Customer accidentally killed at Houston area gun range
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A customer of a Cypress, Texas shooting range was shot and killed this morning when a range employee, who was reportedly working on a hunting rifle, discharged the gun, sending a round through a building wall and striking the unidentified customer as he was walking across the parking lot.

As reports, this morning’s pre-Christmas tragedy happened at the Hot Wells Shooting Range northwest of Houston.

(Harris County Sheriff’s Office spokesman Sr. Deputy Thomas) Gilliland said the single shot hit and killed a 36-year-old customer who had just pulled up at the hunting range near the intersection of the Northwest Freeway and Barker Cypress Road. …

An employee at the shooting range told KPRC 2 that the man was hit in the head.

He was rushed to the hospital, where he was pronounced dead.

Anyone see the problem here?

“Homicide will investigate all of the employees, witnesses (and) take control of the weapon. That weapon will be investigated also to find out if there’s anything wrong with it; if there was a malfunction, or if it was human error,” Gilliland said. …

“The main focus will be was it human error, or was it a gun malfunction? We will find out from them,” Gilliland said.

Assuming it all happened as reported, we can save the boys in homicide some time. Because it doesn’t really matter if the gun “malfunctioned.” The problem was the employee was working on a rifle he hadn’t cleared.

The rifle in question may have had a custom trigger some joker had set to a half pound pull weight. Or it could have been a recalled Remington 700 that hadn’t had the factory fix yet. The problem wasn’t that the rifle “just went off,” it was that the range employee was working on a firearm that was loaded. Never mind that it was also pointed in an unsafe direction.

One more time…you have to break at least two of the four rules of firearm safety for something bad to happen. And this morning something unthinkably bad happened when someone ignored those rules.

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  1. My condolences to the family of the victim, how fate truly turned against this gentleman..

    Now it’s time for the financial end of this tragedy.

  2. The recitation of the first rule as found in that link always bothers me. Isn’t the rule really, “Treat all guns as if they are loaded until you have personally verified otherwise”?

    • Not really. Because what if you made a mistake?

      I’ve found .22 lr rounds hung up in a tubular magazine *after* checking the action at least 3 times and transporting the rifle home. I opened the lever, like I usually do when wiping guns down after a range trip, then closed the action…and randomly checked it again just because I’m kind of paranoid — and out pops that sneaky little stray cartridge.

      It wouldn’t have been unreasonable to leave it without that last check, because I definitely had checked it before. But there would have been a live round in the chamber, and if I had handled the gun like it was unloaded…bang.

      For me, that verified the wisdom of “it’s ALWAYS loaded (even when you’re sure it’s not).”

      • Too many gun owners have egos so large that the four rules offend them. They act like the rules are for others and they personally are infallible. And all that goes triple at gun stores and ranges.

        Bet the employee just seconds before tragedy rationalized that he had the skills and gun competence to break one of those rules.

        • That is the truth. Nearly every local shop here in northeast Ohio has staff with HUGE egos and chips on their shoulders… for this reason I’ve turned shipping purchases to an FFL and avoid those guys at all costs. It’s really quite sad.

      • My Marlin 60 has a red mag follower. The spring tube/follower serves as your mag clearing rod.

        If you lock the bolt back, see that the chamber is empty, and see the red mag follower when you look down into the action, it’s unloaded.

        • We will remember those words when you “accidentally” shoot a loved one with your unloaded gun.

          If it cannot happen to you then it is about to. Like clockwork.

      • A gun is NEVER unloaded unless you can visually see an empty chamber AND the follower in the magazine.
        Tubular mag .22’s are ALWAYS a problem. If it is one where a tube with spring & follower slide out to load the mag, then get a piece of weed whacker cord. Run it down the mag until it you can see it come out at the action.

        As to the rest, to quote the NRA, “ALWAYS …, ALWAYS …, ALWAYS…!”
        You can’t have an “unsafe” accidental discharge if the gun is pointed in a SAFE direction!

      • Ing,

        Your story clearly indicates that you failed to verify that a firearm was unloaded, since you have to ensure that the magazine, action, and chamber are all empty and you failed to verify that the magazine was empty.

        Ensuring that a magazine is empty means visually and potentially even tactilely verifying the presence of the magazine follower and the absence of cartridges.

        Note: I am not trying to bust your chops here. I am simply pointing this out so that we can all learn something from it. For example: for most of my life I figured it would be fine to muzzle sweep someone as long as there was absolutely NOTHING in the trigger guard. If there is nothing in the trigger guard, the firearm cannot possibly go bang, right? Absolutely right until someone mentioned how mechanical failures of triggers, sears, and firing pins have caused firearms to go bang without anything touching the trigger.

        So, your notion of an unloaded firearm and how to verify that the firearm was unloaded was wrong. And my notion that it was fine to muzzle sweep people with a loaded firearm as long as nothing was in the trigger guard was wrong. This is how we learn and get better!

      • Nevertheless, you are responsible for any gun under your control and you are the only person responsible. If you checked a gun and determined it was not loaded, and then it turned out you were mistaken, you are responsible. The person with the gun when it went off killed someone because of his/her negligence. Period.

    • “until you have personally verified otherwise”
      Since this was a malfunctioning firearm, how do we know that the gun didn’t go off while he was doing exactly that?

      How do we know that the employee didn’t clear the line, carefully take the rifle back to the shop without pointing it at anyone, put it on a work bench, without touching the trigger, pointing it away from the shop or the firing line, attempt to work the action, the gun went off, truly because of a malfunction, hit a wall, deflected into the parking lot, and stuck someone with the worst luck ever.

      That is a reasonable account of what could have happened.

      • Or perhaps the gun that went off in the building was not the source of the bullet. Instead there was a second gun malfunction on a grassy knoll.

      • Last time I went to range with a friend, he brought his brand new .44 Marlin 1894 lever action rifle. The action was very rough an he had troubles with feeding. Finally the gun got stuck halfway closed on live round and he couldn’t move the bolt. We put the rifle in the case and took it up front to the counter. They got it unstuck in couple of minutes, but it made me think about this exact problem.

        How do they work on a gun that is/may be loaded and can’t be easily cleared? Garbage can full of sand at the end of work bench might help.

  3. Even IF a gun has been checked and verified that it is not loaded you still treat it as if it’s still loaded! This includes airsoft and plastic training guns. We do this because it creates good handling habits and consistency. I teach my students that EVERY time they touch a gun, they must verify whether it is loaded or not. “If you touch it- You check it because you’re responsible for it.” Even if they just saw someone else check the gun each student must verify it’s condition for themselves and then still treat the gun as if it were loaded and still follow the rest of the firearm safety rules.

    • No, and this nonsense is how the basic rule gets ignored: because you don’t pull the trigger on a loaded gun unless you intend to fire it. You DO pull the trigger on an unloaded gun in many cases in order to take it down, etc.

      The first poster was right. You treat every gun as loaded until you prove otherwise- and the moment it leaves your sight, it’s loaded again. But once you verify it’s unloaded, it doesn’t magically load itself. That’s a good thing, because otherwise there’s a lot of things you couldn’t do with it.

      Just because I know a gun is unloaded doesn’t mean the other rules get broken.

      • What is a safe direction in this case? The floor would be the best probably, but it there’s always a time when something or someone could be muzzled. I’m willing to bet some bubba brought his LOADED defective huntan rofl in for something other than having the trigger/safety worked on, and the store employee pointed it toward the outside wall and took the safety off to open the action and look it over. Rather than aiming it in another direction where he knew people were (range with people, employees to the side and behind him, customer in front of him, etc), he chose the outside wall, and “it just went off.” Most people in a normal, calm setting wouldn’t think to aim a long gun toward the ground before inspecting it- they would sit it on the counter or bench, open the case, turn safety off, and open action, which is just fine as long as bubba isn’t walking around with a loaded gun in his case and the factory isn’t producing unsafe “safeties” and triggers, but that’s counting on too many variables that aren’t living up to their end of the bargain. I think there should be a wrongful death suit against someone, and I’m leaning away from the employee.

        • Yup, we also don’t know if there was any deflection. He could have both been assuming it was loaded as well as pointing it in what would have been reasonable to believe was a safe direction.

        • I was wondering about that, too. If the employee was pointing the weapon away from the people around him and towards a wall(or floor), that would be considered safe by a reasonable person. But since we don’t know the nature of the firearm or the process the employee was doing, it’s still hard to call this anything but a tragic coincidence…

      • If you have to pull the trigger on an “unloaded” gun, you still treat it as if it was loaded – point it somewhere that a bullet hole is acceptable.

    • I’ll always remember when I asked my Dad why you’d treat a gun as loaded if you knew it wasn’t loaded. It took me a while, but eventually I understood what he meant when he answered my question: “Because people have been shot by unloaded guns.”

    • It sounds like the employee was indoors, not on the firing line. Gun should have been cleared seven times already, and then, another three times.

    • It’s been too long since I shot at Hotwells. I taught my then girlfriend/Now wife (22 years!) to shoot there.
      Now I feel I need to go sight a rifle in just to show some solidarity and pay my respects.

    • It will go to the Grand Jury, too, as all potential criminal homicides do in this town. With basic safety rules ignored, it’s hard not to see an indictment being handed down; at least criminally negilegent homicide (6 mo. – 2 yrs), possibly manslaughter (2 – 20 years). It depends on the degree of culpability as determined by the mental state. That is, did he act recklessly or just negligently?

      • I always open-carry a Condition 1 pistol when I go to the range. All my cased guns are empty until I get setup. The first thing I do after getting into the stall is draw and do a magdump to cycle out old carry ammo. When I leave I load another mag with carry ammo in and top it off, so I cycle those too.

      • You would be told to leave up here in CT if you entered a range with a loaded weapon. All my weapons get an empty chamber device inserted into the chambers before being put in their cases…all magazines are removed from each weapon also. We arent even allowed to draw from the holster when pistol shooting

        • You would also be told to leave at the AGC range in Baltimore, as well as the 3 local indoor ranges near me

        • In Ohio our right to keep and bear arms is written into the state constitution, and Open Carry is legal everywhere that’s not a GFZ. There’s a certain indoor range I go to occasionally that makes you keep all weapons cased and/or flagged, but they’re part of a chain from Illinois. The place I go to normally doesn’t care if you OC because all the employees OC.

    • I always say, the longer you own/handle guns, the more vigilant you must become in strictly adhering to the 4 rules. Familiarity breeds contempt. These tragedies are never an accident and are ALWAYS preventable.

      • THIS^^ I would say familiarity breeds complacency. The more familiar you become, the harder you should fight complacency.

    • It seems to me that there could be several legitimate reasons why the gun could have been loaded.

      There are three points that could play into this. First, they mentioned that the range had just opened for business. Second, the employee was described as “working on” the gun. Third, it was not mentioned what kind of gun it was.

      So it’s pretty clear that gunsmithing work was being done. And since they had just opened, he was probably just getting started on the gun.

      So one possibility is that it was a muzzleloader that had not yet been unloaded. (Can only be done by firing it.) It could also have been a gun that had a malfunction which caused a round to be stuck in the chamber.

      I see too little information in this article to make any kind of reasonable conclusion between negligent manslaughter and “s*** happens.” Either way, I suspect their insurance company is going to be very upset with them.

  4. Wow, that’s gonna cost someone one heck of a lot of money.

    Talk about shitty timing.
    His wife & family will think of the millions of things that could have delayed him that day by a split second and have the bullet just zip by instead.

  5. I always say my prayers before going to any kind of range. Condolences to the family. Christmas is ruined likely because of an idiot.

  6. That’s why it’s called 4 rules not suggestions.

    One member killed at club I was in similar way about 30 years ago.

    Personally have had “unloaded” .40 cal fired next to me twice on different occasions by newish shooters. Once was sheer luck I was moving sideways just as it happened otherwise probably very messy.

  7. Good, one less drumpf voter for us to put up against the wall. Drumpf and all its supporters must be exterminated.

  8. Wouldn’t have helped in this situation but it’s an example of why, at the pistol range I teach and RSO at, I usually wear a “comfy” sweatshirt or fleece – that covers the Level II body armor I wear as added insurance against a ballistic “oops.”

  9. The first rule should be “All guns are always loaded and capable of firing at any time.” The important part of the rule is “capable of firing at any time”, because that is what we really want to remain conscious of all the time.

    Nevertheless, there are often times when a gun owner MUST violate the first rule (when in the middle of the process of cleaning the gun, for example). So obviously we should talk about when it is acceptable to violate the first rule.

    The only time I treat a gun as if it is not capable of firing is when it very obviously is not, like :
    – when it has been disassembled. (For example, if I take the slide assembly off of a semi auto pistol, then it definitely is incapable of firing.)
    – when the action is open (For example, when the slide is locked back on a semi auto pistol, when the cylinder is swung out on a revolver, when the bolt is open on a bolt action rifle, or when the breech is open on a break action shotgun.) Be aware that the gun could become capable of firing in just a moment, by simply closing the action. There are rare exceptions to this situation, when you should still treat it as capable even when the action is open, and you should know what those exceptions are.

    You should be very aware when you are treating a gun as not capable of firing that doing it too much can create a bad habit, which could result in violating the rule when you shouldn’t. Therefore, try to treat a gun as incapable of firing as rarely as possible.

  10. I just about got shot today myself, I live in the country and had a bullet “fzzzkeerack” over me, they was shooting off the bridge about 600 yards away. I thot ” Damn, that was close”

  11. The Florida Wildlife Commission-designed and built multi-weapon, outdoor range in Sebastian, FL, does not permit ‘loaded firearms’ even entering the parking lot. If your firearm is loaded when you walk into the actual covered structures with a loaded firearm of any kind, you are politely sent home. A firearm should be loaded only at shooting stations when the Range is Hot call.

    P.S. I personally teach that the FIRST RULE Part A is: Always point a firearm in a SAFE direction. You can break EVERY other rule and everybody still goes home alive.

    • So you’re expected to arrive at and leave the range defenseless? Hogwash. I’ve turned around and left ranges like that as it has happened before where people have been robbed leaving a range and if you’re expected to arrive and leave disarmed that range is no better than a “gun-free zone”.

      Additionally how would that have helped in this situation? It was a range employee that had a negligent discharge before the business was even open.

  12. The thing I can’t stand about this range is that it is run by kids. I only go there for rifle and only when I don’t have time to drive an hour to next closest rifle range. I would not shoot pistol there if my life depended on it.

    • Grew up in Cypress and went to Hot Wells most my life. I completely agree in that aspect. For those that are not familiar with this range, the owners staffs the majority of the place with teenagers including range officers. Folks too damn young and inexperienced to be running a gun range. Tragic, but I’m shocked something like this has not happened sooner. I’ve witnessed all kinds of safety violations when I’ve visited and prefer other ranges these days.

  13. So “shooting range” had diddly squat to do with the incident? The rifle, shooter and firing were not on a range. The victim was not on the range. The same chain of events could have happened in any big box gun store/

  14. Let me guess. The news reporter must me a a Democrat or liberal that does not like firearms to make a comment a joker put a half pound trigger on the gun is a horrible way to make an assumption, people want to know why the gun was not cleared of a bullet first before working on it how do we know that there wasn’t a bullet that was lodged in the barrel stuck, it’s a tragedy no matter how we look at it but it’s even worse that the news media has to blow things out of proportion when they have no idea about the real gun world because they’re told not to like guns.

    • Obviously, reading comprehension isn’t your strong suit. This is actually the best use of headline, and the most accurate description of the incident and the possible connecting circumstances (i.e. excuses) that I have seen.

  15. I was at Bills in Minnesota the day after a suicide, about 3 years ago. The downstairs range is mostly run by younger “kids”. Guy comes in and rents a 357 magnum and a box of cartridges. Puts on eyes and ears. Fires a few rounds to test for function. Lays down horizontally on the floor of the firing line. Shoots himself in the head, while maintaining strict muzzle control, sending the bullet through his brains and then downrange. I knew the kid who rented him the gun. A really downhome, respectful young man. He never went back to work, so I can only imagine how hard he took it. I was mad that the suicidal guy had to inflict such emotional damage on him. The most amazing thing about the entire incident? The press, either on tv or in our newspapers never mentioned a word. The Minnesota gun form was on fire for days. It wasn’t a secret. But not even a mention. I have my theory. Bills is the most famous indoor range in the state, and a very common place for law enforcement of all stripes to hang out and shoot in. I think they helped bury the story. Anyway, my condolences to the family of this Houston man. I hate hearing stories about these preventable tragedies. These things are never accidents. Always a bit sobering. I’m just grateful that when it comes to gun safety I have no ego. In fact, the longer you own/handle Guns, the more important it becomes to practice strict adherence to the 4 rules. It’s how I taught my wife and daughter, too.

  16. Back to my original post, even accepting the first rule as I’ve set it forth, i.e., even after you’ve personally verified that the gun is unloaded, the next three rules should be adhered to religiously. In other words, it’s no more acceptable to flag someone with a gun you know is unloaded than it is to flag someone with a loaded gun or with a gun whose condition you haven’t personally verified.

  17. When I’m done at the range, or if I have to check the weapon, even after I’ve cleared the weapon, I always point gun down range and pull the trigger.

  18. When I’m “working” on bolt guns, I always pull the bolt out and leave it out while I’m working on it. Not to mention I always check the chamber when I pick it up, check the chamber when I set it down, check the chamber when I pull the bolt, check the chamber before I start working on it, check the chamber before I pull the trigger. When I pull the trigger, I always do so in a safe direction (regardless if I “know” it’s clear) just in case I had an aneurism, or a stroke, etc, and I was unable to remember putting a round in the chamber for whatever insane reason.

    You have to tailor the safety rules to protect you and others from yourself, and your possible failing memory.

  19. “Because it doesn’t really matter if the gun “malfunctioned.” The problem was the employee was working on a rifle he hadn’t cleared.”

    Way too many assumptions there. First being that the rifle could be cleared at all. That may have been the very nature of the malfunction. Or even just part of it. He could have been attempting to clear the rifle when, through an actual malfunction of the gun, it went off.

    How thick was the wall? How far away were individuals from the line of fire? Was the individual struck actually in a direct line or was there significant deflection? How much of a freak accident really was this? Could reasonable steps have prevented it? Maybe, but with a truly malfunctioning firearm, maybe not.

  20. This posting and many of the subsequent posts are so wrong and off base! I know this range, the people involved and happen to have been on site when the accident occurred. These gentlemen are good at what they do. This was a tragic accident. STOP the assumptions and let the truth be revealed through the investigation. Yes, I know what occurred but we need to let the announcements happen for the sake of all involved.

  21. I recall a few times when the rifle guru RO at our outdoor range would examine other people’s rifles. Watching him through RO office windows, he always pointed the rifle downrange, and only during open-fire times. I fail to see how this is so complicated. Don’t be complacent!

    • This is the same thought I had about my home range – the Assoc Gun Clubs of Baltimore.
      Work on a gun pointed anywhere other than downrange and while the range is hot, and you are going to get booted off!

      It’s a no-brainer!

      Was this accident at a “public” range? – That might also be part of the problem. — Insufficient properly-trained personnel present.

  22. The way I see it:

    The gun never should have left the firing range while loaded, magazine or chamber, most especially if it was malfunctioning. Malfunction = unpredictable. The muzzle should have stayed pointed down range. Period.

    No matter how you spin it, this was negligence. A sad day for both the worker and victim.

  23. I’m heartbroken at several levels. I went to school with a couple of the Lamar kids, and learned how to swim and shoot at Hot Wells.

  24. I see a whole lot of armchair quarterbacking here. My thoughts and prayers go out to the employees of Hot Well’s Shooting Range who’s lives have been changed forever. And to the family of the gentleman who lost his life in this tragic accident. To sit in judgement in this case is to say you’ve never made a mistake you’ve never had an AD you’ve never pointed a gun in the wrong direction when clearing it. It is truly sad how quickly we throw our fellow Shooters to the wolves. To me this was a perfect storm that happened on a beautiful day in Cypress Texas and I know my friends and extended family at Hot Well’s Shooting Range are beside themselves over this accident.

  25. REMINGTON 700 NOTE: (This rifle was mentioned in the opening article.)
    700 misfiring tragedies are much more common in cold weather. This cold-weather detail is often left out of the discussion, and people can’t understand the risk if they don’t hear it.
    If you are not 100% certain that a 700 has been professionally retrofitted with safer parts, and is definitely unloaded, don’t even pick it up, or you might be the cause of a tragedy like the one in this article.
    I won’t say more about Remington here. Let’s discuss it somewhere else. We not lose our main priority: compassion for this innocent victim and his family.

  26. All the radio news in Houston on this told us the employee was “cleaning” the rifle. Not much of a cleaning job if he didn’t visibly inspect the bore…or at least push the round out with a cleaning rod. This is either a weak murder coverup story, or a weak negligent homicide cover up story.

  27. I’ve been to Hotwells once. I never went back. Let’s just say that I’m not surprised.

    Very sorry for the victim and his family.

  28. For most of us, the problem is obvious, being the technician who failed to follow proper safety procedures is culpable; however, the business owner/management bears the ultimate responsibility in not reinforcing the rules of safe handling of firearms. This could be potentially ruinous for the business if they aren’t sufficiently covered by insurance.

    Several lives ruined, and one taken. What a waste of humanity by way of negligence.

  29. There’s a latin legal term called “res ipsa loquitur” (Latin for “the thing speaks for itself”). If you’re walking down the sidewalk and a piano falls on your head, it’s pretty obvious someone was negligent.

    Ditto in this case. It has negligent homicide written all over it, gun malfunction or not.


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