Beyond the One Percent (part 6)

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, Part 3, Part 4, and Part 5, for those that need the links.   If you’ve haven’t read them, start there before reading this part.

Part 6 is about Derp.


One problem that has increased over time, as more people enter the training business, is the difficulty students face in looking at credentials to choose an instructor.

As my assistant Tom observed, the average gun owner doesn’t understand the difference between NRA Basic Pistol instructor (2 days of training) and NRA Personal Protection Outside the Home instructor.  The PPOTH cert, by itself, takes 30 hours, not counting the hours spent getting the Basic Pistol and Personal Protection Inside the Home ratings that are pre-reqs.  So someone with the PPOTH instructor rating probably has 55-60 hours of instructor training, which is 3-4x the training the other NRA instructor has.

Some private sector instructor ratings are relatively easy to get. Others, like the Rangemaster and CSAT instructor certifications, require shooting at IPSC B-class or higher level in addition to meeting other standards.  And even someone that accrues all those instructor ratings may not have a lot of experience teaching actual students, until they start offering classes.

Just as with selection of plumbers or any other service provider, name recognition, recommendations from others, and online presence matters, typically more than credentials do.  So there are lower-tier instructors who have become Grand Masters at social media and increasing their name recognition, top-tier instructors that have clunky websites with limited (or no) social media and YouTube video content, and a wide mix of those in between.   Those not already interested in training are probably not reading the blogs or on the forums the insiders and “serious shooters” frequent.  So as a trainer, if you are trying to reach those that don’t currently train, you may have to become more active putting content out that likely customers will see.

One manifestation of this can be found by watching a process that occurs daily on forums frequented by those at the state-minimum or no-training level.  They will ask advice on a topic, and orient to the response that is most popular, with little/no concern for screening those answers based on the expertise of those responding.  That often results in recommendations for low cost products that are widely available from big-box outdoor and discount online retailers – products generally not recommended by mid- to top-tier trainers or by those serious about shooting and defensive handgunning.

One thing I am going to start doing (or do better at) is making my responses to frequent questions I answer into blog posts that I can simply post links to.  That will make it easier/faster to respond to those questions, in more detail than a few lines. I’ve also observed that blog posts and YouTube videos are perceived differently from personal responses in forums.

The term Derp has grown in common use, to refer to products & training that have features or characteristics that are considered to be bad, unsafe, stupid, or dangerous by the serious shooter/professional instructor community.  It’s far more common these days to find “instructors” spending far more time on producing videos and social media content than putting in time on the range, taking courses from established trainers, pressure-testing their own skills (in competition and/or force-on-force scenarios), or any other form of professional development.

During his instructor development course, Tom Givens made the comment in the slide above.  The data supports that claim.  If 10% of US gun owners decided tomorrow that they all wanted to take 16-40 hours of high-quality pistol training from someone at the IPSC B-class level of skill or higher, who had training in how to teach others to draw from concealment, shoot from cover and other defensive pistol skills, there probably aren’t enough people capable of running those classes, nor enough facilities to support them.  The growth of USPSA and IDPA competition is similarly limited by the size of the pool of facilities and people capable of putting on safe matches and working with new competitors.

A topic that’s come up several times in the past few years at the instructor’s banquet at the annual Rangemaster Tactical Conference is the need for some sort of “mark of quality” that would aid students in identifying which instructors are recognized by their peers as competent.  One model that was considered was how the American Pistolsmiths Guild works.  To become an APG member, the applicant’s work has to be evaluated by a certification board.  A similar process for instructors would require certification reviewers to attend a course taught by an applicant instructor.

The problem with this system is brand recognition.  A decade or two ago, awareness of the APG was higher than it is now, mainly due to frequent mention of it in articles about custom guns in print gun magazines.   Gunsmithing work was mostly 1911 and revolver work that required more attention to detail and machining skills than many AR parts assemblers and polymer frame dremelers have.  That’s led to a situation in the gunsmithing world identical to what has occurred in the instructing world: quantity of social media content and name recognition matters more than quality of work.

Many (most) of the experienced instructors I know avoid online forums, except for closed groups or specific sites that are derp-free.  That results in derp propagating unchallenged and unquestioned in the broader community.  In order to change the culture, the narrative has to be challenged and improved.

I think the narrative that needs to be promoted avoids getting into derp debates about which holster or which caliber or which gun.  If the “conventional wisdom” is changed from “meet the state minimum,” to training to a real standard, dry firing weekly, with at least one live-fire session monthly, and attending at least one class per year, changes in holsters, and calibers, and guns, would occur as a natural consequence of pursuing that higher level of skill.

It needs to be an incremental raising of the bar – something that is possible for most gun owners.

One challenge facing the training community is that the narrative from trainers conflicts with the narrative from the gun sales and gun politics communities.  The message from the sales world is that new gear is the solution to everything, and the items people want most are what get produced and promoted.  The message from the gun politics activists is focused on eliminating restrictions of all kinds, including elimination of mandatory training for concealed carry permits.  Trainers, by comparison, focus on negative outcomes, want people to carry larger guns, and train to higher standards, or risk being killed on the streets.  All of the things trainers want students to do are harder than carrying the tiny subcaliber pocket gun in the $20 nylon holster or open carrying freely with no training requirement.

It’s not an easy message to sell, particularly when reports of armed citizens failing are not common, nor are they widely discussed when they do occur, because they don’t support the most popular narrative.

Another challenge trainers and those seeking to raise the bar face is the typically poor quality advice given to gun buyers by employees of ranges and retail stores.  Retailers and ranges often work on low margins, which keeps wages low and limits investment in training and development for staff.  Time spent in training is time away from the range or the sales floor.  And often, to keep customers happy requires going along with their existing bad ideas, selling derpy products or tolerating sloppy gun handling in order to make the sale or risk losing their business to a less principled competitor.  Unfortunately when the sales person or range officer nods their head or looks the other way, that creates a perception that the idea or behavior is acceptable, making the trainer the “bad guy” who has to explain not only that the idea or behavior is bad, but also that the others that went along with the derp are part of the problem.

It goes back to Dunning-Kruger.  No one beyond the total beginner will admit their gun handling is unsafe, whether they can define standards for safe gunhandling or not.   Sales people and range officers don’t want to appear uninformed, so they will attempt to provide answers rather than say “I don’t know.”  In the absence of professional level training or serious study, they repeat what they’ve read or heard as definitive truth.

It’s not just the range officers and sales people that need to do better.  In many cases, students that take their first class from me took their state mandatory carry permit class from another instructor, most commonly someone that stopped their own training after they met state minimum instructor standards.

Twenty-three of the 50 rounds fired in the Texas License to Carry shooting test are supposed to be fired double action by students that bring DA/SA style guns to the course.  The LTC instructor course teaches that students are required to decock each time the gun comes back to a ready position.  Yet I continue to have students that show up for classes who have passed the LTC course who have to be constantly reminded to decock, and some (too many) that admit that their LTC instructor allowed them to shoot all their shots in single-action mode.  I’ve had a few that show up carrying DA/SA guns “cocked and unlocked” (in the holster, round chambered, hammer back) who did not learn that their gun is not safe to carry (or drop safe) in that mode from their LTC instructor.  LTC instructors and NRA Basic pistol instructors are part of the front line of experts advising the 99% of gun owners that don’t train beyond the minimum.

Part of changing the narrative or changing the culture has to be improving the knowledge level of that front line.  Within the instructor community, promoting the idea that every instructor needs to attend one class annually for their own professional development should be the goal.

In part 7, I’ll discuss removing barriers that makes training beyond the minimum more accessible to a wider audience.





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  1. Pingback: Beyond the One Percent (addendum) – Notes from KR

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