Most folks who plan a visit to Nashville probably don’t put Royal Range USA on their list of things to see and do, but if you’re a firearms enthusiast, you might want to go have a look.
Located right off I-40 just 20 minutes southwest of downtown Nashville, Royal Range USA is a unique indoor shooting range with an interesting history, and it’s well-known to Middle Tennesseans as the place to go for all firearms needs, from equipment and accessories to training of all types. The facility is run by Art Cason, who has an extensive background in military and law enforcement. Cason joined the Army as a young man and followed that with a 23-year stint in law enforcement—as a chief deputy, chief of police, and SWAT commander. He is one of Royal Range USA’s three co-owners, along with founder John Russell and co-owner Scott McWilliams.
“I was not here when they started—I was in Afghanistan,” Cason says. “Our primary owner, John Russell, is not a huge user of guns, but he is adamant about the Second Amendment and the Constitution. John put his money where his mouth is. He thinks that everyone should have the ability to get training to carry a gun and protect themselves. He said, ‘Hey, we need to do this. We need to train people and get the message out that the Second Amendment is very, very important to us as Americans. My other partner, Scott McWilliams is very much a sporting man and into training. That’s what drove me here, and I’ve been here ever since.”
Russell’s attraction to Royal Range is easy to comprehend. It’s a remarkable facility, perfectly suited to provide quality training for law enforcement agencies and civilians alike. However, it hasn’t always been a firearms facility. As its neon-adorned exterior décor suggests, the 40,000 square-foot building used to be a Regal Cinema movie theater, dating back to the 1970s. But what was once a haven for moviegoers underwent a catastrophic “remodel” in 2010 when a once-in-a-lifetime natural disaster set the stage for an amazing transformation.
“In 2010, Nashville experienced what they dubbed as the ‘thousand-year flood,’” Cason says. “What is now our retail area actually had eight to 10 feet of water in it. After that, Regal decided not to re-open it, and it stayed empty for five years. Then John Russell decided that he wanted to do this type of business where it was going to be training mainly, and then also a range for civilian use, government use, and a retail store. It actually started in early 2015. They opened the retail store in May of 2015, and the ranges came online in January 2016.”
The benefit to Royal Range members and guests is a five-star facility that offers every aspect of the firearms experience.
“We offer training for everyone, from private lessons to civilians to whomever,” Cason says. “We offer security training and a lot of LE training. We have a lot of entities, state and federal, that use our facilities for training and qualification. That includes certain alphabets that come in here. We have the largest handgun carry permit classes in the state. We have the largest unarmed and armed guard classes in the state. We also have a good footprint in the hospitality industry with this being Nashville.”
Royal Range’s floor plan includes three indoor ranges (including a 50-yard rifle range) plus a force-on-force area, classrooms, and an event room. The substantial space allows the company to offer range time for civilians and government agencies with virtually any firearm type, hold safety classes, and provide party and banquet facilities all at once. That’s a stark contrast to smaller indoor ranges that lack the real estate for such multi-tasking.
“We do a lot of parties, events, team building,” Cason says of the more entertainment-oriented side of the business. “For example, we get folks traveling to Nashville for a destination location or coming to a concert or sporting event who want to try their hand at shooting machine guns. We have an SOT 7 license, so we’re able to put those things together for them.”
But Royal Range’s primary mission is to train people how to operate their firearms in the safest, most proficient, and most disciplined manner, and that mission is all the more crucial in today’s social, economic, and political climates. Cason says Royal has certainly experienced a surge in new firearms purchasers. These customers need to learn and practice how to use their firearms properly.
“One thing that I’ve learned about the firearms industry is that unfortunately sometimes it is fueled by fear,” Cason says. “If there is something that happens nationally or locally, some sort of crime, people will react to that. Of course, if there’s a call for gun control, we’ve seen spikes. It’s like in the wintertime when there’s a snowstorm coming, and everyone runs to the grocery store to buy milk, bread, and eggs. And then COVID kind of changed the whole thing in 2020. Depending on who you listen to, we had anywhere between 24 million and 25 million first-time gun owners, no matter the demographics—it was across all boards.
“These new people are on an accelerated 2A journey that’s different from what folks my age experienced,” Cason continues. “Where I grew up in Tennessee, guns were just part of life. That’s just what it was. Their journey is far different, and they’ve got an accelerated curve. To give you an example, back in the ‘80s and ‘90s after I got out of the Army and got into law enforcement, a backup gun, second gun, or gun that you’d carry on your person, the choices back then were very limited. Now the compacts and the micro-compacts are some of the biggest drivers on our retail floor. Now everyone is looking at, ‘What can I carry?’ So, the industry has changed a lot.”
Cason is adamant that choices built on education are so important to everything we do. To illustrate the point, he relates how, back in the day, when you wanted to do a house repair, you didn’t have ‘YouTube University,’ and it could lead to disastrous results. Today there are firearms resources on YouTube, but he feels many of them aren’t good enough.
“It doesn’t really get you in the mix to where you get to see what really works for you and what your capabilities are,” Cason says. “Unfortunately, Hollywood has led us down a rabbit hole where we see something on a screen and think we can replicate it. That’s not realistic. Training is really the only avenue you’ve got so you can see where you’re at and what you’re capable of, so you get a baseline. If you don’t have a baseline, you don’t know. Training is so very important.”
Royal Range is also a firm proponent of low-light training. That only makes sense as FBI statistics show that the majority of violent crime happens in low lighting conditions and isn’t confined to evening hours.
“I remember when we got one of the old Executive E2’s issued to us from Surefire—it transformed us in low-light and no-light situations,” Cason recalls. “It was 65 lumens. Of course, people laugh nowadays if you’re not popping 1,000 lumens. But they’ve realized over the last 10 or 20 years just how important illumination is in making a decision. You’re responsible for every round you send downrange in the defense of yourself, your home, or whatever. Training, knowing what that gun does and what you’re capable of, knowing how important a light is to be able to identify and make that decision—I think we have a better-educated audience now than we ever have, but sometimes newcomers don’t want to perform amongst other people. We offer new-shooter courses and private one-on-one courses to help people make the transition.”
One of Royal’s core missions is to encourage newcomers to get the education they need no matter their level. The goal is to take care of you whoever you are or wherever you’re from and try to answer all your questions.
“We’re not a gun store that says, ‘Hey, you must carry this particular firearm,’ or ‘You must carry this particular way,”’ Cason says. “When Tennessee became a constitutional-carry state, we saw a huge uptick in holster sales. That tells you there were a lot of guns in shoeboxes that were coming out because people knew they could now carry without catching a [criminal] charge. That’s okay, but do you really know what that gun can do? Have you practiced your reloading? Have you practiced your malfunction training? Do you know where your marksmanship lies? I still think the battle to be won is to convince people they need education. If you’re depending on something as important as a firearm to defend yourself, your home, and your family, why wouldn’t you want to be the best that you can be with it? And your skills will deteriorate if you don’t keep them up.”
For more advanced shooters, Royal Range also offers a lot of hosted training events, inviting some of the top instructors in the country to give seminars and provide hands-on instruction.
“SureFire was here recently, and we do events with Gunsite,” Cason says. “We’ve brought in Scott Jedlinski with Modern Samurai Project. With civilians, we have a learning track for them, and they can come in here and be comfortable. We also have about 20 instructors here and most of them are current or retired military or law enforcement. We have different tiers of education. We have a defensive pistol series. We have an urban rifle series. We have a gunfighter series that puts both platforms together. We do impact training, bladed, less-than-lethal, and reality-based scenario training with force-on-force. The whole gamut of training is available here.”
Royal Range has made it a mission to accommodate customers from all walks of life. Its staff understands that everyone is different and learns differently, and the overarching goal is to make anyone who walks through its doors feel at home.
“When the Pulse nightclub shooting happened down in Florida, there was a lot of fear in the LGBTQ community, and they decided that they needed to be able to protect themselves,” Cason says. “That’s the way we feel about everybody. They’ve named us one of the friendliest ranges and training academies in the country. We want everyone to know they can be a Second Amendment advocate and that they have the right to protect themselves. We would love for you to be smart in the way you vote and make sure that our Second Amendment stays where it is and how important it is. The best way to do that is to educate yourself and use that education to make the right choices.”
That’s what Royal Range USA is all about.