Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Review - NRA RSO Course 2-20-2016

safety  : freedom from harm or danger, the state of being saf
          : the state of not being dangerous or harmful
          : a place that is free from harm or danger, a safe place

Can I be Frank with you?   (Careful Francine! . . .  sorry, couldn’t resist) Shooting ranges, fire arms and the interaction of one with the other – not to mention hunting activities – are NOT SAFE!!  I’m sure that comes as a complete shock to you.  They are not free “from harm or danger”.  A range – when in use – is not in a “state of not being dangerous or harmful”.  They are NOT A SAFE PLACE!

We forget that.  How many deaths occurred on shooting ranges?  Unknown.  That said, the CDC compiles data on accidental deaths.  Refer to page 41 of the NVSR for 2013 linked below.  Under the row within “Accidents” and “Accidental Discharge of Firearms” you find the following data.

Under 1

There were 505 deaths in 2013 due to the accidental discharge of firearms.  The number of shooting ranges registered with the Nation Shooting Sports Foundation in their “Where to Shoot” app exceeded 7,500 in 2014. 

According to an article published by the Daily Caller in November of 2014 there were between 300-310 million firearms within the us at that point in time.  I suspect the number is substantially higher today. 

Let’s marry a few numbers together then . . . 300,000,000 and 505 accidental deaths due to their unexpected discharge.    Your chance of one of these firearms doing you grave physical harm was .0001683333333333333%

The general inference from this number is that you are relatively safe from grave physical harm caused by firearms within the U.S.

If we try to bring together data on where these accidents happen, 2011 data sited by the NSSF showed of the 606 accidental deaths reported that year, 400 of them happened in the home – 66% were within the home of the gun owner.

Another 41 occurred while hunting . . . leaving 165 unaccounted for.

How many of the remaining 165 accidental deaths that occurred in 2011 occurred on one of the 7,500 shooting ranges?  There is no stat for that.  It pencils out to one death for every 45 ranges. 

At this point, things slide very quickly into pure speculation.  There are 38+ MILLION gun owners in the US owning an in the neighborhood of 300+ MILLION firearms . . . that resulted in 606 accidental deaths in 2011 and 505 accidental deaths 2013.  This gives rise to a simple question . . .

Why aren’t there more?

Given that the object of our discussion – firearms – are inherently dangerous, that they were designed specifically to kill both wild game and humans alike, given that there are hundreds of millions within our borders . . . why aren’t the streets and country side running red with blood?

There’s a simple answer really – legal gun owners aren’t sociopaths.  They don’t take pleasure in the act of killing.  They’re responsible gun owners that handle their firearms in a safe and responsible manner.  And there it is . . . the reason that the use of a firearm for hunting and the shooting sports – as well as self-defense, when compared with a broad range of other activities, is a profoundly safe activity.

There are a number of groups that have lead the way on making shooting a safe activity.  The NRA, the National Shooting Sports Foundation, state lead DNR hunter safety programs, well over 100,000 recognized firearms instructors within the U.S. and all the dedicated dads, moms, grandfathers and grandmothers that take the time to make sure their children can safely handle a firearm.  This truly is a national and a cultural effort that yields a tremendous benefit to our nation.

I’ve taken a lot of words to set the stage here so I can drill down to a specific type of individual whose importance is dismissed all too many times but who, within the world of shooting ranges, is critical in their safe operation.  That would be the Range Safety Officer or RSO.  These are the folks that make sure we seldom . . . and I mean very seldom . . . hear of fatal accidental discharges on the over 7,500 shooting ranges scattered across our country.

This past weekend I had the opportunity to conduct a NRA Range Safety Officer course.  My focus was on scouters since the area council is trying to build our stable of RSOs for the shooting sports with camp season just around the corner.  The class was 50/50 scouters and others interested in becoming a RSO.  Some recently trained new instructors, one fellow looking to help a high school trap team, another couple guys looking to help at ranges in their area that were in need of RSOs.  In other words, all were there with a purpose in mind.  Honestly, that helps more than you can know.

According to the NRA On-Line Catalog – here is a description of the RSO course.

Name:NRA Basic Range Safety Officer Course

Short Description: Develops NRA Certified Range Safety Officers with the knowledge, skills, and attitude essential to organizing, conducting, and supervising safe shooting activities and range operations.

More Details: This course is nine hours long and is conducted in a classroom and at a shooting facility. Range Safety Officer candidates will learn roles and responsibilities of an RSO; Range Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs); range inspection; range rules; range briefings; emergency procedures; and firearm stoppages and malfunctions. Each Range Safety Officer Candidate will receive an RSO Student Study Guide, a Basic Firearm Training Program brochure, an NRA Gun Safety Rules brochure and a Course Evaluation form.

The name simply and clearly explains their job . . . Range Safety.  Period.

There are a number of facets to this, let’s chat a bit about them.

Physical layout and structure:

A range’s safety begins with its physical layout.  A RSO needs to consider/review its physical location with respect to housing, roads, farm fields (at least in Iowa) all while considering what is “down range” as well as outside its other boundaries.

Rear berms and side berms must also be considered for their ability to stop rounds as well as their ability to protect the shooter.

Targets and target stands – from paper to cardboard to steel.  All must be appropriate to the range, be in good working order and be appropriate to the event itself.

Clear areas for observation, positioning gear, loading, well defined firing lines and final areas to clear and/or reload of weapons before the shooter leaves the range must also be provided and be clearly defined.

Prior to any shooting event the RSO must inspect the facility and make sure everything is in good working area.  As is explained in virtually every shooting course I’ve ever attended – the two primary reasons for firearm injuries is ignorance and complacency. The RSO can simply NOT BE IGNORANT of proper range procedures or be COMPLACENT in any way, shape or form.  Facility safety starts with them.

Knowledge of a broad range of firearms:

As you don the RSO cap . . . you become “the guy” or “the gal” who is expected to know all the ins and out of every firearm that walks onto the range while you’re on duty.  Take a moment to breath that it.  Of course the individual range will do a great deal to determine the range of firearms you will need to become familiar with.  On a Boy Scout rifle range the chances of you needing to know how to clear an AK are profoundly slim to none.  Help out with a carbine class . . . and the possibility of you needing to lend a hand with an AK substantially increase.  As a RSO it becomes your responsibility to become knowledgeable with a broad range of firearms – and the guys in the classroom for this particular RSO course had a reasonable depth of handguns, shotguns and rifles.  For those that were focused on the shooting sports for Scouts, they were more than knowledgeable enough with the types of firearms used to fill the RSO square.

Understanding of the individual range’s SOP – Standard Operating Procedure

It is the responsibility of a range’s Chief Range Safety Officer to develop a SOP for the individual range or ranges on a property.  It is the responsibility of the RSO to know, understand and enforce that SOP.  Honestly, this is another area that gets a bit shaky for many ranges.  If you choose to become the RSO for a specific range – make sure a clear SOP is in place and that you become thoroughly familiar with it.

Range Inspections

Things change.  People get sloppy.  Equipment degrades.  Weather happens.  One of the primary duties of a RSO – at least in my mind – is to periodically inspect a range, suggest improvements and to assemble work parties periodically for a range cleanup day.  “Crap” can easily accumulate on a range – broken target stands, shot up targets, spent brass, fallen leaves – the list is virtually endless.  A clean and tidy range lends itself to safer operation.  There is no guarantee . . . but clean shooting lanes, assembly areas and berm areas go a long way towards setting the proper attitude when a new shooter comes to the range.

Range safety briefings

Typically, as part of the process of joining a range, a Range Safety Brief is given.  It covers the rules and expectations of the range for its use and membership.  Each range is slightly different but it has been my experience that many rules are common across the community.  As an RSO it will be your responsibility to know and to be able to deliver these general briefings.

In addition, for events that you are acting as an RSO, you may well be expected to deliver a safety brief for the range, the event, or perhaps a specific stage of the event.  It is your responsibility to clearly understand all aspects of the range, the event or the stage so you can effectively and fully answer any question that may head your way.


You must be a presence, and authority on the range.  If you are there as the RSO for the day – you are THEY GUY, THE GAL that insures all shooters act in a responsible and safe way.  Much of this can be done by being a “presence” or a “force” on the range.  You don’t need to be an asshat . . . but you do need to be in full control of what is going on within the lanes of your range.


You may well know the rules, know the firearms in use, understand the SOP up and down . . . but if you can’t communicate in a clear and concise manner – your day may not end well.  There is a balance between loud, forceful, intimidating . . . and clear, concise and firm.  Find it, work on it and use it.

Emergency Actions

I have been very fortunate.  I’ve been working in and around shooting ranges since 1968.  I’ve never seen any type of catastrophic event on a live fire range.  I consider myself fortunate . . . but there is also a reason why ranges, as a whole, see very few tragedies.  The range operators, the RSO and the CRSO, as well as the individual shooters – take their responsibilities seriously.  That said – there is always . . . ALWAYS . . . the opportunity for things to go sideways in a truly big way.  Mitigating that event will, at least in portion, fall on the shoulders of the RSO.   HAVE A FRICKIN’ PLAN!!!  The absolute worst time to deal with a “holy crap” moment is during the actual moment.  Have addresses, phone numbers well posted on the range.  Assign tasks – medical response, who calls and directs the 911 response, who takes notes, who guides the response team to the area of the mishap, what do those uninvolved do and where do they go?  All of these things need to be determined and briefed before a group steps on to the range.

For “open ranges”, have addresses and contact numbers posted so they are easy to find and use.

Get some type of first aid training.  I’ve chatted about this topic a couple of times.  Basic Red Cross training at a minimum.  Their Wilderness First Aid course will fill the vast amount of squares you want filled on a shooting range.  Or, take one of the many shooter first aid courses that have popped up from a reputable training group.  Bottom line . . . get this training ASAP – lives could truly depend on it.

Inspection and Range Briefings

I am fortunate that at the range I teach at the RSO candidates could inspect and prepare range briefs on an Archery Range, Trapp Range, Rifle Range and Pistol Range.  They formed into 4 separate inspection teams and each team inspect each range.  Each team then prepared an inspection status brief for their assigned range that covered each range in depth along with what they viewed as deficiencies and their suggest course of action to fix the problems.

Once that was complete and all briefings were complete we moved on to the Range Safety briefing.  Again, each team was assigned a range and given 15 minutes to develop a safety briefing.  Once the prep was done, each team presented their briefing in turn.
The purpose of these two briefings was to simply put them in front of the class and have them deliver a brief and then respond to questions.  Your ability as an RSO relies in no little part to your ability to clearly and quickly communicate with shooters on the range.

Finally, the exam and it’s grading.  A 90% is required to pass the course – they all handled that easily

A final wrap-up and their thoughts, ideas and suggestions on how the class went, what they liked and what they thought I could work on ended the day.  Below you see the shiny face of 8 brand new NRA Certified RSOs.  Good job guys.  And, you’ll also have access to some of the other photos I took throughout the course.

Again, congrats guys, it was nice having you in class!

Additional links of interest


  1. The one that always gets me is that I'm supposed to be the instant expert on any gun... Sigh... If I run into a problem gun, the FIRST thing I do is check with other shooters to see if anyone is familiar with them before I start checking other sources.

  2. The one that always gets me is that I'm supposed to be the instant expert on any gun... Sigh... If I run into a problem gun, the FIRST thing I do is check with other shooters to see if anyone is familiar with them before I start checking other sources.

  3. Back to your blog and read a new case.I simply love those who are associated with guns and they must try to make some changes regarding the gun culture. You people can also take help from the MA Gun License to know about the guns and tricks and tips to handle them well so that these type of happenings can be avoided.