What’s with all the infighting in the defensive shooting world?

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Stick around the defensive shooting world for any length of time and you’ll discover partisanship that makes national politics seem tame. Where do these squabbles come from, and what can you do to avoid them?

Defensive shooting, or more specifically the training of defensive shooting, is a study of context. I’ve said this before in different ways, but it remains true: context matters.

What do I mean by that word? The dictionary defines it as “the circumstances that form the setting for an event, statement, or idea, and in terms of which it can be fully understood and assessed.” Context in defensive shooting are those environments, conditions or circumstances to which any technique is most closely or most appropriately related.

It’s easy (and quite common) to think that context is equipment-driven. The idea that because a soldier and a stay-at-home dad use the same Beretta pistol that their context is the same, but that’s clearly not the case. Still, there are a bunch of ex-military people out there selling their wares to a civilian self-defense audience based on their military experience — and people are buying. It’s pretty clear that the idea of context isn’t well understood!

What works for the Marine who is in a squad walking down a Middle East street is different than what works for the police officer responding to a man with a knife call at 2:am; both of those are different from the single mom protecting her children from a homicidal ex-spouse, and all of those are different from the competitive shooter trying to shave fractions of a second from his time on a particular course of fire.

I’ve made this comparison before, and it’s still valid: just because Richard Petty’s car has four tires and a steering wheel like your car does, doesn’t mean that your driving jobs are at all similar! When you’re taking a defensive shooting class you have to ask yourself about the instructor’s context and where his techniques/recommendations come from, then compare/contrast those to your own life. You may find that some of it fits, some doesn’t, and the key is knowing the difference and why the difference is important.

These differences in context are what lead to much of the infighting in the shooting world. One camp will vociferously defend its doctrine against the naysayers of another camp; one guru will badmouth another while at the same time promoting his own holiness to the waiting masses. All you need to do is look around on social media or hang around some of the gun forums and you’ll get an eyeful!

The people doing the mudslinging usually ignore the fact that the curriculum may not apply to them, but it probably applies to someone; just because you’re not that someone doesn’t it make it wrong, it just makes it not useful to you.

Knowing that context exists is only the first step. Too many people will assume that because some pieces of a doctrine fits their context that it all does, or — perhaps worse in terms of interpersonal conflict — that because some pieces DON’T fit, NONE of it does. Neither is true, but try to convince warring partisans of that while they’re busy throwing insults at each other over the ‘net!

In the absence of a teacher who truly understands this idea (and very few, in my estimation, do) you’ll need to be your own “context arbiter”. You need to think about the circumstances under which you’ll likely shoot, and then compare that to the technique or concept you’re being taught. You have to ask where it came from, what its use was/is, and whether that truly makes sense in your life.

You may find that some ideas fit and others don’t. Neither of those cases is cause to adopt or reject a doctrine in its entirety. You do need to be discerning, however, and be honest about why you’re training and what you’re training for. Does that dynamic room entry you’re being taught really have any relevance to your life in the suburbs? Probably not. That doesn’t mean the fellow teaching it doesn’t have anything at all to offer!

The very best teachers (and there are too few of these, in my experience) understand what they’re teaching, where it fits, and why it is (or isn’t) applicable in any given circumstance. There are a lot of law enforcement trainers out there, for instance, who can’t fathom that there’s a difference between being awakened in the middle of the night by someone breaking through a patio door and getting a dispatch for that guy who just broke through that door. There’s a huge difference in how each person needs to respond even if the catalyst for the event — the bad guy — is the same.

There are officers teaching in the private sector, however, who do understand that there are differences between what they do on the job and what the private citizen has to do, and teach appropriately. They’re the ones who understand context, and you’ll rarely see them badmouthing other instructors or schools because their understanding doesn’t compel them to do so.

Remember this the next time you see people arguing over shooting gurus: disagreements are almost always about the misunderstanding of what context is and why it’s important. Those misunderstandings, if not carefully controlled, can take on a life of their own and result in generalized nastiness.

There’s enough of that in this world already without adding more to it!

-=[ Grant Cunningham ]=-


About the Author:

Grant Cunningham is a renowned author and teacher in the fields of self defense, defensive shooting education and personal safety. He’s written several popular books on handguns and defensive shooting, including "The Book of the Revolver", "Shooter’s Guide To Handguns", "Defensive Revolver Fundamentals", "Defensive Pistol Fundamentals", and "Practice Strategies for Defensive Shooting" (Fall 2015.) Grant has also written articles on shooting, self defense, training and teaching for many magazines and shooting websites, including Concealed Carry Magazine, Gun Digest Magazine, the Association of Defensive Shooting Instructors ADSI) and the popular Personal Defense Network training website. He’s produced a DVD in the National Rifle Association’s Personal Firearm Defense series titled "Defensive Revolver Fundamentals" and teaches defensive shooting and personal safety courses all over the United States.
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