Quote: “I am patient with stupidity but not with those who are proud of it.” – Edith Sitwell
My take: Time for some real talk, here. Pour yourself a cup of coffee and draw up a chair; this might take a minute.
Lately I have been thinking a lot about my time within the firearms training industry.
For those who don’t know: I quietly retired from teaching a couple of years ago, and have kept the website and social media presence going mostly for the good of the order, getting no financial benefit from either at any point over the past several years. Though I still make a tiny bit from book sales, and truly appreciate it when people buy my books and recommend them to others, realistically this is all a labor of love.
Because I no longer draw a paycheck from teaching classes, and because it has been several years since I’ve done so, I’m beginning to realize that I am finally free to say some things that really need to be said — and since I’m neither trying to build a business/brand name nor currently making any money at it there’s no one who can (with any degree of integrity whatsoever!) accuse me of saying any of this just because it might financially benefit me to do so.
So. Let’s start with the old saying about catching more flies with honey than with vinegar. The saying is true, but do you know what catches the most flies of all? That would be a great, big, steaming pile of 💩
And quite frankly, 💩 sells really, really well in the gun world.
This is especially and particularly true among the part of the market that caters to women.
Whether it’s craptastic non-holster products like the SUPER DANGEROUS “Lethal Lace”, or YouTube celebs with huge followings but no actual skills, or “women’s shooting groups” that ——
Is she really about to bag on women’s shooting groups?? Really??
Yes. Yes I am.
…. Well, sort of.
Pay attention here, because I don’t want you to misunderstand me, or get offended by things I haven’t said and don’t mean. There are a lot of really awesome people doing really good things inside many of these groups. I not only support those folks — I’m maybe their biggest fan!
The Good Stuff
You see, when a person reaches a certain stage on their personal defense readiness journey, they often go looking for like-minded others to support them and help them along the way. That’s definitely what happened to me when I first started. I still have very fond memories of the Women’s Study Group at FAS that I helped get started and attended for several years as I was just beginning to learn how to shoot, and I was beyond thrilled to realize that similar opportunities were going to be available to other people across the country through groups such as AG&AG, AWAW, and similar. So the women’s shooting group was definitely part of my own process and I’m a fan of it.
And the same thing happened to a huge crowd of new shooters about ten or so years back. Because there were so many women who were new to the gun world at that time, they all hit the same stage of growth at about the same time and they collectively introduced a new thing to the shooting world: the women’s gun club.
Before that time, if you heard a shooter talking about “my gun club,” that person was almost certainly talking about their membership benefits at an indoor or outdoor range. But after that time, if you heard a person talking about their shooting club, they were just as likely to be talking about a group of people with regularly-scheduled meetings to shoot together. One was about buildings, the other about people.
These groups are most emphatically not just for new shooters, by the way. It is indeed awesome for new shooters, and the foundations of such clubs often hark back to new shooters because that desire to get together with like-minded others on the range is kind of a strong impulse for many people, early on. The club provides social and emotional support, along with reassuring lived experience that guns are normal and normal people use guns, for people who might otherwise not have any social entry point into gun ownership. It can be a great starting point.
Later, as we become more experienced and accomplished as shooters, we definitely still benefit from pushing each other to do better and learn more. That skill development often happens within the structure of an encouraging group of like-minded others who encourage one another and spur one another on.
Not only this, but as we become more skilled there’s a satisfaction in being able to turn around and help others — and the constant influx of new members into the club definitely provides those opportunities. Most adults have long since figured out that one reliable pathway to learning a thing well for ourselves is turning around and teaching what we know to others, so that constant flow of newcomers ready to learn is also a benefit for the more experienced shooters in these groups too.
So I’m a big fan of these groups, whether they are a small local gathering or a chapter meeting under the banner of one of the big national clubs. They aren’t just about shooting, they aren’t just for new shooters, and they are positioned to do a lot of good things for their members as many women can attest.
Women’s shooting groups can turn toxic, and when they do, they get in the way of their members’ skill development rather than enhancing it. They can stop you from learning more about self defense, rather than supporting your desire to do so. And they can lead to a weird type of humble-arrogance that really gets in the way of learning more.
Challenge #1 – Toxicity City
First, the toxic problem. I could write a lot about this, but I don’t really need to. Everyone has at some point been involved with a friend group, a social club, a church, a work environment that became an uncomfortable and eventually a mentally unhealthy place for whatever reason. No matter how excellent the national club might be, any given chapter is only as good as its local leadership. And beyond that, the group of people that make up the core of that group can definitely change the social environment in ways that may not be healthy for others.
There is one aspect of the toxicity issue that is perhaps unique to groups of people who shoot together. That is the weirdness around getting better, becoming a truly good shot. Pay attention to your own local group and if you find a consistent pattern of people disappearing or drifting away as they become more competent shooters, that’s a small red flag you might want to look out for. (It’s a small flag because there are other reasons people drift away and if the group consistently helps people do better, then of course the people who drift away over time will all have also been getting better; but if you have a group where only bad or stagnant shooters stay while people who are improving all drift off, that’s what I’m talking about).
A huge red flag on the toxicity issue is if you find yourself deliberately muffing shots so that other people in the group won’t feel hurt when you shoot better than they do. That is especially and specifically true if the person you’re afraid of offending by shooting well is the group leader.
Challenge #2 – Self Defense Mindset
Second, the self-defense issue. I could write an entire book about this one, and maybe someday I will. The challenge here is that you get a group of people together, and the group mostly focuses on having fun together as a social thing or even focuses on competition, and gradually your own mindset shifts away from thinking about the gun as a defensive tool and toward thinking about guns as toys you pull out on the weekend to play with when you get together with your friends. This process can definitely get in the way of you developing your own defensive mindset and ability to protect yourself, even as your shooting skill improves, so it’s worth keeping an eye on.
The self defense/mindset issue can also get a little complicated for people who want to carry but haven’t quite made the jump yet, as often times the group safety rules work on a subconscious level to make it actively harder for these would-be concealed carry people to visualize themselves putting a loaded gun in the holster anywhere except on the range. And maybe not even there, depending on the specific group rules. Because after all, if having a loaded gun in the holster is so very dangerous that you cannot even walk onto the range with one on… How can it possibly be safe in daily life? Eventually, these people simply give up on the idea of carrying a gun at all, although they often continue going to the range and enjoying time shooting with their friends. This isn’t necessarily a conscious thought process, but I have seen it happen enough on the subconscious level to people who really want to do concealed carry that it’s worth thinking about.
Challenge #3 – Humble Arrogance
Finally, and maybe most important and tricky to deal with, the humble arrogance that prevents people from learning more.
Humble arrogance is, oddly enough, often the result of untreated imposter syndrome. Imposter syndrome is that frightened little voice in your head, especially common among women doing things in traditionally male environments. It whispers things like:
- “I don’t deserve to be here”
- “I am only here because of luck”
- “I’m only here because [some specific person, often a mentor] likes me; I haven’t earned my place”
- ”I have to be careful so nobody finds out what a fraud I am.”
This one is super dangerous for group leaders especially. And it is also dangerous for anyone who listens to, follows, or learns from them.
How can feeling like a fraud create danger for yourself or other people? Like this: because you feel afraid of being found out as not knowing everything that you should, you become terrified of anyone seeing you struggle, of seeing you maybe fail, of seeing you… well, of seeing you learn anything. Because that’s what the learning process looks like – it looks like you didn’t already know it in the first place. And that is the core fear of imposter syndrome, that people might find out that we don’t already know everything they might assume we do.
So these people with this humble arrogance going on are terribly afraid that somebody might find out they don’t already know something. This means they simply cannot risk learning anything new, because you cannot learn anything you already know.
That is why I call it humble arrogance: it comes from a place of fear and feeling inferior. But no matter how humble it might feel, the end result is arrogant, because the fear refuses to learn and refuses to admit that it needs to learn.
Humble arrogance is very difficult to address, because no matter how carefully you talk to people caught in it about the need to learn more, they simply cannot hear what you’re saying. Their fears are shouting too loudly. When you talk to them about what they need to learn, what they hear is somehow always about other people needing to learn.
Weirdly, a lot of these folks will turn around and preach the need for “training”. But what they mean by that is usually just practice. Training means learning under someone else’s supervision, which is different from solo practice or even from group practice. People caught in the grip of imposter syndrome and the humble arrogance that goes with it rarely quiet their fears enough to learn from anyone else, especially anyone outside their immediate circle, because even when they truly want to learn they simply cannot risk being seen learning.
This is the terrible, horrible trap of imposter syndrome. And women who have risen into leadership within women’s shooting clubs are often its victims. Because they want to be seen as competent, as knowledgeable, as capable, as deserving to be where they are … they can literally never learn anything beyond where they are right now. They can’t risk learning alongside the women in their groups – they’re far too busy for that, the story usually goes. Their very desire to be seen as experts (or at least, not as frauds) stops them from becoming the experts they long to be.
And that’s where the great big steaming pile of 💩 comes in.
If you, or your group leader, have not learned anything from a competent teacher outside your local circle or outside your group in more than a year, two years, five years, or maybe ever … well then, your group might very well be caught in this problem. Because imposter syndrome and the humble arrogance that goes with it tend to stunt growth both for the people who suffer from it and for the people around them.
The way to combat this, if you fear you are slipping into it or if you think your group might be slipping into it:
Take a risk. Face down your fears. Model for your group what it looks like to learn from someone other than your preferred local expert, other than your local chapter leader, other than yourself.
The worst possible outcome from inside imposter syndrome is somebody finding out that you’re a fraud. You can feel that fear either as an individual, or sometimes an entire group can feel it together.
The only solution, the only way to quiet that fear of being found out as a fraud, is to not be a fraud. This is terrifying because other people might find out that you didn’t already know the thing you are just now learning. But it’s literally the only way to learn it.
Take the risk of learning.