If I had to sum up just how safe the shooting sports are, I would do it in two words: Very safe!
Walking around in downtown Los Angeles, you are more likely to get hurt either by vehicles or other, two-legged critters. Your chances of getting into accident while driving is higher. Heck, you are more likely to hurt yourself in your own home.
We Run a Cold Range
At any given match, we run a “cold range”. This means the only time you are allowed to handle firearms is when it is your turn to shoot, and only under the direction of the range officer (either the guy with the timer calling out commands (“Make ready. Etc.”) and the guy with the clipboard or electronic scoring device, noting down your time and score). At any other time, shooters may only handle their firearms in the designated safe bays, which are small sections on the range cordoned off with railroad ties. Handling of live ammunition in these bays is strictly prohibited.
Once a range has been declared “safe” or “cold” you may no longer touch your firearms. The reason for this is quite simple: People are going downrange to reset targets, such as replace fallen poppers and tape up holes. If you have to work on your gun for any reason, please use your discretion by taking it to a safe bay, asking a range officer first if necessary if you may handle your firearm. We would prefer it if you let the RO know first as he has to take a head count each and every time someone shoots to ensure that everyone is safely uprange.
If you drop your gun, this does not necessarily mean you are disqualified for the day; however, if you dropped it while shooting, you are disqualified for the day. We understand these things happen. Examples of why you might drop your gun include it falling out of your holster as you bend over to pick up brass or your belt slipping off. If it does, do not handle your gun. Get a range officer, and he or she will handle your gun or give you permission to do so. You will still get to shoot, but if you handle your gun without RO supervision, you will be disqualified.
In the case of an off day where we have no live matches at the range, we would still like shooters to unload their firearms when moving from bay to bay and also if someone had to go downrange. If someone wishes to go downrange, you must unload your firearms and leave the actions or cylinders open. Handling of weapons after the range had been declared safe is strictly prohibited. The reason for this is quite simple: How would you feel if someone started handling their firearms (i.e., playing with the sights by pointing it downrange where you are!)?
The “Stop!” Command
Ideally, anyone owns this command, from the RO to the other shooters spectating. If you hear this command, STOP! Someone has noticed a safety issue of some type. This could be a hiker high up on the hill, basically downrange. This could be someone over in the next bay who has climbed up on the hill to reset targets, now visible and in the line of fire from your bay. This could be anything, so please do stop and let the individual who called it take corrective action.
The 180-Rule and DQ’ed
At all our matches, we implement what is called the 180-rule. This is an imaginary plane that extends laterally and longitudinally with respect to “downrange”. If your muzzle breaks this imaginary plane at any time, it is immediately considered a disqualification. We will stop you, ask you to clear your gun, then ask you to come back another day. The rules are there to get you to think about what happened and help you become cognizant of safety. At the end of the day, all our visitors would like to leave with the same number of holes as they started the match with. You are welcomed to stay and watch or come back the next match. All being disqualified means is you cannot shoot in the current match for the rest of the day.
So, let’s say while running a stage a shooter’s muzzle breaks the 180 plane. For example, he runs to the next array but in doing so points the muzzle on the ground and behind him, right back at the RO. He just broke the 180-rule. If a shooter shoots at a target that is a foot behind him by pivoting his waist to shoot that target, that is also breaking the 180-rule.
Despite all the doom and gloom, in most cases the RO will try to call out any potential infractions during the stage walkthrough as well as while the shooter is running a stage. We just want everyone to be safe and have a good time. We also realize that we get new shooters all the time and will try our very best to help them. Note that officially the RO is not allowed to say anything during the course-of-fire. That being said, we will still say something as we just want people to be safe. Just because we say something hardly means you are disqualified for the day, so take corrective action, keep shooting, and have fun!
Discussing gun safety and, “How Does Thee Get Disqualified? Let Me Count the Ways” is always an unpleasant but necessary topic. That being said, it is for these reasons that the shooting sports is among some of the safest, more so than riding a motorcycle or flying. Of course, the margin for error is very low. We also tend to become complacent over time, and it takes just one person getting hurt unnecessarily to jolt us from that complacency. So, just keep safety in the back of your mind, much like you would look both ways before and during a crossing and much as you would constantly check your surroundings as you back your car out of a parking spot. Be conscious rather than paranoid. Most of all, have fun!