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Old May 22, 2010, 02:55 AM   #1
LanceOregon
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Does designing a bad shooting range on your property constitue criminal negligence?

Have many folks here set up their own improvised shooting ranges on their own property? If so, you may want to read about this accidental shooting. For if one does not do an adequate job of addressing safety issues, one can then get into serious legal trouble if an accident should take place.

Recently, there was a trial in Vermont over an accidental shooting, where a man had set up a target range in his own backyard. In the course of simply target shooting, a round from a 30 caliber centerfire rifle traveled to his neighbor's house, penetrated the home, and killed his neighbor, John Reiss, while he was sitting down in the dining room eating his dinner.

The gun owner, 40-year-old Joe McCarthy, was a popular and well respected professor at nearby St. Michael’s College. He had never been charged with any sort of crime in his entire life. A total of 4 men shot hi-powered rifles on the improvised range that day. Prosecutors are actually not sure who fired the deadly bullet that killed Reiss. Of the 4 men, 3 fired semi-auto rifles that had been modified to shoot multiple bullets with the pull of a trigger. Forensics proved that the bullet was from a caliber 7.62x39mm Russian round fired from an SKS carbine. Because Joe McCarthy owned the land and had created the range, prosecutors felt that he was the person most directly responsible for the accident happening.

This was thus an issue of a stray bullet inadvertently striking someone. Prosecutors argued that the design of the range was inadequate for safety, and that McCarthy was thus reckless to shoot on this range he created. Jurors were taken to the range, and shown the layout of the land. The Reiss home was approximately 250 yards from the shooting bench that the rifles were fired from. Prosecutors claimed that just using old tree stumps for the backstop behind the target was seriously flawed. Would you agree with that point, regarding what constitutes a safe and responsible shooting range? In his summation, Prosecutor Justin Jiron told the jurors that someone sitting down to eat dinner shouldn’t have to worry that they’ll be shot dead from out of nowhere.

Do you think that involuntary manslaughter was the appropriate sentence? The key point of law was whether McCarthy was criminally negligent or not. If no negligence had been committed, he could have got off, or at least have received a lesser charge.

This is an issue to definitely take into very serious consideration, for anyone who designs and builds their own shooting range. What is downrange? What if there is a ricochet? How close are your neighbors? What would be the key safety issues that you would address, in setting up a range on your own property?

Vermont law gives this judge quite a bit of discretion when it comes to the sentence, which can be as little as one year in state prison, or up to a max of 15 years.

What do you think an appropriate prison sentence should be in a situation like this one? How much of a factor should the defendant's lack of any criminal record be? What about the fact that Joe McCarthy may not have even fired the lethal shot? Should the judge consider that point as well, in your opinion, in determining an appropriate sentence? How damning are the issues that the only backstop behind the targets was a tree stump, and that FMJ ammo was being used?

Here below are some links to news stories about this tragedy for further background. Was is your take on all of the above issues?

How many years should McCarthy stay in prison?

See:

http://www.wcax.com/Global/story.asp?S=12521256

http://www.burlingtonfreepress.com/a...shooting-range

.

Last edited by LanceOregon; May 22, 2010 at 03:24 AM.
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Old May 22, 2010, 03:41 AM   #2
mete
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He was certainly negligent ! As it was his property he was responsible .His shooting "range" was in no way safe.Five year sentence perhaps. BTW in these cases the landowner can face huge civil court lawsuits too ! Stupid and irresponsible !
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Old May 22, 2010, 04:11 AM   #3
LanceOregon
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Quote:
BTW in these cases the landowner can face huge civil court lawsuits too
That is another excellent point to bring up regarding the liability of having your own shooting range. The news reports that I read said nothing about a civil lawsuit. However, I would have to think that it is likely that one will be filed.

Although I think that a devote person could perhaps forgive him, and decide to not punish his wife and children more by suing them.

It is not like McCarthy is that bad of a person. He just seems to have lacked good judgment and common sense. And that then led to tragedy.

His attorney says that he plans to appeal the conviction, and get it overturned. No mention was made in the news stories I read, though, regarding what possible grounds he felt he had to base an appeal on.

.
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Old May 22, 2010, 08:00 AM   #4
ClayInTx
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The sentencing length gives no benefit for John Reiss or his family so I have no opinion of what that should be. However, punishment is not for those who have done wrong but is for an example to those who have not yet done so.

My understanding of the right to appeal is there has to have been a flaw in the trial, unless it’s a death sentence, and one cannot appeal merely because they don’t agree with the verdict.

This depicts something of which we should all be aware. Even with a suitable backstop an errant round by negligent discharge or accidental discharge can go astray.

A problem with letting friends shoot on your own land is that you cannot really control what they do. You can come down hard on your kids or grandkids with safety rules but asserting authority over other adults does not always work.

The news article indicates it was a friend’s rifle which fired the fatal shot and it could have been the friend who fired it. Perhaps it’s best to not be a nice guy and provide a range for friends.
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Old May 22, 2010, 10:19 AM   #5
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But defense attorneys say there was nothing wrong with the gun range, in fact, the defendant and some buddies were enjoying it safely without complaints for 90 minutes.
http://www.wcax.com/Global/story.asp?S=12498741

LOL, if the range worked for 90 minutes without complaints, then it must be safe!!!

Quote:
The gun owner, 40-year-old Joe McCarthy, was a popular and well respected professor at nearby St. Michael’s College. He had never been charged with any sort of crime in his entire life. A total of 4 men shot hi-powered rifles on the improvised range that day. Prosecutors are actually not sure who fired the deadly bullet that killed Reiss. Of the 4 men, 3 fired semi-auto rifles that had been modified to shoot multiple bullets with the pull of a trigger. Forensics proved that the bullet was from a caliber 7.62x39mm Russian round fired from an SKS carbine. Because Joe McCarthy owned the land and had created the range, prosecutors felt that he was the person most directly responsible for the accident happening.
Just about any time a bullet leaves a range under its own power, the range is inadequate for the shot that fired the round. It is difficult to build an open air gun range that will adequately contain the results of incompetence.

With that in mind, the description of McCarthy's range absolutely sounds like he was negligent.
http://www.burlingtonfreepress.com/a...ng-trial-opens

Quote:
On the opening day of the trial of Joseph McCarthy, 40, of Essex, Deputy Chittenden County State’s Attorney Mary Morrissey took jurors back to Sept. 23, 2008, when John Reiss, 73, a longtime St. Michael’s College professor, was fatally shot through the heart while he ate dinner in his home on Old Stage Road in Essex. The stray rifle round, which passed through a window of the house, was fired from a range McCarthy designed in his backyard, about 750 feet from the Reiss house, according to court papers.

The defense argued that McCarthy acted responsibly and directed the jury’s attention to the alleged careless shooting by another man on the range.

McCarthy has pleaded not guilty to the manslaughter charge, which alleges he “acted with criminal negligence by setting up a shooting range in a location that was inherently dangerous and allowing for the discharge of rifles in that location.” Another man also is facing a manslaughter charge related to Reiss’ death and will be tried separately.

McCarthy invited a couple of IBM co-workers to shoot on the range, which lacked a sufficient backstop and positioned Reiss’ house too close to the line of fire, Morrissey said. Although McCarthy had taken a hunter’s safety course 10 days before the shooting, he showed little regard for the lessons of that course, Morrissey said.

“A reasonable person would not have done what this man did,” Morrissey said.

In a report, Essex Police Capt. Brad LaRose described McCarthy’s range as having a jagged rock wall, 1 to 2 feet high, and a “sparsely treed area” behind the targets, according to court papers. The land elevation from the shooting bench to Reiss’ house rose about 20 feet, LaRose said, according to court papers.

The range, which ran nearly parallel to Old Stage Road, had “no berms or significant landscape behind the targets to contain rounds fired,” LaRose said. The Reiss house, although not visible from the range, could be seen a few yards away from the range, LaRose said.

McCarthy and his coworkers, Brad Lussier and Michael Zhu, took turns firing five guns, including the semi-automatic SKS rifle that killed Reiss. William Liberty, a cousin of McCarthy’s wife, fired a handgun and shotgun, but not any of the three rifles. They shot from a distance of about 130 feet at foam targets leaning against stumps. The rifles had maximum ranges of either 2 or 3 miles, according to court papers.
Maybe I can see that there were a couple of problems with the range, though I can hardly believe that McCarthy's neighbor was killed because the range was inadequate. Who would ever think that a 1-2 foot tall rock backstop and trees beyond the backstop would fail to stop rounds fired before they reached his neighbor's 750 foot down range house? Obviously the shooters were quite responsible because they were not shooting at targets higher than the backstop, but at foam targets on the ground backed up by tree stumps. :barf:

So were there any charges made based on the converted Class III rifles?

Quote:
How many years should McCarthy stay in prison?
More than are left in his current life expectancy as I don't think you can fix things this stupid. The prosecution is wrong about the range being inadequate. Calling the range inadeqate is far too positive sounding for what the range was.

Going back to the thread title's query,
Quote:
Does designing a bad shooting range on your property constitue criminal negligence?
Absolutely not. Using a range this poorly designed absolutely does. All of the shooters were idiots for using the range as well.
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Old May 22, 2010, 10:35 AM   #6
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The range, which ran nearly parallel to Old Stage Road, had “no berms or significant landscape behind the targets to contain rounds fired,” LaRose said.
Trees and low rocks are simply inadequate.
It takes a very large expanse of trees to be 100% sure no bullets will make it through (think miles).

I shoot at an IWLA range that has huge berms dug into the side of a hill and multiple gravel loaded baffles above the firing line placed out to 25 yards to make sure you cannot even see the top of the berm and fire over it from the firing line.

Prone shooters are the biggest risk (they could fire over the berm) and they are watched VERY carefully.
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Old May 23, 2010, 06:14 PM   #7
kraigwy
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It depends.

If something on my range cause the accident, its my fault, if some dummy shoots himself in the butt practicing quick draw its his fault.

Simple solution, if your worried about it, dont let anyone else shoot on your property.

I'm a real hard butt when it comes to safety, some one doesnt like it they can shoot elsewhere. The people I really dont mine shooting on my property with have pretty much the same attitude and we have no problem.
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Old May 24, 2010, 12:23 AM   #8
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Many years, maybe even decades ago, someone told me that once I'd pulled the trigger and discharged a firearm I was responsible for that bullet until it came to rest. I spent a bit of time with that concept and I've never forgotten it. I think as landowner and responsible party for the range he is indeed negligent and should be held to the same standard. His guests may not have known about the house downrange but he did. Is he a criminal? Maybe not. But he is the person who had the best chance of avoiding this tragedy and he didn't. That's a shame.
Commercial ranges almost always carry liability insuarance and it isn't cheap. They also have to spend large stacks of money on improvements to keep bullets on the property.
Some day I hope to have a property suitable for setting up a private range. I'll be thinking about this case when I make the needed improvements.
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Old May 24, 2010, 07:08 AM   #9
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Just about any time a bullet leaves a range under its own power, the range is inadequate for the shot that fired the round. It is difficult to build an open air gun range that will adequately contain the results of incompetence.

Bingo!!!

Too many folks who are not familiar with the construction of safe firing ranges cobble up an unsafe range and then wonder why incidents like this one happen.
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Old May 24, 2010, 07:39 AM   #10
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LanceOregon: ...Of the 4 men, 3 fired semi-auto rifles that had been modified to shoot multiple bullets with the pull of a trigger...
I'm sure they had a tax stamp for these three SKS's
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Old May 24, 2010, 08:21 AM   #11
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I would never build a range on my personal property without an aerial overview of the next 4 miles around it. Something easily pulled off of GoogleEarth. And then, I would build a lane of fire that didn't have anything behind it for at least that far, if not further, and up to 45° from either side of the end of it. It's just too easy to hire in machinery to make a simple, single lane firing point with a berm around the end of it. May not be exactly inexpensive, but the cost wouldn't be prohibitive either and I would save my money to have it done the same as I save my money to buy anything I can't outright afford to do.

The landowner and all those who fired should be held responsible in my opinion. I've been invited to fire handguns and rifles on people's properties before. Before doing so, I always check into their idea of a firing line. To not do so is simply negligent ignorance on your part. I know what bullets do to people. And having an accident that involves some one getting killed in this type situation can be avoided too easily.
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Old May 24, 2010, 01:23 PM   #12
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I would never build a range on my personal property without an aerial overview of the next 4 miles around it.
Right, but in this case, the range's owner could see his neighbor's house from his own property, not directly from the range, but that is no excuse. He had to know that the house was there and set up his range with an orientation that put the house in the line of fire if the 1-2 foot rock berm failed to contain rounds fired.
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Old May 24, 2010, 01:43 PM   #13
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The shooter is definitely negligent, IMO. The tougher question is whether this should be a criminal offense. In most states, this requires something more than ordinary negligence, either gross negligence or reckless behavior. Since he knew the house was there within short range, I would say it is reckless to discharge rifles in that direction depending only on some trees as a back stop. I learned at an early age that one needed a hill or something similar as a backstop. Hills were pretty easy to come by growing up in Southeastern Kentucky.
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Old May 24, 2010, 02:36 PM   #14
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1. They were shooting weapons that were converted to select fire.

2. It's only 250 yards from the bench to the neighbors house... how could you be shooting any rifle round and think that inside of 1000 yards is safe? Let alone only 250 yards with only tree stumps as a back stop. Thats the part that bothers me.

3. I didn't see that it said it was his next door neighbor's house, so I'm assuming that it was the guy who lived behind him, which means that they were pointing their weapons in that house's direction!

Know your target and what lays beyond it.

Pure stupidity in my opinion.

Personal Info: is a 7.62x39 and a 30 cal round the same round?
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Old May 24, 2010, 03:50 PM   #15
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Personal Info: is a 7.62x39 and a 30 cal round the same round?
They are the same diameter. but the 7.62x39 is the round standard to AK47s and a few other guns and isn't what is normally described as a 30 cal such as the .308 which is 7.62x51.
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Old May 24, 2010, 11:54 PM   #16
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As a surveyor, I regularly use a laser distance meter to measure distances in the woods. It's not difficult to work in a dense stand of timber, with visibility seeming to be 100 feet, and find that small gap between trees for a 400 or 800 foot measurement. You shoot a rifle into the woods, there is absolutely no guarantee it will hit a tree and stop it's travel within the distance you think is safe.

Put some bright orange jackets on sticks where you intend to shoot from, then go walk around downrange as far as you think you should, then look back, you'll see orange between the trees often enough.

Leaves and twigs don't stop rifle bullets, nor do small tree trunks.
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Old May 25, 2010, 12:23 AM   #17
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They are the same diameter. but the 7.62x39 is the round standard to AK47s and a few other guns and isn't what is normally described as a 30 cal such as the .308 which is 7.62x51.
Thanks, the different measurement systems still give me some trouble, mm to cal. cal to mm... But I'm learning! thanks
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Old May 25, 2010, 12:33 AM   #18
JohnKSa
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I've stopped very intelligent and responsible people from discharging firearms in situations where there were houses nearby (and downrange) and there was nothing other than trees to act as a backstop.

Trees are NOT a backstop. Thick trees are not a backstop.

Even if the number and density of the trees are such that there is absolutely no way a bullet could penetrate through them to hit something directly downrange, they are STILL not a backstop because they do not reliably absorb bullet strikes like a proper backstop/berm will. A bullet striking the edge of a tree trunk can ricochet at a surprisingly sharp angle. A bullet striking a tree limb can be deflected upward enough to travel over the trees and hit something downrange.

It is safe to use trees as a backstop ONLY when there is no one in front of you (forward of the firing line) for as long as your bullet could possibly travel. We're talking about MILES of safety zone required. In other words, it's only safe to use trees as a backstop if it's safe to shoot without a backstop.
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