Of late, everyone seems enamored of the idea that gun violence is a safety issue, and the way we deal with any safety issue involving mechanical devices is to teach people how to use the particular device in a safe way. This is what lies behind the strategy to reduce auto accidents by making sure that drivers aren’t drunk or drive too fast; it’s the same strategy when applied to cycles, motor-driven or not, by requiring everyone to wear a helmet so that when they fall off the bike they won’t crack their heads.
When it comes to a mechanical device known as a gun, however, what will make everyone safer is training in how to use a gun. But a recent study on gun training has discovered that upwards of 40% of the gun-owning population has not received any training at all. Which means that four out of ten individuals who might legally pick up a gun may not be picking it up in a safe way. But how do we know that the six out of ten who claim they have received safety training have really been trained at all? This gets to is the definition of ‘training,’ which in the gun industry is actually a word with no meaning at all.
If you take a look at the states which require some kind of gun training as Jennifer Mascia did for The Trace, you’ll discover that most states talk about something called an ‘eight-hour’ course. And where did the magic number ‘eight’ come from? How do we know that being trained for eight hours gives you the necessary competency to use a gun?
This is the time-period the NRA says their training course, something known as Basic Pistol, is supposed to last. The training manual does consist of eight different sections, each of which takes an hour, more or less, to complete. Now the fact that three of those eight sections have nothing whatsoever with how to use a gun – so what? In order to complete the class you have to learn all about various shooting programs sponsored by the NRA, how to sign up for a shooting competition and other essential safety topics like that.
The NRA claims to have certified more than 100,000 trainers (I happen to be one of those lucky folks) but not a single one of those trainers was required to perform any kind of competency qualification that professional certifications usually entail. I was certified as an instructor in networking IT both by Microsoft and Novell. In order to receive those certifications I not only had to pass a battery of difficult exams, I also had to demonstrate before a live group that I possessed the knowledge, aptitude and classroom presence to teach networking skills. Know what is required to become certified NRA gun trainer? Sit through an 8-hour class while another trainer drones on and on from the NRA manual and then take a multiple-choice quiz. Big deal.
I earn my living teaching the gun-safety course that is required in my state. I have taught the class to more than 8,000 men and women since mid-2012 and I normally enroll 100 – 125 students every month. My state, Massachusetts, does not require live fire but I make every student go through a live fire drill because after they see, hear and feel what happens when a handgun goes off, much of what I say about safety makes a lot more sense. The students shoot at a 9-inch target set at 18 feet. Roughly half the shots fired by every class hit somewhere outside the target area, but since Massachusetts doesn’t require live fire, people who literally can’t hit the broad side of a barn still pass the course.
According to public health research, journalists and GVP advocacy groups, the 8,000 people I have trained are now more prepared to own and carry a gun than residents of other states who receive no training at all. Oh please, give me a break.