18 June 2014


If you're a competitive shooter who hasn't been living under a social media rock, you've probably heard at least rumor of a USPSA Range Officer who is being called out for allegedly adding to and subtracting from stage times shown on shot timers at major matches. If you're following the various Facebook discussions, you'll likely know that I've contributed my two cents. Given the many electrons that have given part of their life to the debate, I don't have any more to add on that particular scandal (at least not here), but it has made me think about integrity on the range generally.

As with any sport, there are a lot of ways to gain an unfair advantage if you're shooting for score, whether from the competitor side or the range/safety officer side. The shot timer can be manipulated by tapping it after the last shot or allowing it to pick up the slide dropping during the Unload and Show Clear, or by protecting its microphone from picking up the last shot or two. Improbable perfect doubles can be argued and granted. An inaccurate score can be written down or entered, or modified after the fact. The fact that ammunition is under the power factor floor can be hidden. In most cases, these types of advantages result from unintentional - or at least unmalicious - mistakes. 

We attempt to build safeguards against unfair advantages into our rules and best practices. Having the range/safety officer running the shooter show the timer to the scoring official helps, as does checking the shot count on the timer or the split between the last two shots. IPSC/USPSA and some of the more precision-oriented sports use scoring overlays to determine whether a shot is a double or if it touches/breaks the scoring line and thus receives the next higher point value. We often keep backup carbon copies of scores at major matches, or ask the shooter to approve what is entered into an electronic scoring system (and perhaps go so far as to audit for later changes). Chronographs are used to test competitor ammunition at major matches. 

The safeguards we've built don't always work. Ultimately, they do best in preventing the unintentional slips but they aren't very effective against concerted efforts to break the rules. That's where all of us, as match officials and competitors, need to step up. I'm sure I'm preaching to the choir here when I say, "don't be a cheater". I think we're all pretty clear on the sorts of things that are absolutely over the line, like changing scores or using "special" rounds at the chrono stage. On gray areas like whether or not a very close shot touched/broke a scoring line, we should be fair when we apply principles like making doubtful calls to the benefit of the shooter - if you would do it for your buddies, you should do it for a stranger, and vice versa. Similarly, if we think we've found a better way inside the rules, we should stay within the realm of good sportsmanship. More, we need to speak out if we see bad calls and shady behavior. I don't just mean posting (anonymously or not) on the Internet, though that's certainly been effective in the current scandal both for bringing this particular issue to light and for raising awareness of simple ways to safeguard against it, but also in raising the issue to the range master or match director, and if necessary, further up the chain to section/area coordinators and so on to hopefully nip the problem in the bud. As one of my friends describes it, failing to give a procedural to one shooter who rightfully should have received one has the net result of giving a procedural to every other shooter who followed stage procedure. Don't do that to your fellow shooters.

I'm not saying we go on witch hunts or accuse anyone who gains an advantage of "gaming" or "cheating", but turning a blind eye to bad behavior perpetuates the flat out cheating we don't want on the range. It's important to keep the game, whichever one(s) you shoot, fair so that we can compete on as level of a playing field as possible wherever and with whoever we shoot, all within the boundaries of the rules we go by. Classifications and wins derive much of their value from knowing that everyone went up against the same problem and you solved it better, whether that means you shot it faster or you saw a way to exploit a stage design. If we all truly do our best to ensure that everyone the same experience coming in, we'll all have a more enjoyable match...and we really will know who was the better shooter (or at least better at coming up with brilliant stage breakdowns or at reading the stage brief closely!). 

By the way - those of you who don't compete or who don't care about your scores? You don't get a free pass either. When's the last time you spoke up about unsafe practices you've witnessed on the range? Told someone your measured opinion about an ineffective or unsafe piece of gear? Gave an honest assessment of a person's skills? Gently warned a friend that a training opportunity they're excited about might not be a good idea? Fair isn't just for the competition range; it's also for training for competency or self-defense. 

We play with dangerous toys and that requires a high level of personal responsibility so that it remains safe, fun, and fair. Be a person that you would trust, and support integrity in those who surround you. That's beautiful.