June 20, 2020
By Ken Finley
To talk about shooting, we must first talk about safety. I once interviewed for a job as Shooting Sports Director for a summer camp. When asked for my qualifications I didn’t say anything about NRA Instructor, Competitor, FFL Holder, Range Safety Officer, or Gunsmith. I simply told the interviewers I had been running ranges for 40 years and had never had an accident on one of my ranges. I got the job and all the headaches.
First question – What is the function of a firearm? This isn’t a rhetorical question – it is an engineering question. When you ask that question you hear a lot of nonsense like – “A firearm is for killing things” – really? I’ve got a few that are absolute failures then.
The simple truth is firearms are hole punches. That is all. Firearms use an expanding column of gas to move a piston to punch holes. Nothing more, nothing less. Looked at in this sense, firearms are neither good nor evil, but they can be dangerous.
Rule #1: Your responsibility is to make sure the hole is punched where you want it, safely.
I have a poster I keep prominently displayed –
Warning! This equipment has no Brain. Use your own.
In case you think that is obvious, let me tell you a little story. Two of us had set up a range for new junior shooters and we had 15 participants, ages seven to ten. After the safety presentation, I lined them up, walking alongside but not touching a waist-high rope. (Hint: If you tell them to not touch the rope and they can’t keep their fingers off, what do you think will happen if you tell them to not touch the rifle on the firing line?) One of the parents commented, “You keep a pretty tight control over the kids, don’t you.”
I replied that I wasn’t worried about the kids. It was the parents that worried me. The offended parent was standing beside me when I had to call an emergency cease fire because three parents were walking downrange to take pictures of their children as they were shooting. I’ve lost count of the number of times, while youths were downrange changing targets, that I’ve had parents take their young son or daughter to the firing line to show them how to load and unload the rifle they would be shooting next. They were offended when I shouted at them to put it down.
Rule #2: Bring your brain, it is the only reliable safety for the equipment.
The capper was the little boy who refused to keep his hand off the rope, refused to keep his hands off the rifle, and decided listening to safety rules wasn’t as important as running around. The consequence? He sat on a chair just behind the firing line while his friends were shooting. He was not allowed to get up and cause a distraction by running around. Fifteen minutes into the hour a parent walked up and asked when little Timmie was going to be allowed to shoot. I reminded them the rules included failure to listen would result in losing the privilege of shooting. The parent looked at me funny and walked away. A little later, the group leader came up to repeat the question. After receiving the same answer, he looked at me and said “You don’t understand. He has issues.”
“Not. On. My. Range.”
Rule #3: Leave the issues at home.
All the safety rules and posters are useless without following these three rules – Know where the hole will be punched, bring your brain, and leave the issues at home.
One final story. A group planned a weekend shooting event for 65 youth. They camped the entire weekend on a shooting club range. I was the event Range Officer. We spent time going over the rules before we left. I told them I would be Captain Bligh and there was no appeal. Some of the parents were concerned I was too strict. I told them that was okay, we could cancel the event. 65 youth and their parents fired over 6000 rounds of ammunition without a single accidental mis-fire or injury. We shot rifles, pistols, black powder, bows and arrows. No one even had to sit out. Sunday, we gave thanks at an Interfaith service for the beautiful weather, the kindness of the club members who also helped on events, and the parents who came to help out as well. So, I asked the kids if they had fun. The unanimous response was it was the best campout ever. Even the parents and leaders agreed. “So,” I said, “the campout with the strictest rules was also the most fun. Maybe, it is not the rules that take the fun out of an event …” Even the leaders were scratching their heads over that one.