Eddie Ray Routh, who shot and killed American Sniper author Chris Kyle and friend Chad Littlefield, was found guilty of murder on Feb. 24. “The judge sentenced Routh to life in prison without parole; prosecutors had not sought the death penalty,” according to BBC News. Routh’s defense attorneys tried to argue not-guilty by reason of insanity due to his post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), but their efforts were thwarted when it was revealed in court that Routh was under the influence of alcohol and marijuana at the time of shooting. The insanity plea is debatable. However, mentally ill or not, Routh should not have been permitted to be at the gun range at all.
While Florida gun ranges have very strict policies regarding what is considered appropriate conduct, Texas doesn’t follow the same guidelines. National Armory is a South Florida gun range and its rules are reflective of those at a typical Florida gun range to include,“All firearms and ammunition will be inspected by range officers.” However, after searching the website of Rough Creek Resort, where Kyle and Littlefield were killed, I discovered a complete absence of shooting range policies. The Rough Creek Lodge and Resort has a long and detailed policies page ranging from wedding policies to pets, but the only section even close to being relevant for the shooting range is the hunting section.
The website does have a shooting sports heading, but the section only provides details about the shooting experience and a tab to check availability. It is important to note that Texas shooting ranges differ from that of Florida ranges in the amount of space available to them. At the Rough Creek shooters are out in the open with up to 1,000 yards of distance for shooters to practice on, according to the Rough Creek website. That being said, there should still be an attendant monitoring shooters. There should be a representative of the hotel there to ensure that all of the needs of the resort and their guests are being met. If the Rough Creek Resort had rules similar to the National armory, such as, “Any person with a medical disorder which might create a safety hazard … must notify range officers before going out onto the range,” more death could be prevented in the future.
If there had been a representative present at the range, someone may have been able to catch details about Routh’s behavior that Kyle and Littlefield had clearly overlooked. If a hotel worker had noticed that Routh was intoxicated, they should not have let him onto the range. This is not an attempt to place blame on the Rough Creek Resort or Chris Kyle, who had even admitted to a friend through text messages that he thought Routh was “nuts,” according to The Washington Post; gun safety in general just needs be taken more seriously.
Kyle, who had been helping veterans deal with combat-related mental health issues, brought Routh to the shooting range when Routh’s mother confided that “she needed help dealing with her troubled son,” according to BBC News. Kyle had good intentionswhen he attempted to coach and comfort Routh through his struggles with PTSD, but he chose the wrong place to do it, costing him his life. The text messages, which he exchanged with Littlefield, described an uneasiness from both of them, with Littlefield reportedly asking Kyle to “watch his six,” or watch his back, according to The Washington Post. The danger of taking Routh to the gun range was clearly felt by both Kyle and Littlefield; they should have trusted their instincts and taken Routh elsewhere.
Though Texas has a landscape which allows for more room for error in a shooting range, more emphasis must be put on gun safety in the future. An attendant should be present at gun ranges to check in the guns, ammunition and the wellbeing of the shooters involved. Target shooting is a popular sport and, while potentially dangerous, can be quite therapeutic for those who treat a weapon with regards to safety and are in a state of well being during their time at the range. What happened to Kyle and Littlefield was a tragedy, but we can learn from it. Gun safety is incredibly important and should not be overlooked.
Sam Allen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org