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SCOTT RALL COLUMN: Once is way more than enough

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WORTHINGTON -- An item that has gotten lots and lots of attention by way of phone calls to my office and cell is, what is going on at the local rifle and pistol range?

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The range is located at the Worthington Gun Club, a few miles north of Worthington on U.S. 59. It is a member's only club and anyone can join if they pay the $30 annual fee. Memberships are available at my office at Rall Financial Services.

One day it was open and being used by many shooters and the next day it was closed and has stayed closed for at least 6-8 weeks. I made a call to one of the Worthington Gun Club board members and he shared a story that makes everyone who listens take a gasp.

There was a group of shooters using the range and during the course of that time, a gun discharge resulted in a bullet being sent downrange that ended up going over the protective dirt berm backstop and traveling more than a mile and ending up in a person's garage. No one was injured, but this makes anyone who knows anything about guns and gun safety wonder how this might have happened.

A high dirt berm is considered the safest back stop to shoot into. In this case, the bullet -- for whatever reason -- missed the target and went over the top of the backstop. The shooter is considered well versed and very accomplished with firearms and firearm safety, so exactly how this happened will never be known for sure. The range has been open for many years and this is the very first incident of any kind.

What resulted is now what matters. The gun club has spent many thousands of dollars of the club's reserves to make changes to the range. There is now a much wider shooting backstop in place to change the shooting angle. An additional shooting backstop has been installed to make it impossible to shoot in the direction of the prior setup. Signs have been erected with additional rules and requirements which are now the law of the land to use the range.

Recreational shooting has been proven time and again to be one of the safest pastimes that kids and adults can participate in. Accidents and accidental discharges are very rare.

Even with such a great safety record, there are certain gun safety rules everyone has to know and abide by if they choose to shoot a gun at the range -- or anywhere else for that matter.

They include, but are not limited to, the following: Treat every gun as if it were loaded and keep the muzzle pointed in a safe direction. This means what it says and results in the gun handler keeping the muzzle pointed in a safe direction at all time.

Safety means handling the gun in a manner that respects the fact that a gun is capable of doing great damage if handled carelessly. The muzzle is the end of the barrel where the bullets come out.

The last of the big three is to know your target and what's beyond. This is important at all times, but hunting is where this rule got its start. If you want to shoot a pheasant, you darn well better know what's behind that bird before you pull the trigger.

Is there a building site in the distance, another hunter posed on the end of the field or anything else that needs your focus before you pull the trigger? While target shooting at a solid, well-constructed back stop the "know what's beyond" issue is usually already taken care of properly. That is unless somehow the shooter's actions result in the bullet traveling over the top of the solid back stop.

With the changes that have been made, the shooting facility has even greater margins of safety than it had before. It was a very safe shooting range before the accident. It was built initially to all of the proper specifications. All necessary protocols were followed. But it is even safer now then it was when it was built.

With all of the efforts made by those in charge, it still takes responsible users to keep it that way. It requires everyone to act in a manner that keeps all of the members and other residents of the county safe.

When I teach firearm safety to both kids and adults, I usually take a civilian M-16, set it on the table and ask the class if this gun is dangerous. The response is always the same and always wrong. There will be a few people who think this gun or any gun merely by its appearance is dangerous. I then ask how, if this gun laid on the table for 1,000 years, it could ever hurt anyone. It is only after a person picks it up is it capable of hurting anyone or anything.

Gun safety for the most part is not a function of the gun but of its user. It is the gun handler that determines the outcome in every instance. Shooting clubs like the Worthington Gun Club could build a backstop 300 feet high and a shooter could still shoot over the top.

The issues that arose from this shooting accident have been resolved and the range is now open to members again. It was with great cost to the local organization and they are asking all shooters to pay their dues and formally join the club and that for all members to do everything in their power to ensure another "over the berm" discharge never happens again.

Greater attention will be paid in the future to reduce the number of non-members who utilize the range without paying for it. Signs have been erected with the new rules and every shooter needs to read and understand them completely.

Other changes have been made that you will see when you get on site. These include changes to shooting rest bench areas and the backstop themselves. If you have questions about the new rules, you can call me at 360-6027 I will clarify any questions you might have.

This is a subject matter I hope I will never have to cover again under these circumstances. Gun safety will always be important to me and get great coverage, but a discharge over the berm is one I pray we will never see again.

Scott Rall is the Daily Globe's outdoors columnist. His column can also be read weekly at www.dglobe.com.

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