Tag Archives: Dunning–Kruger effect

Standards (Part II – Why)

A good man always knows his limitations.

–Inspector Harry Callahan

As early as the colonial times, it was recognized that shooting firearms is an athletic endeavor. Thomas Jefferson implied as much to his nephew, when he recommended shooting rather than “games played with the ball” as a pastime. In any physical endeavor, it’s useful to establish a benchmark. This concept applies in:

  • Medicine – what’s your blood pressure? Your doctor probably doesn’t just look at your face and decide if you have high blood pressure or not. A measurement is required. And that measurement is then evaluated in relation to established benchmarks for normal, pre‑hypertensive, or hypertensive conditions.
  • Sports – universally, sports rely on numerical performance indicators. A team would certainly not field a player without having looked at the player’s performance stats. While good stats are no guarantee of success on the playing field, poor stats are unlikely to lead to success.
  • Education – making acceptable grades is generally required to graduate from any educational institution. If your child went to a school that never evaluated performance, you probably would be unhappy about that. The general problem of that in our schools today is beyond the scope of this discussion. Suffice to say that any parent whose child can’t read but still is allowed to graduate from school should be very, very unhappy.

Avoiding Negative Outcomes is another key reason for why people might choose to have standards. This is where Dirty Harry’s statement comes into play. Two particular incidents come to mind as examples.

  • A woman in Mississippi shot and killed her husband with a handgun while trying to protect him from an attacking dog. One bullet missed the dog and struck the husband in the chest, killing him.
  • In Texas, a woman and her roommates were victims of a home invasion. When she fired her shotgun at the invaders, she missed them both but shot and seriously injured one of her roommates. This incident highlights a downside of owning a shotgun for home defense. There are few places those who live in urban or suburban areas can do any meaningful home defense practice with a shotgun.

“Weapons System” is a military buzzphrase that should be considered in the context of having standards. When a person picks up a firearm for personal protection, the combination of person and firearm become a ‘weapon system.’ Compatibility of the firearm with the person operating it is an important aspect of an appropriate choice.

  • What works for you? Although the Glock pistol is enormously popular, it’s not the right choice for everyone. The other side of the coin is that the snub nose .38 revolver often recommended for women isn’t necessarily the right choice either.
  • One of my colleagues somewhat rhetorically posed the question “What I shoot the best is a .22; is that what I should carry [or keep for home defense]?” That’s actually a really good question. If a person could only successfully shoot a very simple testing protocol with a .22, what’s the answer? Especially where senior citizens are concerned, how should they make a decision?

Psychology is yet another aspect of the standards decision. People like to think they know what they’re doing. Conversely, they don’t like not knowing what they’re doing. My friend and colleague Ken Hackathorn states a concept he calls Hackathorn’s Law.

You won’t do something under conditions of stress that you’re not subconsciously sure you can do reasonably well.

His Law has a distinct relationship to the concept of ‘Critical Distance’ in proxemics. Critical Distance is the distance at which pursued prey will turn and initiate a counter-attack against the predator. My analysis is that the North American subconscious Critical Distance is in the zone of 4-7 feet (the near phase of social space).


Diagram by WebHamster

Those familiar with the Tueller Principle will recognize that primal Critical Distance is only one-third of ‘too close.’ As the late Paul Gomez said, “We’re not teaching people to start shooting soon enough.” If a person never has an inkling of the standard they are capable of shooting to, most likely they will default to the primal Critical Distance.

Liability mitigation is sometimes cited as a reason for having standards. Other than as an unstated barrier to entry, standards have been mentioned as a way for issuing authorities to reduce their liability. To what extent this is actually true remains to be seen but it is stated as a reason.

A significant downside to standards is that encountering or testing them may force a conflict with a person’s ego. The Dunning-Kruger Effect is a well-recognized aspect of human nature. It’s the opposite side of the Hackathorn’s Law coin. As one shooter wryly observed,

Getting better is not for everyone.

If a person never tests what their skill level actually is, then this ego conflict is avoided. Many people are okay with that. Unless meeting a standard is mandated, it’s a personal decision.

Personal Protection Products and the Big Picture

I wanted to actually handle a VersaCarry holster and talk to someone from the company prior to saying anything about it. The results were what I expected. I haven’t addressed the durability issues other people have mentioned because I was not in a position to evaluate it.

The magazine carrier actually is workable, though. I may pick up one up for more testing, although I rarely carry a spare magazine.

My thoughts about the VersaCarry are in my PDN article Personal Protection Products and the Big Picture.

Versacarry for PDN crop

Rangemaster 2015 Tactical Conference (II)

Continuing on about the Rangemaster  2015 Tactical Conference held annually in the Memphis area, I would like to cover the high points of some sessions I attended.

John Hearne’s Performance Under Fire presentation was so packed with information that it’s hard to take it all in. He does a fine job of refuting the pseudo-science that pervades the personal protection training community. His research is thorough, up to date, and can document fully what he says. An aspect of his approach I like is the way he tracks the original science to see if it has subsequently been refuted. John is one of the few people in the community besides myself who has any clue about how to do research. Here’s a clue; taking information from a firearms or martial arts trainer at face value is not a valid approach. I found numerous points in his presentation quite useful.

He stated that there are actually 21 documentable ‘flinch responses,’ most of which do not involve throwing one’s hands up in the air. So if there are a variety of responses, how do you know which one you will exhibit and is it going to be the same one every time? Years ago, Ken Hackathorn told me to watch surveillance video of convenience store robberies to see how many people threw their hands up in the air when they were startled. The answer is ‘not many.’

One of my personal pet peeves is the continuing blathering about Hick’s Law in the community. John made the point that Hick’s Law was largely discredited in the scientific community decades ago. For those unfamiliar, Hick’s Law states that the more options you have, the longer it will take to make a decision, by a square of the number of choices. The original study was sort of iffy anyway and subsequent research has shown that it’s only true in the absence of any familiarity with the task and absent any practice on the decision making.

The subsequent power law of practice states that the more practice you have at making the decision, the faster you get at making it. There’s some question as to whether the practice/speed relationship is logarithmic or exponential but there’s no question about the validity of the power law. Think about it in terms of when you are driving. When you see the brake lights of the car in front of you come on, there’s no conscious decision making about whether you’re going to hit the gas or the brake, unless you’re a 15 year old student driver.

An important point John made was about the career time of when law enforcement officers were feloniously assaulted. The average time was about eight years. I believe John referenced this from the 2006 FBI study Violent Encounters, A Study of Felonious Assaults on Our Nation’s Law Enforcement Officers, but I don’t recall for sure. This was important to me because it highlighted the factor of complacency in Negative Outcomes.

Although I lack the rigorous methodology that the FBI used, it’s my feeling this is also a factor in Negative Outcomes by Armed Private Citizens. Complacency can be a killer. We see it every day at gun ranges, gun shops, and shooting clubs. Complacency is why some people have one year of experience 20 times instead of 20 years of experience and is closely related to the “I know it all” syndrome. We have all had to deal with ‘know-it-alls’ and ‘spring-butts’ and never like it. It’s up to us individually to make sure we don’t fall into the trap and challenge others who have.

Just to show that John can put his money where his mouth is, he won the High Lawman and Second Place overall in the shooting contest.

Photo courtesy of Tiffany Johnson

Photo courtesy of Tiffany Johnson

I’ll have more about the Conference next time.

Rangemaster 2015 Tactical Conference (I)

The Rangemaster 2015 Tactical Conference is over and I am processing the things I observed and learned from it. The Conference has a long history, dating back to the early days of IDPA in 1998, when it was a sanctioned IDPA indoor Championship. Over the years, it has evolved into the foremost tactical training conference for private citizens in the United States. It is held annually, early in the year, in the Memphis area. The venue for the 2015 Conference was the Memphis Police Training Academy, a truly fine and modern facility.

This year, three dozen of the top personal protection trainers in the country, many of whom are referred to as “T-Rexes,” came together to present or conduct training blocks of two to six hours over a period of three days. The agenda has grown so large that it’s not possible to take in all the training that is available, since sometimes five blocks are going on simultaneously. Some of the training is classroom lecture, some is hands-on with sterile weapons, and some is livefire. There is also a shooting match, for those who choose to participate.

There were a wide variety of topics, ranging from psychology and communications to contact based skills to firearms manipulation. I was able to attend nine sessions.

In addition, I was able to make two classroom presentations.

Upon my return, several people have asked me what my most significant takeaways were. As usual, I learned a great deal, so it’s difficult to say what were the most significant, but here are a few that stand out in my mind, in no particular order.

  • A conversation with a mentor of mine, John Farnam, elicited from both of us the experience that when approached for help in a parking lot, it’s almost always a scam or criminal ambush. Fellow trainer Melody Lauer  pointed out that there are a few legitimate exceptions, but John and I both feel they are the exception rather than the rule. This indicates that a default response should be formed to immediately and firmly decline the invitation to be a victim and then rapidly vacate the area. Exceptions to that rule should be based on specific articulable reasons and conscious decision-making, rather than by default.
  • The T-Rexes are constantly working along the path to excellence. That path includes attitude, skills development, tactics, and a host of other areas. Recognizing that there is an element of chance in every encounter, we work hard on stacking the deck in our favor. ‘Doing the work’ means training regularly and practicing on a daily basis. ‘Good enough’ is never good enough for us. That’s probably why we’re regarded as T-Rexes.
  • There is an enormous amount of erroneous, misapplied, or misinterpreted information floating around in the broad firearms and personal protection community. This is especially true in relation to prioritization, legal issues, and skills development.
  • The community has a lot to learn about integrating women into it. There was a record turnout of female attendees and women trainers at the Conference this year, my co-presenter being one. Conversations with them, as well as the presentations, were highly enlightening. Many male paradigms either don’t apply at all or don’t work particularly well when used by women. My own presentation was an eye-opener to me in that regard. The Women’s Holsters and Accessories presentation, which was presented by a woman, gave several good examples. A pet peeve expressed by several T-Rexes is men who have women shoot excessively powerful firearms and then laugh when they fail. Our universal attitude is along the lines of the desire to give such jerks a knee lift in the crotch followed by a crack in the jaw and then laugh when they fall down writhing in pain.

I have several pages of notes but those jump out at me. Undoubtedly, more will occur to me as I reflect on the event. I will have more thoughts on specific topics in the near future. There is a photo gallery of the Conference training blocks available on the Rangemaster website.

What is the value of training?

Firearms instructors are periodically asked the question “Why should I take training?” The answer often comes in the form of a list of skills that are taught or the reasoning behind using a certain technique. However, these do not address the underlying fundamental reasons for taking firearms training at all.

  1. You don’t know what you don’t know.
  2. Much of what you know is wrong.
  3. It’s good to have some of the answers to the test before taking it.

These issues relate to both technical competency with using a firearm (gun safety and marksmanship) and the ability to use the firearm correctly in a personal protection situation (legal and tactical).

You don’t know what you don’t know.

Shooters who only take their gun to an indoor range once a year “to sight it in” generally have a highly ‘cocooned’ knowledge of firearms. They know how to operate a firearm in a very restricted set of conditions. As soon as they leave that set of conditions, the stage is set for bad things to happen. Although ‘bad things’ can include unintentional and negligent gunshot wounds, it doesn’t have to be anything that newsworthy. A fellow NRA Instructor was once asked by a long time shooter why the shooter should take the NRA Basic Pistol course. The Instructor responded “Do you wear safety glasses when you’re cleaning your firearms? You do know, of course, that most cleaning fluids can irritate or even damage your eyes, don’t you?” The longtime shooter decided to take the class, after all.

Much of what you know is wrong.

Training can mitigate the Dunning–Kruger effect, which is rampant among the shooting community.

The Dunning–Kruger effect is a cognitive bias in which unskilled individuals suffer from illusory superiority, mistakenly rating their ability much higher than average. This bias is attributed to a metacognitive inability of the unskilled to recognize their mistakes.


Almost every firearms instructor has had numerous students who think they are “good” with a firearm but are not. Among these misinformed shooters are most police officers and, even many SWAT units. Typical longtime gunowners are too. When subjected to a standardized skills evaluation, most of these “good” shooters receive a rude awakening.

We’re the best shooters in our department, by far. That’s why we’re the firearms instructors. Then we come here and find out that we suck.

— A police officer attending the elite Rogers Shooting School

Many of these skills evaluations are not even particularly difficult. In one class I taught, the test was to shoot, starting from a ready position, five shots into a 12 inch circle at seven yards in 15 seconds four times in a row. Only one student out of ten was able to do it. And none of those shooters were beginners; most of them were longtime shooters. This test is the baseline level of the NRA Defensive Pistol I Marksmanship Qualification Program.

More advanced, yet still not terribly difficult, competency standards are beyond the ability of 99 percent of self trained shooters, in my experience., For example, the ability to shoot five shots into a five inch circle in five seconds at five yards five times in a row, a drill I call 5^5.

When a friendly competition was held on a local gun forum for the 5^5 drill, no one was able to do it. Several dozen people thought this test would be easy but even after multiple, in some cases, attempts they found out otherwise.

Every round that doesn’t hit is heading straight for a busload of nuns and orphans being followed by a limousine full of personal injury lawyers on a conference call with the District Attorney. At least, that’s the assumption I make and teach. It’s the reason I make my students account for every round they fire in my classes. And I point out the misses as seen in the cover photo of my blog.

It’s good to have some of the answers to the test before taking it.

Any decent class on the legalities of using deadly force will counsel students about things to do and not to do. An example of things not to do would include chasing a fleeing intruder down an alley and shooting at him while he is running away. In that particular incident, the shooter was lucky to only receive 60 days in jail.

The most significant value of training is that it places someone else, the instructor, in control of the flow of events, either physically or mentally. A criminal encounter will not be initiated in the time sequence desired by the would-be victim, which would be NONE. Nor will the skills required to solve the incident be dictated by the defender. However, by definition, self trained individuals control the flow of their actions when they practice, assuming they practice. This is exactly the opposite of criminal encounters. That’s not how it happens in real life. Good instruction will provoke thinking and questions beyond the student’s own expectations and experience. This helps prepare students to make decisions that can and will affect them for the rest of their lives, either positively or negatively.

The conscious mind does not function particularly well under stress. It tends to revert to subconscious background information and patterns, some of which are primeval. Many of these patterns are counterproductive in personal protection situations and require re-programming. Training helps replace them with background knowledge and patterns that are appropriate. Having appropriate knowledge helps avoid negative outcomes.

You don’t fire guns at people’s houses,” [Judge] Ludy said. “You kept saying you really didn’t know what was going on. If that’s the truth, why in the world would you fire a gun? … It really doesn’t matter if it was (at) Mr. Bailey or the mayor of Dunkirk. You just can’t do that.

Judge Max Ludy Jr.

Shockingly, some people thought this case should not have come to trial. I know I wouldn’t have been too happy had I been the homeowner down the alley who had bullets launched in my direction. “Judge Max Ludy said he found McLaughlin’s firing of a gunshot in the direction of a neighbor’s home especially reprehensible.”

Instructors, as a group, are constantly looking for examples of situations and incidents that went both right and wrong. And other students in the class ask questions about situations that concern them. Inevitably these discussions become class material, either formally or as side conversations. Because training is our vocation, we tend to analyze those incidents in greater detail than does the average gunowner. Our analysis may not necessarily be what the student wants to hear, or even correct, but relating the analysis provides food for thought that merely reading about an incident in the news will not.

The value of training is to make you think and perform outside of the cocoon that most gunowners are in, the same way real life frequently does. It’s not so much that we instructors have all the answers, because we don’t. However, most of us have a good idea of the questions to ask and that’s a strong start.