What is the value of training?

Firearms instructors are periodically asked the question “Why should I take training?” The answer often comes in the form of a list of skills that are taught or the reasoning behind using a certain technique. However, these do not address the underlying fundamental reasons for taking firearms training at all.

  1. You don’t know what you don’t know.
  2. Much of what you know is wrong.
  3. It’s good to have some of the answers to the test before taking it.

These issues relate to both technical competency with using a firearm (gun safety and marksmanship) and the ability to use the firearm correctly in a personal protection situation (legal and tactical).

You don’t know what you don’t know.

Shooters who only take their gun to an indoor range once a year “to sight it in” generally have a highly ‘cocooned’ knowledge of firearms. They know how to operate a firearm in a very restricted set of conditions. As soon as they leave that set of conditions, the stage is set for bad things to happen. Although ‘bad things’ can include unintentional and negligent gunshot wounds, it doesn’t have to be anything that newsworthy. A fellow NRA Instructor was once asked by a long time shooter why the shooter should take the NRA Basic Pistol course. The Instructor responded “Do you wear safety glasses when you’re cleaning your firearms? You do know, of course, that most cleaning fluids can irritate or even damage your eyes, don’t you?” The longtime shooter decided to take the class, after all.

Much of what you know is wrong.

Training can mitigate the Dunning–Kruger effect, which is rampant among the shooting community.

The Dunning–Kruger effect is a cognitive bias in which unskilled individuals suffer from illusory superiority, mistakenly rating their ability much higher than average. This bias is attributed to a metacognitive inability of the unskilled to recognize their mistakes.


Almost every firearms instructor has had numerous students who think they are “good” with a firearm but are not. Among these misinformed shooters are most police officers and, even many SWAT units. Typical longtime gunowners are too. When subjected to a standardized skills evaluation, most of these “good” shooters receive a rude awakening.

We’re the best shooters in our department, by far. That’s why we’re the firearms instructors. Then we come here and find out that we suck.

— A police officer attending the elite Rogers Shooting School

Many of these skills evaluations are not even particularly difficult. In one class I taught, the test was to shoot, starting from a ready position, five shots into a 12 inch circle at seven yards in 15 seconds four times in a row. Only one student out of ten was able to do it. And none of those shooters were beginners; most of them were longtime shooters. This test is the baseline level of the NRA Defensive Pistol I Marksmanship Qualification Program.

More advanced, yet still not terribly difficult, competency standards are beyond the ability of 99 percent of self trained shooters, in my experience., For example, the ability to shoot five shots into a five inch circle in five seconds at five yards five times in a row, a drill I call 5^5.

When a friendly competition was held on a local gun forum for the 5^5 drill, no one was able to do it. Several dozen people thought this test would be easy but even after multiple, in some cases, attempts they found out otherwise.

Every round that doesn’t hit is heading straight for a busload of nuns and orphans being followed by a limousine full of personal injury lawyers on a conference call with the District Attorney. At least, that’s the assumption I make and teach. It’s the reason I make my students account for every round they fire in my classes. And I point out the misses as seen in the cover photo of my blog.

It’s good to have some of the answers to the test before taking it.

Any decent class on the legalities of using deadly force will counsel students about things to do and not to do. An example of things not to do would include chasing a fleeing intruder down an alley and shooting at him while he is running away. In that particular incident, the shooter was lucky to only receive 60 days in jail.

The most significant value of training is that it places someone else, the instructor, in control of the flow of events, either physically or mentally. A criminal encounter will not be initiated in the time sequence desired by the would-be victim, which would be NONE. Nor will the skills required to solve the incident be dictated by the defender. However, by definition, self trained individuals control the flow of their actions when they practice, assuming they practice. This is exactly the opposite of criminal encounters. That’s not how it happens in real life. Good instruction will provoke thinking and questions beyond the student’s own expectations and experience. This helps prepare students to make decisions that can and will affect them for the rest of their lives, either positively or negatively.

The conscious mind does not function particularly well under stress. It tends to revert to subconscious background information and patterns, some of which are primeval. Many of these patterns are counterproductive in personal protection situations and require re-programming. Training helps replace them with background knowledge and patterns that are appropriate. Having appropriate knowledge helps avoid negative outcomes.

You don’t fire guns at people’s houses,” [Judge] Ludy said. “You kept saying you really didn’t know what was going on. If that’s the truth, why in the world would you fire a gun? … It really doesn’t matter if it was (at) Mr. Bailey or the mayor of Dunkirk. You just can’t do that.

Judge Max Ludy Jr.

Shockingly, some people thought this case should not have come to trial. I know I wouldn’t have been too happy had I been the homeowner down the alley who had bullets launched in my direction. “Judge Max Ludy said he found McLaughlin’s firing of a gunshot in the direction of a neighbor’s home especially reprehensible.”

Instructors, as a group, are constantly looking for examples of situations and incidents that went both right and wrong. And other students in the class ask questions about situations that concern them. Inevitably these discussions become class material, either formally or as side conversations. Because training is our vocation, we tend to analyze those incidents in greater detail than does the average gunowner. Our analysis may not necessarily be what the student wants to hear, or even correct, but relating the analysis provides food for thought that merely reading about an incident in the news will not.

The value of training is to make you think and perform outside of the cocoon that most gunowners are in, the same way real life frequently does. It’s not so much that we instructors have all the answers, because we don’t. However, most of us have a good idea of the questions to ask and that’s a strong start.

29 responses

  1. Thank you for the 5^5 drill that I will soon add to my evaluation repertoire. Also, thank you for making me smile with the following exhortation to shoot more accurately, “Every round that doesn’t hit is heading straight for a busload of nuns and orphans being followed by a limousine full of personal injury lawyers on a conference call with the District Attorney.”

  2. I love the way you write, Claude. You are really sound and clear.

  3. Really good article.

  4. Regarding missed shots and bad decision making, reminds me of an event I used with students in the Detroit area. A would-be car jacker, for some reason, decided to run from his intended victim. The victim decided to draw and fire his concealed pistol at the fleeing bad guy. The shooter missed the bad guy, but didn’t miss a grandmother a block away. She died sitting in her house on a sofa watching TV. The shooter is sitting in a Michigan prison. Good training helps make shooters shoot and think better. Thanks, Claude.

    1. Although my statement about ‘a busload of nuns and orphans’ is a bit of gallows humor, your example is exactly what I am talking about.

  5. Clause this isn’t the first time you have mentioned the NRA Marksmanship Program. I think you have inspired me to start it over the winter. It seems like a step back, but revisiting the basics is never a bad thing.

    1. The NRA’s standards are the minimum but that doesn’t mean you can’t tighten them up for yourself. Try cutting the times to a third of theirs and do the drill one handed. You can make it as challenging as you like.

  6. “Professor”:
    Would you consider the evaluations to be able to double as practice exercises(assuming nearly being able to, or able to, “clean” them), or evaluations/tests only?

    1. Absolutely, they can be practice exercises. Especially if you can clean them, then it’s time to start putting a timer on it.

  7. Reblogged this on Oneweaponanytool and commented:
    Another excellent article from our WordPress associates. The Tactical Prof always has sage advice.

  8. Reblogged this on RealDefense and commented:
    Awesome post.

  9. Reblogged this on West Coast Shooting Stars and commented:
    Thanks for writing this!

  10. Great post, Claude. I was going to send you a link to the McLaughlin case, which occurred just a stone’s throw from me, but again you’re one step ahead. Unfortunately, some folks are just in over their heads from the get-go and don’t know what they don’t know, as you put it…and a negative outcome is the predictable result.

  11. A most excellent article Claude. Very well done.

  12. Outstanding and well articulated……..as usual.

  13. The two main areas where untrained gun owners screw up are safe gun handling (usually resulting in self-inflicted wounds) and bad tactics/use of force decisions. Negative outcomes resulting from those two failure areas far exceed negative outcomes from poor marksmanship.

    1. Absolutely true. Bad gunhandling and poor decision-making are our biggest enemies.

  14. Reblogged this on Women and Guns and commented:
    This is a must read for anyone wondering why they should take training class. “You don’t know what you don’t know” is a phrase I find myself using more and more frequently. Thank you, tactical professor, for making these concepts clear and easy to understand.

  15. The real eye – openers in that article about the Indiana Man who threw some hopes at a fleeing non – threat are, as per usual, in the comment section. Some people are outraged that he was held to account at all; in their own personal cocoon of ignorance, the hapless defender should be commended for at least giving it the old college try. MAG40 would blow their minds–but they don’t know that.
    I brought a local attorney in to address our local county rifle association last night. I thought he was laying on the doom and gloom a little thick, but the Q & showed me I was wrong. One lady was outraged by the idea of a civil wrongful – death lawsuit, like she’d never heard of the idea. And these are good people. They don’t want to do bad, they just don’t yet know what’s involved or what their responsibility really is. But we’re chipping away at that.
    It’s interesting to me, in a scary way, how much more serious I got about these issues after I began carrying a firearm, despite the fact that I’d already been keeping guns for defense in the home for years by that time. Most of the key issues are the same, but I didn’t see it that way.

  16. I would add that advanced training results in confidence, and confident armed citizens are less likely to be selected at victims.

    1. Below is a quote on being selected as a victim and something I have not heard about very often:

      “Here’s the first news flash of this book: There are more people willing to physically assault you for angering them then there are muggers. Consequently, you’re more likely to be assaulted, raped, and murdered by someone you know than you are of being mugged, robbed, or raped by a stranger. Murdered by a stranger? You’re more likely to drown in a pool.

      News flash number two: Contrary to what you might think, the people who are physically assaulted are not mousey little victim-types. They’re confident, competent, and sure what they’re doing is both right and will work. They often self-identify themselves as nice people and then proceed to do not nice things to others in either complete confidence they won’t be assaulted or while acting in emotional self-righteousness.”

      MacYoung, Marc (2014-07-02). In the Name of Self-Defense:: What it costs. When it’s worth it . No Nonsense Self-Defense. Kindle Edition.

      1. As with all instructors, myself included, one has to take into account the instructor’s background in the formation of his/her worldview. MacYoung’s formative experiences come from working as security in alcohol rich environments. His worldview is undoubtedly heavily shaped by those experiences and in those environments, he may well be correct. For the rest of us, I’m less sanguine about his analysis. My own experience is exactly opposite of his.

  17. As a flight instructor I based much of my instruction on the poor instruction I received as a 0 time student. By definition students don’t know what they don’t know. Along the same lines of thought, instructors don’t know what they have taught because ;
    Instructors teach using words they understand, words that are not understood by their students,
    Instructors DO say one thing while their actions show something different,
    and no matter how thorough and complete the training is intended to be, the instructor will certainly bore the 5% at the top of the heap and completely go right over the head of the 10% of the truly new student that doesn’t know anything about the topic. But that blank slate student doesn’t have any bad habits to unlearn [the most difficult task ] and can turn out to be more successful than the long time shooter.
    Unless you’re a soldier under orders or a police officer on a call, there is no reason to go into battle, any fight should be a fight to escape. As soon as you have escaped the danger, you don’t continue the fight that was for your life.
    People will learn just because they are alive, what they learn depends on their expectations and the skill of the instructor because everyone is instructing just by being there.

  18. Another reason to seek professional training, and to document that training: It is discoverable in court and therefore that information can be used in court to educate the jury.

  19. Reblogged this on Stuff From Hsoi and commented:
    As 2015 begins and you make resolutions about how this year is going to be different, have you considered getting more training?

    Whatever it is that you engage in, or think you might engage in. How about taking a class to improve your gun handling skills? How about medical skills, like knowing about tourniquets and other ways to stop bleeding and save lives? How about becoming better prepared for emergencies, but you never knew where you start — maybe an introductory class is the best place to start.

    Humans are born knowing little — we must acquire knowledge, and the more we acquire, generally the better off we are in life. There is value in training, and see what you can do to add some to your efforts for 2015.

  20. When I read some of the comments, I am struck with the reality that most of these scenarios are for special operators, rather than for the average citizen/soccer mom.

    I’d rather see gun “experts” come up with realistic and real world definitions.

    For example, the 5/5 drill is an excellent drill for police and military operators/ contractors. But I see no value for the Soccer Mom that just wants to protect herself from a personal assault.

    As in so many of these cases, it is similar to the old adage of: “To a carpenter, all solutions involve a hammer and nails…”

    We really need to do better than that.

    I say that because the 5/5 drill is predicated on a five inch target at 25 feet. That has no relationship whatsoever to either reality or real world scenarios in which any shooting for a civilian at 25 feet would make the courts question why the shooter didn’t use different or alternative tactics.

    Nor if we review the extant literature are the majority of shots fired at that distance. From the documentation that we have, the overwhelming majority of shootings occur in distances less than 15 feet.

    While I am not saying this 5/5 drill is useless, that is not the point I am concerned with.

    What I am concerned with the the pathological focus in skills that have really very little to do with real world DOCUMENTED incidents.

    I think the firearms instruction industry needs to spend a lot more time coming to a consensus as to just what we are trying to accomplish when we train civilians, police, and military operators.

    THEN we can come to a better understanding as to what is needed for minimum and maximum competency.

    Ideally, everyone, civilians, police, military and firearms instructors should be rated according to skill level, with the lowest skill level those wishing concealed carry licenses.

    As the system is today, based on the purported skills demonstrated by the standard concealed carry classes that I have seen, the skill level is so low, that if it were up to me, NO ONE would be issued licenses–including police.

    And, people should be required to take annual recertifications to make sure their minimum skills meet the standard requirements.

    And that is especially applicable to police. We’ve seen way too many shootings by police that bordered on the pathologically incompetent and dangerous to just stupid tactical awareness.

    In the pro gun discussion arena, there is a lot of discussion about guns rights, and the right to carry, but very little discussion about the average American’s right not to be harmed by incompetent, ignorant, dangerous, lethal and stupid shootings.

    Self defense should not ONLY be focused on competent shooting and shooting scenarios. There are many ways of defending oneself without always looking towards using a gun.

    Those “other means” of self defense should also be thoroughly discussed and promoted. And here, I am talking about the use of Mace and stun guns.

    When I watch Youtube videos by “instructors,” I am always shocked by the fanatical focus on guns, high capacity and this bizarre gun culture that is getting completely out of control.

    It is both frightening and troubling, since none of the discussions and the presentations have any relationship to reality based on the statistical and empirical data.

    Let me give you an example: We have all read about the high number of shooting incidents of police officers and how there is a culture of targeting police officers.

    But what is the reality? Well, in 2013, out of about one million law enforcement officers in the USA, 44 were killed by the use of firearms in a violent encounter (there are approximately 500,000 uniformed police officers in the USA) according to my google research.

    The reality is that Donuts kill far more police officers than armed perps. But one would never know this reading the literature and the mass media.

    It is even FAR less for the average soccer mom or dad.

    1. “I say that because the 5/5 drill is predicated on a five inch target at 25 feet. That has no relationship whatsoever to either reality or real world scenarios in which any shooting for a civilian at 25 feet would make the courts question why the shooter didn’t use different or alternative tactics. ”

      That’s a worthwhile question.

      The longest two shootings by private citizens I can document are 17 yards and 23 yards. Both were ruled justifiable by the courts. The 17 yard shot was a hostage rescue shot by a woman who shot a man in her front yard who had already shot her husband once as he got out of their car in the driveway during a robbery attempt. So the need to shoot at distance is not a fantasy nor is it unjustifiable in court.

      More importantly though, is the number of incidents I find where the defender must shoot in the midst of family members or innocent parties. This situation is not nearly as uncommon as most legal gunowners would think. Coupled with the fact that we are unlikely to shoot as well in a criminal attack as we do on the range, we need to have the ability to do better than just hit somewhere on a silhouette target.

      An internet search for ‘Meghan Brown Miami shooting’ will demonstrate a situation very similar to 5^5.

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