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Occasional TTAG commentator Mikeb302000 posed an interesting question this morning on his blog. He linked to the sad story of  one Stephen Daniels, a man who rented a gun and shot himself in the head at the Firing-Line indoor shooting range in Burbank, California. Mikeb302000 asked “What ‘safety measures’ can a shooting range implement anyway that will prevent folks from blowing their brains out?” Mr. Mike had a simple answer . . .

One safety measure they haven’t tried yet is a big padlock on the front door. I’ll bet that would stop the suicides.

But seriously folks, it’s a conundrum for people who work at gun ranges, like our home range American Firearms School. When do you say “no” to someone who wants to rent a gun?

There are legal, practical and commercial reasons for gun range staff to avoid the issue of suicidal shooters entirely.

In terms of legal blowback, I’m not saying someone would sue a private gun range for not allowing them to shoot. But I’m not saying they wouldn’t sue, just as I can’t say the family of a gun range suicide wouldn’t sue a range for not preventing the victim from shooting themselves. This being America and all.

Suffice it to say, the current policy of not asking question about a shooter’s mental health is the least risky legal strategy for a gun range. Which is why that’s the way it is. This being America and all.

Practically, how do you train gun range staff to identify someone who’s suicidal? Highly trained shrinks and psychologists miss it all the time. Families miss it. Friends miss it. Forget that hang-dog lack of eye contact idea of a depressive on the edge. Someone who’s about to kill themselves can seem cal, relaxed and yes, friendly.

From a business point-of-view, screening gun range customers for mental health issues would be, pardon the word choice, commercial suicide. “Normal” customers would not frequent a gun range where the staff questions their mental health or, God forbid, tap into a health care database.

Which leaves us with what, Mikeb302000’s padlock?

Almost. Common sense suggests that an alert and sensitive gun range staff member might be able to gently question a shooter’s mental health if they sensed something amiss. A simple question to a suspected suicide—do you feel alright?—could open the door to a successful intervention. It’s not likely, but it is possible.

Meanwhile, I recommend an idea that’s a lot easier and less legally fraught: a Good Samaritan’s (or similar org’s) poster offering a helpline number. The poster doesn’t have to be prominent enough to ruin a “normal” shooter’s mindset. But it could be there, somewhere, within view.

Any other ideas?

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  1. I noted that the huge range in Manchester, CT won't rent to single shooters unless they have the CT State Firearms card. That actually seems like a reasonable precaution. In those states where the Govt has implemented some kind of 'slow down' law to keep people in extreme emotional states from buying guns, making sure that LONE INDIVIDUALS that are unknown to the range personnel have also gone through those state mandated processes before renting them guns seems like good legal CYA for the ranges and a reasonable restriction overall. If a person has the state card, then you know he or she is a firearms afficianado, and probably has a normal reason to be there. If the person is with a group of friends out for some shooting fun, he or she is probably not planning suicide. But if a lone person who you have never met, and who is not legally permitted to purchase in your state shows up asking for a rental? That's why range personel wear vests, IMHO. (How often does that really happen anyway? I would think that most 'first-timers' always bring a friend, as ranges are a bit intimidating to the uninitiated).

    Of course, the many readers here that seethe at any restriction on their right to blow the living hell out of an 11×14 piece of paper whenever they so choose will balk at this. But, I would point out that the Constitution prohibits the GOVERNMENT from interfereing with our right to bear arms. PRIVATE ranges that don't want legal headaches and negligence suits can set whatever rules they want. Hell, they could mandate that you paint your face blue and recite the greek alphabet backwards before they rented you a gun if they wanted to…

    In States where there are no restrictions on instant gun obtainment – well, then the range owners can either seem like real @sses and implement whatever restrictions they devise themselves, or they can invest in a good mop and a low deductible insurance policy.

    I understand that we'll never stop every gun related tragedy no matter what laws and rules are put in place. I know that the various state limitations won't stop a determined person from killing himself, and thus private ranges applying those limitations to rental guns won't always work. But frankly with a little common sense and self regulation, the gun owning community can minimize the headline stories, and thus the liklihood that the rest of the populace will feel a need to further regulate us.

    Now, if you will excuse me, an 11×14 piece of paper really pissed me off this morning.


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