Beyond the One Percent (part 1)

In response to many requests, I’ll be posting the content of my talk at the 2017 Rangemaster Tactical Conference, broken up into many segments with commentary.  The complete talk was over 2 hours of material, over 100 slides, so it’s going to take quite a few posts to cover all the material.

How do we get more people to attend training beyond the state minimum?

The topics covered in the talk include

  • Estimating the number of gun owners / carry permit holders
  • Estimating the number of people who train to a mandatory minimum level (state carry permit, hunter education, military, law enforcement)
  • Estimating the number of people that take at least one class a year or shoot one match a year
  • Exploring the reasons that motivate those people to train and compete
  • Identifying the reasons why gun owners do not train or compete
  • Suggesting approaches that might motivate a few more percent to participate

Since this topic may draw readers unfamiliar with me to my blog, I’ll include this slide, which covers my background. I’ve been in the training business for 26 years, have my own 88 acre training facility, a long resume of credentials as a shooter and instructor, and (particularly in the past 8 years) a very active training program offering dozens of different courses, beginner to advanced, and hosting multiple national level traveling trainers each year.  I also have several courses that can be taught on the road, including 1 and 2 day handgun skills courses, force on force scenario courses, and a force on force instructor development course.  The KR Training website has more information.

I chose the topic because back in August 2016 I retired from my day job with the state of Texas after 31 years, which enabled me to expand KR Training beyond a weekend-only business.  When KR Training started 26 years ago, it was the only firearms training school in the Austin area. There was no one offering NRA instructor training and no one hosting national level trainers.  We had a website, written in HTML 1.0, when Mosaic was the only browser and Google did not exist.

The past 5-10 years have seen significant expansion of the number of training schools, as many in my area have started schools similar to mine, including quite a few instructors who have built their instructor resumes by attending courses I’ve taught and hosted.  New ranges have opened, all offering training classes, taught by instructors of wildly varying quality, from excellent to unqualified.  That, along with the ever changing secret metrics Google uses for search engine result placement, changes in the way people find information online, and other factors to be discussed later in the presentation, has made it more difficult for KR Training to stand out in a sea of similar looking websites, Facebook ads, and other marketing.

Both of my college degrees are in engineering, and I spent 23 years working in military R&D, so I like data.  My first task was to try to find answers to basic questions.  The TSA does a good job of tracking and reporting on firearms discovered at checkpoints.  That’s an interesting statistic because it’s tied to the number of people carrying, and even what guns they are carrying and how they are carrying them.

More people are being caught with guns in their carry on bags.  That means more of them are carrying guns in their bags.  It also means they forget the guns are there, which is reflective of the seriousness (or lack thereof) of their mindset about carrying.  Someone serious about carrying would not only remove the gun from the carry on bag, but would also be checking that gun to be able to carry it at their destination, if allowed by local law.

It’s difficult to determine from the TSA data whether “loaded” means a round was chambered or not, but for sure I know it means that ammunition was in the gun.  This stat implies that most of the people lugging a gun around in their bag were doing so for self defense reasons. Now for some national numbers, collected from a variety of sources and combined.  One of the best sources I found was the National Shooting Sports Foundation.

The national landscape appears to be this:  there are 311 million people in the US.  247 million adults. 55 million gun owners. Of that 55, NSSF estimates as many as 20 million do some kind of shooting each year. John Lott’s data indicates that there are 11+ million carry permit holders.  (The growth of constitutional carry, where no license is required, is going to make an accurate estimate of the number of carry permits more difficult.)  The NRA claims 5 million members, about 1/11th of the total pool of gun owners.  NSSF claims that 5 million shoot some type of competition. Whether this is ‘lifetime’ or ‘this year’ was unclear.  I think that number likely represents the number of gun owners that have ever shot any match of any kind.  Almost a million cops, 125K NRA instructors, and smaller numbers for the competitive pistol sports.

USPSA and IDPA numbers were inferred from press releases and websites, as neither organization responded to my request for data, even with a form letter response saying they could not provide it.  NRA’s initial response to my inquiry promised a follow up with data, but as of this writing that data has not been provided.

My next step was to drill down into the numbers for my home state of Texas, both because it’s where my business is located, and because Texas has more data available than other states.  Our concealed carry license bill required the state police to collect statistics on the number of permits issued, denied, revoked, and other data on crimes committed by permit holders.  That data has been very useful to gun politics activists as it makes a strong case for the overwhelming law-abiding nature of carry permit holders, and the numbers also show the strength of the gun culture in Texas.

The Texas population (29 million) is roughly 9% of the national number, but our gun ownership percentage is above average, so for simplicity when no state level number was available, I used 10% of the national number as an estimate.  Using NSSF and state level data, that means 3.2 million gun owners in Texas, 1.2 million that buy hunting licenses each year (data provided by Texas Parks and Wildlife), 1.1 million carry permits (from Texas Department of Public Safety), an estimated 500K NRA members, with an average of over 100K new carry permits issued each year.  Sadly, I learned that membership in the Texas State Rifle Association is only 35K.  Considering that TSRA has played a key role in lobbying for concealed carry and all the improvements in Texas gun laws over the past 30 years, it’s shameful that so few Texas gun owners support that organization.

Click here to join TSRA.  Annual membership is less than the cost of 100 rounds of ammo and a range fee for most people, even less for seniors.

Trying to estimate how many actually train or compete each year was difficult.  NSSF does not track “training” as one of their metrics, only target shooting, hunting and competition.  TXDPS data shows that on average 100K people take the new permit course each year, and there are 3600+ LTC instructors. That means that the typical LTC instructor is teaching less than 30 people per year.

NRA claims to train over 1M students per year, so 10% of that is 100K, taught by the 12,500 (estimated) NRA instructors in the state. That means the ‘typical’ NRA instructor is teaching 8 people per year.  Since NRA classes are not required for the state carry permit, the estimate of 100K may be high. Most NRA training conducted in Texas relates to youth programs such as Boy Scout and 4H, with some NRA basic pistol courses offered.

Texas has a number of major fixed-location, national level and state level schools, including KR Training, that teach classes 30 or more weeks a year.  I attempted to estimate the total number of students attending classes at those schools by listing all the schools I knew about, asking contacts in major cities all over the state to add names to that list, looking at the calendars on those school’s websites, and asking people I knew that had attended those schools what the class sizes were.

That marginally scientific approach produced an estimate of 10 or so schools that taught 500+ students a year and maybe another 20 schools that taught 100-499 students a year, for a rough estimate of 10K.

On the competition side, I found an NSSF report that provided a stat on the likely overlap between USPSA and IDPA members, and used that to reduce the original estimate of 5K (based on national membership numbers claimed in press releases) down to 4125.  There are people that shoot matches that are members of either national organization that were not counted.

Austin-based organization A Girl and a Gun estimated that over 3000 women participate in at least one AG&G event in Texas each year. There are other women’s shooting groups in Texas, including the Sure Shots, Well Armed Woman, and Second Amendment Sisters. Their participants were not counted in my estimate, as these groups are smaller and at best are likely to add less than another 1000 to the total, particularly since many active in one group are active in others.

Summarizing the Texas data: 93% of the 3.2 million adult gun owners in Texas likely do not train. 4% of them take the mandatory new permit course, at best 3% of them take some kind of NRA course, and only 1%, less than 30K, take any kind of post-CHL level course or shoot any kind of match, including all kinds of pistol, NRA high power, and all the shotgun sports.

If you took the CHL class one time, that put you in the 4% that year. If you haven’t taken a class since then, you were in the 93% all those other years.  Same for taking a post-CHL class. If you took a class in 2015, you were a 1% er that year, and a 93%er in 2016.

NSSF data provided some encouraging results, though.  It indicates that in Texas, 22% of the 3.2 million gun owners shoot 5 days a year or more, with 3% shooting more than 20 days a year.

It’s likely that all the regular competitors and serious shooting school students fall into that 3%, so removing them from the pool means there are maybe 76K “frequent target shooters” that like shooting enough, and do it frequently enough, that they might be interested in training courses that go beyond the minimum.

I’ll post the next part of the talk in a few days, where I discuss motivation: how does training appeal to those that attend it now, and what can make training more appealing to those most likely to attend it.

Update: Part 2 now online.