Helping New Shooters Part 3: Teach the Basics and Notes on Safety

1 Teach the basics in a safe area

One of my points at the beginning of this article is that you should teach an introductory lesson before going to the range. You can teach this lesson just before going to the range, but doing it a day or two in advance can also be effective.

I often see people bring new shooters to the range, unpack their gear, and then give an introduction on each firearm. The range is a loud and distracting place, especially for beginners. It works much better at the range if you are reviewing material that everyone is already familiar with. Also, at the range the RSO is required to respond to any firearm with the action closed as though it were loaded. This fact can complicate demonstrations.

There are many things you may want to discuss with new shooters before you get to the range. I have written a separate article with a basic lesson plan. For now, here is a general overview.

  • Have no live ammunition in the practice area.
  • Gun Safety. I recommend using the NRA's three rules of gun safety.
  • Function of the firearms which will be used.
  • How to load, unload, and make safe. Dummy rounds are required for this. Every student should practice loading and clearing the guns before getting to the range. Declare a safe direction and practice safety rules.
  • Dry fire with dummy rounds. You should cover the basics of shooting and position. My article about the basic lesson plan covers this area in more detail.
  • Range commands and procedures. Describe the commands used at your range and any range specific procedures. Cover the commands you will use and any commands the Range officers will use.

Obviously, the above list is a brief summary. As an experienced shooter, you should be prepared to speak a bit about each of these points.

2 Safety gear

You should have enough eye and ear protection for everyone in your party. Make sure people keep their safety gear on if anyone is firing in the area. Beginners often take their ear protection off without realizing who else is firing nearby.

Ear protection has a number rating called NRR that tells how much sound it reduces. Get the highest NRR rating that you can. Sound causes flinch at least as much as recoil. Better hearing protection is an advantage, especially for beginners. Some people may also want to use double protection with ear muffs over foam ear inserts. Make sure people can still hear commands, but they usually still can.

Double check ear protection on children. Ear muff type protectors may not seal correctly on children. Children may also have trouble getting foam ear inserts in place properly. Also, children often won't say anything if there is a problem, but they may tell you by putting their hands over their ears. It is a good idea to protect children's hearing by using both ear muffs and foam ear inserts.

Proper clothing and footwear are also an important type of safety gear. Everyone at the range should wear shoes and clothes that provide reasonable coverage and do not have openings that will catch spent brass. Open toed shoes do not provide enough protection at the range. Baseball caps help keep brass off your head and face and are a good idea.

3 Lead safety

Generally, lead safety is a very minor concern for shooters, but it still deserves its own brief section. Lead is different from most of the safety concerns in this article because its affects are long term, rather than immediate and acute.

The affects of lead are of particular concern for children because lead affects development. It is commonly recommended that pregnant women should not shoot. Children who cannot keep their hands out of their mouths should not handle guns or even visit the range.

Most ranges prohibit any eating on the ranges and this is an important safety issue. After shooting, make sure everyone washes thoroughly before handling food.

4 Handgun Safety with Beginners

There are two safety issues about teaching beginners which need special mention.

  • Do not have two people's hands on a loaded pistol.
  • Do not have a discussion while a gun is loaded.

If a beginner has loaded a pistol and is ready to fire, you can give them quick cues like "check your grip" or "finger off the trigger". If they are not sure what to do, then have them clear the gun and start again. If they cannot clear the gun, have them put it down pointing downrange and review how to clear it. Do not reach over and touch the person and the loaded gun to correct their grip. There is a saying that "If no one is specifically in charge of something, then no one is in charge of it." If two people are touching a loaded handgun, then no one nearby knows who is in charge of controlling the muzzle.

Also, if a new shooter has a substantial question while holding a loaded pistol, like "How is the sight picture supposed to look?", then clear the gun before reviewing the answer. Very quick questions are fine, but if the person is not really ready to shoot, then clear the gun before discussing the answer. Beginners do not yet have safe instincts, so if they are holding a loaded handgun, their full attention needs to be focused on it.

If children are learning to shoot a rifle from a rest, then it is OK for an adult to keep a hand on the rifle. In this situation it is OK for two people to touch the firearm because the muzzle is firmly controlled.

I should also mention again, that the RSO is required to respond to any firearm with the action closed as though it were loaded. If you clear the gun and then work with a new shooter to correct their stance and grip, you must keep the muzzle downrange. However, it is still important that the gun be unloaded, since you are not ready to shoot during this discussion.

If it is necessary to clear guns several times and review the fundamentals, do not become frustrated or let your students be discouraged. If your students learn to clear guns while maintaining muzzle control, then you are an excellent teacher and a worthy mentor. Actual shooting skills will follow soon enough.

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