As a female business owner, Reno Guns and Range’s Debbie Block aims to provide training for all
EDITOR'S NOTE: This is the fifth and final installment in a series of stories included in the Northern Nevada Business View's November focus on Corporate Community — which centers on the world of charitable donations and corporate giving, as well as feature stories on entrepreneurs and women-owned and minority-owned businesses in Northern Nevada.
You can read this story and others in the series in the Monday, Nov. 25, edition of the NNBV.
Read part one here: Joey Gilbert staying active as entrepreneur, wants to bring boxing back to Reno
Read part three here: We asked 2 Reno legal experts: What are the dos and don’ts of corporate giving?
The first time Debbie Block shot a gun, she burst into tears. It was 2008 and Block was at the Carson City gun range to earn her carrying a concealed weapon (CCW) permit. At the time, Block was in the process of opening a gun shop in Reno — U.S. Firearms Academy — with two business partners, who encouraged her to get a feel for shooting a firearm.
So there Block stood, staring at a shooting target, feeling the weight of a revolver in her tightly-gripped hands. As instructed by her trainer, she extended her arms out, aimed the gun and squeezed the trigger.
A thunderous bang pierced the air. Shaken by the sound, the reverberation and the kick of the gun, Block’s eyes filled with tears.
“It was the most horrific experience I ever had,” Block told the NNBV. “It was such an emotional explosion for me. It was totally uncomfortable. I just wanted to quit; it frightened me.”
And that was one round in. Block had to fire the revolver 29 more times to earn her permit.
“I had to get through 30 rounds. I hated it, but I wanted to push through it,” said Block, who left the range that day with a CCW permit in hand.
More than 10 years later, Block can’t help but shake her head as she thinks back on her first brush with firing a gun. After all, Block is reminiscing on that clear-as-day memory as she sits inside a business she founded and has owned for the past five years, the biggest indoor shooting range in Northern Nevada: Reno Guns and Range.
FOCUS ON PROTECTION
“To be honest with you, I still laugh about me owning a shooting range, because I didn’t grow up with it,” said Block, sitting in the facility’s spacious special events room.
This begs the question: What drove Block to open an expansive gun range in the middle of Reno?
Not only does Reno Guns and Range have 20 state-of-the-art indoor shooting lanes, but it also offers digital simulator training, non-firearms self-defense training, women-only training and reality-based training.
For the latter, a 2,000-square-foot space is dedicated to mock living rooms and bedrooms, where trained role players simulate break-in scenarios to test and evaluate participants’ tactics. The trainees wear protective gear and use real guns specially modified to fire markers instead of bullets.
“I was really interested in opening the range from the standpoint of personal protection,” Block said. “Because, potentially, there’s nobody else going to take care of you and you have to rely on yourself. And if you’ve got other people around … if I have my grandkids, I want to be able to protect them, too. So that really attracted me, being able to have a tool to help me protect myself and my loved ones.”
PULLING THE TRIGGER
Block began blueprinting her plans for RGR in 2013 after taking over as sole owner of what was then U.S. Firearms Academy. A year later, she found the ideal location, a 24,226-square-foot building on Market Street that matched the size of her vision.
Securing a small business loan for a $9 million gun range project, however, proved to be more challenging, said Block, adding: “It was tough to find a lender that would work with somebody in the firearms industry.”
But, in what she called a “last-ditch effort,” Block eventually got a loan approved thanks to Greater Nevada Credit Union. After less than a year of construction, Reno Guns and Range opened in August 2015.
“It was pretty exciting,” said Block, whose son, Jordan Slotnick, serves as RGR’s general manager. “It shocks me that we have what we have, but I couldn’t have done it without my team.”
In all, RGR includes three shooting bays (one for the general public, two for rent) with a total of 20 state-of-the-art lanes for handguns and rifles. Notably, the bays are equipped with an HVAC system, rubber traps and ballistic rubber tile to minimize lead dust and ricochets.
RGR’s 4,500-square-foot retail and rental space houses more than 100 firearms available to buy and 200 more to rent. The rest of the facility is carved out with classrooms, training rooms and a special events room.
The facility also offers dozens of rental lockers, which she said was a “real need” for the community. So much so that RGR will be adding another locker room, she added.
“I wanted to bring good quality training to the community and also a good quality indoor range to the community,” Block said. “Why I invested what I did into this facility is because I think that it brings a tremendous amount of benefit to the community for all sorts of reasons.”
Block realizes that not everyone is pro-gun, no matter the scenario. To that end, she said one of the biggest misconceptions is that gun owners are “irresponsible.”
“For the most part, gun owners are totally responsible and want to do the right thing and they want it for personal protection,” Block said.
Which is why Block pushed herself to fire those first 30 rounds nearly 12 years, calibrating her career in firearms. Block noted that when she had to re-qualify for her CCW in 2013, it was a much different experience. She even shot a revolver again for old times’ sake.
“I shot it and I turned to the person I was with and said, ‘My gosh, the kick is gone,’” Block recalled. “My experience in shooting had desensitized me to the trauma that I went through the very first time I shot that revolver. It was a totally different gun.”
This revelation further informed Block’s decision to build RGR into a business with an especially strong focus on training and safety, especially for first-time shooters like she once was back in 2008.
“We have much better ways of dealing with somebody who’s brand new to it and frightened,” she said. “I’m glad that we’re able to work with those that need to learn at their own pace and own level.”
Christal Park Keegan’s professional experience includes working as an attorney for the National Judicial College in Reno and for the Chapman Law Firm in Northern Nevada.