The range safety lie
Beware of the instructor who tells you to do something or not do something and blanketly cites “range safety” as their reasoning
How often have you heard an instructor respond with “range safety” as their answer to your question? Perhaps you have even been guilty of saying it.
Now, ask yourself this question: Is it true? How much danger is the range in from shooters? The answer is none, but deploying the “range safety” conversation stopper sure does make people sound authoritative. Who would even consider disagreeing when safety is at risk?
The range safety lie is most frequently used by people who are out of their comfort zone; they don’t know exactly what they are doing and/or why they are doing it. It is also used by the lazy and the inept. Dropping the range safety bomb when challenged avoids the need to explain yourself to others; the word “safety” is a get-out-of-explaining free card. It would seem reckless to question anything that has the word safety as its reasoning. Why don’t we move to cover for this drill? “Range safety.” Can I move obliquely back away from my target as I draw and shoot? “No, range safety.” Can I move 3 inches ahead of someone else on the range when they are 50 feet to my left? “No, range safety.”
You get the idea – the range safety lie is an accepted way to end questions, comments and concerns. It is also often absolute nonsense.
Where does the range safety lie let us down?
The relevant safety issue is never the well-being of the range. The real concern is failing to prepare our people and as a result, creating operational risk for them.
Injury and death occur in the real world because people are woefully unprepared for the required task. Building techniques to make the range day easy is like putting duct tape on a punctured car tire. It might look OK when it’s parked up on the range, but it will not hold up to pressure on the road. If your range time consists of slow methodical static test taking, the range will be fine, but your people may not be.
The gap between reality and training is not new.
There is a gaping void between reality and most police firearms training, and this is not a new problem. Through the smoke and mirrors of “range safety” people are anchored in neat orderly lines shooting targets that don’t move, checking boxes that don’t matter, and building skills that aren’t practical. Range performances during static testing pale in comparison to operational police levels of accuracy. Always standing still because of “range safety” is not training. Manipulating magazines in and out of holstered pistols for “range safety” is not training. Shooting slow point-scoring tests is not training.
Almost 200 years ago Charles Random de Bérenger wrote about pistol training for defensive purposes. He said: “Practice to be useful should take place in the situation, and in THE VERY manner, in which the acquired improvement is likely to be called into action.” de Bérenger was particularly disapproving of people who spent time learning how to perform slow displays of accuracy - he deemed that to be irrelevant compared to the speed required for life-saving close quarters pistol shooting. Two hundred years later that slow pointlessness is the standard of what passes for training, and “range safety” is usually the excuse for it.
People safety is the priority
The point of training should be to equip people to prevail in an operational environment. With that reality as the “why,” training content should be aligned with the foundational skills to support that end state.
When teaching people real-world skills, as closely as possible those skills need to be replicated on a range with a live gun. There are, of course, limitations. We cannot shoot live rounds at moving human targets who are simultaneously shooting back at us. We must strike a balance but overly citing safety to compensate for a lack of planning, knowledge and effort is not acceptable.
Ditch the lie and embrace the truth
Step one in rethinking how to plan training is to remove the “range safety” phrase from your vocabulary – it’s never true.
If a reason not to do something is an unmanageable risk to life or limb say exactly that. There is a powerful discovery process in embracing the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. When you start getting right down to explaining specifically what the danger is, you will immediately compel yourself to think the problem through.
If you can figure out why something creates a risk and articulate it in a detailed fashion, a solution is usually not far behind. With a thoughtful approach as to what should be practiced and how, training can be varied and relevant while still prioritizing the safety of your people over all else.
What vs. how
What you teach is as important as how you teach it. As trainers, we owe it to our people and to the future of this profession to do our work well. All too often instructor schools focus on how to replicate a drill with little regard for how to construct and deliver training to others. You may have to search beyond the walls of your organization for guidance on how to design and deliver quality training. Law enforcement is teeming with amazing talented people who want nothing more than to raise the bar. I encourage you to seek out peers, mentors and professional organizations who can show you how to build great training processes. If you are a trainer, you need to ditch the range safety lie; your people’s safety in training and operationally is your responsibility and your priority, always.