When we think about it, we all intuitively know that we learn way better with classes. They offer accountability, expert knowledge, structure, and feedback. The independence of self-teaching is enticing, especially with prolific online resources a click away, but idiosyncrasies sneak in every time, and people will learn more slowly with the result of incomplete knowledge or skills.
So why on Earth are people opting out of gun training classes?
At a time when guns are in the hot seat politically and vilified by the media more severely by the day, it seems more important than ever to know your stuff inside and out as a gun owner. Whether it’s the thrill of making that shot at a distanceyou never knew you could in competition or out hunting, or that unbeatable feeling of knowing what to do in an emergency (and how not to cause emergencies), there’s a lot to gain from learning shooting, not just teaching yourself.
Let’s look at it from the perspective of a brand new gun owner:
My dad taught me how to shoot when I was twelve!
We can first acknowledge that large portions of new firearms owners aren’t entirely new to firearms. They’ll be young people who were finally old enough to buy their own gun, able to save up for one, or ready to pursue EDC in their own lives. They’ll be the ones looking into classes thinking they’re too basic, or looking at the types of people who are buying guns for the first time due to fear, who are practically holding them like dirty diapers. The “some experience” types of should-be students got informal training from their parents on weekend visits to the range, hunting trips, or even working with their parents on gun maintenance. Maybe they have a healthy respect of gun safety because their dad was the very model of a modern major concealed-carry permit holder… but, then again, did they ever get dedicated, piece-by-piece instructional time? Probably not.
Guns are magic bullets that make you feel safer once you own one!
A large percentage of the population uses the words “feel” and “safe” in the same sentence regularly, illustrating the first problem facing a new gun owner who needs to get to a few classes. The new gun owner now has the toolto feel safe and doesn’t consider the practical skills required for that tool to actually create a safe environmentwith the everyday care and keeping of firearms, let alone when they need to use them. Leading to…
You don’t know what you don’t know.
Even if the new gun owner has studied safe gun ownership practicesand their new weapon, and even gone to the range a few times to practice, they might not know that they should practice with their holster, or secondary defensive skills (hey, bullets aren’t infinite except in Hollywood), or managing an emergency situation as a lay first responder. It’s not to discredit new gun owners, but it’s a simple fact of life that one “skill” actually involves about a thousand smaller ones. The trick is to push through the “hot button topic firewall” to get people to think carefully about the act of using their gun in real life, not just having it and occasionally visiting the range.
“First day of school” Anxiety
In this case, the anxiety breaks down into two main parts:
1. Finding a trustworthy class
We here in the gun community could be doing a better job making our own work legible to novice readers and buyers. Anybody researching a gun they might want to buy will also have to look up tons of jargon, abbreviations, and extremely technical writing.
After they’ve waded through that, it’s understandable how they might have diminished patience for finding a trustworthy first timer class. Ranges do not look like yoga studios or gyms, all windows and open space and smoothies. The first time someone goes, they’ll feel a bit like they’re entering a lair or a bunker. The staff is armed (smart for business, unsettling for those who aren’t used to it), the range, though well-kept, is concrete and drab at best, and it is very clearly a “tactical zone,” with lots of strict rules, standard precautions, and a somewhat intimidating atmosphere.
Besides the struggle of just getting to a place to practice with a weapon, someone who wants to take a class will have to try to sort out the reputable programs from the scams. From the seemingly reputable programs, they then have to decipher which classes have enough qualified instructors and holistic curriculums. You could see where it might start to read like Greek to the novice shooter.
2. Being the little fish
If they can push through and get to a class, the new gun owner is sure to meet at least one much more experienced gun owner, their instructor. As someone who just purchased a firearm, the student is probably still working on the “not all guns are bad” concept, especially in the context of armed, experienced shooters in the same room as them, ready to talk guns.
On top of that, newcomers to any hobby seem to think they’re starting from a lower baseline than the rest of their class (exception: the “my dad taught me how to shoot when I was twelve!” guy). They’re going to feel like they’re not prepared for even the first day, that they can’t ask questions because they should know the answer and that their classmates are way ahead of them in training.
We’ve all seen these classes and know it’s not true, but you can’t blame them for feeling that way, especially when deliberately entering into a taboo-status skill.
In every excuse or rationalization for not taking a gun training class as a new gun owner, we see those little endearing but infuriating quirks of the American personality: the cocky, the stick-in-the-mud, the no-patience. Finally, we see that, on average, America is still just a little bit delusional about gun ownership.
As experienced shooters and competent, responsible owners, now is a fantastic time to modernize our blogs, training course sites, and other media, to make it inviting for the people who most need to read what’s on there.
We also need to recognize that we’ve gone Deep Technical for a long time and that we can’t expect non-shooters to meet us there. While the US is fighting over gun control and flinging their misinformation all over the place, we’ve shown that we can do a lot better engaging people on an educational path rather than in a political debate and climate that isn’t going to make anybody safer or smarter.