One of the most jarring moments in your career as a shooter is the day that you get a spot correction from a stranger on the range.
It happens to everyone. It SHOULD happen to everyone. If it hasn’t happened to you, it’s because you aren’t spending enough time on the range.
Now, if you’ve been in the military, you’ve had a thundering brown round screaming down at your ear while you’re trying to make the weapon go pew. And police forces do stress training precisely for that reason, so you can operate a firearm while being severely distracted.
But for your average civilian shooter, being corrected in a public and loud fashion is a humiliating and embarrassing experience– except it is not meant to be. It’s not intended to be an attack on your ego, or a threat to your masculinity, or an assault on your competence. The hard truth is that as a gun owner you are going to make mistakes. Hell, my 92 year old grandad was a former State Champion, and the man has zero concept of muzzle awareness. These mistakes might be something comparatively minor, like leaving your finger on the trigger between strings of fire. But they might be something very major, like flagging the firing line. Mistakes are stacking errors. If you make a single mistake with a gun, everyone will probably be all right. But the reason we have redundant safety rules and protocols is because two mistakes with a firearm is often what gets people killed.
Forgetting muzzle awareness is dangerous, but forgetting muzzle awareness with a loaded gun kills people. Assuming a gun is unloaded is very dangerous, but playing with the trigger of an ‘unloaded’ gun kills people.
What allows these mistakes to keep happening are people who refuse to accept criticisms on the range.
One of the things that I emphasize very clearly when teaching new shooters is that I will make corrections. Those corrections will be polite, but firm, and to the point. I emphasize that I don’t do it to shame them but because bad habits are habit forming. I would die of embarrassment if they show up at their next training class, doing something stupid or foolhardy, and can only say ‘That’s how Erik taught me to do it’.
We step it up among my friends and colleagues on the range. If someone makes a safety violation, we holster our weapons and analyze what happened. Everything you do is a teachable moment, particularly the dumb stuff.
Then the offending party takes a punch in the shoulder. Two punches, if you argue with them about it. Because if I make the mistake on the range, odds are good I’m not the one who’ll be injured– it’ll be my buddy in the bay with me. And I take that punch because I accept that it’s a fair tradeoff for my laziness or negligence having potentially threatened my friend.
We don’t hit each other to be mean. We do it to drive home the fact that in a gun-friendly lifestyle, ‘I’m sorry’ doesn’t pull bullets back into the gun. One careless moment can cost a life.
One of the tensest range moments of my life comes to mind. I was at an indoor shooting range in south Idaho. No range officer, so really, there’s no one policing things at all. A kid of around 8 was trying to shoot his Dad’s Glock and while Dad was distracted, he tried to walk off the firing line with a loaded gun. I stopped the kid and told him ‘Son, stay in the bay if you’ve got a gun, please’.
His dad came unglued and rushed me, screaming his head off. On an active gun range, squaring off with a total stranger, he tried to start a fistfight.
He could have handled it much better– “Sir, I appreciate your safety check, and I’ll take it from here.” That would have been the end of it. Hell, I’d have invited him over to play with some of my cool range toys. Instead, dad decided that his ego was more important than teaching his son about gun safety. He took the correction as an attack on his masculinity, on his expertise, on his teaching ability. He only reinforced bad shooting habits in front of his son, and frankly, ran a near risk of getting shot by picking a fight on a firing range. I de-escalated the situation and beat feet, never to return to that range.
His mentality is an all-too-common one, and it’s something that needs to change at a fundamental level in the gun community. We need to make a sincere effort to make safety not just something we nod at, but a routine that we all adhere to. You’ll never see an IPSC, 3-gun, USPSA, or Precision Marksman shooter tell you they’re ‘above’ the safety rules. If you want to be able to make spot corrections on public ranges, you have to be willing to accept spot corrections. That flies at all levels of skill and expertise.
At every match I’ve been at in the Treasure Valley area, when someone makes a correction– be it new shooter, Range Officer, or Match Director– I see something that warms my heart. The offending party stops, thinks about it, then shakes their hand and says ‘Thanks for looking out for me today’. Because that’s really what it takes to keep high-speed shooting sports safe; it’s a willingness to accept criticism constructively.
So next time you’re at the range and you make a mistake, thank the person who calls it to your attention. Even if they’re wrong, even if they’re mistaken, you thank them for being considerate enough to address a concern about safe handling of firearms in a respectful fashion. Turn it into a teachable moment for everyone, and always with a mind for growing the sport and improving safety for everyone involved.
Leave your egos off the range, folks.