As you might imagine, everyone’s very polite at a gun range.
No, not because anyone is worried about somebody shooting them. They’re courteous because that’s a big part of safety.
A lesson the rest of the world could stand to learn.
I ventured out to the Twin Ponds Rifle Range this week with Ron Tunstill, a local resident who’d asked an insightful question a couple of weeks back: If gun stores are allowed to remain open, why are the ranges closed? In other words, where are people supposed to learn how to handle their new purchases?
Good question but, before a good answer emerged, the ranges reopened. So, moot point.
That conversation led to us meeting up at Twin Ponds — a free shooting range in the Francis Marion National Forest co-managed by the U.S. Forest Service and state Department of Natural Resources.
The ripples of the pandemic are felt even at the end of a gravel road deep in the wilds of the Francis Marion. DNR agents on staff were social distancing, and had blocked off every other stall to keep shooters 6 feet apart. They even had a 6-foot wooden pole for a visual aid.
The agents at Twin Ponds run a tight ship and everyone complies with the rules because, well, they’re polite. And not following guidelines can be dangerous.
That means wearing earmuffs, because the noise is deafening, and eye protection, because errant ejected brass could hit you in the eye. That also means everyone keeps their guns pointed toward the range and treats every firearm as if it’s loaded. Everybody puts down their guns and steps behind the red line when shooting goes cold so others can set up their targets without fear of an accident.
Orderly, cautious … and polite. And not one person hollered about being inconvenienced because they recognized the rules were meant to keep everyone safe. It’s simple common sense.
For an hour-and-a-half, we shot targets with a variety of revolvers and semiautomatic handguns: a Ruger .22, a 9 mm or two, a Smith & Wesson .44 Magnum of the same style and vintage as Dirty Harry’s.
And yeah, Harry’s right — it could blow your head clean off.
We also shot my 1960s-era Ruger Blackhawk .357 Magnum, a pistol that looks like it came off the set of “Gunsmoke.” It went great with my face mask: a red bandanna just like the bad guys wore during old western bank robberies.
Before the emails commence, there’s nothing hypocritical about owning guns, shooting for sport and supporting common sense firearm regulations. Polls show the majority of gun owners feel the same way. And ranges make it clear that firearms deserve a level of respect, smart handling and rules that not every cowboy or Statehouse protester follows in this often-impolite society.
Most folks keep to themselves on the range, about like a golf course, but at one point a young man with a serious-looking scoped rifle asked what we were shooting. We chatted with him for a minute. He took extreme care with weapons and punctuated every answer with “yessir.” He seemed like the sort who’d say this anywhere, not just a range — at least to his elders.
I recalled his impeccably old-fashioned manners later that day while visiting a newly reopened barber shop. A sign on the door said “by appointment only,” but that didn’t stop a constant stream of unmasked, unscheduled visitors from barging in.
The barbers were polite, but firm, when asking would-be walk-ins to exit the premises. Most didn’t put up any argument, but the difference in courtesy between the barbershop and shooting range patrons was striking.
That isn’t to say barbers need guns to maintain order, it just means if people employed the same courtesy, common sense and manners with public health policy as they do with guns at the Twin Ponds Rifle Range, we might be farther along in wiping out this maddening pandemic.
And everyone would be safer for it.