Why don’t people train?

Owning a handgun doesn’t make you armed any more than owning a guitar makes you a musician.

–Jeff Cooper

Of all the things Jeff Cooper said, the above saying has become the most prevalent mantra within the firearms training community. It has been memed in many ways. The latest I saw was ‘Without training, you are just pretending.’ The original saying and its various memes allude to the need for gun owners to be trained, ‘regulated’ in the sense of the Second Amendment, in order to be able to effectively use their weapons for personal protection. Why, then, don’t more gunowners pursue training beyond the bare legal minimum, where required?

First of all, let’s confront the validity of the statement itself. We should note that there are quite a few capable musicians and singers who are self-trained. With regard to firearms, the firearms training industry has really only existed since the mid-1970s, when Jeff Cooper founded the American Pistol Institute at Gunsite. Before then, even many police officers didn’t receive much in the way of training. There were virtually no venues available for formal training for Private Citizens, other than the Boy Scouts or Camp Perry. Does this mean that in the 200 years of US history preceding the foundation of API, the American people were ‘unarmed?’ Of course not. Americans have a rich history of shooting predatory no-goods without a moment’s hesitation, even before the foundation of the Republic.

On an almost daily basis, we read and circulate reports of Armed Private Citizens defending themselves, their families, and their neighbors with firearms. The vast majority of these incidents are successfully solved by people who have not one bit of formal training. What this means is we trainers can’t have our cake and eat it, too. Every time we celebrate a successful defense, and rightfully so, we essentially invalidate Cooper’s saying.

What are the reasons a gunowner might cite for not taking training, assuming it’s available, which is a separate issue? There are any number of reasons, such as:

  • Time
  • Expense
  • Accessibility
  • Scheduling
  • Lack of motivation
  • Lack of incentive
  • Lack of understanding

Time and expense should be discussed together because they are both personal resource constraints. The time demands on most people are extensive, especially in a single parent family. Similarly, money is tight for the majority of Americans. The question “How much is your life worth?,” another popular meme in the training community, is moot when the rent is due tomorrow and your kids want to eat.

Accessibility and scheduling are another pair of related issues. According to the US Census, 80.7 percent of Americans live in urban areas.  Where are most training facilities? Out in the boonies, in what the Census describes as ‘rural areas.’ While there is some instruction that goes on at indoor ranges, my experience is that it is best described as ‘familiarization’ rather than training. This is a huge disconnect. The location of training facilities is a factor that impacts the time issue I previous mentioned. If a person has to budget several additional hours or days, just for travel purposes, that becomes yet another resource constraint.

To its credit, the NRA Training Division is trying to address this issue through the use of a ‘Blended Training Model’ of both online and in-person training. The result among the NRA Instructor community has been mostly anger and serious pushback. Much of the dissension is based on pure economics. I’ll let you draw your own conclusions about that.

With regard to scheduling, when do trainers tend to schedule training mostly? I submit that we schedule when it’s convenient for us, not for the students. That’s one reason I have gone exclusively to short evening classes and one day only weekend classes. Asking people to spend both days of a weekend, out in the sticks, is simply an unreasonable demand on their time.

Lack of motivation, incentive, and understanding are allied factors, as well. About them I will say we in the community simply haven’t made a good case for what we teach and why we teach it. This is especially true in light of the regular reports of people who successfully defend themselves and their families without any training. Although we trainers spend a certain amount of time talking about what we teach, we still haven’t made a good overall business case for “What is the value of training?” Until we do, folks just aren’t going to come. I think the training community might benefit from some Dale Carnegie training for itself.

12 responses

  1. “I submit that we schedule when it’s convenient for us, not for the students. That’s one reason I have gone exclusively to short evening classes and one day only weekend classes.”

    Scheduling is the number one reason I don’t attend as many classes as I want. I keep hoping traininers in my area consider small series of classes, say a couple hours on a Saturday every week for x weeks. Yes, scheduling for range time with that kind of regularity could be a pain but I would love to see someone try this business model.

    I’ll be the first to sign up.

  2. Looking forward to rest of this series. This is something that Melody and Kathy have talked about with more regard to women but exploring this from a wider perspective will be interesting.

  3. Excellent points. As usual.

  4. While Expense, Accessibility, and Scheduling are minor put-offs for me, two main reasons I have not participated in formal training are:

    I don’t know of anyone who will train in my carry style. I have carried using a SmartCarry holster 24/7/365 for over eight years. I am quite efficient with this method in dry fire practice, but I have never been able to practice live fire. Which brings me to the next main reason.

    I have no place to practice in live fire what I would have learned during training. Without regular practice the training would have little real life value for me.

  5. Morning, Claude. Another excellent post rich with common sense. A few random thoughts and personal opinions from me, having been either an active participant or observer of the tactic-cool training scene since the 80s:

    Most firearms training is created by people who like to shoot and train for other people who like to shoot and train and already have done so (in whatever they define as training) — not for people who come to the concept intellectually and decide to explore it. Unlike many of the generation that you and I belong to, most younger people taking up shooting who do not do so in a LEO/Military context come to it after being exposed to it in media (movies, books, TV, pop culture) rather than being taught by fathers/uncles/elders of the tribes. Obvious exceptions are those who grow up in active hunting or outdoor working (farm/ranch) environments.

    When people who have never shot run into people who do, there’s a major cultural gap/communication gap that requires addressing —

    In short, the training design of firearms training needs to address the NEEDS of the desired audience (in this case, discussing new to shooting shooters) which are NOT the needs of a shooter with previous experience (no matter how screwed up that previous experience may be); and further NOT necessarily what the instructor WANTS to be paid to do.

    It’s putting the actual needs of the students first, understanding that a novice will most likely not even know what they need (they don’t know what they don’t know) and building a course around that — rather than what the instructor would rather do.

    ^^This is a fundamental element of adult education, something that the firearms training “industry” (with a few exceptions) has yet to embrace.

    I’ve sent several people to you for intensive training (Nick Hughes and Diana Rathbone, some foreign nationals as well who knew you from Rogers…) and one of the great compliments they all paid you in their debriefing with me was how you took the time to determine what they ACTUALLY needed, rather than what they THOUGHT they needed, and you presented that material in an experiential collaborative fashion (instead of the “I’m the instructor, and that’s all you need to know…” modality) and coached them to significant progress in their personal skill acquisition.

    Nicely done.

    I think addressing the value of training is a respectful education of the desired customer base (as Carnegie says, in different language) about what their actual needs are and how the instructor can provide it, instead of “ˇThis is what I teach: ninja dim mak, CAG/DEVGRU/OGA gunslinging, I killed a dozen men in gunfights, blah blah blah, and if you want to be the best with a gun, come train with me….”

    In addition to Dale Carnegie, I think the industry could use some fundamental education in the principles of adult learning and education, explore a more collaborative/facilitation/coaching approach to teaching, and Business Marketing 101. Most of what passes for marketing is for those they already teach and reach and does nothing to reach outside of that limited circle; hence the relatively short life span of most “tactical-training” operations outside of a handful of mainstays.

    Just my two cents worth. I hope more people read what you’re doing here. It’s a breath of fresh air in an industry that needs it, in my opinion.

    cheers, m

  6. The instructor base has also created (at least here in Michigan) the false security that obtaining a CPL is all one needs to defend themselves. Having the license with the ability to carry is much different than knowing how to defend oneself.

  7. I think the very real disconnect between learning and training needs to be addressed. Yes some people learn best when they are taught by others; e.g. get training.
    But it is possible to simple figure out what needs to be done and practice that. The resources available today makes this easier then ever.

    The presumption that exist is very hard to shake; especially when it is pushed by so many people who make a living (in part or whole) providing training — just because someone hasn’t been ‘trained’ doesn’t make them a.) dangerous, b.) lack knowledge or c.) lack ability.

    Firearms are a fully mature technology and at the core they are not hard to use adequately.

    Another aspect that turns many people off ‘training’ is way too many ‘trainers’ insist on pushing legislation benefiting themselves. Like doctors pushing laws that no medicine can be taken without a doctor visit; people see the hypocrisy in this.

    Bob S.

    1. I agree that firearms, in and of themselves, are not that difficult to operate for most people. However, a friend who runs an ongoing training program told me that after three sessions, some of her students were still having difficulty getting the ammunition in the magazine with the “Front Toward Enemy.” That’s a problem.

      Where most issues arise is from the potential ‘Negative Outcomes’ like shooting one’s self or making bad decisions in application. That’s where I think the major benefit from training can come from. Unfortunately, I’m not sure we’re addressing that well in the training community nor have we educated the public that those issue exist and rear their ugly heads.

  8. Thank you so much for saying this, and my heart-felt gratitude for how you schedule your classes. You may be one of the 3 trainers in the US who get the joke that most people work 8-5, Monday-Friday and that time off is a scarce natural resource. May I expand your list by two more items?

    Marketing–I’ve noted that few of the smaller, more local trainers seem to be very good at getting the word out about when, where, how much it will cost and why you should attend. I know there are trainers in my area, but finding them and getting information on class schedules is nearly impossible. Basically I have to stumble over them by accident. Geeze, it’s 2015–at least have a web site and be on Facebook. You can do both of those, literally, for less than $150 cash per year and some time on your part. If this is your business, please act like it and market it so your potential customers (like my family of 4, who would come as a group) can find you. I’m fortunate in that I have money for training. I want to spend it with you. Make it easy for me to find you so I can do it.

    The other is quality, or, if I may be allowed the pun, “Bang for your buck”. There is generally no good way for a potential training customer to know whether or not their scarce resources are going to be well spent going to a new trainer, and as such, many simply sit it out and don’t go at all. I don’t know how it could be done, but it would be a good thing if there were some way to know if Trainer X actually had the knowledge and skills, both as a shooter and as a trainer, before I go plunk down my hard earned coin and my time. Nothing offends me more than to waste a day or two , a few hundred rounds of ammo and a nice bit of cash and feel it was a waste.

  9. Very good points.
    Most of my instruction experience has been to a captive audience, via Uncle Sugar’s tender ministrations.
    This is food for thought.

  10. I hope you focus on the electronic or paper mediums and physical settings both. Your blog is a medium (and a valuable one to me). I just got your snubby DVD n the mail and will watch it as soon as I finish a book on CHP shootings at Newhall. No travel required for the book or DVD. There is a webinar (sp?) out by Andrew Branca on the law of self defense as well. The ACLDN people have training videos out. I think any training you can get in a classroom can just as sell come from a DVD since you sit and listen in both cases. Physical movement be it shooting (at least dry firing) and moving can be done at home based on what someone has read or watched. What is missing unless you can have someone record your movements with a video camera is much feedback and coaching. To me that is the major drawback of do it yourself training but it is still better than no training at all. My bet is the trainers who will thrive will provide training where no travel is required. I also just remembered my Laserlyte which lets me ‘shoot’ at home too and provides some feedback without loud noises. It seems like basic gun handling to people with little accurate knowledge of firearms has great value in person but beyond that I think you can get more value from DVDs, webinars etc than spending money to travel. There will still be a gap in one’s training but still the approach is better than not doing anything.

  11. Good post. I’ve long been turned off by people in the firearm circles who get on a soap box about training this, you’re not armed that, and on and on. More than any other of my interest groups, firearms owners are a snobbish, know-it-all bunch that have difficulty seeing beyond their own beliefs and situations. All one has to do is bring up a caliber discussion, or the subject of external safeties, to see this at work.

    I’d venture to say that the majority of us that conceal carry on a daily basis do NOT have access to training close by, and I’m quite certain that most of us are stuck at a public range that limits how many rounds you can have in a mag, and will most definitely not allow any sort of defensive style shooting practice. The mindset of “get training or you’re not serious” is utter BS. When you work 13 hours a day for 14 days straight (out of town), then get 2 days off before doing it again, where would you suggest that person find the time and place to get “proper” defense training?

    Until concealed carry truly becomes common, and there is sufficient widespread need for more training/shooting facilities, most of us are going to have to make do with public ranges when we get the time. And for most of us, that’ll have to do.

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