True Story: Tough Range Safety Officers Gone Berserk

Exposed: Overzealous Range Safety Officers

Have you ever had the pleasure of meeting Mr. Overzealous Range Safety Officer?

I was wrong. I realize that. And I admit it.

Yes, I had technically, though unintentionally, just broken a rule.

It was a slow Sunday afternoon and for most of the shooting session with my wife and her father, we had been the only ones on the private access range.  When I was done shooting, I dropped the empty mag from my .45 and locked the slide open, checking once and then again that the firearm was clear. It was.

Keeping the firearm pointed safely toward the floor, I turned, took the two steps to the cart where my case was lying open and still pointed down, closed the slide and laid it inside. That’s where I messed up.

A moment later, a large guy was tapping on my shoulder, identifying himself as an RSO (a Range Safety Officer) and explaining the scope of his authority. He told me they had cameras rolling at all times at the range and he could go back, look at the video and write me up for any infraction of the rules and bring me before the board. He didn’t realize my father-in-law was the member, and I was simply a guest. I still wasn’t sure of what I had done.

I’m sure veteran public indoor range users reading this are probably shaking their heads. They know where I messed up. That’s right, I hadn’t cased my gun inside the station.

It’s a common rule at many public indoor ranges, which are often crowded, and must ensure firearms are always pointed in a safe direction-near universally downrange. It makes perfect sense, and I should’ve known as much, though I admittedly do most of my shooting on private property, at less crowded outdoor ranges with more space or at events where, while safety remains a priority, shooters are often switching between multiple firearms, either to actually shoot or to take photographs. In most of these situations, shooters aren’t dealing with cased personal guns, but shooting firearms taken from a single table or area behind the line. The times I have shot at more crowded public venues, the only place I had to put stuff was inside the station, so casing and uncasing my handgun in the station was inevitable.

I honestly had never thought about it beyond that. I follow basic safe firearm handling practices by ensuring my gun is unloaded when not on the line and pointed in a safe direction at all times. The RSO’s wife had been watching through an observation window at the rear of the range and alerted her husband. The dude chided me, noting in that moment I laid the gun in the case, it was technically pointed to the rear of the range. I politely listened. I hadn’t cased the gun inside the station, so I made no arguments. I let the guy finish, thanked him for pointing out my mistake and finished cleaning up. We again spoke before I left and enjoyed a cordial conversation. He wasn’t a bad guy.

But Are We Cutting Off Our Nose to Spite Our Face?

While you won't see this guy on the marketing materials for your local gun club, he's the reason many shooters don't want to join or renew, at least one study suggests.

While you won’t see this guy on the marketing materials for your local gun club, he’s the reason many shooters don’t want to join or renew, at least one study suggests.

As I thought about it later though, had I been checking out the range as a prospective member, the incident might have put me off a little. My treatment hadn’t left me feeling very welcome. I didn’t mind the guy calling me out, but he could’ve done so by simply informing me of what I had done wrong and pointing out why it was an important rule to follow. I would’ve left feeling appreciative and better informed, not feeling like some reckless lug.

You can never be too safe, but spend any time at a range and it’s a good bet we’ve all run into that overzealous RSO who treats his responsibility like he’s running the Gestapo. It’s a put off for sure and the type of intimidating behavior cited as a top reason in a Southwick Associates survey of why three out of four shooters don’t belong to or frequent ranges.

More importantly, it’s a teachable moment lost when a person is made to feel foolish, and quite possibly a chance squandered to make that shooter a safer, supportive member of the shooting community.

Has This Happened to You?

What do you think? Safety officers are tasked with keeping the range safe for everyone. It’s a huge responsibility. But does this responsibility always demand gruff action regardless of the infraction or can the response be dialed down to match the situation? Have you had a similar encounter either as a shooter or as an RSO? If so, how was the situation handled? We’d love to get your thoughts. Share them on our Facebook page or leave comments below. Some of the best comments will be shared on the Community Page of an upcoming issue of Gun Digest the Magazine. Doug-Sig

76 thoughts on “True Story: Tough Range Safety Officers Gone Berserk

  1. rick108

    Just as a shooter is expected to know and follow the rules, RSOs are expected to act like professionals. Professionals don’t overreact or throw their weight around just because they can. If someone doesn’t follow the rules and makes a mistake, a professional will correct them on it as directly and reasonably as possible. Usually reasonable behavior gets returned in kind. Likewise unreasonable behavior.

    Incompetent shooters and unprofessional RSOs are both bad news and tend to run people off from a range or worse yet discourage a newbie from shooting all together. The shooting sports can’t afford to lose people, just makes it easier for the anti-gun crowd

  2. badmac

    Okay………..Ignorant question that has nothing to do with this topic:

    How do I make the long list of advertisements plastered on the upper right corner of this page go away?
    I don’t see a “close window” for them.

  3. amccann0486

    I’m gonna make this simple. I was a RSO at an up and coming gun range in my community. It wasn’t much but it was a fun place to shoot. We were safe and responsible. The NRA came in to “Help” with the range and “Help” improve it. They built a lot of stuff and went from volunteers to hired RSO’s. They took all the fun out of the range and raised the prices. I quit and built my own range at home and shooting is fun again. It’s not more dangerious or safer just fun.

  4. Proudtexan

    You had your gun pointed in a safe direction? Pointed at a concrete floor? You call that a safe direction?

    I have scars on my lower legs from an idiot pointing his gun “safely toward the floor”, a concrete floor. He was 8-10 feet from where I was. My sister (a former nurse) spent about an hour plucking jacket material out of my shins and dressing them.

    Although I was not there, from your description I do not think the RSO was “Overzealous”. Nor do I think he went “Berserk”. However, if I had been there, as a member or guest, and seen you do that I would have. And I would have also asked for an RSO to come talk to you about it.

    I do not go to the range as often as I would like because of how many times I have seen other shooters being unsafe.

    Safety Rules are not for just your own safety, but to protect others from YOU.

    I have seen way too many unsafe actions from experienced people who get complacent and arrogant. SAFETY FIRST AND ALWAYS. PERIOD!!!

    Could the RSO have been more polite? Yes. Should he have? Maybe. That you did not “talk back” or argue at that time was a good thing on your part.

    Have I seen an “Overzealous” RSO. Yes I have. My opinion, not this time.

  5. jcarter5

    Reading through these comments I notice a common thread. When someone wants to bash a RSO they refer back to the article where the RSO did not see the infraction and handled the situation poorly. When a RSO makes a point about gun safety issues they have observed at their range others still refer back to the article. I am an RSO at a private gun club that has shooting events open to the public. I run a pistol league and also am a RSO for IDPA. I previously worked in firearms sales. At our club we talk about ‘range Nazis’ and how to run a safe range while maintaining a friendly atmosphere. As a firearm salesperson, I can’t count the number of times I have had a pistol pointed at me. When I suggest that the customer take a firearms safety training course I usually hear that they have been shooting and hunting all their lives and know how to handle firearms. I have also seen shooters point their firearms up-range or at their toes. Recently, I saw a revolver shooter empty their firearm with the muzzle pointed under their chin. These are the type of infractions that RSO’s deal with way too often. There is a saying that ‘you don’t know what you don’t know’ and it applies to shooters. One point to keep in mind is that many RSO are volunteers. The ranges would not be open if RSO did not volunteer their time. Safety is paramount. All NRA safety rules for gun handling and gun use must be followed 100% of the time. I know that most people can not recite them. If a shooter is not clear of the safety rules or local range rules, he should spend some time reviewing the rules before handling his firearm. The anti-gun crowd is quick to point out as an example the loud mouth gun owner who is an embarrassment to our sport. Many of the comments here seem to be made by folks who would fit this bill. The bottom line is that it is the shooter’s responsibility to know and observe the safety rules. Give most RSO a break. We are the ones who make shooting possible for many firearm enthusiasts by maintaining range safety. One shot over the berm could close the range for everyone.

  6. nmgene

    I do a lot of shooting at ranges, I have stopped going to ranges because of rude range officers. I have been shooting since 1962 and I still have my first gun. Knock on wood I have never had a gun go off that I didnt want to go off. I am very very careful. I shoot at least 1500 rounds a month and have done that for the last 20 years as well as shooting in competition.

    1. jmccrabb

      I been shooting at a range in Marion Kansas for 15 years. The RSO has short man syndrome. I am always very methodological when I go the this indoor range. I’m very careful to observe all rules and regs. this range makes their money on you buying their ammo. Well several years back I decided that I was not going to be held hostage by the price and availability of ammo. You cant shoot .50 cal there and I know it. one day I brought my desert eagle .44 to shoot. Got everything ready and began to shoot. Next thing know somebody is grabbing my shoulder and pulling me while I had 1/2 mag left next shot went high. “YOU CANT SHOOT 50 CAL IN HERE!” after I schooled him on touching a shooter in the middle of a mag he tried to pipe up again About 50 cal. I racked my baby open and said “YOU CANT SHOOT 50 Cal in here dumb ass” I emptied my eagle packed up and left with out paying range fees, canceled my membership and demanded a refund pro-rata to that date. Went to board meeting explained him grabbing me WHILE MY FINGER WAS ON THE TRIGGER. got my money and never went back.
      JIM McCrabb

  7. gitano

    I don’t understand “berserk”. Anticipating the responses from all of the self-righteous RSOs, I suspect “Doug” may have ‘softened’ his description of the event. Maybe “Doug” is just a ‘sensitive’ guy.

    That said, I understand his perspective, and agree with it about 95%. One thing I DON’T agree about is “You can never be too safe.” Bull Feathers! I’m sick and tired of the damned “Nanny State” where some self-proclaimed “experts” get to tell EVERYBODY else EXACTLY how they are supposed to act. This is SOCIALISM at its finest and it KILLS the human spirit! And the first thing you COWARDS do is blame it on “the lawyers”. Stand up and take it like the macho men you so badly want to be, and admit that “the lawyers” is just an easy EXCUSE for your wannabe big man on campus.

    I refuse to go to the only range within 80 miles of my house because of IDIOT RSOs. I’ll relate my story, and I won’t sugar-coat it for all the RSO cry-babies that have posted here so far.

    At the time this incident occurred, the range was essentially self-policed. EVERYBODY DID JUST FINE FOR 31 YEARS. I was returning from being downrange checking my target at 300 yd. I was the last of about 10 shooters at the 300 yd range to be returning to the bench. About half way back, some jackass STARTED SHOOTING! I dove for the side of the lanes and the other shooters started yelling at him. When he realized there was someone still downrange, he packed up and high-tailed it. By the time I got back to the bench, one of the other shooters had gone and gotten the RSO. He was steaming! HOWEVER, the stupid jackass was too full of himself to even ask ANY questions AND STARTED IN ON ME! I tried a couple of times to interrupt and point out that should disengage his alligator mouth from his hummingbird brain, but to no avail. Finally, after he had proven to everyone what a “tough guy” he was SOMEONE ELSE pointed out that I WAS THE ONE THAT WAS DOWNRANGE. “Oh.” But the SOB was too full of his “authority” to shut his mouth FOR ONE MOMENT to LISTEN. That he “banned” me from the range before he was set straight by someone else. I told him to get intercoursed, and I haven’t been back.

    Yeah, stupid jackass RSOs – and there are a helluva lot more of them that ARE than there are that AREN’T – do NOT improve safety; what they do BEST is just piss people off.

    As for the “thankless” job… QUIT WHINING. If you want “thanks” GET ANOTHER JOB.

    Most sincerely,

    1. gundog1951

      Hey, Paul. let me get this straight. You had a conflict with ONE RSO so now we’re all jackasses? GET OVER IT!

      You said,”You can never be too safe. Bull Feathers!” Are you fucking kidding me?


      I hope I never run into you on a range. You sound like an absolute asshole.

  8. jjfitch

    Sorry Doug but you are “off base” for your comments berating the RSO. I am one of 15 RSO’s at a local private range. One negligent discharge will surely shut us down. In todays anti-gun enviornment we must be “uber” vigalant in enforcing range rules.

    What about the guy that had just left the range just before you got there that “flagged” everbody up and down the range and was biligerant when he was reminded of the range rules?

    When at any range get a clear understanding of the rules before you begin to shoot and follow them, period. If you don’t agree or understand the rules ask for clarification or just leave.

    Most RSO’s are people too and aren’t looking for a confrontation just trying to be sure you don’t have the worst day of your life!

    John, Retired LEO, Certified L/E Firearms Instructor, NRA Firearms Instructor and NRA RSO

    1. ScottS

      No John, it is YOU who is way off base here. first off and foremost this RSO had not witnessed any infractions at this point and was making threats on others statements. This alone means he was NOT doing his job, HE was the MOST negligent one involved, and on his own words needs to be “brought before the board” An RSO is responsible for the safety of all people on the range. This one through his own words admits negligence beyond that of casing an open firearm off the lane. He failed the trust of ALL members of the club. But lets go further. A bullying attitude is NOT conducive to safety, in fact, it is quite contrary. It incites rebellion against the authority of the bully. You claim the Title od retired LEO, so you should know this through experience. There is a difference between vigilance and militancy.

          1. ScottS

            that didn’t come out right, it sounded too argumentative… the whole statement regarding it is too big to copy and paste, but it starts off with the RSO’s wife being the one who observed the infraction, and ended with the RSO threatening to roll the security tape back and write the shooter up on all the infractions he found. I’ve owned a private range it is no place to play games. But an RSO with that type of attitude on top of being negligent in his duties is a bigger risk to all involved since he is not keeping the range safe. The BIG question is where was he? If he was being a bully to someone else his actions were creating a greater safety issue by keeping him away from his duties to the overall range safety. if an infraction is so great that it must be immediately addressed the range activity needs to be stopped and all arms pot down for the duration. After he returns to his post shooting can resume. Anything less can be handled at the end of the session. But creating animosity escalates unsafe behavior through distraction

  9. onawhim7737

    I’ve seen my share of nit wits on the range to the point of packing up and leaving. Or where the RSO is busy talking to his buddies and not doing his job, again I just pack up my things and head out. The biggest problem is no 2 ranges have the same range rules and are rarely in writing so its up to the RSO to enforce the rules that are there or the ones he learned from the NRA. The worst thing is when an RSO makes things up to wit; at a out door range and during a cease fire I step back from the firing line, gun on the bench breach open with a flag 8′ or so and started to reload a magazine where upon the RSO was in my face before I had loaded the second round telling me in a loud enough voice so that all could hear how I was violating a posted range rule all the while 2 stations down his buddy (they were chatting earlier during live fire) had several loaded firearms on his bench fiddling with them. When I went up to the range office to check out I asked about getting a copy of their range rules. The man at the counter had the strangest look on his face when he asked, “what written rules”? Need I say more?

  10. chiefbuzzbee

    Well I agree with Gundog but that was so far back I don’t remember what it was. I will say that you haven’t lived till you do something stupid on the range, not checking your breach, and have a Marine Master Gunny explain the Fact of Life, Your Family Heritage and give you 100 or so pushups to start with. I will say I have never forgotten or made that mistake again. I will say I almost weather have a over zealous RSO than one who isn’t doing his job, I have packed up never to return to public ranges when I have seen things so far out I was not only concerned for my safety but the others and when I asked the so called RSO it was I never seen anything wrong. Nope didn’t return their. We all can learn and should think of it that way and so can Range Safety Officers learn the proper way of dealing with folks.

  11. circlei

    I am a NRA Certified Instructor and former AZ DPS CCW Unit Firearms Safety Instructor. I recently shot myself in the hand while using my Tac light equipped Glock as a flashlight at 2 AM while feeding my horses. I was holding the pistol in my left hand while trying to pry a flake of hay from the bale. I was concentrating on the hay and while my left hand was out of sight under the flake I was trying to pry, I was getting a better grip on the hay and unfortunately and without realizing it, got a better grip on the pistol which meant my hand naturally melded into the ergonomics of the grip and unknowingly moving my index finger from the side of the frame into the trigger guard. As I exerted force to pry the hay there was a loud and instantly painful blast and impact to my right hand between the knuckles of my right hand index and middle finger. There was so much blood I thought I had hit an artery. My wife, a RN, raced me to the ER of our small town hospital. The police were called and being a small town, I knew the police officer who responded who was also a customer at my gunshop. I was kept overnight and while resting in my patient room, two investigators from the Sheriff’s Department came to interview me. I knew both of them. Several people who knew I was a firearms Instructor advised me to not mention my unfortunate incident. My reply was I am going to take every opportunity to tell people what happened to me and make it a teachable point that no matter what your credentials are, there is no such thing as being a safe gun handler. You are safe while you practice and observe strict and safe gun handling BUT, the moment you let your guard down, you are NOT safe, no matter what your credentials. You are not safe just because you know the rules and think you are safe. You are only safe while you practice safe gun handling rules. The TAC light on my pistol is there to be used as a light in conjunction with the use of the pistol. Using the light as a flashlight while doing farm chores is a bad and dangerous idea as I have learned. In all my instructing I never came across such a scenario to be taught. I have now learned that police officers may be instructed to avoid doing what I had done…using the light for chores rather than its intended purpose, to light up a target in poor light. When teaching classes, I made it the responsibility of the class to watch each others actions and call out anyone violating the rules of safe gun handling. We should all be watching out for one another and point out any deviations from safe handling of our firearms. Distractions or slips can happen to any one of us. We should all practice strict safety rules without exception. As we help each other observe safety, it should be with the intent that we never suffer the devastating result of someone being injured or killed as a result of failure to observe and practice safe gun handling rules and procedures. A good instructor will make the person he is helping feel good about learning safety rather than making it a bad experience someone wants to forget. Lets make shooting a good time to remember and be proud in our diligent and professional practicing of safe gun handling.

  12. mark.leclair

    Shame on you! You write an article that reaches anyone that chooses to receive your writings. How many of these readers do you think practice safe gun handling? How many of your readers actually sought out adequate firearms instruction and then practice that newly learned education consistently at home and on the range? Yet you write this and those readers quickly read this and think “well I get to complain to the members about the RSO getting on my for “accidentally” sweeping the entire line” or “I knew it was unfair that the RSO yelled at me for shooting the ceiling, I only did it once” or even “the RSO was mean and told me that I was wrong for twirling my pistol/pointing an empty pistol at my friend/etc.”.

    How about this, how about writing a story, such as you did and YOU teach your readers something about safety? How about supporting those on the range that are out there to try and keep everyone safe? How about putting out the word that these RSO’s have to put up with the so-called “self-taught-snipers”, “rambo’s”, “backyard commando’s” and “video game special forces trigger pullers” that already think they know all about safety and yet are the first ones to come up with an excuse about the gun when things go bad? How about supporting those that aim to make sure everyone’s experience on the range is safe?

    Shame on you for getting your feelings hurt because you felt that he did not coddle you and sing to you about what you did wrong so you can make sure you learned your lesson! You knew you were wrong. You said you knew you were wrong and yet you still managed to waste the time of those of us that read the article that ended up saying “did this really get printed?”. I am saddened greatly at the fact that what you wrote will now give the “whiners” an opportunity to feel empowered enough to stomp their feet and want to take their ball and go home when they get corrected by the RSO that is running your their range. Congratulations.

    By the way, 16 Years naval special warfare, disabled veteran, professional firearms instructor and have trained over 96,000 to include military, civilian, law enforcement, federal agents and more. Thats a short snippet of me but my certs also include RSO/CRSO/Machine Gun RSO and RSOIC!

  13. Rightway1208

    Range Officer’s are not there to win a popularity contest, they are there to make sure everyone makes it home uninjured and safe. Since you had a pleasant conversation with the RO, I’m not sure why you blasted him with your “berserk” comment in the title of the article. My home range has a couple of range officers who have chastised me when I forgot the rules, and they still do, and I’m GLAD that they do. It shows me they care about my safety and the safety of others around me. One is a mild mannered guy and the other is a bellicose gentleman who is a little gruff at times. I’ve been in situation where shooters broke the rules and were asked to leave because they didn’t want to listen. They thought that the RO should have Powdered their behinds and told them what good little boys they were and he didn’t, do they got their little feelings hurt. Better their feelings hurt than someone shot. Geeze, get a pair and quit with all the whining. Had YOU followed the rules, we would not all be discussing this right now, would we.

  14. gundog1951

    I just can’t believe how many of you are whining about RSOs, calling them everything under the sun, for doing their jobs. Frankly, it’s a crappy job – sometimes without pay. Having to deal with the public hotshots who think they’re Dirty Harry or some kind of Special Forces Operative. When An RSO sees an infraction it is his job to put an end to it. All you complainers out there are usually the ones I’m talking about. Get over yourselves! If you screw up, it’s not the RSOs fault – it’s YOUR FAULT! Quit making excuses and blaming someone else. Take some responsibility for your actions. Admit you were wrong and shut up!

    1. odiesbsc

      You are right gundog, I remember when I first joined our local range, I was moving some of my guns from the car to the bench (outdoor range) when the RSO came over to me and told me not to trasfer weapons while someone is down range checking targets. I thanked him for the info and waited until everyone was back at the benches to finish the rest of my guns.

    2. rbrittne

      WOW you sound angry….I can just picture you…your prolly one of those wannabees, a cop that didn’t make it, or a military drop out….or just an old nobody wannabe that is on a power tyrip….let me guess…you volunteered to be a RO on some little dirt range and gives everyone a hard time just to exercise your “authority”. I cant stand RO’s that get into everyones business just because they can. If you see something unsafe….stop the range with a ceasefire…and POLITELY tell the person what needs to be corrected…that experience alone should make it a one time deal unless its a jerk…in which case you throw them out….But YOU come off like a big jerk! telling people on here to shut up…It’s easy to see how you are….I feel sorry for your kids.

    3. ScottS

      Get over yourself Gundog, this particular RSO was NOT doing his job id someone else was the one doing the observing and he in his own admission would have to roll back the security tapes to prove the infraction actually happened. Yes we need to take range safety seriously, but this is indicative of a bigger issue, poor range management can create bigger issues than the shooters can. This RSO’s failure at his job could have cost someone their life… HE WAS NOT DOING HIS JOB. And that is the bottom line that everyone here is missing. It’s time to grow up, drop the indignation and deal with the facts. If YOU can not do that, stay the hell off of any ranges where there are other people because YOU are a major problem beyond any other. YOU are standing up for those who are not doing their jobs.

  15. HenryGB

    I guess they would have gotten me as well…but then our club hasn’t got that rule posted.

    As a side note: A guy I worked with had a 12 gauge pump shotgun, he had ejected the shells & was then ready to clean the gun.
    After cleaning the gun he cycled the pump, and pulled the trigger, because he “KNEW” the gun was empty.
    But what he DIDN’T know was that the shells had ejected from gravity, because the last one had became jammed in the feeder tube, but after he cycled the pump it loaded the round in the chamber, so when he snapped off the trigger, he blew a hole through his wall 6 feet from his wife, and embedded pellets in a car outside.

    I have told my kids this story to make a point & I taught my kids to NEVER ask if a gun is loaded, you ALWAYS assume it is…even when you KNOW it isn’t…