At some point, you will be running a competitor and they will have some sort of malfunction. And for this post, I am not talking about a squib or a pistol suddenly firing rounds in bursts, which are unsafe ammunition/gun scenarios in which the RO must stop the competitor. I am talking about a malfunction such as a jam, ammo feeding issue, stuck case, or another instance that would not be considered unsafe. As the RO, what do you do?
I know our natural tendency is to help out. We want to remind them to drop the mag and then rack the slide or suggest how to motivate that stuck slide. But per the rules, range officials need to stay silent because that is considered coaching. And rule 5.7.4 tells us that competitors have two minutes to solve the problem before being stopped. That being said, I have very rarely seen a competitor go two minutes. Usually they say they want to stop within 30 seconds. Because that 30 seconds seems like an eternity when you are on the clock. And remember that competitors can use stage props and any tools they have on their person to help repair the firearm. But, as the RO, always give them their two minutes before stopping a competitor.
When a competitor says they want to stop, immediately issue the “If you are finished, unload and show clear” command and then proceed with the rest of the normal range commands. But what happens if the competitor can’t get the firearm unloaded? When can the RO step in and help? If you can’t complete the range commands, because the competitor can’t clear the gun, then you need to step in and assist and help get the firearm into an unloaded state.
Rule 5.7.5 says that the competitor is not allowed to leave the stage with a loaded firearm (see definition of loaded firearm in App. A3). Basically, if there is a live round or empty case in the gun, it is still considered to be loaded. Sometimes the gun is so jammed up, the competitor just doesn’t have the hand strength to cycle it. Other times, tools are needed to remove a stuck case. Once the competitor has said they want to stop, and has tried to clear the firearm, go ahead and step in and assist as the RO.
But what happens if the firearm can’t be cleared? The simple answer is to call the Range Master. I have had to help with guns that couldn’t be unloaded while working as RM. I come to the stage, see what the problem is, and if the firearm can be safely cased or holstered, I escort the competitor to an empty bay where it can be worked on safely. Most of the time, a few more tools and a few minutes to think without the whole squad watching solves the problem. Other times, it’s determined that internal parts have broken, and the gun needs to be sent to a gunsmith. For the firearms that can’t be fixed on the range, 99% of the time there is an empty case stuck in the gun and not a live round. If you can’t see into the chamber at all, a zip tie carefully stuck down the barrel to determine the distance to the obstruction can help figure out if it’s a live round or empty case. If the distance isn’t all the way past the chamber, then there is a live round. Once we have established that there is no live round in the gun, it should be cased up and safely stowed in the competitor’s vehicle. If there is a live round in the gun, then careful evaluation about whether or not the gun is safe to be cased needs to be made.
Gun malfunctions are stressful for the competitor and your job as RO is to make sure they get their two minutes to solve the problem before you stop them. And after two minutes, or after they stop on their own, your job is to make sure the gun gets safely unloaded. Sometimes that requires coaching the competitor on what to do, other times it means asking others to bring some tools, or it may even involve calling the RM. In all cases, stay calm and focused on keeping everyone safe.