Finding Your “Why” in Firearms Training

In today’s gun culture, firearms training often draws gun owners towards the latest and greatest heroes popular on social media. This statement isn’t an immediate condemnation of these gun-world pop culture icons. Rather, it’s a caution against allowing their image to cloud better judgment and common sense. For many of these instructors, they each bring valuable experience and insight to the table. True, some package their wisdom with a façade of humor and entertainment, but many of those same individuals make learning an engaging and enjoyable experience in doing so. If learning during firearms training isn’t fun, then why would we do it?

This question grabs at the heart and soul foundational to firearms training. The first question I ever ask any of my students or trainees is, “Why are you here?” I ask myself this same question when attending a firearms training course. Why am I here? Then, what do I expect to accomplish? Finally, how am I going to accomplish it? This order of questioning structures the stage and foundation for a productive learning environment. I’m sure this drives further questions in the reader’s mind and requires greater explanation on my behalf. Don’t worry; let’s get into why finding your “why?” for firearms training is so important.


The “Why”

Some years ago, I put together an officer-involved shooting course based on my personal experiences and other officers’ experiences. During the extensive anecdotal and data-driven background research, I came across a video from Simon Sinek. Without wandering too far into the weeds, Sinek is a well-regarded business motivational speaker, consultant, and author. This association seems random, but there’s less madness and more method at hand.

His speech, which has evolved into numerous books, discussed the success of several technological companies during the smartphone explosion of the early 2000s. His speech focused on the “what,” “how,” and “why” behind a company advertising its products. Ultimately, the companies that focused on the why behind their products played a tremendous role in their success. Effectively, if we don’t know why our job exists or why we have to fulfill a duty, the action becomes menial and tedious. In other words, a plan with no purpose is nothing more than labor. The purpose, or the “why” behind the plan, gives us ownership and investment in the eventual outcome. So, how does this business theory translate to our firearms training?

The “Why” Behind Firearms Training

Regardless of your background, profession, or hobbies, everyone, at least superficially, knows why they want to be a better shooter. Competitive shooters want fast, accurate hits on target. Hunters want a humane kill. Law enforcement and the military want to end the threat while eliminating the risk they and combatants/suspects pose to innocent lives. The concept is numbingly simple. However, let’s take it a step further.

The “why” behind seeking out these goals is far greater than just being a better, faster, or more discreet shooter. Rather, there’s a fundamental point of conscience behind these goals. Competitive and target shooters have a sense of pride and value in their precision and accuracy. Hunters believe in ethical, clean, and safe harvests out of respect for conservation and nature. Armed citizens, law enforcement, and the military understand the rapid, selective, and intelligent engagement of a deadly threat reduces the harm to their coworkers and loved ones while reducing or eliminating the possibility of an innocent person being harmed in the process.

The motivation behind firearms training may be ethical, moral, religious, loyalty, pride, and so on. It may be any combination thereof, listed or unlisted. Regardless, it’s important we know what drives — or obligates — us to do better at our craft.

Applying Our Why to Firearms Training

Some instructors present a drill well and make it appear practical or suitable for our needs. However, some don’t explain the purpose behind conducting the drill. If an instructor can’t explain why a drill is important to you, it should generate some pause from you in their abilities or the efficacy of the drill or technique. One of the better demonstrations I’ve ever seen of “the why” was exhibited by Pat McNamara in his description of the Einstein Drill. The drill paraphrases this Einstein quote,

Once we accept our limits, we go beyond them.

While a simple idea, his explanation prepares the shooter to understand the drill is about determining the limits of their current ability and then pushing themselves beyond that. While simple, the explanation steered my mental approach to firearms training toward new goals and missions.

firearms training ipsc target
McNamara’s Einstein Drill isn’t about beating the timer as much as it is about developing the baseline for repeatable skills. From seven yards, the shooter draws from the holster and must hit this target with one shot in 2.5 seconds. This is repeated for a total of five strings of fire. If that’s relatively easy, what about the “A” zone? Head box? “A” zone in the head box only? The drill allows the shooter to understand the boundary of their capabilities and set a goal to exceed. Therein lies the why behind the drill.

When explaining a drill or technique to a new shooter, I explain to them what they’re doing and how to go about doing it. If someone is told to focus on pressing the trigger versus pulling it, the brain doesn’t connect the drill’s purpose to the reinforced skill. If the shooter understands the mental association between pulling versus a gentle press, they have a framework for why those terms matter. It’s worthwhile to explain these nuances to them so they understand their importance. Some may argue vernacular isn’t that important in firearms training. However, I’d counter that those same individuals wince upon hearing “clip” or “assault weapon” misused by those ignorant on firearms attempting to speak as an authority on them.

The “How” Behind Firearms Training

The “how” directly ties into the “why” of improving your shooting. Shooters need to know how performing an action benefits them. Furthermore, they need to know how that action is performed. The instructor’s demonstration, followed by step-by-step integration with the shooter, explains how to perform the skill. Finally, increasing complexity, speed, and stress ease the shooter into integrating this skill properly and effectively. Shooters must learn to progress from crawling to sprinting through gradual skill-building.

demonstrating shooting position
This demonstration of fetal prone was used in a previous article. Sure, I can explain the position with words, but a picture—even a demonstration—is worth a thousand words in helping a student understand how to perform the drill.

While some instructors shy away from demonstrating drills out of fear, they discourage fellow students, but there is a balance to such demonstrations. The goal of demonstration in firearms training isn’t to show how fast you, the instructor, happen to be. The students should already know you’re competent with a firearm. After all, they wouldn’t attend if they didn’t think you were. Nonetheless, the demonstration exists to provide a visual representation of how the student should perform the drill correctly. Visual aids are a powerful thing. When applied appropriately in a classroom, they leave a lasting impact on students for decades. The range environment is no different. As the saying goes, “Monkey see, monkey do.” Demonstrating the how after providing the why sets the pace, precision, and quality of a student’s performance and commitment to engaging in the drill.

Final Thoughts

“Why” drives everything we do in firearms training. From attending a course to verbiage to the drill performed, there is a why behind every action. Once the purpose is fully understood, students and instructors alike can share in the investment of learning how to perform a skill. This concept is lost amongst some classes that only focus on how to shoot but stray from the fundamental reason why we’re there to start. We all have a purpose, motivation, and why behind our firearms training and/or desire to obtain more. From there, I promise grasping the how will become easier and clearer. In the spirit of paraphrasing another Einstein quote,

I have no special talents. I am only passionately curious.

Go forth and be passionately curious about your firearms training.

Tom Stilson began his firearms career in 2012 working a gun store counter. He progressed to conducting appraisals for fine and collectible firearms before working as the firearms compliance merchant for a major outdoor retailer. In 2015, he entered public service and began his law enforcement career. Tom has a range of experience working for big and small as well as urban and rural agencies. Among his qualifications, Tom is certified as a firearms instructor, field trainer, and in special weapons and tactics. If not on his backyard range, he spends his time with family or spreading his passion for firearms and law enforcement.

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