One of the things I often hear from people who own guns and know about my classes is that it “sounds cool”, but that they really “can’t afford” to come to class. Without fail, these same people will be super excited to tell me about their most recent gun purchase. While I do not begrudge anyone their right to own as many guns as they want, this phenomenon shows a big problem of prioritization. If you own several guns ostensibly for personal defense (especially if you are carrying these guns or staging them inside the home), but you have not sought out any formal training beyond the state licensing class: you have screwed up priorities and you need to fix yourself.
The average tuition of a defensive handgun training class from a reputable instructor for 2 full days is usually less than $500, and that is for the big name guys who are teaching all over the country. For a regional guy like me, you are going to pay something like half of that for the same type of class. Your average defensive handgun usually runs at least that much depending on the manufacturer and whether it is new or used. This means that the people who are telling me they can’t afford my class are spending sometimes 2 and 3 times what it would cost to come out and train for 1 day to go buy multiple new guns. Like I said, that is all fine and good; but don’t tell me in the same conversation that you take personal defense seriously. You may be a hobbyist or a collector, but you are not serious about personal defense if you are buying new guns but can’t find the motivation to train. The real reason people don’t come to classes isn’t because they can’t afford it; that is just a convenient excuse. They don’t come to class because they don’t think they need to. It’s a problem of motivation and mentality, not finances. I have held free classes with low round counts that people have signed up for and then not showed; so clearly money isn’t the problem for most folks.
In his book Training at the Speed of Life, Ken Murray describes four mental states that people go through prior to and during training: unconscious incompetency, conscious incompetency, conscious competency, and unconscious competency. Most people are in a state of unconscious incompetency when it comes to defensive shooting skills: they don’t know what they don’t know. This usually comes from the fact that they believe that they already possess the skills necessary to use a gun for personal defense because they “learned how to shoot” from their grandpa or whoever. The truth is that they may well have learned to do the mechanical things involved in operating the firearm and putting bullets on target; but they may fail to recognize that this is only one piece of the puzzle. The majority of gun owners will stay in a perpetual state of unconscious incompetency for many different reasons. For some, it has to do with ego: they don’t want to learn that they are not as awesome as they thought they were. Usually this happens to guys with a background whether they are former military, law enforcement, etc. For others it usually has to do with ignorance: they just haven’t come to the realization that training is important. This is usually fueled primarily by state mandated training requirements having given them a false sense of security. A lot of folks will have the idea that because they “qualified” in their licensing class that they have met their responsibility because of the card they now get to put in their wallet. Whatever the cause, it is a prevailing mental state that really has nothing to do with class “affordability” in most cases.
People who are coming to training classes have reached a state of conscious incompetency where they realize that there are things that they don’t know that they probably should know if they intend to carry a gun. These people will feel compelled as responsible armed citizens to seek out additional training above and beyond what they receive in a licensing class. Actually, residents of states with no licensing requirement are usually far more likely to reach this mental state because no official body has given them the aforementioned false sense of security that comes with the card in the wallet. Many guys with experience in military or law enforcement are able to check their egos and come to this point as well, though it may take more effort at times due to the fact that they might train on gun-related tasks as part of their day job. I know I always thought training was a drag when I was in the Army, but that is mostly because it wasn’t really “training” at all. Qualification ranges and other feeders of the power point slide are not really beneficial, and a lot of people who have participated in that sort of “training” are less likely to come to a class because that’s what they think it will be like.
When someone who has reached the state of conscious incompetency and comes to a class; they can usually get to the point during 1 or 2 days of training where they are consciously competent: able to perform the tasks while thinking specifically about them. Here, the problem of prioritization can kick back in because to truly be as well prepared as you can be, you want to be able to do things without having to think about them. You want to reach a state of unconscious competency where you are able to perform your skills on demand regardless of the circumstances and how hard you may be thinking about the task. The only way you can do this is by taking the things you learn in class and then practicing them frequently on your own. This will require making deliberate practice with your firearm a part of your lifestyle. If you look at the entire gun owning public, there are probably less than 10% even within the gun culture who have actually made this a lifestyle priority. It will mean making ammo a part of your monthly budget instead of just a recreational activity splurge. It will mean you have to regularly set aside time in a way that you would for other “productive” things as opposed to how you randomly find time for “leisurely” activities. Being competent with your defensive gun will become a necessity to you as opposed to a “that would be fun” idea.
Don’t use your financial budget as an excuse to miss training opportunities when motivation and mentality are really the issue. If that has been you in the past, by reading this article you should have at least reached the state of conscious incompetency. It’s up to you now to deal with that and take the next step by getting to a class. If not, you’ll be in a state as yet not described, but easily understood: DENIAL. Don’t let that be you: get to a class and then get back out to the range to practice regularly. It is true that people who don’t train with their defensive guns survive encounters with bad guys every day. It is also true that inattentive drivers avoid being hit my oncoming traffic every day. I’m not going to bet on luck to bring me through my armed citizen lifestyle, and neither should you.