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