A post over at Gun Nuts Media got me thinking about ammo restrictions at shooting ranges. Indoor ranges, specifically.
There are all different kinds of steel, and backstops are made to stop a specific caliber/composition of bullet (much like bullet-resistant vests are rated to stop up to a certain caliber). If you increase the power of the bullet over the rating of the backstop, or use bullets that are harder/denser than the backstop is rated for, the backstop will be damaged or even penetrated.
Some ranges ban magnum calibers. Ok, fine, if the backstop can’t take it that’s just the way it is.
I have been to ranges that restrict the use of rifle calibers, and that makes sense. You don’t want bullets going through the backstop, and most indoor ranges are designed to stop pistol ammo. One range in CT experimented with allowing frangible .223 ammo to be used. But after they took a good look at the backstop, even that ammo was found to be causing damage to the backstop and its use was discontinued.
Many ranges require you to use their ammo on their range. I can see two benefits (to the range) in that rule. On the one hand, the range exists to make money, and ammo sales are far more profitable than gun sales (in terms of the percentage of profit earned). And on the safety side, by limiting ammo to calibers that are safe for use in that range, the owner eliminates a lot of potential safety problems.
The downside of this rule affects 2 groups of people: people with uncommon guns and handloaders. Handloaders can’t shoot their ammo on the range. And, while some truly incompetent people try to reload, many serious shooters handload to maximize their accuracy potential. By preventing handloads, the range does eliminate the unsafe handloaders, but it also keeps out the kind of people who will spend a lot of time on the range (but may not buy a lot of factory ammo). They simply won’t shoot at that range. And if they aren’t at the range, they aren’t going to be buying stuff there either (such as reloading supplies).
For people that have older or more uncommon guns, in less-popular calibers like 7.62 Tokarev, 7.62 Nagant, 9mm Makarov or .38 Super, it is entirely possible that a range that insists on supplying the ammo used there won’t have any ammo for those customers to use. And those calibers are nowhere near as obscure as rounds like 9mm Steyr, 9mm Largo, .38S&W, .32S&W (Short & Long), etc.
I have been to a club range that requires lead bullets only, and no magnum loads (this range caters primarily to target shooters). A large percentage of the members handload, because that’s the only way that the members can have ammo that meets the club rules in calibers besides .22LR and .38SPL. Want to test defensive hollowpoints for your Glock/1911 to see if they cycle reliably? Find a different place to shoot. I did. But for hardcore target pistol shooters, this range is well suited to their needs.
Some clubs require jacketed ammo. If that rule is supposed to reduce airborne lead, it is a flawed approach. Many jacketed bullets have an exposed lead base (which is where most of the airborne lead would come from, burning powder hitting that patch of lead). And there is no way to see if bullets have an exposed lead base unless you break one down to look. That would be a pain in the ass.
But this rule has another problem: what about shooters who need to shoot lead bullets? And, I chose my words carefully: need, not want. There is no jacketed .22LR ammo. There is plated ammo (a very thin copper coating that the rifling will scrape away on the sides of the bullet as it travels down the barrel) for that caliber, but no jacketed .22LR ammo (and none of the “target” .22 ammo is plated). And .22LR is the most common caliber of target handgun. Second most popular target handgun? .38SPL. And, oddly enough, all of the “target” ammo in that caliber is either lead or occasionally plated. So, a range that adopts the “only jacketed ammo” rule is telling target shooters that their considerable business is not wanted.
I can see why some ranges might adopt these bullet restrictions, even if I do not agree with them. It’s their range, and they can put whatever rules in place that they want to. They can ban the wearing of pants if they so desire (which might only be feasible in certain parts of Florida). If shooters don’t like it, they can and should make their feelings known and take their business elsewhere. Why make it known? Because if enough shooters lodge viable complaints, the proprietor might change the rules to something more reasonable.
Some ranges restrict the material the casing is made from (no steel or aluminum cases). I have heard several theories for this rule. One is that “steel cases might cause a spark, and ignite unburned powder on the floor“. Since I police up my own brass, and I have perfect corrected vision, I can say that I have never noticed any unburned powder on the floor of a range; there might be a grain or two laying around but certainly not enough to pose a fire hazard. So, I call bullshit on that reason.
The second reason makes more sense from the range proprietor’s perspective: they sell their brass to a recycler (by weight), who in turn demands that they keep non-brass cases out of the mix to earn the agreed-upon price. To ranges who have this policy, I say 3 things:
1) How much brass-cased 9mm Makarov ammo is available? Related question: would the price advantage of (for example) Hornady SteelMatch ammo lead to more boxes of ammo being sold?
2) How hard is it to remove steel casings with a magnet? Magnets are cheap (Radio Shack and Midway both offer them), and in terms of a time investment, removing steel cases from a pile of empties is an investment of seconds (literally). Furthermore, while not as valuable as the metals in brass, steel is one of the most recycled materials on Earth and it is worth something. Why wouldn’t a person thrifty enough to sell spent brass casings also want to sell his spent steel casings? It’s not like the recycler isn’t already on-premises to pick up his brass. Ask the question. Every dollar you earn from the recycler is a dollar that I won’t have to pay to keep you in business.
3) Metal prices have gone through the roof. Whatever deal you have with a recycler, you need to stay current on commodities prices and re-negotiate the price the recycler gives you for your brass. And get competing bids. If metals are precious enough for people to break into houses to steal the pipes inside the walls, they are precious enough for ranges to do their homework and recyclers to face some competition.
Aluminum cases? No easy magnet solution for them, so I can understand this restriction. But, if you’re shooting a revolver, talk to the range officer and promise to keep the cases separate and dump them directly into the trash. Most reasonable people will agree to allow this. If you’re shooting a pistol: don’t ask, since the range can’t easily sort them out of the empties.
Lastly, some ranges claim that they own all of the spent brass on the range. I suspect that the reason for this overreaching rule is to prevent “customers” from scooping up all of the brass on the floor (or in the collection bins) and taking it home with them. And I understand that concern. That practice shouldn’t be permitted.
But. If I buy some ammo, it’s mine. Including the spent brass. If I am shooting revolvers, the brass goes right into my bag. If I am shooting pistols, and the floor was clean when I got there so I could be certain that the brass I would be picking up was mine (I wouldn’t want someone else’s brass that was cracked or brittle from being reloaded multiple times), I might or might not police it up. I have never been called out for taking my brass, either way. When it happens, I will handle it. But my starting position for the conversation will be that the ammo and every component of it is mine.