test administered in the classroom or online with a score of 100%. Upon completion, the agent of the range will certify that member as a Certified Range User (CRU). Any guest of a CRU member may only handle a firearm when under the control (in close physical proximity) of the CRU. Like a driver’s license or Phd, a CRU is issued to an individual, and NOT to a family. CRU’s are authorized and requested to monitor other range users and to advise them when they are outside of range safety standards.
The above could also be more simply stated as:
“Any person that is legally allowed to carry a concealed or open firearm for self-defense reasons is encouraged to do so at the JH Gun Club. These persons/firearms are subject to existing range rules of not handling guns unless the range is hot, and only handling loaded firearms while the range is hot and the handler is on the firing line.”