Guns are not toys and they should never be treated as a “fun” thing before they are treated as a very serious and potentially deadly weapon. Despite what the rules may (or may not) be at your local shooting range, it’s always best to prepare for safety to protect yourself and those around you. Most gun accidents involve preventable situations that could’ve been handled better, such as someone forgetting to unload a gun before cleaning it or a child getting their hands on the gun because it’s not stored safely.

Gun accidents at the range do happen, although they’re less frequent than gun accidents out in the world around us. When they do occur, they’re usually the result of poor safety practices or someone who doesn’t have the right training and experience to be shooting in the first place. While most ranges have rules and regulations in place to make sure that this doesn’t become an issue, accidents will always happen. The best thing that you can do is prepare yourself by knowing that you have the right safety knowledge, and more importantly, the right safety equipment, for the shooting range.

Read on to learn all about gun safety, including the four major rules of safe gun use and ownership, as well as what equipment you need for the range and how you can ensure that you have the best time shooting, no matter what your firearm of choice.

Safety First, Always

There is nothing more integral to having an enjoyable time at the shooting range than safety. After all, when you know that you are shooting safely, you can relax and have fun with your target practice, whether you’re doing it for personal enjoyment or you’re trying to improve your aim for personal protection.

There are several different safety elements to consider, starting with proper training, certifications, and knowledge on how to use firearms safely. This can be done in several ways, including through a firearm training class that’s offered in your local area.

There are four primary rules of firearm safety:


  1. Treat every gun as if it were loaded and ready to fire. While you should always unload firearms when they aren’t in use, it’s basic gun safety 101 to treat all guns like they have a bullet left in the chamber. Don’t play with guns or swing them around aimlessly—respect your firearm first and foremost.


  1. Never point your gun at anything (or anyone) you don’t intend to shoot. Again, it’s about respecting your firearm and respecting the power of guns. You should never point your gun at people or items that you aren’t planning to shoot. If you’re at the range, you should always be pointing the gun downrange, and toward the ground if possible.


  1. Keep your finger OFF the trigger until you are ready to take a shot. They call it “trigger finger” for a reason. Don’t become another statistic that just flinched and caused a serious gunshot accident. Stay away from the trigger until you are sure the only thing left to do is take your shot and attempt to hit your target.


  1. Be absolutely sure of your target, as well as anything that may be behind it. Speaking of targets, you need to be sure of yours. This is less of an issue at the range where you are given a specific target for your station but could come into play at an outdoor range or in one of those simulations where you could accidentally shoot the good guys. Especially in the outdoors, you don’t need a ricochet to lead to accidents when it could have been avoided.


Now that we’ve covered those basics, we can get into the details of proper training and other safety considerations when you’re at the shooting range.


Training and Certifications

There are currently no federal laws that require private citizens to be properly safety trained on firearm use before they can purchase a gun or another firearm. However, some states have their own laws that will require gun safety training courses for anyone that wants to carry a firearm or use one in the state.

The states that currently have laws regarding training, certifications, and permits include:

  • California
  • Connecticut
  • Massachusetts
  • Maryland
  • Washington
  • District of Columbia
  • Hawaii (Handguns only)
  • Rhode Island

In the rest of the states, training and certification are suggested and even strongly recommended, especially for those who go to a shooting range, but it is not required by law. Kansas and Alaska don’t require permits, but they do require live firearms training for those who wish to use guns in the state. Make sure that you know the laws, but that you also consider the perks of getting training anyway because it’s more than legal compliance. It’s about learning how to use and respect your firearm properly.


Shooting Range Best Practices

The first best practice for the shooting range, or any shooting activity, is to follow the four major rules listed above. Always keep firearms pointed safely away from people and objects you don’t intend to shoot, treat your gun like it’s always loaded and keep your finger off the trigger, and make sure that you’re familiar with your target and what’s beyond it.

Some other best practices include:

  • Know and follow all the rules of the shooting range that you attend. If you aren’t sure, ask on your first visit to protect yourself and others properly.
  • Listen to the Range Master at all times.
  • Only un-case and re-case your gun at the shooting bench.
  • Keep the safety on until you intend to shoot.
  • Never shoot at hard surfaces or water.
  • Wear ear and eye protection at all times.
  • Take advantage of any training or “how-to” resources offered at your local range.
  • Respect your firearm, your fellow shooters, and your Range staff.

If you’re new to the range, take the time to get acquainted and make yourself feel comfortable before you start shooting. You can even ask about onsite training or lessons that can help you feel more confident in your abilities to hit the target when you’re on the range.

If you notice anyone else not following the rules at the gun range, feel free to say something to the Range Master. The last thing that you want to do is watch someone else cause an accident or give you a live example of the value of listening to the guidelines of the shooting range.

When you are at the range, your barrel should always be pointed downrange. That ensures that even in the event of an accident, it’s less likely that people will be hit by any stray bullets. We talked about that at the beginning with gun safety rules—never point the gun anywhere you don’t intend to shoot. That is an easy way to prevent simple accidents and ensure that you’re not putting other range shooters at risk.


Equipment to Assist with Gun Safety at the Range

In addition to safety practices, you can also find a range of gun range safety equipment that you can use to ensure that you’re even safer when you’re enjoying some target practice or even when you’re doing your firearm safety training course. You’ll want to have a range bag, which is specifically for your shooting gear and that comes with you to the range.

Those who are carrying their own firearms will especially want to have a good range bag. In addition to the firearm(s) and ammunition, the range bag should also include protective eyewear, hearing protection, targets if you need them, your cleaning kit, and anything else you might need while you’re at the range. Other equipment to help with safety and improving your shot is listed below.

Hearing Protection/Headphones

Gun safety is about more than making sure someone doesn’t accidentally get shot. Shooting at a range, especially, creates a lot of noise and echoes, which can be damaging to the ears. Therefore, ear protection is always recommended to ensure that hearing loss or other serious damage to the eardrums doesn’t occur. Noise-canceling headphones and dedicated ear protection headphones designed specifically for shooting will ensure that you don’t damage your hearing or cause other issues with your ears.

Man Pointing Gun in Air While Wearing Headphones

You will want to shop around to learn about the best gun range hearing protection that you can find, including modern electronic headphones and other options. Gunshots are loud. In a closed environment like a shooting range, they’re even louder. Protect your ears, first and always.

Safety Goggles

Another important piece of equipment is a pair of gun range safety glasses. These glasses can be made of plastic or polycarbonate material. For those who wear eyeglasses to correct their vision, an extra pair of larger and more protective safety goggles should still be considered. After all, your glasses are designed to help your eyes see, not protect them. Safety glasses should protect all around your eyes, including the sides.

There are several models on the market today, including some high-end electronics that incorporate safety goggles and headphones in the same unit. However, a simple plastic pair of safety goggles will also go a lot further than you realize if you’re just starting out or setting up your range bag on a budget.

Pair of Safety Goggles

Other Useful Equipment

Although they’re less for safety and more for precision and assistance with your shots, there are some other items that you might want to keep on hand when you’re shooting at the range.

Spotting Scope

A spotting scope is a great tool to help you perfect your long-range target shooting. Also sometimes called a monocular, this is going to magnify the target so that you have an easier time seeing what you are trying to hit. You can find these scopes in a variety of styles and distances, including 100, 300, 1000 yards, and everything in between.

If you can’t afford to purchase a spotting scope, consider renting one or borrowing one from someone that you know until you can justify the expense. As soon as you try it, you’ll see just how much it can benefit your long-range shooting skill.

Guy Looking into Scope on Gun

Range Finder

For competitive and long-range shooting, a rangefinder can also be an asset to have. This can tell you the distance to the target, elevation changes, and other factors to determine how accurate your shot will be based on several different elements. This is a more personalized purchase than a spotting scope but when you find a rangefinder that suits your needs, you’ll quickly see the benefit of having this on hand at the range, whether you’re shooting indoors or out.

The best rangefinder depends on your goals and what kind of money you have to spend, so be sure to explore the options and ask the more experienced shooters that you know for their input on choosing the best solutions.


When You're Safe, Shooting is Always Fun

As any avid shooter will tell you, safety is what makes it so enjoyable to shoot at the range in the first place. Knowing that you have a controlled environment where you can practice your skills or hone your shot makes it easier to improve on specific skills or the use of certain firearms. If you don’t trust that you’re safe, it could be stressful to even be at the range and that will take the fun out of the experience.

Keep these gun safety tips in mind and make sure that you outfit yourself with the right shooting range safety equipment to protect you at all times. When you have the right tools for the job, you’ll be much less worried about what could go wrong. Training can do a lot, but the right safety equipment can do a lot more so make sure that you have both on your side. Most importantly, don’t wait until you get to the range to find out that you’re missing something—prepare now and know going in that you’re ready for whatever the range brings your way.

6 Rules of Firearm Safety at the Range Infographic

Nick Hohman is the President of First Source Wireless. Nick has used his knowledge of tactical headsets to improve communication in the military and public safety. He has attended several communications conferences including the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP), Association of Public Safety Communications Officials (APCO), and International Wireless Communications Expo (IWCE).

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