When out on the shooting range holding a firearm, there is only one safe direction to point that firearm: downrange. At an indoor gun range, downrange means that the firearm’s muzzle is pointing at the bullet trap and the muzzle is parallel with each sidewall and also parallel with the floor and ceiling. When a bullet fires from this configuration in a controlled manner, it will always strike the bullet trap. Safety issues occur when the firearm is discharged with its muzzle pointing at something other than the bullet trap – the floor, the walls, or the ceiling. This safety problem often happens during uncontrolled or undisciplined rapid fire shooting. Uncontrolled rapid fire is when the user repeatedly pulls the trigger without making sure their front sight is on the target after each trigger pull (reset). The user repeatedly pulls the trigger without discipline and during some of those undisciplined trigger pulls, the muzzle is pointed at other things due to the firearm’s recoil; this causes the next bullet to follow a random trajectory and carries the potential to damage range equipment or cause injury.

Maintaining a safe direction has been described as the fail-safe rule of gun safety because even if every other gun safety were ignored, keeping the gun pointed in a safe direction at all times would greatly reduce the chance for negligent injuries. Even if we didn’t know whether a firearm was loaded or unloaded, keeping the gun pointed in a safe direction would prevent “accidentally” shooting an unintentional target. Even if a finger was “accidentally” on the trigger, keeping the muzzle pointed in a safe direction would prevent the bullet from striking an unintentional target. For these reasons, the only safe place to touch a firearm is inside the shooting stall – and the only safe direction to point the firearm is downrange.

Family Armory range rules state:

The only safe direction to point a firearm is DOWNRANGE. Downrange means parallel with the floor and ceiling and parallel with the side walls, aiming at the bullet trap. All loading, unloading, and shooting of firearms must take place with the muzzle pointing downrange. NEVER dangle a pistol at your side. (Maintain a Safe Direction). NEVER turn around with firearm in hand. (Maintain a Safe Direction). NEVER walk with a firearm outside of the stall. Always bring range bags and cases to the stall instead. (Maintain a Safe Direction). NEVER pass firearms between stalls. (Maintain a Safe Direction).

Safe direction violations

Violation: Uncasing, unholstering, unbagging, or handling firearms outside the stall

Handling a firearm outside of the shooting stall necessarily means that there will be a time when the firearm will be transported either to or from the shooting stall to begin range time or end the session. While the firearm is being walked to or from the stall, the muzzle will be pointing in a non-designated safe direction: the ceiling, the floor, the wall, or perhaps even at others in the shooting area. Even if the unsafe direction violation lasts for a few moments, that’s more than enough time for an accident to occur; once the bullet leaves the barrel, there’s no taking it back. To remedy this potential hazard, it is recommended that all guns remain in the shooting stall and that bags or cases are brought to the stall; bagging and casing should take place with the muzzle facing downrange the entire time.

Violation: Uncontrolled rapid fire shooting

The problem with uncontrolled rapid fire is that it’s, well, uncontrolled. There’s a world of difference between blasting firearms willy-nilly at the gun range and training to build up shooting speed – the evidence rests in how the target is punctured. (Slow is smooth – smooth is fast). When the grouping of target strikes is close together in a short period of time, we can assume that the shooter did so intentionally and with purpose – regardless of their speed. When the grouping of target strikes is scattered, randomly peppered up high, down low, to the left, to the right, then we can assume that the shooter isn’t really aiming at anything in particular and that the shooter either isn’t aware or doesn’t care where their bullets strike. It is recommended that the shooter picks a spot on their target and aims for that, e.g., “I’m aiming at the number seven on that paper silhouette.”

Violation: fiddling with a gun in the stall with the barrel pointing anywhere but downrange

Concrete side walls at an indoor gun range provide a lot of information to the careful observer: they reveal the trajectory travel path of bullet strikes. The fact that they show any kind of bullet marking in the first place means that more than a few shooters were not aware of or didn’t care how they were holding the firearm during a trigger pull. For the most part, wall markings due to bullets can be classified in two ways: skids and chunks. Bullet skid marks appear as dark lines along the wall and suggests that the the bullet traveled along the face of the wall for a short distance. In other words, the bullet didn’t dump all its energy into the concrete but instead traveled a short distance along the wall’s face. When chunks of concrete are missing, however, it means that the energy of the bullet collided with the wall pretty much straight on – the bullet dumped its energy on the wall. For example, when chunks are missing from the East wall, it means that the shot originated from a westward lane. When chunks of the wall are missing at a close distance in relation to the stalls, it means: 1.) someone pointed their gun at something other than the downrange bullet trap, and 2.) someone had a negligent discharge while their gun was pointing at the wall.

Violation: shooting at a target not assigned to your lane

One of the rules of gun safety state to be aware of your target and what’s behind your target. When shooting at your target assigned to your lane at an indoor gun range, it means that the target is positioned in front of the shooter for that lane and that the bullet trap is behind that lane’s target. The bullet will penetrate the target and continue moving forward until striking the bullet trap. When shooting at a target not assigned to your lane, however, the bullet will penetrate the target at an angle instead of hitting the target “straight on” and continue moving at an angle until hitting something, which may or may not be the bullet trap. It is quite likely that the bullet will take a chunk out of the side wall concrete behind the target.

Summary: The only safe direction to point a firearm while on the range is downrange; handling a firearm outside of designated safe areas creates the potential to cause injury or bodily harm and is very likely a violation of range safety rules.  Uncontrolled rapid firing causes the next bullet to follow a random trajectory which results in ceiling or wall strikes.