The Sight

Being a good firearms instructor doesn't just mean being good at shooting or being able to share information. A good instructor also has to have what I like to call "the sight". The sight is the ability to see the students' faults and give them constructive criticism. The sight is being able to read facial cues and body language to determine their comfort level with the firearm. Having the sight means that you can identify and prevent an incident. It's hypervigilance. It's situational awareness on steroids. 

I worked at an indoor shooting range for a year. I developed the sight here. I started off as a Range Safety Officer (RSO) which means I spent 80% of my shift inside the range with people shooting. Most of these people were new to shooting firearms. Most of them had never seen or even held a firearm in real life. We called them "1,2,3's". The front desk would call over the radio when we had 1,2,3's coming into the range. My job was to give them the safety brief and basically teach them how to shoot as quickly as I could before they lost interest or got distracted by the other shooters. My speech would go something like this:

Hi, I'm Tig. Like T-I-G. *points to my name written on tape and stuck to the side of my ear protection* Welcome to (insert range here). I'll be your Range Safety Officer today. Have you ever shot here before? No? Ok well here are the safety rules. *points to rules printed on wall* First, make sure you keep the firearm pointed in a safe direction at all times.....which means down range at your target. Keep your finger off the trigger until you're ready to shoot. Keep the firearms inside the lane unless they're unloaded and in the basket but you can load your magazines back here behind the booth. Only one shooter is allowed in the shooting booth at a time. All other shooters must stand behind this red line. *points to red line* If you have any questions, let me know. I'll be standing back here while you're shooting. Enjoy!

Then they'd look at the rest of the rules on the wall for a second. They never noticed this but I had already unpacked their basket with their rental firearms and ammo while I was giving them the safety brief. I've already checked out their demeanor, from the moment they walked in til the moment I stood back so they can begin shooting. I checked out their clothing, their speech patterns, their reaction after they hear the first shot go off. I would see the guys come in trying to impress their girlfriends. I would watch the police officers painfully try to improve their groupings because their annual weapons qualification was quickly approaching. I would see the old guys come in with their lever-action rifles that their families had passed down to each generation. I would have to remind these guys not to dip in the range. I would see the young guys come in with their new pawn shop Draco's and extended magazines. These guys usually wasted a lot of ammo but they were just having fun trying to live their video game and gangster movie fantasies. I would also see the shy women come in. Their range visit was usually prompted by some unfortunate event like a break in or an abusive mate. These women were always delighted to see me in the range and I was equally as delighted to see them. Not to be biased but these women were always the best shooters. On a busy day, I'd see about 50-75 people pass through the range. Maybe more. The days and shooters all started to become a blur after awhile. 

When I first started working at the range it was just a cool job. It was just something to do until I found something better. Everything changed the first time I had a loaded gun pointed at me in the range.  In the military we would call this being "flagged". I can't lie, I almost sh*t bricks that first time. Especially because I knew that person had no clue what they were doing. They just got too excited and spun around with the gun in their hand and their finger on the trigger. In this instance, you have about 1 second to decide if that person intends to harm you or if they were just being careless. Luckily for both of us, this guy was the latter. Of course all the range staff is armed but no responsible gun owner wants to actually be in a situation where they have to use their firearm. I knew this could get dangerous if the shooter mirrored my panicked demeanor so I decided to remain calm and ask him to turn around. I could've died that day. It was my fault for not watching more carefully but I hadn't yet developed the sight. I should've paid attention to their dismissive attitude when I was going over the safety rules. I should've known by looking at their grips and shot groupings that they had never shot before even though they claimed that this wasn't their first time when I asked them. 

Sometimes you have to use the sight to identify people who are threats to themselves. Our range staff had frequent meetings about how to identify potential suicides. Especially after January 2016 when a suicide took place at one of our competitor ranges. Some of the cues were well-dressed men who came into the range alone asking for the smallest package of bullets. One time, a guy asked for just one bullet. Red Flag. Or they would get visibly uncomfortable when an RSO would escort them into the range. Red Flag. Renting a gun and ammo but no target. Red Flag. These people would also only want to shoot pistols and would get upset when you offered to rent them a rifle. It's easier to shoot yourself with a pistol than a rifle. Statistically speaking, men use firearms to commit suicides more than women but you still have to look for the cues in women too. 

This blog kinda took an unexpected turn but I said all that to say pay attention around people with guns! Everyone is a safety so make sure you alert the range staff if you see something odd. Develop the sight. Identify risky behavior. Don't just focus on your lane and your target. Scan all the lanes. Shooting in an indoor range is like driving a car on the highways. You have to be on the defense and see potential car accidents. Offer help if you can do so without coming off like an asshole. Odds are, most of the people in there really have no clue what they're doing and have too much pride to ask for help. Stay vigilant! And like my old boss would say, "The life you save may be your own."

Marchelle Tigner