Irresponsible Gun Owners of the Day: Un-Named Felons With a Crappy Backstop Edition

 T-Dog posted this article in the FFZ, and it’s a sad reminder that we as shooters have an obligation to be sure that every round we fire lands where it is intended. has a story about a father’s day barbeque that was being harassed by the sounds of bullets flying overhead, and ended with the daughter of the guest of honor dying after a stray bullet hit her in the chest . . .

The Bellingham Herald reports her father called 911 Sunday to report bullets whizzing overhead. Then he called back to say his daughter had been hit.

Deputies traced the gunfire to the bank of the Nooksack River about a half mile away where five men were firing handguns and high-power rifles. Two of the men were arrested and accused of being felons in possession of a firearm. They did not know the victim.

That’s one of the fundamental rules of safe firearm handling: know your target’s foreground and background. And when you’re shooting somewhere other than an established range, know what is WAY beyond your target as well.

The military uses something called a “surface danger zone” to identify the area in which someone could be hurt by a stray bullet, which is generally 1/2 the maximum distance the round could theoretically travel (if at a 45 degree angle at launch and with no wind). If a range is open, that area is kept clear. For civilian ranges the SDZ can be much smaller, but there is always either a MASSIVE berm to catch any stray bullets or plenty of room behind the berm for a bullet to slow down and stop without hurting anyone.

Out in the woods, a SDZ isn’t always possible to map out. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take some time to find the biggest damn hill you can and put that at the end of your firing range.

You, as a shooter, are morally and legally responsible for the final resting place of every bullet you fire. And if you don’t take the time to identify a good backstop for your activities, it can end in tragedy and reflect poorly on every other gun owner in the United States. And that’s just downright irresponsible.


  1. avatar Old Ben turning in grave says:

    Man, I really hate to see something like this.

    1. avatar JMS says:

      Yeah. This is pretty horrible.

      1. avatar Zan Soo says:

        White people and your guns. Soon Obama will take your gun away.

  2. Is there such thing as a low powered rifle? I never see those mentioned.

    1. avatar Ropingdown says:

      RF would know, but I assume journalists get paid by the word. If they were actually bright, they’d always call them terrifying exotic high-powered rifles just to wake up the reader. I think they usually call low-power rifles “pistols” or “revolvers.”

      1. avatar Jesus says:

        I doubt my .22LR falls under “High Powered”

        1. avatar EATENG says:

          It may not be “high powered” but if it is semi auto and has a detachable mag it will soon be considered an “assault weapon” here in CA

        2. avatar Ropingdown says:

          Depends on who’s doing the writing.

      2. avatar Dave says:

        On the irony… Just the other RF was going on about how felons should have their gun rights restored.

        This is the perfect counterpoint.

        1. avatar thedonn007 says:

          They should have their rights restored.

    2. avatar Pro-Liberty says:

      Basically all modern centerfire rifles are “high-powered rifles,” and smallbore rimfire rifles are not. I remember this distinction being used in the Boy Scouts of America Rifle Shooting merit badge book.

    3. avatar dwb says:

      how about a super power rifle? or an uber powered rifle with a megazine?

    4. avatar William says:

      If so, in the article it would be called a “low-power” rifle.

      It’s “high-powered” folks. At lease we can get it right, even if they can’t. Or won’t.

    5. avatar Russ Bixby says:

      Yeah – those that shoot pistol calibers – .22 through .45 and a number of metric sizes as well. A couple of the ranges ’round here allow only those and handguns.

      Big game hunting (and mediums such as 30.06) and military rifles, shooting bottlenecked cartridges, are in an entirely different class.

      Dirty Harry’s gun runs and hides with tucked tail when a Mosin shows up.

      1. avatar Gyufygy says:

        Now I really want to go to one of my local ranges that does the “handguns and .22 only” thing and ask, “Mind if I shoot my .45?”, get a strange look and a yes, then pull out a .45-70 lever gun. 😀

  3. avatar CarlosT says:

    And you can bet the anti-gun people are salivating about this one. It’s tailor made for them. Felons randomly shooting and a stray bullet killing an innocent. It’s perfect.

    1. avatar sagebrushracer says:

      bet they did not have to do a background check for the gats in their possession. but we do.

    2. avatar William says:

      VERY different from a cop’s stray bullet killing a “civilian”, yessir.

    3. avatar Russ Bixby says:

      That does amaze me. Talk about stupid – running up the red flag an’ all.

    4. avatar Chas says:

      That’s because they sit around wishing for stuff like this to happen. It’s like a wet dream for them.

    5. avatar Zan Soo says:

      Not the first time gun nuts negligently killed someone.

  4. avatar gloomhound says:

    Damn that’s a shame, no it a crime.

  5. avatar Swarf says:

    That is just reprehensible. Glad they caught the morons/felons.

  6. avatar Tara says:

    Wow what a sad story – more important than whether “anti-gun people” use this to get stricter laws put in place, I think the point here is that a little girl died because some bozos didn’t just take the time to check and make sure that the SDZ was clear before firing lethal weapons.

  7. avatar Haiku Guy says:

    Is the picture of the inadequate backstop at the site, or is that a picture of a good backstop?

    1. avatar Matt in FL says:

      I think that’s an acceptable backstop, assuming your shots are confined (by you) to hitting it.

  8. avatar Matt in FL says:

    I really don’t have the words to express how I feel about this, beyond “it’s a crying shame.” I don’t know why, but for some reason I feel worse about this than I do the people injured in Boston. I realize that makes no sense.

    1. avatar William says:

      Hav-a-Hank, Matt….

      It’s tragic, but why didn’t they LEAVE when the bullets started whizzing overhead? Like, RIGHT AWAY? Isn’t that the prudent thing to do?

      1. avatar Clay says:

        Maybe they didn’t realize what was going on. Until it was too late.

  9. avatar SkyMan77 says:

    Very Tragic… I bet there were things that Dad could have done different once the threat was discovered that would have saved his daughters life (if he had time to call they probably had time to seek cover for instance)… That’s going to be very hard to live with…

    1. avatar Old Ben turning in grave says:

      I’d have tried to get everyone behind something solid with bullets whizzing by. Not that this gets the criminal fools who fired the shots off the hook.

    2. avatar sagebrushracer says:

      yes, one time on public land I had 2 strays go buzzing over my head, not sure how high up but they made me get that itch between your should blades where you expect the next one to land. We decided to “De-Ass the Area with the quickness.”

      1. avatar Kirk says:

        Totally true. Both of ya.

        The father will be questioning his action of calling the police before securing his child for the rest of his life.

  10. avatar JC says:

    So is the backstop in the photo a good one? I’ve never been to a range, but that looks as high as anything I could imagine someone reasonably installing. Thanks!

    1. avatar Pascal says:

      You have never been to a range????

      Here is the link to NSSF which is a good read.

      In general:
      – A minimum height of 15 feet is acceptable but 20 to 25 feet is recommended
      – The width of the backstop should extend at least 5 feet beyond the intersection of the toe/bottom edge of the side berm and the outside targets/firing position. IMHO, it should be more
      – The range side slope (side facing the shooter) must be as steep as possible, but not less than a 45-degree

      A lot will also depend on what you are shooting, how many people will be shooting and how close. You want to try to prevent two things. The idiot who shoots into the air because he cannot control his gun and contain ricochets. Even in very well designed ranges, there is a danger of ricochets. I left a GSSF match with a few extra holes (not really that bad) from a ricochet from a steel target and was simply waiting in line for my turn at the stage.

      1. avatar Anon in CT says:

        I didn’t really undestand about ricochets until I did a night-time MG range fire with tracers.


      2. avatar JC says:

        Correction. I’ve been to one range, one time, but it was indoors. I’m new to this stuff. Thanks for the great info!

        1. avatar Pascal says:


          Go to this website

          Many are TTAG members, if you are near one of the flags, find a buddy and have him take you shooting.

      3. avatar neiowa says:

        Interesting link. That is some massive backstop. Have never seen anything that upscale/elaborate.

  11. avatar Ropingdown says:

    Call me jaded, but felons with unlawfully possessed guns who negligently shoot people should enable us to authoritatively answer that much-mooted question “which handgun caliber really has the best stopping power?” Just line the bastards up and find out. If they negligently shot a kid, test the really small calibers until a stop is achieved. That would, over time, make a better world.

    1. avatar Chris Mallory says:

      “test the really small calibers until a stop is achieved”

      Right, because torture makes us better people.

      1. avatar Ropingdown says:

        I never mentioned torture. I take your point, of course. I do think an eye for an eye has its human wisdom when the random destruction caused by recidivist felons rises to the level of torturing (as you put it) families.

        1. avatar William says:

          So you think shooting someone with less-than-lethal rounds is NOT TORTURE?

          Would you like to volunteer for some scientific experiments?

        2. avatar Ropingdown says:


  12. avatar gregolas says:

    This is another reason why felons should not be given access to firearms. They live with an inherent lack of care for the lives, property, and rights of others-which is the definition of the word “sociopath”. After 17 years of prosecuting and defending them, I can tell you that “paying their debt to society” MAY prevent them from committing more crimes, but it rarely cures their stupidity and lack of regard for others.

    1. avatar Dan says:

      I’ve seen too much atrocious gun handling by Fudds with clean records to make anything of the felon angle on this one. The difference between this tragedy and the last (and next) million rounds without a backstop isn’t prior verdicts. It’s current luck.

  13. avatar Ralph says:

    it can end in tragedy and reflect poorly on every other gun owner in the United States

    Excuse me? What those convicts did reflects on me? I don’t fvcking think so.

    1. avatar Russ Bixby says:

      As in it affects us. It reflects on he very idea of guns among those who know little but vote much. Poor choice of words, but he’s “right.”

  14. avatar dook says:

    A very good friend of mine went to a ‘popular open shooting area’ on the outskirts of Vegas. He and his wife were set up with another person in an area with a good backstop. At some point, another shooter setup in the desert some distance BEHIND them. They had no idea until they started to hear the ‘whiz’-‘bang’ of rounds passing their position. They bailed but not before the van the other person they were with took a round in the A-pillar. When the person that was shooting saw the group starting to drive he jumped in his truck and high-tailed it out of there. They were not able to get his plate. Luckily no one was hurt.

    We already have enough issues with trying to keep open shooting areas here in the Vegas valley, I can see where a shooting like this will lead politicians to try to strangle the rest. I feel for the father and grieve for the loss of his child to armed idiots.

  15. avatar LJM says:

    I shoot in the back 40 on our property we vacation at in the Northwoods of Wisconsin, and hearing stories like this always heightens my already diligent approach to that activity. Now granted, cabins/homes are a good distance from each other and its a pretty dense forest where we shoot, but if you do shoot on private property… you should always be vigilant on having an appropriate backstop (a good ass chunk of Mother Earth) and cognizant of whats beyond. .22’s can kill from a mile +…. you don’t need to be shooting .338 Lapua to do harm WAY down range.

  16. avatar IllumFiati says:

    I grew up in the woods of the Northwest and very near the location this incident occurred. The woods and the banks of the rivers allow people even very close-by to not be heard. You just have to be sure of your backstop, be sure of your backstop and then…be sure of your backstop. Don’t drink and shoot and no gun play. Lastly, stupid-ass criminals shouldn’t have guns…but we all know this.

  17. avatar Ropingdown says:

    It strikes me as so odd that many people think of what criminal behavior with a gun says about guns. Behavior by aggressive violent criminals is just that, and wouldn’t differ if they were restricted to nothing but boomerangs and brick bats. I never could buy into all the doctrines of Jeff Cooper, really, but still quote him: “If you confiscate guns, you’ll still have a criminal problem. If you get the criminals off the streets, you can’t have a gun problem.”

  18. avatar MotoJB says:

    Sickening. Cardinal rules of firearm safety ignored by morons. They should be prosecuted to the full extent of the law and have their rights to own guns revoked…oh wait….

  19. avatar Gov. William J. Le Petomane says:

    Felons with firearms aren’t known for safe handling of them. Generally speaking.

  20. avatar getfreight says:

    I hate reading about things like this. Children should outlive their parents.

    Had some idiots in Washington State, out on the Peninsula shooting over a camp site we were at. We relocated quickly.

    Funny thing is I live in Utah now. Have for over 12 years with a whole lot of camping, hiking, etc…. Have yet to see a situation with stray gun fire personally. Even during hunting season.

    1. avatar Ropingdown says:

      Not so much drugs and booze in Utah, comparatively.

    2. avatar Russ Bixby says:

      A culture in which firearms pay a visible, well-respected part is one in which stupidity with firearms will be less common than in, say, Южной Калифорнии.

  21. avatar Joseph B Campbell says:

    So, did they all just stand there, like sheep waiting to get hit? No one went looking for these morons to tell them to stop before someone gets hurt? The police were called; the average response time is twenty minutes; sometimes more!

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