If you’ve ever fired a weapon, you've probably had someone give you a safety brief that mentioned “eyes and ears.” Those are the typical things to protect when you’re shooting. But recent studies have shown that list should also include your lungs due to the risk of lead exposure at the range.
The type of gear you put in your shooting bag matters. By now, you’ve probably seen the ads for the lawsuits for all those who used 3M earplugs. They’re hard to avoid! It’s a hot topic for veterans because using defective earplugs for all those years can lead to long-term hearing loss.
There’s a similar risk to any type of defective personal protective equipment or PPE. Use the wrong type of glasses, and they may shatter in your face. Don’t wear a mask, and you’ll inhale lead particles. Keep reading to decide what PPE you need for your next trip to the range.
Protecting your eyes is essential any time you shoot, but regular sunglasses and safety glasses don’t offer the right protection. You need something that wraps around the sides in case of ricochets. Your eye pro should also be ballistic quality. That means they are designed to stop high- velocity projectiles. Shooting glasses and tactical spectacles meet military and NATO requirements, so always watch for those terms when you are shopping for your range safety gear.
You should also consider the type of lenses in your glasses, and make sure they match the kind of shooting you will do. If you are going to an outdoor range, dark tinted glasses will work well. But if you’re indoor, you will need something clear. Yellow tinted glasses can make the targets pop at an indoor range, but they should not be worn in bright sunlight or in a desert environment. Many companies offer glasses with interchangeable lenses, so you can use the same pair in different shooting environments.
Anyone spending time at a range should wear ear protection, or ear pro, to reduce their risk of hearing loss. You have two choices here—earmuffs or earplugs. The headsets on earmuffs enclose the entire ear and are more effective at blocking sound. Newer electronic muffs are convenient because they allow you to hear and converse with others at a normal tone, but the sound will cut out to block loud noises like gunshots. The downside of earmuffs? Well, they don’t always fit well with your eye pro, so depending on the shape of your glasses, you may have trouble getting the right protection for your ears. Also—they get really sweaty when worn outdoors on a hot day. And if you’re bringing friends or children with you to the range, having earmuffs for everyone is both bulky and expensive.
Earplugs, on the other hand, are small, inexpensive, and fairly comfortable. It’s easy to keep extras on hand when someone joins you at the range. It’s important to roll the foam between your fingers every time to get the best fit into your ear. When used properly, earplugs are just as effective as earmuffs at reducing loud decibels. One thing to pay attention to is that foam earplugs do wear out. The foam will only hold its shape after a certain amount of rolls, so be prepared to replace them regularly.
If your lungs weren’t part of your range safety brief, they should be. Ammunition contains lead in both the primer and the bullet. During firing, the lead is vaporized and discharged right in front of the shooter’s face. That glorious smell of gun smoke includes pulverized lead particles. They can be inhaled into the lungs, where the lead goes directly to the bloodstream and contributes to lead poisoning. Studies have found elevated blood lead levels in people who regularly use shooting ranges for work or recreation. Airborne lead particles can be filtered out with a tactical respirator. This new tactical respirator from O2 Tactical is comfortable and effective, even with facial hair. Its breathable design won’t limit your strenuous movements at the range, and it won’t fog up your eye pro. With a filter that’s easy to replace, this is one piece of PPE that should always be in your range bag.