Vail Valley Voices: Shooters aim to improve firarms safety |

Vail Valley Voices: Shooters aim to improve firarms safety

Mathew Bayley
Vail, CO Colorado

In mid-July 2009, a 25-year-old man was accidentally shot and killed by his friend at the South Rampart Shooting Range near Colorado Springs. According to The Gazette Telegraph, he was accidentally shot while he and his friends were unloading their firearms at the end of the day.

Founded in 1990, according to the El Paso County Sheriff it is estimated that 40,000 people use this range safely every year and this is the first shooting accident that has occurred there.

What are the dynamics at play that are likely to cause shooting accidents?

Primarily, there is a disproportional relationship between all gun owners and those who have been trained by truly qualified firearms safety practitioners.

There are generations of men in their teens to their 50s who inherited a rich history of family gun lore. These men grew up hearing hunting stories told by fathers or grandfathers at family gatherings or around the dinner table. Generations of little boys grew up on dreams of someday proving their manhood and worth by emulating these family traditions. When they reached manhood, they inherited their family’s guns and, with them, their family’s heritage.

The one thing they did not receive was any gun training because their fathers moved from the country to the city, joined corporate America and never found the time to pass on gun-handling skills and safety to their sons. I know this to be true because I am such a son and I meet them by the hundreds every year as an NRA instructor.

Over the past two years, citizens by the tens of thousands who have never owned or fired a gun have been buying them off the rack and storing ammunition to the point that finding any in your local gun store or Wal-Mart has become almost impossible. The result is there are millions of new gun owners that do not know the first thing about safe gun handling.

I do want to keep things in perspective. If you divide the total number of accidental shootings by the man-usage hours at shooting ranges around the country over the past 10 years, you have a better chance of being attacked by a great white shark and mauled by a grizzly bear in the same day than being involved in a gun accident at a shooting range.

The vast majority of gun owners appreciate the danger a mishandled firearm represents and practice gun safety to the best of their knowledge. But as a shooting community, we cannot be satisfied with good intention. Unparalleled safety in firearms handling is a fundamental trait of a true master hand or long gunner, and unfortunately, it is almost a lost art. Shooting accidents are man-made disasters. This means they are completely preventable.

At this point, I must qualify this as my opinion. But it is an opinion based on years of first-hand observation of shooters at shooting ranges.

I met a fellow who was complaining about how dangerous another shooter was, who then pointed his gun right at my chest as he put his pistol in his gun case. I attended a regional rife shoot where the average experience with rifles of the participants was, I am guessing, 20 to 30 years, and during the course of the day, I had a rifle pointed at my chest or stomach at least a dozen times.

Now, in each of these instances, the guns appeared to be unloaded and I could see that the breach was open. Nevertheless, that was just bad firearms handling.

In the world of firearms, if you point an empty gun at someone, you will eventually point a loaded gun at someone. Why? Because it is not part of the average shooter’s range protocol to consciously keep the muzzle of his gun under control and pointed away from himself and other people.

In one of the articles about the accident at the South Rampart Shooting Range, the father of the young man who died expressed mystification that his son was there. Until that day, his son had never fired a gun or expressed an interest in shooting of any kind.

This is just conjecture on my part, but it seems that a couple of young men with little to no experience with firearms went out to a shooting range and tried to self-teach each other how to shoot as a fun way to spend a day.

No charges were filed against the young man whose gun went off because after inspection by the CBI, it was found that the gun had a faulty part that would enable it to fire even if a finger was not on the trigger. So what went wrong? The young man was undoubtedly being as careful as he knew how, but the barrel of his gun was pointed at his friend when the gun malfunctioned. If you will point a gun you think is unloaded at someone, someday you will point a loaded gun at someone by accident.

So what are we doing to make shooting sports safer in Eagle County?

The town of Gypsum Shooting Sports Park is already an extremely safe shooting range, but the Eagle Valley Rod and Gun Club located on the premises has commissioned a safety committee to assess and upgrade the shooting-safety protocols rangewide.

On Thursday at 6 p.m., the Minturn Shooters Association is holding its annual spring meeting at the White River National Forest Holy Cross Ranger Station in Minturn. Through an agreement with the Forest Service, the club adopts the Two Elk Shooting Area in Minturn. On the docket will be discussing firearms safety to benefit those who use the Two Elk Shooting Area, probably the most beautiful shooting range in the continental U.S. We will also discuss proposals for improvements of the area to be submitted to the Forest Service for approval, monthly cleanup days and other items existing or prospective members may bring up.

This spring and summer, I will be teaching free firearms-safety programs on a regular basis. You can check the dates at http://www.on or call 949-8121.

You can personally take an NRA shooting class, and take it upon yourselves to learn more gun-handling safety.

At the very least, when you go shooting with your friends, make an agreement to watch each other for good and bad gun-safety technique and be humble enough to give and accept correction with grace.

We can all improve our marksmanship, and we can all improve our firearms safety. I challenge you to care enough about your own safety, the safety of your friends and the safety of those with whom you share a shooting range to make firearms safety the most important skill you practice.

Mathew Bayley is an NRA-certified pistol and self-protection instructor, post-certified defensive tactics instructor, certified rifle instructor, certified range and safety officer and president of the Minturn Shooters Association. The opinions expressed above are solely his own.

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