The Curse of the Rules Lawyer

Anyone who has shot competition matches for any length of time has run into the Rules Lawyer – the guy who tries to use the rulebook to gain whatever competitive advantage he can, and often wheedles and wines about the letter of the law.  I actually love the wikipedia entry on Rules Lawyer that I’ve linked to; as it’s correct in that I first encountered the term when I was in the military, and I’ve most often heard it referenced in role-playing or board games.

Now, the problem with rules lawyering in the shooting sports is that some of the shooting games’ structures tend to make this sort of behavior easier.  My 2nd favorite shooting sport (behind Steel) is IDPA, which unfortunately due to the sometimes unnecessarily complicated rules you end up seeing this sort of behavior come out more and more. For example, the favorite topics of the rules lawyers in IDPA are three things:

  1. Improper use of cover
  2. Reloads
  3. Trying to do the RO’s job for them

For example, during a club level match, say you accidentally forgot to retain a magazine that had rounds in it, and reloaded USPSA style and kept shooting.  Now, if the RO and you didn’t notice, then it’s no big deal.  However, a rules lawyer will have noticed, and will point out to the RO that you dropped the mag with rounds in it and that you should get a procedural. The rules lawyer also loves to point out if you’re not using cover correctly, or just generally try to act like it’s their show.

Now, there are several ways to deal with this character.  The first, and best way, is to be classy.  If he points out a legitimate penalty, you man up and take it.   That way you end up looking like a classy guy, and the rules lawyer ends up looking like a dick.  If you happen to be the RO, and some guy in the squad is constantly rules lawyering, take them aside from the other shooters and politely remind them that they’re not the RO.

I will say this though; usually the worst cases of rules lawyers happen at club level matches.  Sanctioned matches usually have measures in places to counteract this sort of activity.  Unless you get a rules lawyer as your RO, which is pretty much terrible.

Rules lawyering isn’t limited to IDPA.  I’ve seen it happen in steel matches, USPSA, and even bowling pins – the key thing to remember if you run into one of these guys is to not let them ruin your fun.  99% of the guys that you’ll shoot competitions with are good guys,  and are there to have fun and shoot some bullets.  Only rarely will you run into that 1% of guys who want to spoil the fun for everyone else.  When you do, just let it ride, keep shooting, and have fun.  That’s the most important thing you can do!


  1. I like to be the classy one. I have shot IDPA with my USPSA gear(forgot the IDPA gun). Look at the RO and say, “Just give me the procedurals.” The rules lawyer does not appreciate this, esspecially when I still beat him.

  2. Last IDPA match I attended with a Rules Lawyer saw him grabbed by collar and belt and shown the exit.

    He would come to our matches from another group and then try to tell us how wrong we were. We used some “local” rules for unsanctioned matches and this character didn’t like that.

    I always took a “procedural” because I couldn’t crouch behind some low barriers and just stood and took the penalty. The Rules Lawyer said I was disqualified for safety violation. Standing up facing the targets!?

    I don’t remember if he ever returned>

  3. I’ve been to some shoots where the RO misses so many things, the lawyer NEEDS to point them out or you have anarchy. If shooting were only like golf where you call penalties on yourself this wouldn’t happen. As long as we keep score, and it is competition, there will be lawyers. Look at any TV game in a bar and listen to all the crying one way or another when a questionable call is made (even with slo-mo and instant replay).
    That’s human nature.

  4. I actually know a lot of shooters (myself included) who will call penalties on themselves if they know they’ve created one.

  5. As I learned in the military, a Crew Save is still a Save. If the RO misses something, it’s not out of line to point it out. You make it sound like a bad thing, but I always welcome back-up when I’m ROing and I offer it, diplomatically, when I’m observing. If you’re just shooting for fun, shoot by yourself. You’re with a better class of people that way.

  6. There’s a world of difference between politely pointing out something the RO missed (which I’m fine with) and saying “hey, he dropped a mag with bullets in it he should be given a procedural”. Honestly, a lot of time it comes down to tone and attitude. You can point out the letter of the law and not be a rules lawyer – it’s just important that you not be a dick while you do it.

  7. From a Gamer Angle, this guy

    Intentionally makes his rules simple so Rules Lawyers won’t have any fun, and non-gamers will do as well as vets.

    What games do you play, Ahab? I meant to ask on the Air last week when you mentioned “Free Actions” but I got caught up in all the gunnie goodness to talk G33k.

  8. Back in the day I played a lot of D&D, and then when the Battletech Customizable Card Game came out I played the shit out of that. The last formal RPG I played was uh…D20 Modern.

  9. Sorry if I came down a little heavy, but your post made it sound like the guy was being a dick for merely pointing out a procedural the RO missed.

    “hey, he dropped a mag with bullets in it he should be given a procedural”

    I back up my dungeonmaster, too.

  10. I shoot IDPA to improve MY speed and accuracy with MY carry gun…… how well everybody else does is on them. If I see someone doing something blatantly tactically unsound……. putting the gun past a barricade/ through a window or standing still while engaging multiple armed targets, I may say something to that person, later, especially if they are new. Others did the same for me, and I learned to do right. Telling the RO how to do his job is not in anybody’s interest.

  11. Blob – yeah, sorry about that. I am totally cool with shooters looking out for the RO, no one is perfect. It’s when those shooters are doing it because they’re dicks that I draw the line. I mean, ultimately we’re all there to have a good time, and that’s made a lot more difficult if Johnny Bagobullets is trying to smack everyone with ticky-tac penalties.

  12. Im fine with people calling me on technicals when Im doing something, but when there is a ref/judge present then it should only be him who is able to call penalties. That way its a fair competition with no one getting docked for something that someone else got away with. Just my 2 cents.

  13. As a side note, has anybody read the IDPA rule book? It was written by a bunch of old men that couldn’t win at USPSA, so they took there ball and started a new, rules orientated game.

  14. I actually have read the IDPA rulebook, cover to cover in fact. Now, don’t get me wrong, I love IDPA – I think it’s a great shooting discipline and it’s a lot of fun. I also feel like it has the potential (key word there) to be an incredible entry level sport for people looking to get into the practical shooting sports.

    That being said, the rulebook is a convoluted mess, and is actually quite unfriendly to new shooters. The biggest problem I have is “tactical sequence vs. tactical priority”, which actually gives me an idea for a post.

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