Firearms Training: the Tidal Wave Versus the Dripping Faucet

Written by Rob Morse on July 20, 2018

We have over a hundred million gun owners in these United States of America. When we ask them, self-defense is the most frequent reason given for owning a gun. We’ve also seen the number and diversity of gun owners increase sharply in the last ten years. Surprisingly, we never saw a similar surge in firearms education. I wonder why?

There are firearms courses available. You can find out about them and read the reviews online. Search through them and you’ll hear this well-worn phrase time and again, ”I liked the class but it was like drinking from a firehose.” It is clear from these reviews that the students certainly had an immersive experience, but how much did the student take home with him? Were they educated or were they baptized?

Let’s back up and take a different approach to the entire question. How should we teach firearms safety and self-defense given how people learn?

The existing model of firearms training is taken from an itinerant preacher. “The expert” rides into town and lectures for two days. That training experience might be good enough for agency training. For civilians, it certainly is a fun way to check off the box that you had continuing education. The real question is how much, and what, will we remember in a few months.

I’ve been in those classes. While they provided an avalanche of information, I can only drink a cup at a time. Equally important, no one is sure what part of the tidal wave of information ends up in the student’s cup. The instructor knows what he taught, but no one knows what the students actually learned. Too much information simply flowed in one ear and out the other. Too few of the new skills had a chance to soak in and become knowledge.

Suppose we test you in a complex exercise a few months after you took the two-day class. In theory you have new skills. The results are discouraging in practice, but they don’t have to be.

We would never teach children the way we pretend to educate adults. For one, we frequently check the progress that our children are making. Instead of presenting the information in the amounts that adults can assimilate, we flood the adult students with information and then shake our head when they don’t retain all we’ve poured onto them.

Adults certainly have more experience than children, but our ability to learn new things is not that much greater than that of a child. When I train adults in armed self-defense, many of them come to class with no real-world experience at all. They might as well be children.

The good news is that we’ve solved this problem before. If you don’t believe me, then go to your child’s music lessons. Go to their dance and judo lessons. There, we learn through an updated version of the apprentice system. It is a time-tested routine.

The instructor reviews the old lesson. The instructor demonstrates something new. The student and instructor train together using both old and new material. The students practice on their own but with supervision. The instructor gives homework and talks about the next lesson.

We’ve refined that method through generations until it models how we learn. That makes me ask the obvious question.
Where is the local firearms safety and self-defense class that meets at 6pm on Monday and Thursday? I can’t find it.

Adults enjoy learning new things. There are adults in the music, exercise and martial arts classes. Lots of the techniques of armed defense can be taught, and in fact should be taught, using simulated firearms at first. Why hasn’t someone taken the simulator pistols and started teaching a weekly class? Sure, you will go to the range to shoot live ammunition, but that is like the recital that culminates and consolidates earlier practice.

There could be several reasons we don’t see these classes offered to the public. Is the reason rooted in economics and that gun owners won’t pay to learn? The reason could also be rooted in the culture that surrounds armed self-defense. I don’t know, so I’ll ask you.

You have more experience and you know more than I do. I’m a part-time firearms instructor, but I can learn something new. Am I the only one who is interested in adult education for self-defense? If you’ve seen classes taught like this then leave a message and let us all learn from you.

I gave you 750 words. Please share and comment. RM

Image: CCO Creative Commons; Excerpted from: