The Gun Training Paradox

We have a problem in the training industry that we need to address. A lot of instructors (myself included) implore people to get to training classes and often talk about how imperative training is for their survival. However, saying that you “need” a lot of gun training creates a paradox that is hard to reconcile when you look at the data we have on defensive gun uses (DGUs). The data available on DGUs both from law enforcement and civilian sources reveals that individuals with little or no training do survive gunfights with a high frequency. As such, when we tell people that they “need” to spend thousands of dollars and shoot thousands of rounds to develop a high level of shooting skill on the range; we are being pretty disingenuous from a scientific standpoint. There is certainly nothing “wrong” with becoming a very skilled shooter, but to say that it is “necessary” is a stretch. It is probably worth considering how much integrity our training programs and marketing have when one can easily see that the gun handling skills required to survive most plausible fights aren’t that complex. We need to find ways to overcome this paradox if we are going to reach more people.

The majority of DGUs by civilians occur at very close distances, have a very short duration, and mostly involve single attackers. The skills required to navigate these types of encounters with a handgun can be learned quickly and don’t require a lot of practice to develop to an acceptable level. A full day of training on the proper contextual fundamentals (we can debate what those are some other time) is probably more than adequate; and a couple hundred rounds a month is probably plenty of practice to develop and maintain those skills. For the everyday Joe and Jane, that’s really all you can make the case for “needing” for personal defense with a handgun. Even then, you are still probably going to be taking some liberties with the language when you market your class. So, why then do we tell people that they “need” to shoot thousands of rounds, travel to a bunch of classes, and become part of our training subculture? I believe we do it because we are by and large marketing our classes only to shooting hobbyists, whether we intend to or not.

I am a shooting hobbyist. I own guns and gear that have no practical defensive use, and have lots of training for scenarios that are far outside of what is plausible. I work on developing levels of shooting skill that go far beyond what will every likely be required of me if I ever need to use my firearm for personal defense. I do this simply because I enjoy shooting, the same as golfers enjoy golfing or gamers enjoy gaming; and there is nothing wrong with that. Although the group that I would consider shooting hobbyists is growing all the time, it isn’t ever going to be anything more than a small percentage of the people who own guns for personal defense. If I only want to reach shooting hobbyists, the gun training paradox isn’t an issue. Hobbyists just want to get out and shoot, even if we come up with creative ways to justify it. But if I want to help the everyday Joe and Jane, I’ve got a problem. To them, the training paradox is something that they know about even if they don’t know what to call it; and they allocate their limited resources with it in mind, even if subconsciously.

If I develop a training paradigm designed to appeal to shooting hobbyists (even if I don’t know it), I’m going to include a lot of things that fall way outside of what I can even make a loose case for being “necessary” for personal defense. When I start to add all those things, I’m increasing the required time and money commitment for someone to train and become proficient inside my paradigm. That is going to disqualify the everyday Joe and Jane unless I can convince them to develop a shooting hobby. Joe and Jane already spend their fun money elsewhere, so I’m probably never going to convince them to pony up big bucks to come train with me; and I’m certainly not going to convince them to shoot thousands of rounds to develop and maintain the lofty standards I set for myself as a hobbyist. That leaves the overwhelming majority of gun owners seeking out state-mandated licensing classes and then nothing else because the “best” instructors don’t want to teach to their level. How can we expect people to do more than the bare minimum if that’s the only thing they are offered that doesn’t require a huge commitment that most are not willing to make?

Most people just don’t have the desire, time, or money to become “shooters”. But, I think a lot of people are interested in being prepared for personal defense with a handgun. So, how do we overcome the training paradox and appeal to more of those people? To me it’s simple in theory: shorter, less expensive in-person classes that focus on fundamentals that are relevant to the “lowest common denominator”; and online classes that do the same. Shooting hobbyists hear “lowest common denominator” or “online class” and usually mock the notion of training focused on such “low standards”. But, as someone who cares about personal defense; do you want there to be only a small percentage of highly skilled gun owners amongst a majority of totally incompetent ones? Or would you rather have a larger swath of people who at least have a grasp of the fundamentals? I’m for the latter, because I think it makes us all safer in a gun-owning society. This doesn’t preclude me from becoming as much of a pistolero as I want to be; but it will mean ceding the fact that doing so isn’t necessary when talking to potential students who aren’t hobbyists and have no desire to become one. The training paradox is real, but it’s not insurmountable with a little honesty.

Overcoming the training paradox will also mean that there will have to be more instructors who are willing to teach shorter classes for less money to people who don’t care about how cool you are or how many industry friends you have. Some of the instructors who are willing to do that may even *gasp*, not be as big of a shooting hobbyist as we might have traditionally expected an instructor to be. Will we welcome them into the fold? If the industry is going to overcome the training paradox and evolve to reach more people in the mainstream of gun owners, this must happen. If it doesn’t happen, training classes will continue to be the shooting hobbyist meetups that they mostly are currently. We will continue only reaching people who want to be “shooters” like us. We are going to have to evolve to reach the growing number of what we may consider non-traditional gun owners or we are going to be doing ourselves a huge disservice. Is the industry ready to evolve with the market? I hope it does, because the market is going where it’s going with or without us. If you want to overcome the training paradox and reach as many regular guys and gals as possible with useful information, these are things you cannot ignore.

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