Bumped into an old friend the other day, someone I hadn’t seen in awhile. She asked me about my life now, and I told her I’d been teaching firearms classes all over the country for the past few years. She raised a skeptical eyebrow and said, “People do that? Take classes just for shooting? I wouldn’t think there was that much to learn. You point at the target and you pull the trigger. That’s like, two minutes. So what else is there to teach?”
Funny thing is, she’s right in one sense. There’s really not that much to shooting a gun. It’s kind of like driving a car that way. You learn where the steering wheel is, maybe you learn how to put gas in the tank, 1 then you start the car, push the gas pedal and off you go. Right?
Have to laugh. That’s pretty much what my pre-teen boys thought. But it’s not quite like that. New drivers must learn at least two different categories of things in order to be safe when they drive on the road in public.
First, they must learn the physical actions that will make the car do the things they want it to do – how to start the car, how to get it into gear, how to get it moving, how to steer it, how to slow it down, and how to stop it. (Just for the record, after teaching all five of our sons to drive, I can say this from harrowing personal experience: young men seem to have a particular difficulty learning those last two points.)
With the basics of making the car go understood, the new driver isn’t done learning. That’s because she still has to learn the traffic rules, which include everything from “Which part of the road can I drive on?” to “How do I know whose turn it is to go next at a four-way stop sign?” and “Is it okay to turn right on red?” There are questions that address expected courtesies and rights-of-way, which direction you can lawfully drive on a given street, and how to keep both the car and themselves properly licensed to be on the road at all. The new driver must also learn to decode traffic signs that look simple at a glance but convey surprisingly detailed information to the experienced driver.
So. Two categories: physical skills and legal stuff. By now you’ve undoubtedly figured out the analogy to our usual subject: defensive handgun use and all it entails.
A surprising number of people who intend to (or do!) carry guns in public have never even tried to understand the “rules of the road.” These folks are the equivalent of the high school sophomore who gets all his understanding about speed limits and traffic laws from listening to his buddies. That’s … a mistake.
On the other hand, an equally surprising number of folks spend a lot of time on theory. They may look up the carry laws and use of force laws, and they may even join an organization like ACLDN to be sure their legal and financial ducks are all in a neat little row. But these people aren’t as willing to study the physical skills and practical dynamics of facing violence. They make me remember my grandpa, a grand old man with a lead foot and an acid tongue. When another driver would cut him off in traffic, grandpa would slap the dashboard and say bitterly, “Where’d that guy learn to drive? Correspondence school!!?” It takes a certain amount of physical doing – ideally under the eyes of a well-trained, experienced other – before young drivers and new shooters develop a good baseline of physical skills and reactions they can trust in a crisis.
That’s not all. Come to think of it, there’s a third category of things a new driver needs to learn, too. This isn’t either law or physical skills, but a blend of both: mental and social skills with a physical component. Smart drivers learn how to protect themselves when other drivers don’t follow the rules or the courtesies. They learn how to see potential trouble coming, how to leave themselves both a cushion and an escape route in heavy traffic, how to spot the hole and steer for it in a quickly-developing crisis, how to assess the condition of the road, how to safely adjust their speed and direction when things begin to spin out of control. These skills come only to drivers who have already spent some time behind the wheel. They don’t develop in a vacuum and they don’t often appear spontaneously in drivers who aren’t consciously working to improve their abilities.
Back to firearms. A lot of people think they’ve learned how to protect themselves with a gun once they’ve learned how to yank the trigger on a calm day at the range. Being able to hit the target is a critical skill for self defense. But in exactly the same way that learning to adjust the mirrors might begin a young driver’s process of learning to drive, learning to shoot simply begins the lifelong process of learning how to protect yourself and the people you love.
- Unless you live in Oregon or New Jersey. ↩