Texas – -(AmmoLand.com)- The constitutional carry vote in Texas has ignited a conversation about the possible value of government-mandating firearms training in the gun community.
While most gun rights advocates would be in lockstep agreement that mandatory training to exercise any gun right is an unconstitutional infringement, many gun owners and even some professional instructors feel that the benefits of mandatory training outweigh the negatives. I disagree with the latter group. This is a position that I’ve held for as long as I can recall, despite the high value I place on education and training. This is what I had to say on the topic in 2014:
“Mandatory Gun Training”
“As someone who’s primary source of income for most of his adult life has been teaching people defensive firearms skills, it surprises some people that I am Against Mandatory Firearms Training in order to own, purchase or carry a firearm of any kind. I am unaware of any state mandated program that meets the total amount of education I think someone should get before they choose to carry a firearm for defense. Presentation from the Holster, for example, is a fundamental skill that anyone and everyone should develop before they ever believe that it is appropriate for them to carry a firearm in public for defensive purposes. Yet, how many state permit processes require it? If you talked to 10 instructors, you’d get 10 different lists of things that any reasonable person should learn and practice before carrying a gun.”
“I honestly have no faith in an administrative bureaucracy to develop an adequate mandated course that would be practical on the scale necessary. If I were given the choice tomorrow between establishing a national standard and designing it myself or abolishing training requirements, I would choose the latter. I believe that when you give someone a certificate of training (especially with a permit to do something) those people often believe that they have met their obligation, that the obligatory class was well designed and they do not need to do anything else. Put simply: Most people have too much faith in the Government. They operate under the illusion that simply because their state trusts the process, the process must be good enough. I think that if you take away that illusion, if you take away the opportunity for people to believe that they have done enough, people will seek out more training than could ever be mandated. I think the surge in public opinion inside the firearms community about the value of getting thorough professional training and conducting relatively frequent practice would be overwhelming. Counter-Intuitively, I believe that removing mandatory minimum training would result in an over-all increase in the average amount of training and practice that people carrying guns have.”
My position on the topic hasn’t changed since then, but I think that some further education for well-intentioned instructors and gun owners is warranted.
When I made the argument above, I was doing it based on my own observations as a professional educator in this space for, at the time, about 13 years. I’ve often told people that the first place I could legally carry a firearm for defense was Vermont, the first Constitutional Carry State. When I moved there in 1990, I began carrying without any significant formal training such as I would recommend, but I had studied and practiced the component skills and appropriate use of force issues extensively and over an extended period of time. No doubt, I was a bit overconfident and still under-educated, but I don’t think that the equivalent of the NRA Basic Pistol Course or the Texas LTC Program would’ve increased my preparation level in any significant way. I didn’t need a government-mandated lowest common denominator class, I needed the type of armed defense specific courses that are widely available today and almost unheard of in the days before the “shall issue revolution” that dramatically expanded concealed carry in our country… which was still a few years away.
Today, gun owners have an unbelievable number of options available to them. From full curricula supported by online learning, books, and specific targets like the Defensive Shooting Fundamentals program I wrote for USCCA, which is offered by hundreds of instructors around the country. To well-run defensive shooting, classes run on the weekends by local instructors at ranges in every state whose names we will never know. There are dozens of major training facilities, a plethora of well-constructed modern indoor ranges, and more “big name” instructors offering their proprietary classes every weekend this spring than there were striker-fired gun models available when I started carrying. The atmosphere has changed too. Our community is much more proactive and honest in regard to the importance of education and training than we were 30 years ago.
The time is right for the Constitutional Carry Wave to be pushing across our Nation.
This is the incremental regaining of lost rights that we need. It is happening on the back of the demonstrated ability of Americans to responsibly exercise the carry rights that have been restored, in most States, through advocacy and major court wins like McDonald and Heller. And, make no mistake, that responsibility has been because of us, not low-level mandatory training. If nothing else, the growth of the private sector training industry that has paralleled the growth of Defensive Concealed Carry indicates that. Supply and Demand is the rule of the private sector.
Obviously, there are some instructors who may not have the best reasons for being against Permitless Carry. John Crump has recently reported on a specific group of LTC instructors in Texas who have joined with Texas Gun Sense to formally oppose the bill working its way to the Governor’s desk. It must be assumed that some of them sincerely believe that mandatory training will save lives… but, I have no doubt that some are motivated purely by selfish business interests. Unfortunately, there are many “instructors” who generate a lot of revenue solely from providing government-mandated classes. Some provide a necessary evil service. Others simply could not create demand for their training on the open market. I’ve dealt with their work to undermine Constitutional Carry for a long time in many states. I don’t know any of the Texas Instructors opposing the current bill personally, but in a 2019 social media comment, I chastised one of the instructors lamenting the possible effect on his business of a soon-to-be-signed permitless carry law in another state with the following:
“Hopefully, as businessmen, we are already espousing the idea that Training SHOULD be an obligation of any responsible gun owner, especially one claiming an interest in defensive-use of a gun… if you’re selling the permit classes based on a legal obligation, you’re already on thin ice ethically…. unless you are in favor of mandatory training.”
They say that “everyone’s got an opinion”, but I think it is obviously true that not all opinions are equal. Some are educated and well-defended, others come from ignorance and the quip “we can agree to disagree” because they are defensive. In this case, my opinion on the value of mandatory training doesn’t have to be the focus of the conversation for those who might want to disagree with me. Last year, the Rand Corporation released a study that didn’t get nearly as much attention as I think it deserved. The study was released almost exactly a year ago and it was titled “The Effects of Firearm Safety Training Requirements”. The results of the study are pretty damning. The study should be required reading for anyone who is a proponent of mandatory firearms training, whether they are gun owners or anti-gunners like Texas Gun Sense. While many of us can Full Stop the conversation at “Mandatory Training is an Infringement”, we can’t expect everyone to agree with that position. Pointing out that government-mandated training isn’t effective at achieving the goals they say they are interested in is probably a better tactic.
Here are some of my thoughts about the highlights of this study, which are summarized in the chart below:
“…The Motivations Of The Individuals Who Receive Firearm Training Could Affect The Overall Impact Of The Training Programs.”
It is well established that the gun community generally resents and resists any attempt to restrict or hinder the free exercise of gun rights in the United States. Common sense informs us that people who resent being told that they must take a class are simply not going to get as much out of that class as someone who voluntarily enrolls in it or engages in it out of their own perceived need. Between the two lies the mindset of a student taking a class because he was advised to take it by a friend or trusted source.
Regardless of how good the content and presentation of information is in a given class, the attitude of the student going into it will have much to do with its success. And, we all know that content and teacher ability vary dramatically from class to class, with the worst examples almost always being at the lowest levels of education… particularly the “required” classes. Again, we are talking about mandatory firearms training, not the value of training and education that is sought out.
“The Impact Of Safety Training On Key Outcomes Depends On The Content Of The Programs, The Effectiveness Of The Programs In Conveying Pertinent Information, And The Number Of Gun Owners Who Then Modify Their Behavior Based On The Information Presented In The Training.”
Classes that are seen as requirements to obtain a Concealed Carry License or even to own a firearm are quite often “lowest common denominator” classes with entry-level instructors delivering material that was developed with a number of competing concerns, only one of which is the transfer of meaningful information and changing student behaviors. Mandatory Firearms Training is almost always very generalized and focused primarily on one or more of three things: passing a test, meeting a time requirement or conveying information in regard to the firearms laws of the jurisdiction. This isn’t to say that there are not outstanding educators teaching CCW Courses… but, even the best of them is stuck teaching curricula that barely even attempt to cover the topic of armed defense in the public space.
I am unaware of a mandatory course curriculum that requires one to present a handgun from a holster after processing some type of novel information and delivering a multiple-round burst of fire to a chest-sized target at a distance of between 9 and 15 feet. This is as close as we could get to a “most likely performance need” in a concealed carry defensive gun use that involves shooting a threat that needs to be physically stopped… but, nothing of the sort is required by any State or other Jurisdiction that I am aware of.
Another problem with the mandatory firearms training that currently exists in many places is that those who would be positively disposed towards taking a course even it were mandated would most likely be the type of people who would put stock in the value of the courses… and they might possibly assume that because they have taken the required course and passed successfully, they are now Good to Go. And, it is a fact that the majority of individuals who take required training to get their carry permits do not go on to seek further training.
Again, I am certainly not lobbying for an increase in any training requirement. Requiring a truly comprehensive training program that I, after two almost two decades as a full-time armed defense educator, would feel meets a “minimum standard” would require far more time and money than could ever be considered a reasonable requirement for the exercise of a Constitutionally protected natural right!
Mandatory Firearms Training is an infringement, but any responsible gun owner should agree that education, training, and practice should be sought after by any gun owner, appropriate to the firearms they own and their intended uses of them. These are the competing issues for anyone truly interested in promulgating “gun safety” and increasing the average responsibility level of the average gun owner and why it will probably never be successfully done from outside of the community. The best way to encourage increased education and risk mitigation in the gun community is by changing the culture around such things, not through legislation.
“Thus, Credible Messengers Who Promote Safe Storage Practices Might Be More Likely To Change The Behavior Of Gun Owners Than Are Noncredible Messengers Who Promote Safe Storage.”
As the research indicates, pro-Gun Control Politicians, Celebrities, and even those injured or who have lost family members due to negative outcomes with firearms are not likely to influence the behavior and opinions of gun owners around safety practices nearly as much as the advice they receive from a trusted source or mentor. All the better if that advice comes in the form of an example to be followed and not just through lectures or talking points. Thoughts and conventions around safe gun handling and ownership have evolved greatly over the past 30 years as gun ownership has expanded and we have seen a dramatic increase in the number of people carrying or staging guns for defensive use. Thankfully, there are countless organizations, schools, instructors, and community leaders who offer those examples along with best practices for any variety of circumstances facing gun owners. I am proud to be affiliated with or supportive of, the work of many of these, including Personal Defense Network, United States Concealed Carry Association, Walk The Talk America, National Shooting Sports Foundation, Guns For Everyone, Black Guns Matter, and, of course, Second Amendment Organization. 2AO’s official stance on mandatory training is spelled out with over 50 other Position Statements at gunfights.info:
Mandatory Training for Ownership? (Against)
The Second Amendment Organization believes that, because there is no provision in the Second Amendment for a training requirement prior to exercise the right to keep and bear arms, the establishment of such a requirement to own a firearm would be a severe infringement on that right.
Some people outside of the gun community can’t understand how a training requirement shouldn’t be an obvious precursor to firearms. They make comparisons to Guns & Cars (completely inappropriate in this case) or want to ignore the reality of the Second Amendment restriction against infringements… perhaps because gun owners are so obviously infringed already. Thankfully, there is no available evidence that a lack of mandated training increases risk… and there is clear reason to believe that gun owners are made more responsible and more capable through participating in voluntary education.
All that said, let us get back to the contention over this group of Instructors in Texas who are arguing against freedom. I recognize that this is a very complex area for some people, including everyday gun owners who just want the world to be safer… and own guns for that very reason. The belief that training, education, and practice are important parts of gun ownership should be universal. Fellow Second Amendment Organization Board Member, and professional defensive shooting instructor, Kevin Dixie joined me Thursday in a video discussion (above) about why neither one of us believe that the government should mandate training to own, use or carry firearms BUT they do feel strongly that every gun owner has an obligation to be educated and practiced. Rights come with Responsibilities. If gun owners do not demonstrate responsibility and a sincere desire to reduce negative outcomes associated with firearms, others will seek to legislate their version of responsibility upon us… or, as is the case right now in Texas, will work to oppose freedom when they don’t trust us.
About Rob Pincus
Rob Pincus has been educating people about defensive shooting and related personal defense topics for over two decades. He is the Executive Director of the Personal Defense Network and the owner of I.C.E. Training Company. He has authored several books, produced over 100 training DVDs, appeared on several TV & Radio shows, and trained military, law enforcement, and armed individuals around the world. His advice focuses on efficiency and practicality based on his own experiences and continuing research of both real-world events and cutting-edge training practices. www.icetraining.us