What makes an expert?

(Third in the series about thoughts spawned by attending the Rangemaster Instructor Development Class with Tom Givens.  The first time, the post was about something that hadn’t occurred to me.  The second time, it was about something I already knew, explained in a different fashion.  This time, it is about something that annoys me greatly on pretty much a weekly basis.)

“He’s a great self-defense instructor, he learned it in the military!”

“That firearms group is the best for CCW training, because they all have law enforcement experience.  That guy TEACHES other cops!”

“He has 25 years of firearms experience–he knows what he is talking about!”

The first two statements above are flat-out wrong.  The third is a non sequitur.

And yet, people KEEP saying things like that.

If you go to the Instructor Development Class with Tom Givens, at some point in time during a lecture he’ll discuss valid opinions, and who has them.  His slide will look something like this:


…which apparently many, many people don’t seem to understand.  There’s something about current society where people seem to think that they are all entitled to opinions of their own, AND that said opinion is equally as valid as everyone else’s opinion.  They do this to doctors, lawyers, law enforcement–and it certainly appears in the firearms training world.  Who hasn’t run into That Guy at the gun store who is the World’s Foremost Expert about guns, who will endlessly pontificate to some poor person about “the right gun for a woman” or “the best caliber for self-defense” or “you won’t be able to use your sights under stress” or some other such nonsense?  And if you actually contradict him, citing actual research, his response is “well, that’s just your opinion” or something like that?  As if his opinion and the actual research are equal in terms of importance!

Do you have an opinion about something in a technical field?  (And believe me, shooting skills and self-defense training are two very technical fields.)  In that field, do you have actual education (at a high level), formal training (by a recognized expert), or experience that directly relates to the topic at hand?

No?  Then shut up.  Your opinion is meaningless.  Seriously.  Meaningless.

You might be right—but it isn’t because you actually know, it is because you got lucky.  The next thing you spout might be equally lucky, but it also might be pure nonsense because you don’t actually have any rational basis for your opinions.  (Hint:  reading opinion articles on Internet is NOT education.  Having your friend show you how to shoot and then practicing on beer cans is not training.  Getting into a drunken slap-fight once while in college is not experience.)

Example:  Military training is effective for military purposes.  It isn’t self-defense training. Law enforcement training is effective for law enforcement purposes.  MOST of that is not self-defense training.  And very importantly, the general goals which define principles which drive tactics  in MIL and LEO training are very different from citizen self-defense.  As such, MIL or LEO training and experience does not automatically qualify someone to have a valid opinion about citizen self-defense.  (Or shooting skills, for that matter.)

Having owned and shot guns for 25 years is meaningless, because plenty of people out there SUCK at shooting and have no safety habits instilled, but simply have been lucky not to shoot themselves thus far.  (Most people who say “I’ve been shooting for 25 years and…” don’t actually shoot that much, and they aren’t very good, either.  If they were, that wouldn’t be the support for their opinion that they’d provide!)

There are plenty of MIL, LEO, and shooters-of-25-years who are VERY good instructors of self-defense and shooting skills.  However, the fact that they are MIL, LEO, or have shot a gun for a number of years isn’t WHY they are good.

If you are looking for an instructor in a particular area, if that instructor does not have education, training, or experience (or some combination of the three) in THAT AREA, then their opinion about it is as meaningless as….That Guy in the gun store.

Which, I’ll note, is why we have big-name instructors who say that dryfire isn’t a good idea, that you won’t be able to see your sights while under stress and should use point-shooting, that “fine motor skills will degrade” such that you can’t activate a slide release under stress, and that putting yourself on a timer to test your shooting skills will cause training scars sufficient to get you killed “on the street”—-all of which statements are flat-out wrong.

Anyone can call themselves an instructor.  That doesn’t actually mean they know anything.

Your opinion is NOT necessarily as valid as everyone else’s opinion.  The same thing is true for instructors.  Every instructor out there who says something should not have their opinions considered equally important, because many of them have education, training, or experience in fields that sound important but are actually unrelated to the area in which they are expressing an opinion.

If you want to actually learn something, make sure your instructor has education, training, or experience IN THAT AREA.  If they don’t—then their opinion isn’t any more valid than yours.


Range Safety, Part I…

So, being out at the range the other day, I observed yet another set of range behaviors that again defied my understanding.  I don’t get how people can commit such egregious safety fails without any understanding of why it is a problem.

And while pointing it out in articles time and again doesn’t seem to be helping, I thought I’d write about it again because there ALSO seems to be a lacking of understanding of how range rules are ALSO things you have to pay attention to regarding safety and range procedures.

Everyone should of course know the basic four rules of safety (if not, put the gun down, step back, and learn them first.)  1) Behave as if the gun is loaded at all times, 2) don’t point it at anything you are not prepared to destroy, 3) keep your finger off the trigger until you are prepared to shoot, and 4) know your target and your backstop.  Sure, there are multiple variations of the wording for those, but the meanings tend to be fairly consistent.

And yet…

So I’m at the range, and I see a guy wearing a bright red hooded sweatshirt that says “POLICE” on the back in big block letters, and he is “instructing” three other folks in shooting.  He first brings himself to my attention because one guy is standing there with the gun up in a not-too-bad stance and grip, and the “instructor” is standing directly in front of him hitting the front of the gun with the palm of his hand.

Now, I get the “showing how a good grip and stance mitigates recoil” demo going on here, but literally, this is why blue guns were invented, so you didn’t have to stand in front of a real gun and put your hand over the muzzle.

I can hear it now:  “But it wasn’t loaded!”

I don’t care.  That was stupid.  Don’t do that.

(Taking a closer look later as I walked by, I saw that the back of his hooded sweatshirt actually said “POLICE Firearms Instructor” which did not make me feel better. I rather pitied his police students.)

Later, I’m sitting in my car getting ready to leave, and I look up to see what looks to be a grandfather/father/son group on a bay, setting up.  The son runs downrange to set up a target when the father pulls a gun out of a bag (carefully pointing it downrange), works the slide a couple of times, puts a mag in and out twice, works the slide again, and sets it down.

It was of course pointed straight at his son the entire time, because his son was straight downrange putting up a target.

I can hear it now:  “But it wasn’t loaded!”  I don’t care.  (And it WAS, briefly, since you put a loaded magazine in it a couple of times, though I’m not sure why.)

That was stupid.  Don’t do that.

But separate from the numbers of people who ignore the rules of general firearms safety, we have the people who don’t seem to understand that it is ALSO important to understand the safety rules for the particular range you are using.  They have additional rules, and you should abide by them.  Sure, some may be in place purely for insurance purposes, or were made by people who are afraid of anything that makes you shoot faster than once every two seconds–but some are probably there for reasons that are safety-specific to that particular range.

And you don’t get to pick-and-choose which ones you are going to follow.

Example:  At the Eastern Nebraska Gun Club, the rifle ranges are common firing lines.  However, the pistol bays are NOT.  Whoever is on the bay first has the bay, and if they don’t want anyone else shooting in that bay, that’s how it is.  Now, a couple of the bays are large and wide, and sometimes people don’t mind making a common firing line–but it isn’t required, and if someone is practicing USPSA or Multigun, moving, shooting at angles, etc, they don’t want someone else on the bay shooting at the same time.  It isn’t safe.

So that same day when I’m on the range watching the “POLICE Firearms Instructor” and the grandfather/father/son trio, I also have to have a talk with a guy who walked up to a large bay (in which someone was already shooting) and started to unload his stuff, to pull out guns and targets.  The original guy said “you can’t shoot here” and the second guy started to argue with him.

Now first:  Don’t argue.  If you need to discuss something, ask for clarification, whatever—sure, do it.  But don’t argue.  Don’t raise your voice, don’t declaim angrily “this is a public range!  I can shoot here!” when neither of those things are true.

But secondly:  The range rules are clear.  Whoever is in the bay first has the bay, at ENGC.  Other ranges may be different.  The rifle bays at ENGC are different.  But in the pistol bays, those are the rules.  And if you are going to be shooting at any range, you need to understand the rules of the range.

If you don’t, you are wrong.  That’s stupid.  Don’t do that.

The other day I saw a guy running a pretty energetic rifle practice.  He had paper silhouette targets all over the range, and was double-tapping (ug! but we’ll let that go because it isn’t a safety issue) everything left and right as he ran complicated patterns through them.  At one point as he was running he turned to the side and put two in a paper target that was slightly behind him next to the berm, took another step forward, then turned the other direction and took two shots (that also hit) at a paper target on the other side of the bay next to the berm that was ALSO slightly behind him.

We had a little talk about breaking the 180, and not keeping the muzzle pointed downrange.  That’s a range rule at ENGC.

His contention was that he was shooting into the berms, so it wasn’t an issue.  My response was pretty simple:  It is against the range rules.

And the REASON for that particular range rule is because we live in Nebraska, and there are these things called “rocks” that exist and sometimes can be found in berms.  If you shoot one, the bullet may ricochet off and continue to head uprange.  Where other people are standing.  Matter of fact, this particular bay’s uprange end was pointing toward the back of a different bay, and anything heading uprange would head right into the most-used firing line in the pistol bays.  (Yes, I’m aware that ricochets happen with rocks for other reasons.  But shooting uprange makes the potential for problems much more likely.)

There may be other ranges where “as long as it goes into the berm, it’s good” is a range rule.  This isn’t one of them.  And you don’t get to argue whether or not the range rule is a good one when you are shooting.  You want it changed?  Come to a board meeting and argue.

When you are shooting, obey the range rules.

If you don’t, that’s stupid.  Don’t do that.