To Train or Not to Train?

There is no doubt in my mind that a healthy firearms training market exists. A simple search for “firearms training” on your favorite search engine will yield several results of firearms training schools, videos, books, blogs, and more. Given the growth of new firearms owners in the first half of 2020, I’ve also seen a lot of chatter encouraging people to get training along with their new firearm. This begs the question, should one seek professional training or not?

It’s a fair question to ask. I’ve seen several folks on social media suggest that training isn’t necessary and too often scare tactics are used to get gullible gun owners to spend money on training they don’t really need. On the other hand, I’ve seen several folks (myself included) encourage people to get training. In my opinion, the answer to this question isn’t a hard and fast absolute yes or no. It’s a “yes, but…” or a “no, but…” answer.

Full disclosure, I have no affiliations with any firearms training schools or instructors that result in monetary compensation. I do happen to know a few firearms instructors that I’m on a first name basis with, but the relationship is strictly a business one. That relationship may change over time, and I hope it does since these folks appear to be really good people with strong character and integrity. Regardless, I’m going to provide my opinion on this topic with as little bias and influence as I can as per usual.

Honestly, I feel that getting training is a personal choice. Like many other activities in life, I think everyone who wants to learn to shoot a gun can teach themselves. Just like anyone can teach themselves to draw, play a musical instrument, or learn to play a sport. I’m fairly certain some of those self taught people may even get good enough to give a professional a run for their money and perhaps even win at a shooting contest. So, as I’ve said before professional firearms training isn’t entirely necessary.

Here comes the but.

My experience tells me that firearms training works. It’s very much like having an art teach or a gym coach. Yes, there is a cost associated with the instruction. However, in return it helps flatten the learning curve by helping one learn or improve techniques. Furthermore, they provide homework (shooting drills) for one to do on their own to effectively turn those techniques into skillful habits. This goes a long way in speeding up the learning process and in many cases helps folks reach a level they wouldn’t otherwise achieve on their own.

Unlike fine arts and sports, firearms also have a steep legal learning curve. While one can learn the legal aspects independently, an honest mistake can have dire consequences on one’s freedom and employment eligibility. Not to mention, that a negligent mistake can also carry a severe penalty. As such, I also see getting at least some basic firearms safety and handling training as a responsible thing to do.

One other drawback to not having a professional evaluate and critique our skill levels is that we, as human beings, are susceptible to the Dunning-Kruger Effect, also known as “Mount Stupid”. I’ll be the first to admit that the very first introductory defensive pistol course I attended made me ware that I was standing on the peak of “Mount Stupid”. Meaning I realized that I knew much less than I thought I did and was over confident because I thought I knew more than I did. While it’s not impossible to overcome this effect on our own, I find it to be much easier to overcome this effect with an experience mentor. This is yet another reason why professional training is important, especially to those who don’t have a friend or a family member who can be that experienced mentor for us.

It’s for these reasons that I train as often as I reasonably can and encourage others who have the means to do the same. If you’re new to gun ownership, do yourself a favor and attend a basic firearms handling course. If you own a gun you intend to use for self defense and have never taken a course with it, then do yourself a favor and take an introductory self defense class designed for your type of self defense firearm. If for whatever reason taking a professionally instructed course isn’t feasible, then buy (or borrow) a book or video on the same subjects. If nothing else find a free resource on the internet. Do everything you can to flatten to learning curve and achieve a level of gun handling skill you are comfortable with while being aware of the Dunning-Kruger effect.

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Written by Uncle Zo

Just an average Joe who loves to geek out on firearm mechanics and ballistics.

4 comments

    1. I like that philosophy.

      I tend to go with the “it’s better to have and not need than to need and not have”. This philosophy, or saying, applies to both skills and equipment. Equipment without the skills to use it can still be useful, but it’ successful use depends almost entirely on luck. While luck certainly counts, one can’t always count on luck.

      The other philosophy that I think people tend to get wrong is “practice makes perfect”. My experience is that practice (or repetition) makes permanent. Training teaches us what to practice, or what to make permanent. Good instruction leads to good training which leads to good practice that in turn builds good permanent skills (or habits). Take good instruction out and that increased the likelihood of building questionable (if not bad) skills and habits that may need to be unlearned later. All of this brings me back to why I’m a big advocate of seeking good instruction. It’s not that one can’t build good skills on their own, it just short circuits the learning process by minimizing the development of bad or less than optimal skills.

      1. 100% correct. I see the disparity in “good instruction” and “amateur attempts” often in the self-defense/martial arts world. I’m in a rural area where everyone who watches a video online thinks he’s an expert and can teach others his newfound skills. It’s the blind leading the blind.

      2. This is exactly why I make it a point to remind folks that I’m just an average armed citizen with no law enforcement or military background. Not to mention I’m relatively new to firearm ownership (less than ten years). Sure, I’ve done a bit with it and dabbled in different shooting sports. But this entire blog is more about sharing my experiences and opinions that I’ve formed so far. As such, I reserve the right to refine and change my opinions as I gain more experience and gather more/better information. Hopefully, these stories will allow others to learn at my expense.

        I spent some time behind the peak of mount stupid (Dunning-Kruger effect), believe I cleared the valley of despair, and have started the assent up the slope of enlightenment. Unless I truly haven’t reached the peak of mount stupid and I’m only fooling myself. Regardless, I encourage everyone to keep building their skills and beware of overconfidence.

        And thank you for joining the conversation!

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