Kiss the Rampart Range Road shooting range goodbye.
A deadly mishap occurred there Saturday, when 25-year-old Otis Frieson was mistakenly shot as he and a friend were stowing firearms. And because every headline-generating tragedy must be met with a disproportionate regulatory response in modern America -- because we have come to believe we can legislate (or regulate our way to) immortality -- this is all that critics of the range probably will need to shut it down. Responsible people will be deprived of a relatively safe place to shoot simply because Frieson's companion made a terrible mistake.
What happened at the range was a tragedy -- the sort of accident that can happen just about anywhere firearms are handled. Yet the victim’s father is turning his grief into a cause and calling for the shooting range to be shut down. "I thought this was a supervised club, and now I am finding out that this place is a garbage dump, basically," the elder Frieson told the Associated Press. "If you don't have supervision in a place like that, it is dangerous. It absolutely should be shut down."
The U.S. Forest Service undoubtedly will jump at the suggestion, since it's been clear for a while that the agency would like to rid itself of this responsibility and occasional headache. But whether public safety will be enhanced by a closure is doubtful. Giving shooters a designated place to practice their skills better than having them picking and choosing their public lands "plinking" spots at random. Complaints about the site have been heard before, but such incidents are actually (and fortunately) very rare.
We could just ban shooters from the forests completely, of course, or try to, which would please firearms-phobes. Or we could ask the Forest Service to play a supervisory role at the range, which it probably lacks the resources and manpower to do.
Or, conversely, we could accept that tragedies happen, even in the most supervised of situations, hope other users of the range will learn from the mishap, prompting more caution in the future, and resist calls for a regulatory overreaction to this incident.
Many places are potentially dangerous without "supervision," including our public lands. Not a week goes by that someone isn't hurt or killed while enjoying unsupervised use of a national forest. Boaters drown, rock climbers fall, mountain bikers tumble, snowmobilers are swept away by avalanche, skiers hit trees, hikers get lost and die from exposure. It's impossible to prevent such accidents and tragedies from occurring without banning these activities, and impractical to supervise everything done across vast tracts of public land, so we let them go on, with the people involved accepting the risks of participation.
Why shouldn't we apply the same principles of self-supervision at the shooting range?
We don't close rivers or lakes in national forests when boating mishaps occur. We don't call a halt to all rock climbing when a climber falls to her death. We don't close the ski resort every time a skier hits a tree (and I'm betting that far more people die each year on national forest lands leased to ski resorts than die at public lands shooting ranges). Why, then, must we shut down a shooting range simply because an accident occurs?
It's an irrational response, stemming simply from the fact that firearms are involved -- and firearms freak some people out in America.
If Frieson and his shooting companions felt at risk at this admittedly hardscrabble range, they could have turned around and gone elsewhere. That wouldn't necessarily have prevented this mishap, since firearms accidents occur even in highly supervised situations. But the victim chose to stay and participate, judging that the risks were acceptable if proper care were taken. Proper care wasn't taken, however, resulting in a fatal mishap that will hopefully remind future users of the range -- if it remains open -- to follow every possible precaution.
That's where we should leave things. But that's not where things will be left, of course. Instead, we'll likely get a shoot-from-the-hip regulatory response, which will create the illusion of enhancing public safety by depriving responsible gun owners of the use of this relatively safe place to shoot. It’s in this manner that the freedoms of responsible people are whittled away, one overreaction at a time.