Beyond the One Percent (part 7)


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, Part 5, and Part 6, for those that need the links.   If you’ve haven’t read them, start there before reading this part.

Part 7 is about removing some of the barriers that keep people from attending training.

Some of National Shooting Sports Foundation’s market research identified reasons why people were choosing other activities over shooting.

Reasons included “offer more exercise”, “cheaper”, “fewer restrictions”, and “preferred by family and friends”.

The data is from a study of target shooters, and includes responses from currently active shooters, infrequent shooters and those that had done little/no shooting recently.

Time showed up as the #1 reason, which is not surprising, as it’s the most limited resource most people have.  This chart shows one set of poll data indicating how people spend their time.  TV viewing habits are changing, with streaming, DVR, Netflix, and other methods of viewing, but it still consumes a lot of time.  I’ve had the honor of being a Nielsen family twice. If your favorite reality show got cancelled, I’m sorry.  And if you can’t figure out how those animated shows like King of the Hill and Metalocalypse stayed on the air, you’re welcome.

Much of the current trend in training is for courses to be more physically demanding, particularly those run by younger male trainers coming from recent military service or active law enforcement duty.  The acronym OFWG (old fat white guy) has become a derogatory term used by some gun bloggers, but the demographics – not just NRA membership but also data from the Texas license to carry program – show that older people, of all genders, races, and body shapes, are gun owners.

The good news is that older people often have more time and income, because children are grown, individuals are farther along in their careers, or retired.  Often growing older also increases concern about risk of being attacked (motivation to train) and recognition that more physical options may have lower probability of success than use of a firearm.

With age comes reduced endurance and reduced physical capacity.  10 hour days on your feet in the hot summer sun or winter cold, or drills that require lots of getting up and down may appeal to eager 20- and 30-year olds, but deter 50-, 60-, or older students from attending.

NSSF data shows more reasons why people choose other activities.   Ex-target shooters identified costs and the range environment as two key areas that would entice them to return.  Unfortunately, to have a range that is clean and well run typically requires not only staff but high quality staff, who may cost more than minimum wage cash register operators.  And most of the costs are beyond the control of trainers and range operators, who have to cover the costs of being in business, with some profit to live on, from tuition and/or range fees.  Part of the cost of training is round count, and one way to lower the effective cost to students is to reduce the number of rounds fired in a class.  During the ammo shortage that occurred after Sandy Hook, we adjusted the curriculum of several classes to have less live fire, which made those courses more accessible to students.

Some issues were strong negatives with former target shooters, with “competitive shooting” being the least popular.  It’s understandable that those that haven’t participated in an activity in a long time not wanting their return to it to be a test against a bunch of people who are serious about it.  The low numbers for training look bad, until you realize that 38% of the ex-target shooters viewed access to training as a positive, same as the availability of loaner guns, or a family day.  Since we are trying to get more than 1% involved, a number like 38% is still a positive.

Some reasons people have given for not coming to the classes I run that go beyond the state minimum:

The gear issue is one I addressed by investing in loaner gear.  When I got serious about shooting I had gun club friends that loaned me gear to try and guided me toward better products.  And we’ve had so many problems with students coming to our Defensive Pistol Skills 1 course with unsuitable holsters, no mag pouches, insufficient magazines, ill fitting low quality hearing protectors, and other bad gear that we started doing a pre-class gear check for every student as they arrive, to head off problems before we had to deal with them on the range.

Good gear is expensive. To get all the gear you really need to attend the typical 2 day defensive pistol course can cost hundreds of dollars, depending on how rare/costly spare mags for your gun are, or how difficult it is to find the exact holster you want.  The 3-gun competition rig picture I used is the extreme end of the gear ladder, not what I recommend students wear to class.

And I do recommend students going past the state minimum invest in a shooting timer (I prefer the Pocket Pro I for its simple user interface), because having a real timer for dry practice is much better than a phone app. Having gear that makes it easier to practice makes practice more enjoyable, which means you’ll do more of it, and spending the money on the gear also motivates you use the gear you spend  money on.

Getting good gear is particularly challenging for left handed shooters and ladies, since the majority of what is stocked in big box retail stores and small gun shops consists of the lowest cost products for the most popular guns.  That typically means no left handed holsters and no dropped and offset style holsters.  Students that don’t have the right gear for class will sometimes rush out the night before to buy what they need, with the mindset that they don’t want to spend a lot on gear they are only going to use for one class.  That ends up being a terrible waste of money, often on gear we don’t even let them use on class day because they show up with mag pouches with snap flaps, “universal fit” nylon holsters, gimmick holsters, or SERPA holsters.  As I discussed in previous parts, students that get advice by choosing the most popular response to a question asked to a pool of untrained people also frequently end up with bad gear.

Over the past 15 years or so I’ve built up a collection of more than 50 holsters for the common guns we see used in classes, some purchased personally to test and evaluate, some purchased on close out/clearance deals, some traded to me by students in exchange for credit toward tuition in classes, and some purchased specifically to have as loaner gear.  For someone planning on teaching more than a few classes a year, particularly teaching people their first course past the state minimum level, loaner holsters are an excellent long term investment.

Comp-Tac recently came out with their Q-series of holsters that can be set up for right or left hand use, with or without dropped and offset belt plates, that fit multiple firearm types.  Safariland makes a universal mag pouch that fits a huge variety of magazines.

Other items we have in our loaner pile:  spare mags for popular gun models, 10 round mags for single stack 1911s, loaner hats, loaner cover garments, and loaner belts.  The clearance section of many online retailers: LA Police Gear, Cabelas, Brownells, Midway, Cheaper Than Dirt, and clothing vendors like Vertx, 5.11, Propper and Woolrich have all yielded deeply discounted items that went into the loaner bin.

Another big item: loaner electronic hearing protection.  I bought multiple sets of the Howard Leight “Impact” models after dealing with too many (often older) shooters that had difficulty understanding range commands on the firing line.  Any time I see NRR-19 rated, ill fitting passive ear pro on top of a head with grey (or no) hair, that person gets offered a loaner set of electronic ears.  As someone that is both a frequent shooter and a performing musician, I totally understand (and live with) noise-induced hearing loss, and appreciate being able to hear better on the range with good quality electronic muffs.

All of these loaner items benefit me and my staff as much or moreso than they benefit the student. All those items I listed were added to the loaner gear because providing that gear to a student solved a problem that was making it hard for the student to learn the material being taught, or made it safer for the student.

I strongly believe that the availability of loaner gear: the ability to come to class and see it and use it and ask questions about what to buy during class, as opposed to having to commit to buying good gear in advance of class has been a tremendous benefit to students, and has motivated some to attend that might not have otherwise come to class.  Those investments make sense if you look at students as long term clients who may attend multiple classes over many years, or who may generate word of mouth referrals that lead to new customers.   They make sense to instructors that may want to set up their own online store or stock an inventory of recommended products for resale to students.

Some students use the loaner gear and never invest in their own gear, particularly those that take our first 4 hour class that do not return for the higher level courses.  But even in that situation, they gained an understanding of what good gear is, learned how to use it, and came to at least one class beyond the minimum, all of which is a win.

The final part will present the remaining solutions and suggestions for making training more attractive and accessible to a wider audience.