Gun range suicide horrifies witness

Published Nov. 28, 2013

Robert Adams used to think the gun range was a good place to teach his teenage sons about gun safety.

Now the St. Petersburg lawyer says he won't return.

Adams and his two sons were at the Shoot Straight Gun Range in Pinellas Park on Saturday when a man shot himself to death with a rented gun.

Before the incident, Adams did not know it was possible to rent a weapon for target practice.

"You don't know who's driving the car next to you," he said, "or who's shooting the gun next to you."

Adams, 44, had just finished lunch with his 13- and 15-year-old sons when the three went to the gun range on U.S. 19.

Adams hunts, often shoots on open property and had been to the gun range previously.

But when a man rented a gun from the counter as he and his sons waited to enter the range, Adams became nervous.

"To send someone back there without any training or knowledge is frankly irresponsible," Adams said.

Adams and his sons fired off about three boxes of shells in 45 minutes. About 6 feet away, the man with the rented gun asked a few questions and practiced shooting, he said.

It wasn't until Adams and his sons started to pack up about 3 p.m. that the man turned the gun on himself.

Adams and his younger son, picking up shells on the ground and facing away from the man, heard the shot. The older son saw everything.

Adams grabbed his guns and pushed his sons out the emergency exit.

"I wanted to get my boys out of there as quickly as possible," Adams said. "They'd seen and heard enough."

Pinellas Park police have not released the identity of the dead man. Spokesman Brian Unmisig said police may be having difficulty contacting the man's family.

Shootings with rented weapons have happened at ranges around the country. A manager reached at Shoot Straight's Apopka headquarters declined to comment for this report.

At least one other person attempted suicide at the same Pinellas Park gun range in August, Unmisig said.

In January, a 37-year-old St. Petersburg man shot himself at a Shoot Straight branch in Tampa.

In 2009, a 44-year-old woman shot her 20-year-old son and then herself at a branch in Casselberry.

Florida law does not require background checks before a person rents a gun.

At the Shoot Straight branch Adams visited, renters only are required to sign up for a membership card by signing a waiver, according to the company's website.

Adams thinks background checks should be required.

And he won't return to the range.

"It's not something I'm ever going to engage in again," he said.

Claire Wiseman can be reached at or (727) 893-8804. Follow @clairelwiseman on Twitter.