Beyond the One Percent (part 4)

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, Part 2 and Part 3, for those that need the links.   If you’ve haven’t read them, start there before reading this part.


Perspectives change as students progress in their training.  The questions in the slide are the ones we think should matter to beginners: What classes do I need? What minimum level of competence do I need to carry? To have reasonable odds of surviving a deadly force incident? To be ready for the legal and psychological aftermath?  But those questions are rarely asked of us of those in basic, license to carry, and even the first level defensive pistol course.

This slide defines the default attitude many gun owners, and most with carry permits, have about their readiness for a defensive gun use.  Everyone that carries regularly believes their skill level is “good enough”.  That’s based on one of two definitions:  the minimum for their state license, or “however good I shoot”.  Neither of those standards is based on analysis of incidents or the recommendations of trainers that teach more than the state minimum course. There’s no shortage of standards and drills available online that someone could use to evaluate their skills.  Most of them require skills that can’t be performed at many ranges: drawing, firing faster than one shot per second, movement.  Running the drills usually requires a shot timer, which used to be a big hurdle in that it required buying a $100 gadget.  That’s no longer an excuse, since there are shot timer apps for IOS and Android, and many drills are run using par times, which can be done with a stopwatch app.

The real reasons people don’t include measurement of skill using standards in practice are not range limitations or gear limitations.  Shooting standards are like taking tests, and nobody likes taking tests. Particularly tests you don’t feel prepared for or expect to do poorly on.

Advocates of Constitutional Carry frequently point out that it’s rare, almost unheard of, to find an example in which an armed citizen had a negative outcome as a result of being too slow getting the gun from holster (or drawer, or purse, or …), aimed at the target and fired. Similarly, failure to get effective hits is rarely the cause of a negative outcome, because simply being threatened with deadly force, or being shot at and hit anywhere, does stop the attack much of the time.

How much improvement does training actually provide?  In 2014-2015 we ran 118 shooters through a series of shooting tests, using iron sights, green lasers, and slide mounted red dot sights (with and without backup irons).  I presented the results at the 2016 Rangemaster Tactical Conference, but formal publication of the university-funded study is still slowly winding its way through campus review.  One result is relevant here:

The test was simply “one shot on target”, starting from a ready position, using an IDPA target at 5 and 10 yards.  That’s somewhat harder than the “one shot in 2 seconds at 3 yards” required by the Texas license to carry course, but as the data shows, most of the shooters that were at CHL (Concealed Handgun License) level or higher had no trouble getting 0-ring hits.  Past the carry permit level, additional training didn’t make a big difference in that skill. Had we decreased the time limit down to 1.25 or 1 second, we likely would have seen worse performance relative to training level.  So training will make you faster.

Where training (and more importantly, frequent dry fire practice) really makes a difference is in the speed of drawing from concealment., which we didn’t measure in this test.  One of the biggest benefits of training is improved gunhandling.  The level of gunhandling considered acceptable at most gun shops, gun shows, commercial ranges and other places where untrained/CHL level trained gun owners shoot is lower than what is expected at most post-CHL level courses.  Meeting that higher standard significantly decreases the likelihood that a muzzle will be in an unsafe direction or finger will be on trigger when it really shouldn’t be.

Training creates competence which leads to confidence, which leads to more frequent carrying, as the student begins to believe in his/her ability to carry in public safely and make legally defensible and tactically correct use of force decisions.  It can reduce many of the negative outcomes that can occur.

The biggest problem goes back to “I shoot good enough”.  Right up until the negative outcomes happens, most gun owners will insist that their gunhandling is “safe enough”.  And many that could not pass a baseline defensive handgun skills test like our own Three Seconds or Less drill, carry in public with great (untested, unvalidated) confidence in their skills.

It’s called the Dunning-Kruger effect.  The 99% of carry permit holders – the ones that will not come to a training course that goes beyond the state minimum – are usually at the top of “Mt. Stupid”.   They aren’t stupid, though.  I think many of them don’t want to take the next step because they see the giant cliff that lies beyond it.

The cliff, marked as the “Program Termination Zone”, is not a happy place.

Once someone becomes aware that their skills are not at the level they should be, that causes a loss of confidence.  Regaining that confidence will require effort: training and practice time.    Going from “unconscious incompetence” to “conscious incompetence” is not fun.

If you know people that you can’t motivate to go shoot a match, or take a class, the issue of “denial in defense of the ego” may be involved.  As Dr. Aprill has noted, the desire to protect the ego (against poor performance in front of others) often overrides the desire to gain the larger benefit, which is improvement in survival odds.  That desire to seek out those activities that have a higher probability of success (carbine courses with 7 yard targets), vs. those activities which may be more challenging (force on force scenarios or unarmed courses for the non-martial artist), is definitely a factor in class selection.

A good post-CHL training course will get students past the Valley of Despair and move them to the Slope of Enlightenment, where confidence begins to return, as they gain “conscious competence”.

We all have noble motives.  Turning interest into action is harder.  Anytime I am having a conversation with someone about my training business, or get a contact from someone that tries to coordinate a group class, the divide between “interested in it enough to say they might go” and “willing to commit a deposit and to a specific date” is wide.  Many never get past the “I should do that someday” step.

On one of the Facebook forums I’m on, my standard response to “what kind of new gun should I buy?” is “spend that money on training, range time and practice ammo with the gun you already have, or at least spare mags, better sights, and good quality carry gear for the gun you carry most often.”   That response is never well received.  There’s a sizable chunk of the armed citizen community that will spend $500, $1000 or more on a new gun that will not spend a dollar on training, and the new gun they wanted will spend 364 days a year in the safe alongside all the other New Guns that were briefly interesting also.

John Holschen (West Coast Armory/Insights Training) has been in the training business for more than 30 years.  His analysis matches my own experiences as a student and as a trainer.  Many bloggers have observed that gun reviews are the most popular articles on their sites.

Students coming to training just past the carry permit level are interested in techniques.  After techniques can be executed with competence, then concerns about tactics follow.

A popular activity online, among those with higher levels of training, is to criticize the gear used by the less trained, particularly with regard to guns, holsters and carry methods.  Most of the time, that criticism is valid, but very poorly received by those with the bad gear.  Choosing bad gear based on poor assessment of equipment needs is not unique to the gun culture as noted in Burson’s paper.

So here’s a summary of all the bad news I’ve presented thus far:

To those of us trying to offer classes that take gun owners to a realistic level of competence, past the state minimum, these represent the hurdles we have to overcome to reach more than the one percent.

In the next few parts I will present recommendations to address these issues.

Update: Part 5 now online.

Visit the KR Training website to learn more about me and the courses we offer.