Firearms safety is important, and ranges are wise to take all reasonable measures to make sure that their facilities are safe. Some ranges have a system wherein a red light indicates that the range is hot (active) and that people may handle and fire their guns. For other ranges, a red light means that the range is cold (safe/inactive) and that shooters may go downrange to set up targets. Some ranges have audible signals for when the range is hot or cold, and others run a flag up a pole when the range is either hot or cold.
Bureaucracy makes change difficult in many non-private sporting club shooting complexes, and the best ideas don’t always rise to the top. If they do, they are not expediently acted upon. I hope to offer some of the best ideas that I, and our team of world class instructors, have come up with. I hope that this will help you develop better practices at YOUR range.
Psychology / Human Nature
When designing systems, human error must be taken into consideration. Why do we humans mess things up from time to time?
- We don’t learn / understand
- We forget
- It is too difficult
- It is uncomfortable
- It is embarrassing
- It is too complex
My home range has an excellent policy that shooters must uncase their firearms at the shooting bench, such that muzzles are always pointed downrange. This is communicated to users via signs, however more than 25% of users don’t follow this rule because they don’t know it or understand it. Another range that I teach at has a switch that activates the red light and a very loud siren for 5 seconds. This is to alert other range users that someone is going to go downrange. It is rarely used because it is SOOO loud and annoying that it hurts one’s ears. A third example is my home range’s wonderful policy that when anyone wants to call a non-emergent cease fire, they are to shout, “One minute, One minute please!” This is so that other users may take a last shot or two, knowing that in one minute the range will be made cold. The problem with this is that many users are not alphas by nature, and are too timid and polite to call a “One minute” warning. Rather they stand around waiting for someone else to do it.
A fallacy is that newbies are the problem, however my experience is that the least-safe demographic is primarily respected old timers. This is not only because of complacency, but also because ole Jerry was was of the original founders of the club, and he would throw a fit if he was told he had to attend some safety class right beside beginners. If a wonderful but complex new system was initiated, ole Jerry would complain about it, “Heck boy, we never needed that fancy stuff back in the day, we knew not to shoot each other.”
Ideally, all range users would be required to pass an annual test demonstrating that they know the basic safety rules. Many clubs have limited funding, and the task of administering a test would fall on volunteers who don’t have the time.
A think about human brains that is also worth mentioning is the way in which we learn. If more than one sense is used, the information being communicated sticks much better. For example, when one of my students has their finger on the trigger when it is unsafe, I playfully tap their earmuff, while saying, “Finger off trigger.” This is annoying for them, and they learn MUCH faster than with only verbal reminders. In a similar way, a light bulb being off is a lower level visual communication that a light bulb being on. A light being on accompanied by a sound is an even higher level.
Shooting Range Hot & Cold Lights Best Practices
If I was building a new range with new systems, I would want one color light that means the range is cold, and another color that means it is hot. I would have each change accompanied by a sound that is audible to everyone, but that isn’t annoying. Perhaps a whistle or chirp means the range is going hot and a buzz means that it is going cold. I might even have a recording of, “One minute, One minute until a break please” that played. (Notice the words “cease fire” were not in the warning notice, as those words need to keep their importance, much like the word, “Wolf” out not be cried too frequently.)
Lights would be numerous so that many were visible to each shooter, regardless of where they were looking. This would be easy to devise on a new range, however things are not as easy on ranges that have years of institutional habit in less perfect practices.
See Shepard’s article Firearms Safety Revisited
See coach Jay Cummings article Shooting Competition Disqualifications Pave The Way For Gun Safety
Buy Shepard Humphries and Scott Austin’s book Nomad Rifleman’s Guide to Extreme Long Range Shooting Fun.
By Shepard Humphries (BIO)