When It Comes To Gun Training, The NRA’s No Longer The Only Game In Town.

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For years the gun violence prevention (GVP) community has lamented the fact that they do not have the strength or the financial muscle to compete with the NRA. And even with Mayor Mike’s help, pardon the pun but too often people who want to see an end to gun violence find themselves organizationally outgunned. But all of a sudden the boys in Fairfax are finding themselves challenged by the growth of another pro-gun organization which looks at gun ownership from a very different point of view.

training             I’m referring to the United States Concealed Carry Association (USCCA) which started out as nothing other than an internet sales gimmick known as ‘tribal marketing’ which generates revenue by attracting (and retaining) consumers to internet sites; the idea being that the longer someone remains connected to a website, the more crap they will purchase from that site. And the trick is to make your web visitors feel that they have some special identity or interest which sets them apart from everyone else. And if you can find a single group of Americans who feel more special than the people who actually believe that they need to carry a gun around, let me know.

Like every other pro-gun sales organization, the USCCA got started by attaching itself to the NRA.  They had a booth at the annual NRA show, they used slogans about concealed-carry that were right out of the Fairfax playbook, and their basic product, CCW insurance, also copied a long-time NRA tradition of offering its membership with financial services that would protect their guns.

But the one area in which the USCCA could not compete with the NRA was the area in which the NRA has always ruled supreme, namely, the training area. After all, the NRA was founded as a training organization, currently has more than 125,000 trainers certified and enrolled on its books, and has developed training courses which most states use as the required training curriculum either for getting a gun license or qualifying for LTC.

The degree to which the NRA has always held sway in gun training, however, is now being challenged by the USCCA. Not only does the USCCA hold an annual Concealed Carry Expo, whose exhibitor list contains the same lineup of gun and accessory companies which display their wares at the annual NRA show, but Tim Schmidt’s group was booted out of this year’s NRA show so that America’s ‘oldest civil rights organization’ could unveil their newest insurance product, a real scam deal known as Carry Guard, without having to compete with the USCCA.

Where the USCCA also appears to be placing itself directly in a competitive situation with the NRA, however, is over the issue of training, where Schmidt and his organization are developing a national training initiative which is an exact copy of the NRA’s training network, including a process for certifying trainers that the NRA has been using for years. Right now it appears that USCCA is running, at best, about 10% the number of training classes that the NRA runs each month, but they do have classes listed in more than 20 states which isn’t a bad start.

What I find most significant about the USCCA’s growth, however, is that it seems to be happening without the crazy drift into rhetorical looniness which now characterizes the public face of the NRA. No astoundingly stupid, insultingly ignorant rants from Dana Loesch, no conspiracy theories from Wayne-o which, by comparison make Alex Jones appear calm. The USCCA’s message about ‘protecting loved ones’ is nothing more than hype, but at least it’s hype which stays within the bounds of rhetorical decency and good taste.

The USCCA says its training program sets an ‘industry standard’ but the truth is there is no training ‘industry’ nor is there any accepted ‘standard’ for gun training at all. Because this would require that gun groups take the one step they are afraid to take, namely, to advocate required training for anyone who wants to walk around with a gun.

 

 

NRA Turns Gun Training Into A Video Game.

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Our friends at The Trace have just published some interesting coverage about an argument within the NRA over the content and direction of its training programs, in particular a new program called ‘Carry Guard,’ which combines a scam insurance deal with an even scammier training product, both of which are designed to appeal to the millions of Americans who are now walking around armed.

training             Actually, the number of Americans who are actively playing the ‘armed citizen’ game may be two million or so, maybe even less. Despite what John Lott claims, there is no way he can actually verify that more than 14 million concealed-carry licenses have been issued, and multiple surveys report that the percentage of gun owners walking around with a gun on a regular basis may be no more than 10 percent.

What the gun industry would love to see happen is that carrying a concealed weapon would become as common and accepted as walking around with an i-Phone or a droid. But even if a concealable banger doesn’t end up hung from everyone’s belt the way we all hang our phones, 10% of the gun-owning population is still a decent market if you can get every one of them to send you thirty bucks a month and sign up for a ‘gold standard’ training course.

The Trace’s writer, Mike Spies, claims that the argument in the NRA goes back to the decision made back in April to cancel appearances at the annual meeting by two companies who sell insurance which allegedly reimburses you when and if you pull out a gun and use it in a legal act of self-defense. The better-known of these outfits, United States Concealed Carry Association (USCCA), is a real, internet-based Ponzi scheme developed by Tim Schmidt who is an unchallenged expert in internet marketing, particularly affiliate programs and what he calls ‘tribal’ marketing, which is what USCCA is all about. The key to tribal marketing is to attract and keep people on a website (so that they’ll buy all kinds of crap) by making them feel that they belong to something which is both important and unique. And what could be more important and unique than walking around with a gun? The NRA membership is probably a perfect fit for the tribal marketing approach, particularly that segment of the membership which buys the ‘armed citizen’ nonsense, whether they are actually walking around with a gun or not.

The argument between the NRA and some of its trainers, however, didn’t start with booting out the USCCA.  It actually began over a year ago, when the NRA Training Division announced that the course which is not only the most popular training course but is the one which is usually adopted by jurisdictions that require pre-licensing training – NRA Basic Pistol – was going to be moved to an online format which would remove the 125,000 certified trainers from playing any training role at all. Not only did this decision threaten the financial livelihood of many trainers, but it was and is a departure from the NRA’s traditional stance, dating from the organization’s founding, that gun training should be conducted face-to-face.

The result was a quiet but significant pushback by NRA trainers and a brief but sharp decrease in NRA training activity, both of which played a role in a remaking of the Training Division and Kyle Weaver’s goodbye. The revised Basic Pistol still requires students to register and first do an online course, but then they register with a certified NRA trainer who is supposed to verify what they have learned.

Nobody in the training community, inside or outside the NRA, takes the ‘macho man’ Carry Guard training product seriously. If anything, it’s really designed to draw the same type of consumer who right now goes to Thunder Ranch to play ‘kill the terrorist’ with a live gun. On the other hand, the NRA is pushing national concealed-carry while promoting gun training that’s nothing more than a video game and this is the real reason that some professional trainers are concerned.

 

Why Was Philando Castle Shot? Because The Cop Had A Gun.

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So it turns out that the cop who shot and killed Philando Castle during a traffic stop in a Minneapolis suburb not only received 23 hours of training on active shooters, use of force and de-escalation methods, but also recently completed a private course called ‘Bulletproof Warrior,’ run by a for-profit outfit called Calibre Press.  So if nothing else, we can say that Officer Yanez, now in the middle of the shooting controversy following an on-scene video that went viral, has spent some time learning what to do with his gun.

 

             Jeff Cooper

Jeff Cooper

Unfortunately, the average cop probably doesn’t receive sufficient training in how to determine whether an incident in which he or she is involved may require the use of lethal force.  And police often encounter individuals whose behavior doesn’t necessarily indicate that the officer is placing himself in harm’s way until it’s too late.  So in every, single case where a cop might need to use lethal force, there’s always an element of personal judgement and on-the-job experience that comes into play.

Which is why I found the news of Officer Yanez’s attendance at a ‘Bulletproof Warrior’ seminar both interesting and disturbing; interesting because there has been a growth in companies that promote all kinds of lethal-force training, officially sanctioned or not, and disturbing because this type of training goes hand-in-hand with the extent to which Americans are fed a daily diet about the alleged increase in lawlessness and violence against which they need to be more vigilant and more prepared, meaning – walk around with a gun.

The idea that the world is a dangerous, threatening place didn’t first crop up after the Twin Towers were attacked.  In fact, it was the theme song of one of Gun-nut Nation’s most venerable icons, a World War II veteran and former Marine named Jeff Cooper, who opened a commercial shooting range where he taught close-combat and self-defense methods called the Gunsite Academy in 1976.  Cooper also wrote prodigiously for gun publications and published a whole pile of books, including his most famous tome, Principles of Personal Defense, which became something of a mini-best seller in Gun-nut Land, and is still quoted today, even if the folks who quote the book don’t realize that what they are saying is what Cooper said decades ago.

Cooper’s success was a perfect example of being in the right place at the right time, because it was in the late 1970s that the NRA adopted a much more combative stance, began promoting concealed-carry as an expression of 2nd-Amendment rights, and wrapped the whole argument around the notion that without an armed citizenry, violent crime would spiral out of control.  To further the idea that a personally-carried weapon was the only true defense against a world filled with predators and thugs, Cooper developed a color code ranging from “condition white” to “condition red,” the former being a state in which an individual is totally unprepared for an attack, the latter being the point at which a lethal response is in the process of being made.

This may sound like nothing more than fantasies now scripted into video games, but there appear to be lots of folks walking around who are willing to engage in lethal-force combat games at Thunder Ranch, or join a clever web marketing promotion like United States Concealed Carry Association, or take a course in lethal defense from companies like Calibre Press. And what all three have in common is the idea that we are always on the verge of being victims of violent crime, and that the only valid response is to protect ourselves and others with a gun.

Let’s forget that violent crime continues to decline.  Let’s forget that the number of times that guns are used to prevent crimes is too small to be found.  Let’s remember how we felt when we were given our first toy gun.  And let’s remember how we feel now that the toys are real.

Want To Know What It Really Costs To Protect Yourself With A Gun? A Lott More Than He Thinks.

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Remember Al Pacino’s great line from Godfather II when he tells some mobster that, “my father always taught me to keep my friends close but keep my enemies closer.”  Which is why I listen to AM Talk Radio whenever I’m alone in my car.  Because when it comes to guns, I know what my friends are going to say.  It’s what the other side is saying that I need to hear.  In that respect I was listening the other day to Mark Walters whose show, Armed American Radio, is actually a running advertisement for a clever marketing scheme called U.S. Concealed Carry Association, but occasionally there’s a time-out from endless USCCA promotions for a brief interview with a guest.

And the guest just happened to be none other than John Lott who has become the poster-boy for the armed-citizen movement, or maybe sometimes he’s the poster-girl, depending on whether or not he’s pretending to be John Lott or Mary Rosh.  Either way, within a sentence or so after he begins, you can count on John to start mumbling about how safe people are when they carry a gun or keep a loaded gun in their homes.  And he cites all kinds of ‘studies’ and ‘research’ from various right-wing academics and pundits who share his point of view. The truth is he hasn’t done any serious research in more than twenty years.

John Lott

John Lott

Oh, I take that back.  In 1997 he allegedly conducted a telephone survey about defensive gun use but he couldn’t produce the data because his hard-drive crashed.  Then to prove that he wasn’t faking the loss of data he produced testimonials from a couple of people who thought they remembered answering questions over the phone.  You can read a very comprehensive analysis of Lott’s attempt to defend himself right here.  And what Tim Lambert’s article points out is that Lott has gone to great lengths to validate the idea that he suffered a hard-drive crash but his attempts to prove that this hard drive contained any kind of DGU survey falls far short of the mark.

In any case, it doesn’t really matter whether or not Lott’s telling the truth because his audience could care less about whether guns protect us from crime or protect us from anything else.  The bottom line is that there are simply plenty of people out there who believe that any attempt by the government to implement any kind of progressive social policies at all represents nothing more than the imposition of some kind of Islamo-Fascist-Socialist-Communist world order brought directly from Kenya to the U.S.  Think I’m kidding?  In 2010, Pew Research stated that 18% of Americans believed that Obama is a Muslim.  You going to argue gun control with them?  And this is John Lott’s audience, which is something that some of his critics, as well-intentioned as they may be, sometimes tend to forget.

Two of his most well-intentioned critics happen to be Evan DeFilippis and Devin Hughes, whose website, Armed With Reason, is sprinkled with endless articles which accurately capture both the misstatements and wrong-headed research of Mary Rosh, a.k.a.  John Lott. But I’ve decided to take a different tack towards Lott’s work and, for the sake of argument, pretend that everything he says is true.          Let’s quantify how much money is saved because bad guys breaking  into homes are stopped by good guys inside who happen to have guns.  This is CDC and DOJ data, not some phony telephone survey, and it looks like this.  Each year roughly 830,000 people are at home when someone tries to break in.  Of this number, roughly 8,000 used a gun to scare the bad guy away.

Know how much all those good guys saved by protecting their homes with guns?  Somewhere around two million dollars.  Know how much the victims of unintentional gun shootings cost in medical bills and lost wages?  More than one billion bucks.  And that’s what it costs us to let some misguided John Lott fans take their hero at his word. Oh well, maybe the world really is flat.

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