I remember my first time on the range. If you had access to my internal monologue, it would have gone something like this:

He’s handing me eye protection? These clunky electronic ear muffs make my ears sweat and press on the safety glasses. Firearm secured and empty. Oh, man, I hope I don’t muzzle sweep someone. Do I really need these blasted ear … wow! That was loud. Okay, question answered.

For a new shooter, going to the range for the first time can be scary and maybe even a little intimidating. Everyone else is a competent shooter. They know all the rules. They appear relaxed and comfortable with firearms, and you’re still pretty aware of just how dangerous that pistol is. You’re new. You’ve had instruction, but you have not yet pulled (or as the instructor keeps saying, “pressed”) the trigger. There is a lot to remember — and dreadful consequences if you forget.

But here’s a secret you need to know about all those relaxed shooters on the range: Just because they appear relaxed doesn’t mean they aren’t safety-aware. They have cultivated a safety attitude. And they can help you cultivate one too. The fact is, becoming complacent in gun safety is when you become really dangerous.

Staying Safe on the Range

Range safety begins at the counter when you check in. In addition to selling you range time, ammo and targets, range staff will want you to sign a liability waiver. Some ranges require you to watch a safety video. Shooters new to the range should expect to receive a copy of the range rules. You should already be familiar with the rules of gun safety. But far more importantly, you should ask any questions you have before you go in. Inside a range is noisy, and it is far easier to get the questions answered outside the range. And remember, the only silly question is the one you don’t ask.

When you get inside, that scary person with a holstered pistol, ear protection and eye protection is your Range Safety Officer (RSO). The RSO is there to make sure you don’t accidentally tie Ted Bundy in the body-count competition. He or she will be ensuring that you keep your weapon unloaded until it’s time to use it — and that when you are using it, you’re using it according to the range rules. For example, the RSO will insist that you never point your weapon anywhere but downrange.

The RSO is there to remind you if you have a minor slip-up. Generally, as long as he or she sees you trying to maintain a safe and responsible attitude, the RSO will simply correct your mistakes. But don’t make the mistake of thinking the range is a place to play. You are not John Wick, and acting like you are might get you banned.

Safe Tips for Safe Shooters

Learning some of the fundamentals before going to the range in person may make a new shooter more comfortable. Here are some safety tips for the first-time shooter:

  • Bring electronic ear protection that allows you to hear normal speech but suppresses loud noise. This will enable you to hear the RSO.
  • Bring good ANSI Z87.1 safety glasses to the range. The eyesight you save could be your own.
  • Adjust your safety glasses and hearing protection before you go to the range so all you have to do is put them on.
  • If shooting with a friend, never hand a loaded weapon to a range partner. Always put it down and step back. Let him or her pick it up.
  • Check to ensure you can bring loaded magazines (some ranges require you to load only at the shooting position).
  • Bring a reloading aid to help you load your magazines. Your thumb will thank you.
  • Never bring a loaded pistol into the range. Your action should be open, and your magazine should be removed. Load your pistol only once you are on the firing line.
  • Remember that anyone can call a cease-fire at any time for any reason. Even by mistake. If you see something unsafe, call “CEASE FIRE!” at full volume, quickly, at least three times.
  • When finished shooting, always open your action, remove your magazine and physically check your firearm.

Range time is important to build and practice lifesaving skills. Range time requires a devotion to safety. You are legally responsible for every round you fire.


U.S. Concealed Carry Association eLearning

The USCCA offers online training for Range Safety Officers. If you want to know more about keeping ranges safe, you can do so from the comfort of your own home! The eLearning, which you can find in the USCCA Store, is a training and leadership program that results in certified RSOs being able to plan and manage range operations with a greater focus on safety. By the end of the modules, participants will be able to recognize and use basic range commands, enforce all firearms safety rules, and prepare shooters to safely participate in shooting events.