Tuesday, August 23, 2005

How Much Safety is too Much?

Have we as a society gotten so safety conscious that we’ve made it impossible to enjoy simple activities like shooting? Yes, shooting has certain dangers, but millions enjoy safe shooting without elaborate safety precautions.

Let me explain what started my rant. I’m a member of a gun club that’s only a three minute drive from home. It’s located in a broad expanse of land and its rifle/handgun ranges have tall berms and behind those is a tall hill. Beyond the hill is a business. No one at that business has ever complained that a round has entered their buildings and parking lots.

The club has become proactive in order to prevent a round from ever leaving a range. Its officers want to be good neighbors and good citizens. That’s a good thing, but any good thing can be taken too far.

Bill and I went shooting on Sunday. Our two goals were to shoot Mr. Completely’s new Postal Match (I’ll post results soon) and to certify on the rifle/handgun range. Once certified we’ll have full access to the range—including a key to open a gate in the fence that secures the range.

Certification meant that we had to take a test and then do a shooting proficiency test (shoot ten rounds on a target, do it safely, and keep them on the paper). That wasn’t so bad. The test was based on the club’s rule book and the range officers wanted to ensure that you knew how to handle a gun safely.

But the officers (well-meaning, capable people and all with a love of shooting) have placed many limitations on the range to make it “safe.” First, all shooting must take place at 25, 50 or 100 yards. If you want to shoot closer, there’s a small range elsewhere that has its own set of rules, and safety features. On the rifle/handgun range you must use provided target stands and your targets must fit inside the wooden frames. The usual IPSC/law enforcement type targets won’t fit the frames limiting you to basic bullseye targets and little else.

There’s no shooting at anything other than paper or cardboard. That means no steel plates or silhouettes. There’s no tactical shooting--you cannot draw from a holster and shoot. Each lane and target frame is numbered and no one can shoot at any target other than the one corresponding to your lane making it impossible to practice El Presidente or other practical gun drills. The club has no “tactical” range elsewhere.

The shooting lanes (about fifteen) are purpose built for your shooting position. If you want to shoot prone, you have to move to a prone position. The same goes for bench rest, sitting, etc. Each shooting “window” is built at a given height depending on shooting position. Each window has a steel baffle that extends four to five feet out in front of it. Your gun must remain under the baffle.

The range walls are filled with crushed rock capable of stopping rifle bullets. In other words, the place is a fort. If there’s ever a zombie attack, I know where I’m heading to make my stand.

I can list more details, but you’re getting the idea. At the range, one must shoot only one way or you take the highway. I’m all for safety, but the range “armor” doesn’t stop an idiot from shooting in a way that a round could leave the range. Granted, it would give the club a legal leg to stand on.

So, here are a few questions for debate: Are we so proactive in making shooting safe that we’re going overboard? Are we limiting gun sports to the point where people are just going into the woods and doing whatever they want? Is this more dangerous than having reasonable rules in place at a dedicated range? Do we risk driving people away from shooting by having such strict rules, certifications, fences, that prevents legitimate gun uses such as any action shooting? Have we really gotten so safety conscious that no risk is the only acceptable choice?

I will continue shooting here and supporting the club, but these limitations make it impossible to hone practical shooting and other skills. I plan to lobby club officers for a safe range where one can shoot action games, use steel plates, and other legitimate gun games.

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