Q. Are there any legal or liability concerns when renting firearms, and what should a range do to address those concerns?
Jeff Yue, Associate Counsel, National Shooting Sports Foundation, Newtown, Connecticut
A. Millions of people visit shooting ranges every year for a variety of reasons, including to target practice, to sight-in newly purchased firearms and to introduce new shooters to the safe and enjoyable world of the shooting sports. Shooting ranges provide the means for individuals to maintain their shooting proficiency and serve as a gateway for individuals to give shooting a try in a safe, supervised and structured environment.
Not everyone who enjoys shooting owns a firearm, however, and individuals interested in purchasing a new gun – whether their first or third – likely will want to test fire it before they commit to buying it. Ranges that rent firearms can greatly assist in both these instances by training customers on the proper use and handling of particular firearms and allowing them to try out different makes and models.
Renting firearms can be a lucrative way to expand shooting range operations, but as with any business decision you must keep a few things in mind. Vigilance by range staff and firm firearm rental rules are a necessity. Though range staff is not expected to perform “CSI-like” profiles of their customers or be mental health experts, all staff – from safety officers to cashiers – should be alert to red flags that a patron seeking to rent a firearm might be legally prohibited from owning or possessing a gun or is exhibiting suicidal or otherwise abnormal behavior.
All firearm rentals should begin with the customer showing valid identification and completing a rental form in which they provide his or her name, address, date of birth and any other pertinent information the range may require. It is recommended that the form include Question 11 of the ATF Form 4473 to gauge whether he or she is a prohibited person. The customer should certify that all responses are true, correct and complete and should sign the form. All signed rental forms should be retained by the range for a period of time equal to or greater than the statute of limitations for liability claims in the state in which the range operates.
It is also good business practice to greet all customers that come onto the range. These encounters not only provide range staff the chance to get to know their patrons, but also allow staff to observe patrons, especially those who may visibly appear mentally unstable. It should be noted that the research that exists regarding gun range suicides shows these incidents are a rarity. A complete list of warning signs that someone may be contemplating suicide is beyond the scope here, but if a patron appears intoxicated, is nervous or exhibits anger, depression or is crying, you should not rent them a gun. In addition to looking at what’s happening on their range and listening to their customers, some operators have implemented the following measures when renting firearms:
- Enforce a waiting period before renting a firearm to someone coming to the range alone or require them to be accompanied by a friend
- Limit firearm rentals to members only
- Maintain a list of people whose gun rental requests were declined
- Install video cameras in firearms rental area and other optimal locations on the range to record patrons
Being a range operator requires the ability to read people. You should have no hesitation in refusing service to customers if it doesn’t feel right.
Joseph J. Chiarello, Senior Vice President, Joseph Chiarello & Co., Inc., Summit, New Jersey
A. The rental of firearms does have an impact on your insurance exposure. When applying for insurance or renewing coverage, details of your rental program should be included. You should also review coverage to make sure the rental of firearms or specific types of firearms are not excluded from coverage. For example, some carriers will exclude coverage for the sale or rental of fully automatic firearms.
When renting any firearms, a range should always have a waiver signed by the renter. The waiver should be accompanied by a safety questionnaire aimed at demonstrating the renter’s knowledge of firearm use and safety. The waiver should contain hold harmless and indemnification language that states the renter is aware of risks associated with the use of firearms and in the event of an accident the renter will not seek compensation from the range (hold the range harmless).
There is no way to bar someone from bringing a law suit against a range, but taking the necessary steps to show precautions were taken to ensure the safety of the individual renting the firearm and those using the range goes a long way in the defense of the range. In many more cases than not, it discourages anyone from attempting to make a claim. Over the years we have seen many cases across the country where the above procedures were taken, and any attempts to blame the range for mishaps were successfully defended or never made. Ranges can present dangers beyond the control of the owners. Maintaining adequate insurance coverage will help range owners to defend against claims related to incidents beyond their control.
In the event of an incident involving a rented firearm, you should contact your insurance company. An experienced claims adjuster can often diffuse the situation before it gets out of control.