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 1 of the series is here, if you haven’t read it.
Part 2 is about understanding what motivates people in general and shooters specifically.
According to National Shooting Sports Foundation research, the top 3 reasons people go target shooting are that they go with family and friends (that means one of their family/friends is highly motivated to go shooting), sport/recreation, and self-defense.
The issue that interests me, as someone trying to fill classes that go beyond the state minimum, is this:
Maslow’s hierarchy of human needs is a good place to start. Meeting one or more of those needs drives many of our decisions, both long term and short term.
If most people had to pick one as the need they think motivates most people that train beyond the minimum, they would probably pick “safety”. But that may not be the case.
Being a much more profitable, economically larger industry than firearms training, the video game industry has inspired or funded more research into understanding what motivates players than gun schools have. So I looked at some of those studies and some pop culture articles like this one from Cracked.com that summarizes research results.
The three main attractions are achievement (winning but also skill development), social (in multiplayer games) and immersion (fantasy fulfillment). The gun school/competition subculture appeals to those motivations too.
Competition shooters want to win their division or the whole match. Those that get the top tier ratings (Expert, Master, Grand Master) take pride in those accomplishments. There are schools and specific classes offered by national firearms schools that are known to be hard, with status associated with getting their Advanced rating or being top shooter in their class.
Some students want to learn every variation of every technique for every task and want to debate the pros and cons of those techniques ad infinitum online, usually heaping great scorn on those that don’t use the exact same techniques they do, for the exact same reasons they chose them.
Many just like the challenge of trying to improve their own skills, both the analysis of skills and performance data, and the effort involved in improvement – particularly tracking their gains and posting about them to social media.
The gun culture is very tribal – with divisions between “warriors” and “sheepdogs” and “sheeple”, Games and Timmies, Fudds and TacTards, Gun Culture 1.0 and 2.0, 9mm vs .45, appendix carry is safe/unsafe, AR vs shotgun, and so on. Tribal identification symbols are rampant in the gun culture. NRA decals on cars, morale patches, competition shooter shirts covered in logos, IDPA vests, 5.11 pants. We derive satisfaction from self-identification with the gun culture tribe as well as particular factions.
Shooting well requires a lot of concentration. That’s one form of immersion. Taking that step from occasional target shooter to Serious Student of the Gun requires an investment of time that can immerse the person in something separate from the mundane annoyances of daily life. The size of the aftermarket upgrade industry for 1911, AR-15, Glock and other popular guns shows that those that immerse themselves in the gun culture love customizing gear to make it have character that reflects the owner. And many people have “classtumes” that only get worn to the range. Our play clothes to go spend a day in some degree of live action roleplay.
None of those things are inherently bad. My point here is that all those factors appeal to us in various ways, and they bring us pleasure and satisfaction.
The best thing about shooting is that immediate gratification to an accurate shot. It produces a bit of dopamine, which makes us feel good. When something makes us feel good, we want to do more of it. When it makes us feel bad, we avoid it. So for a trainer (in any activity), it’s important to understand that nothing motivates someone to do more or work harder than that feeling of success, or more optimally, feeling that sense of flow that comes from performing that task really well with good results.
I think what’s really motivating people to attend training beyond the state minimum has a lot more to do with meeting higher level needs than ‘safety’. To steal a term from neural network researchers, it’s a ‘hidden layer’. The trainer’s curriculum is the input. All those factors that have nothing to do with actual personal protection are either satisfied (or not) by the experience the student had in your class. When the totality of their experience in your course connects with those social & psychological elements, that results in a positive outcome for them and for you.
That means that motivating people that aren’t currently interested in doing more than the state’s minimum may require appealing to higher level needs as opposed to a fear-based approach that emphasizes “safety” as the main reason to attend.
Part 3 will cover the process of a realistic risk assessment and training needs assessment for the typical armed citizen, and how that relates to course selection and course popularity.
Update: part 3 now online.