With our appeal for volunteers on our website, we have gotten a number of people inquiring about becoming a Range Safety Officer (RSO). These inquiries are nice, but before you volunteer, you need to ask yourself if you have the skills, knowledge and attitude that is needed.
The actual duties aren't all that complicated. Open the gates and flip the signs, open the building, get stuff set up and set out. Check that shooters are members, and if not, sell them a membership and make sure they know the rules. Make sure the shooters using the portable stands are putting their bullets into the berm. Make sure the guns are clear and open (or closed up in the case) before going "cold", make sure shooters don't handle their firearms when the range is cold, make sure everyone is back before going 'hot." Make sure everyone is being safe and following the rules. Clean up and paint the swingers (replace if needed) at the end of the day, and make sure everything is turned off before locking the building and closing the gates.
RSOs are allowed to shoot while working, if the range isn't too busy. RSOs are strongly encouraged to help shooters if they are able and if the range isn't too busy. Occasionally, a shooter has a serious malfunction that the RSO needs to help with. This may include stuck cases, bullets jammed in the barrel or parts breaking on the gun.
The 'background' skills we are looking for are more involved.
In reverse order (from least important to most):
Firearm skills: You don't need to be a gunsmith. You should have a good working knowledge of the different types of rifles, shotguns and pistols. Bolt, lever, pump, semi-auto, break, revolver, etc. You don't need to be able to strip and assemble every gun out there blindfolded, but you should be able to load, operate and unload most common guns (mostly clear and unload). You should know how to sight in a scoped rifle using the spotting scopes and the grid on the targets. None of these tasks are difficult or complicated. If you don't know them, we can teach you.
Customer Service skills: You have to sell memberships, explain the rules and enforce them. We hear over and over that we are the most pleasant, fun and friendly range in the area. We are proud of that. RSOs are the face of the range and have to present as such. Yet we still need to correct improper behavior and sometimes immediately stop unsafe actions. Balancing those two can be difficult at times, and most of us have had experiences we wish we could do over. A "people friendly" attitude is necessary. Understanding that some shooters need improvement is too. A willingness to let them "do it wrong" (as long as it isn't unsafe) is sometimes needed. An ability to correct inappropriate behavior without being rude (like "pick up your brass when you are done, I'm not your mommy") is important. But a complete and total willingness to do what is necessary to keep the range safe (including kicking people out) is absolutely vital (more on that in a bit).
Solid Understanding of the Rules: Our rules are in place for a reason. Some of those rules (hours, no full auto, limited rapid fire and a couple others) are required by the City. Others are in place because time and experience has proven them necessary. The club, as a group, is willing to discuss the rules and changes to them at the appropriate time. When the range is operating however, the rules need to be followed at all times. Those rules apply to everyone: friends, family, other RSOs, even the club President. And you.
Solid Gun Safety Practices: The "Four Commandments of Gun Safety" are taught in Hunter's Safety and most firearms classes. We often refer to them as "TABK" (pronounced Tab-kay) - Treat every gun as if it's loaded. Always keep the muzzle pointed in a safe direction, Be sure of your target and what's beyond, Keep your finger off the trigger until ready to shoot. As with the range rules, these need to be followed at all times, by all shooters. Period. One criticism we hear about other ranges in the area is the practice of the RSO allowing his 'buddies' to do whatever they want, yet others get yelled at for minor infractions. We find this unacceptable. This goes for both the basic rules and Range specific rules.
Focus: This is vital. The RSO needs to pay attention to what is going on. Both with other shooters and with his own actions. The most common rule violations we see are bad muzzle discipline, handling firearms when the range is cold and putting the portable target stands in a place where the bullets aren't hitting the berm. Time after time, when the infraction is pointed out to the shooter, they respond with "Oh, I wasn't paying attention" or "Oh, I wasn't thinking." Really? Handling a gun and not paying attention to what you're doing? Or not thinking about it? Mistakes will happen, people are fallible. But the wrong mistake at the wrong time could prove to be disastrous. Staying focused is essential. It's easy to become distracted when helping shooters, selling memberships, answering questions. But an RSO needs to prioritize his attention and know when to tell the shooters to wait for a minute until it's safe to work with them. This is most common when the range is cold. Also paying attention to what the shooters are doing is important. Are the pistol folks putting their bullets into the berm? Are the swinger shooters shooting the 22/handgun swingers with big rifles? A close look at these swingers will show how often that happens. Are the "stand up" pistol shooters standing too far back? Generally we want the muzzle of the pistol near the front of the tables. Standing alongside the table or inside the bench is fine. Standing behind the bench is usually too far back.
Care and Concern for the Range: The people involved in the range are doing it because they care about it. We are shooters and want to continue to have a safe and accessible place to shoot. We realize we have a fairly unique and special place and want to keep it for us and for future sportsmen and gun enthusiasts. Most of us do a lot more than simply be an RSO. The grass needs to be mowed and snow needs to be shoveled. The berms need to be maintained and fences need to be replaced. The current group is very involved. Anytime 'bodies' are needed for a task, we get the help we need. We also have educational programs for shooters. RSOs are often needed at the range for these programs. Again, we are happy we have guys willing to answer those calls for help.
But this care and concern goes farther. The RSO is in charge of the range and needs to do whatever is necessary to keep the range safe. Some shooters either can't or won't be safe. The RSO needs to stop their behavior. Some may want to argue about the rules. Different people handle this differently. But ultimately the range needs to be kept safe. That may mean kicking someone out. That may go as far as needing to call the police to remove someone. Fortunately that doesn't happen very often, and hasn't been necessary in quite a while. But it could happen at any time and you must be prepared to deal with the situation.
Trust: This is far and above the most important quality. The group needs to trust all the RSOs. First off, RSOs handle money. During our busy "sight-in" season, that may be several hundred dollars per day. There are controls in place to track the money, but nothing is perfect. We need to trust that the money will be taken proper care of and turned in. RSOs are the face of the range. As noted above, we are the "fun & friendly" range in the area. We need to trust that you will continue that. We’ve had RSOs that simply weren't cut out for the job. Fortunately, they realized it and decided they didn't want to continue. We also need to trust that you will keep the range safe. Someone getting accidentally shot would put the range in serious jeopardy. We have to trust that you have enough understanding of the range rules and basic gun safety rules, enough focus and commitment to make sure they are followed, enough care and concern about the range to keep it going.
If we don't know you, how can we trust you? How can we know that you have what we are looking for? Well, get to know us, so we can get to know you. Become a 'regular.' Show up on a regular basis and hang out. Ammunition can be expensive, but you don't have to spend the whole time shooting (the guns). Some of our 'regulars' spend more time 'shooting the breeze', hanging around talking and drinking coffee than they do shooting the guns. Become one of the shooters we don't have to worry about.
DON'T BE one of "those guys." We have them and every range does. Those are the shooters we know we have to keep a close eye on because they have a reputation among the RSOs for being occasionally careless or not totally safety conscious.
Recently, there have been shooters who inquire about becoming RSOs, who then handle their guns when the range is cold or who then put portable pistol target stands where the bullets won't hit the berm. After being corrected on that, they then later change tables and once again shoot their bullets completely past the berm. Again, this was after being told what we needed, being corrected when they got it wrong the first time (before starting to shoot), and yet still couldn't get it right. Giving the excuse "I guess I wasn't watching what I was doing" didn't help this guy's chances of becoming an RSO.
Being an RSO is a lot of fun - seeing the shooters and all the different guns they have, getting to meet them and discuss all sorts of stuff (some gun related, some not), and getting asked "Do you want to take a couple shots with it?"
But it's also a big responsibility. We have a lot of "regulars" who aren't willing to take on that role, which is completely understandable and acceptable. It can be stressful. Some shooters can be stubborn and/or frustrating. Some can be careless, unsafe and even scary. Sight-In season can get very hectic. It is also very rewarding. Hearing that the range is "fun and friendly", yet "very safe", all because of the RSO. Knowing you are a part of something important and valuable and that you are contributing to its future. And being a part of a pretty good group that is taking care of it.
We don't all agree on everything. We don't always get along the best. But I know the other guys have the best interests of the range in mind, even when we don't agree on just exactly what that is.
And I know I can trust them.