The Beyond the One Percent presentation explores the topic of how many people train, why they train, what courses they choose and why, and ways to possibly motivate more than 1% of adult gun owners to take training beyond their state minimum. It is based on my presentation at the 2017 Rangemaster Tactical Conference.
Part 5 is all about long term trends in gun culture.
CULTURE CAN CHANGE
Culture can, and does change. It’s changed in many years since I first got seriously interested in handgun shooting back in 1988.
One example: this data on willingness to use a gun in self-defense. The highest numbers on the chart are for women against a male aggressor. That’s a change from what was the “conventional wisdom” that women are less likely to use deadly force in self-defense.
There’s been steady growth and cultural change related to women and guns over the past 20-30 years. In the 1990’s the NRA’s Refuse to be a Victim program started as a women’s-only course and expanded to a wider audience. The Babes with Bullets program paired the top female USPSA competitors of the day with other women who were either active competitors or interested in competition. Women and Guns magazine started in the 1990s and is still being published, outlasting other mass market gun publications.
The Second Amendment Sisters organization shut down in 2015, but was very active in the 2000s, promoting the idea of gun rights (and armed self-defense) to women. The larger cultural changes of the mainstreaming of concealed carry and AR-15 ownership increased the appeal of shooting to a more urban and self-defense oriented audience.
Women, particularly those that are Gun Culture 2.0 people not raised around firearms and starting an interest in firearms from outside the gun culture, seek out training, often provided by these women-oriented or women-only clubs. The carry permit (and self-defense) remains a key motivator. I put an asterisk by the term “professional” because in many cases those providing training at the club level are often NRA basic pistol instructor level or state carry permit level or similar part time/volunteer level. The important trend is that within that subculture, the idea of attending a course is more common than with gun owners in general. NSSF survey data of national “A Girl and a Gun” club members showed interest in activities at higher levels and with different priorities than the data in previous parts of my talk indicated for all gun owners.
They take more classes.
And they plan to take more classes in the future.
Many cultural changes occurred over the past 50 years. In the 1970s, all the gun magazines were about hunting and gun collecting for the most part. NRA training was all about target shooting and bullseye competition. In the 1980’s, concealed carry and USPSA competition started to grow, to the level that a national network shooting show that showed USPSA, Steel Challenge and other modern pistol sports, American Shooter (now called Shooting USA), was reaching a national audience.
In the 1990s, significant expansion in concealed carry laws occurred. The political drama over the assault weapon and high capacity magazine ban caused a lot of gun owners that had no interest in those guns to take an interest and purchase them. And growth of the shooting sports continued, as IDPA started and began to attract gun owners that were interested in USPSA-style shooting but had a more concealed carry focus. The idea that people needed to attend training to be prepared to carry in public and to be proficient with carry guns really took root during this decade.
In the 2000s, 9/11 occurred, which dramatically changed the country’s risk perception. Suddenly everyone realized that something bad could happen to them, and they needed to do something about it. Growth of the internet, and increased access to information produced by and about gun owners that provided a realistic view, as opposed to the consistently anti-gun editorial bias of the mainstream media, began to be available and accessible to a broader audience. The growth of realistic war and shooting video games increased interest in real firearms as well. The impact of this was the rise of Gun Culture 2.0. a term coined by gun writer, competition shooter and TV producer Michael Bane. He didn’t coin the term until 2012, but the trend was happening in the 2000s.
I consider myself a Gun Culture 1.9 person, because I grew up in a house with guns, but I didn’t do anything with them, because they belonged to my father who had passed away when I was very young. It wasn’t until I reached college age that I decided to learn about them (and shooting in general). At that time there were no firearm classes. Finding training of any kind, as a firearms novice with no friends or family that were “gun people”, was very difficult. The largest gun club in town (Austin Rifle Club) had no training program and appeared to be a closed group with no phone number. One local range owner pointed me at the USPSA club that shot at his range, and a few of their members offered to teach me. When others in my social circle learned of my interest in guns, they wanted me to teach them, and I found it difficult to find an NRA instructor training course. I ended up driving to Corpus Christi for a class, where an NRA Training Counselor that didn’t follow any of the NRA materials certified a group of 10 us in 3 different disciplines in 6 hours. A few years later, to get certified as an NRA Training Counselor, because there were no classes offered in Texas, I had to fly to California to take the course.
The growth of my own business, KR Training, follows the arc of Gun Culture 2.0, as I created a website back when Mosaic was the only browser, writing the website in HTML 1.0 in a text editor. So as far back as 1995, much of my marketing was internet based, via a website and posts on USENET gun forums and local Austin online forums. Just as others were setting up their training businesses to teach the newly-required Texas Concealed Handgun License course, I started offering post-CHL classes, hosting national traveling trainers and got certified as one of the few “civilian” Simunition instructors back when that required attending a multi day in person training course.
During the 2000s as mandatory training for concealed carry, and in the 2010s as it became easier and easier to start up Last Name Tactical and Latin Word Tactical training businesses, and as a result of my efforts training hundreds of NRA instructors in my area, training at all levels is now widely available to people that want it — a massive change from what existed in 1988.
The 2010s were the Obama gun buying years, tremendous growth in sales and demand for training. After decades refusing to consider the idea of training “civilians” to draw from a holster, (while lobbying in every state to get concealed carry laws passed) the NRA finally puts out its Personal Protection Outside the Home course and begins certifying its own instructors to teach the same skills the private sector had been teaching since the 1970s.
By this time, gun magazine (and online content) has shifted completely from hunting and bullseye shooting to nothing but practical, action, defensive oriented, high speed, run and gun content. The NRA magazines begin covering 3-gun. Back in the 1990s our local IPSC club attempted to build a private range and got sued by adjoining landowners. The representative the NRA Range Design sent to help us was someone with no pistol experience who had never seen a USPSA match. The idea that people could draw loaded guns from holsters, shoot in directions other than straight ahead down their tiny assigned firing point, and move while shooting was completely outside his comfort zone, and was too ‘extreme’ for NRA HQ to support. As culture has changed, the NRA has slowly caught up.
The main point to this section is that culture can change and is changing. Just because low numbers of existing gun owners currently don’t see any need or value or even any fun in competing or training doesn’t mean those numbers will remain at those levels. In 1992, the number of gun owners interested in the AR-15 was tiny. Now it’s the most commonly purchased rifle. Same for the numbers of people with carry permits, and the numbers of people who carry daily. The high level trends are positive for the future of both training and practical/defensive type competition, if for no other reason than the increased numbers of gun owners. If only 1% attend training, 1% of the pool of gun owners today is a larger number than it was 10 years ago, or 20 years ago.
Culture change doesn’t occur on its own. The messages people hear and the examples high profile people set affect opinion and behavior. Sometimes ideas that start in a quiet corner spread quickly because they are the right idea at the right time. At this point in history there are a lot of voices, on many different platforms, all being heard by gun owners and pro-gun voters, so potential exists to affect the gun owner opinions that influence their decisions to attend training.
In Part 6 I’ll discuss the current state of the training business and changes that could occur to make it more accessible to those not currently coming to classes.