Subjectivity Is Not An Option
Safety at USPSA Level 1 Matches
Let me start by saying I know this isn’t going to be a popular article, but it’s something I really wanted to write about. I’ve prepared for the comments that are sure to follow, so let’s get started. In past articles I’ve talked briefly about match DQ’s, but I’d like to dive further into the subject of DQ’s, specifically about safety violations at Level 1 matches. Safety should be everyone’s first priority. It’s everyone’s responsibility to be sure the safety rules are enforced. I know our USPSA safety rules are strict. Stricter than most disciplines. But there’s a reason. A few of them, actually.
First, this is a hobby sport for a large portion of the membership. People come out to have a good time. That’s difficult if they feel like their head has to be on a swivel in order to avoid danger. Second, having clearly defined rules levels the playing field. If everyone operates under the same rule set, the competition is fair and skills can be measured and compared. Lastly, guns are a politically charged topic and we should do whatever we can to avoid putting our sport in disrepute.
There are two typical ways safety infractions are handled improperly. One is that people RO-ing stages don’t have the ability to make safety calls. They don’t understand the rules or how to apply them. The second is the inclination to cut a guy a break and dismiss a “minor” infraction.
As a shooter, I don’t enjoy being on a stage with someone who has a cavalier attitude towards safety. We have gear rules in place to be sure our firearms are secure. We have clear and concise range commands so it’s easy for everyone on the range to understand what’s happening at any given moment. We have muzzle direction limitations, trigger finger discipline rules, and ammo restrictions among others. All in place to keep the participants safe.
Someone who disregards those rules because they can’t be bothered to learn them or refuses to enforce them to avoid disappointing their friends is not someone with whom I want to shoot. Learn the rules. It will benefit you as a competitor. With time, you’ll be able to apply them to your match. You’ll design better stage plans when you know what actions are prohibited, and where the boundaries of freestyle competition lie. As a bonus, you’ll be better prepared to RO other shooters and lend your club the hand it needs.
There are those who know the rules but have trouble enforcing them. I get it. It can be hard to DQ a friend. But if your friend is really a friend, they probably know they did it, and will accept the call as the right one. It’s your job to call “STOP” when you see a reason to. Don’t be afraid to say it. The worst that could happen is that you call “STOP”, unload and show clear your shooter, and discuss it with the secondary RO on the stage. If the call was wrong, or you’re not 100% sure, tie goes to the shooter they get a reshoot. Everyone is still safe.
But if you’re right, you’ve just done right by yourself, right by the shooter, and right by everyone else on the stage. Yes, it’s a bummer that the shooter is done for the day. Yes, it’s a hard pill to swallow. But one mistake doesn’t make them a bad person, and they’ll live to shoot another day. As competitors we must face the consequences of our actions. My grandfather used to tell me, “The consequences of an act affect the probability of it happening again” and it’s as true today as it was back then.
The rise in the number of junior shooters is something we all should be proud of. Juniors are excited, impressionable, and eager to learn. Parents should have the expectation that we, as a community, are doing everything we can to keep their children safe. If you’re a local RO and you don’t feel comfortable calling a 180 break or examining more closely a competitor’s questionable gear, do the right thing and ask someone else to RO. If no one on the stage is sure of the rules, politely ask the shooter to wait a moment while you find a Match Director or someone else who knows. Unsafe gear is no small thing, unsafe ammo is no small thing, and 180 breaks are no small thing when you’re a parent watching your child from the sidelines.
As a Match Director, the consequences of an RO allowing safety infractions are higher. One of a Match Director’s opportunities is to put on enjoyable matches that introduce new shooters to the sport. If a club is inclined to dismiss minor infractions, that club is doing their new shooters a disservice. Coaching new shooters is allowed at Level 1 matches and should be encouraged to help shooters learn to shoot safely and get a proper introduction to the technical aspects of the sport. That being said, the rules still need to be enforced equally. If you’re ever in a position to have to DQ a new shooter, do it professionally, do it compassionately, and remind them they’re only DQ’d for today. Encourage them to stick around to watch the rest of the match and reinforce that they’ll be welcomed back to the next one.
Most MD’s hope to put on matches that prepare their shooters for the next level of competition. Imagine there is a relatively new shooter that has a tendency to flirt with breaking the 180 on a right to left reload. I think a lot of us can relate, right? If that new shooter is preparing for their first big Area match and a local RO cuts them a break or two, it could mean trouble. If they get to their Area match all pumped up to shoot their first major but get DQ’d on the first stage of the day for breaking the 180…OUCH! That’s months of preparation and excitement and all the money they spent to get there down the drain.
If the club MD and ROs had enforced the rules, that shooter would have been forced to change their reload technique long ago. They would have developed the skills necessary to avoid that infraction, and may not have suffered the same fate. Match Directors owe their shooters the opportunity to be the best they can be, and no Match Director wants their club to be known as the club that turns out unsafe shooters who can’t perform at the Area or National level.
The Director of the National Range Officers Institute, Troy McManus, just wrote about this subject in the recent May/June edition of FrontSight Magazine. For those of you who are USPSA members, you can access the article here at https://uspsa.org/magazine/2017-05/. For those of you who can’t access the article, he addresses the topic of Range Officer subjectivity. I think he hit the nail on the head when he used the “180” rule as an example. He said, “Subjectivity is not acceptable. One man’s “harmless” 180 break (“he only broke it by a couple degrees”) is another man’s egregious error, and allowing Range Officials to decide the severity of the infraction would lead to grossly un-fair calls across the breadth of the sport.”
I think everyone agrees that at a national match the calls should be fair and unbiased. The same should hold true at Level 1 matches. Fair is fair. And fairness requires competency and a willingness to apply the rules. We should all be held to the same standard. Troy has been asked about subjectivity many times, and his answer is this, “Local match or no, the rule are the rules for the sport and must be followed. Not following our rules is the biggest disservice to your competitors, your customers, possible. USPSA matches round the country can be compared to a pyramid: Lots of local matches on the bottom, supporting the larger (State/Section, Area, National) blocks on top. If the bottom blocks are weak in any way, the structure is unstable. Following the rules at your local match is the best way to ensure a strong foundation for our sport. Rules are easy to find, and help is but an email or phone call away. Let’s all try to do it right.”
The objective is to compare our performance to that of our peers. The layers of safety in our rulebook cultivate an environment where shooters can focus on the competition. I don’t know about you, but to me be it a Level 1, Level 3, it doesn’t matter. I’m there to win. I want to know that I lost because someone else was better than I was, and I want to win because I was better than the rest. Winning because someone cut me a break, or losing because someone else gained an advantage by breaking a rule just doesn’t fall in line with my values, or the principles of USPSA Competition. Let’s hold each other to the highest standard, and keep this a safe and enjoyable sport that exemplifies firearm enthusiasm and competition.
Gun Racer and Gear Breaker
Facebook: Jessica Nietzel