What are you going to do when they come and close down your range? That's a question many firearms trainers are asking themselves all across this country.
We—your department, your training unit, and each trainer—owe it to you and the public you serve to provide the best training possible.
You need that training so you will have the opportunity to go home to your families in relatively the same condition in which you went to work. The public deserves it so it can be safe from errant rounds and so that you, their protectors, can stop the bad guys from hurting them.
There's no doubt that you need a place to train with loud, potentially polluting tools called firearms. Just about everybody would agree that you need to spend time on the range. The problem is that very few people want the range in their neighborhood.
"The problem is significant in California. Some law enforcement ranges are being closed," says Action Target's Layne Ashby. "And in my 10 years with the company, I cannot think of a single commercial range being built."
Law Enforcement Facilities
Not only are police ranges being closed nationwide. It can even be difficult to replace a range destroyed in a natural disaster. The Escondido (Calif.) Police Department's range burned to a crisp a number of years back in one of the many wildfires that devastated much of northeastern San Diego County. The ammunition bunker, target shed, office, and work area were total losses.
Rangemaster John Russo has been trying to rebuild the facility ever since. This year marks some initial success in that long overdue project, but it sure hasn't been easy.
Russo says it's not as simple as, "Here's a nice piece of property; come on guys let's build us a range." Requests for proposals, construction documents, and permits are just some of the hurdles that he's had to jump. But the real "fly in the ointment," according to Russo, was the environmental concerns.
For a shooting range environmental concerns can encompass everything from lead, arsenic, barium, and antimony contamination; to the noise levels of every firearm shot on the range; to the preservation of mating areas of the three-toed, blue-eyed, finned, razor-backed, jumping turtle sub-species. In fact, anyone seeking to build a police range just might have to become a razor-backed jumping turtle in order to navigate all of the hurdles placed in the way by the "green" folks.
Noise pollution is a particularly sensitive issue for shooting ranges. Escondido PD was well aware of this, so prior to closing the range for construction, the department hired a noise monitoring company to get a baseline of the noise created by firing single weapons of all types and the levels created by strings of fire by multiple officers in training scenarios.
That may seem like a strange thing to do, but Sgt. Russo explains why it was deemed necessary. "It's really important to establish that baseline because when you close down for construction, people get used to not having the firing going on. When you complete the project and start back up some folks think you're creating more noise than before."
Russo adds that the department has a strict good neighbor policy at the range. "We don't shoot before 0800 and we knock off before 2200."
In addition to the noise concerns of local residents, Russo says that a wise department will do its best to consult with the state fish and game department before it begins construction on a range. This agency has enormous control over how and where you can build a firearms training facility. It can tell you where you can or cannot park, where you can put your toilet facilities, what kind of sanitation is required, and where you can walk—let alone where you can shoot.
And woe betide those who ignore its dictates. The state fish and game officials can close you down in a heartbeat and permanently. They are dead serious about the species they're charged to protect and your need for a range to train your officers is not of their concern in any way. They may be empathetic to your plight, after all they live in your community, but like you they have a job to do.
With all of the environmental regulations facing gun ranges, many agencies have had to look for ways to make their ranges more eco-friendly.
Fortunately, there are now many options available for creating a green range. Several range equipment manufacturers offer trap systems that totally contain and capture lead rounds. Some of them will even place the expended bullets in a bucket for you. Much of this technology is used at indoor ranges, but it can be and is used outdoors.
Old-style traps used sharply angled steel plates to shatter bullets on impact. The new generation of traps uses gently sloped ramps, which guide the bullets into a sealed deceleration chamber. Splatter and ricochet are virtually eliminated as the funnel ramps greatly reduce bullet break up on impact.
Another way for a department to make its range more eco-friendly and consequently more acceptable to the community is to use green ammo.
If you've been around an LE range long enough you've undoubtedly been exposed to frangible ammunition. For years this ammo was the nemesis of our guns. It often jammed and the stoppages, for all intent, killed any training you wished to conduct. Today it is much better.
International Cartridge Corp. and others make green frangible ammo in all the popular law enforcement pistol calibers and even in slug, nine pellet Buck, 12-gauge breaching rounds, .223 Remington, .308 Winchester, and now a .300 Win Mag cartridge. And, the stuff works. I've been using it for years now and have yet to experience an ammo-induced stoppage.
Green ammo is available from many manufacturers, but it all features non-toxic bullets, powders, and primers. When you combine this technology with a high-tech trap system you are a long way toward building a range that will last for decades, that is safe to operate, and is environmentally conscious.
A Long Row to Hoe
Building or rebuilding a law enforcement firearms training range is a long, tedious, and frustrating process. The environmental concerns are almost overwhelming. But, the satisfaction of finally getting it done and maybe even being the first one to put a round down range is a great reward.
And regardless of how tough it is to build or maintain your agency's firearms training facility, remember that it can make a real difference. The training that your officers receive at their range may help save their lives. But they will only get that training if you persevere and don't let the project falter.
D. Francis Ryan is the pen name of a retired police sergeant currently living in Colorado. During his 30 years at one of the largest Southern California police departments, he held a number of positions, including rangemaster—his last assignment prior to retirement. He's been writing for around 10 years for a number of law enforcement and firearms publications.
Bureau of Justice Assistance
International Cartridge Corporation
Swanson Tactical Training Center