Training Cake

I first became aware of Patton Oswalt due to his portrayal of the character “Constable Bob Sweeney” on the show Justified.  He is also a standup comic.

Before I go any further, I tell you now that he is an atheist, he cusses, and he discusses religion.  Don’t click on the link below if your sensibilities can’t handle it.  I also warn you that it is not safe for work.

Oswalt does a bit titled “Sky Cake” in which he discusses his theory on the origin of religion and religious wars.  He jokes that one of his ancestors, a weakling, convinced a bigger and stronger guy not to go around pillaging and that the reward for good behavior would be that when he died he would go to a magic city in the clouds where he would be served “sky cake”.  He goes on to say that this worked well until someone from another continent sailed across the ocean and mentioned the “sky cookies” that he had been promised as a reward for not pillaging.  This of course led to a war between the “sky cake” people and “sky cookie” people.

I draw a parallel to this bit and the respective groups in the firearms training community.  Students pick their favorite guru and only the techniques taught by their guru are correct and everyone else is wrong.  If it stopped there it wouldn’t be so bad, but as Oswalt said “sky cake only tastes good if other people can’t have sky pie”.  It’s fairly common in the training community, which is a very small community, for the members of one camp to try to tear down members of another camp.

At times, the criticisms are legitimate.  There are “trainers” out there who put out a bad product or who otherwise engage in behavior that rightfully earns a flag.  As my friend Tom Givens says, “I learned something in every class I ever attended.  Sometimes it was how not to do things.”  Unfortunately, there are plenty of instances in which the criticisms that readily rampage about the interweb are driven purely by personality rather than legitimate discussion and evaluation.

Recently, I had the opportunity to review a set of videos by a noted trainer.  The trainer demonstrated his method for performing a particular task.  His method is different than the technique taught by my chosen guru.  The first thing that flashed in my mind is, “That’s wrong.  That isn’t how ‘my guru’ teaches to do that.”  I almost stopped the video, but then I laughed at myself and thought, “You want training cake, and he is serving training cookies.”  I backed the video up and watched the segment again.  There was one part of his method that caught my eye, and after a little bit of experimentation, I was able to refine what I was previously doing while not abandoning my technique.  It made what I was already doing better.

It was like having training cake with training cookie crumbles on top.

If I had completely shut out everything he had to say because his method wasn’t my guy’s method, I would have missed what actually became to me the most valuable portion of the video.

Logic Me Not

Regardless of where you come down on private citizens carrying firearms in public, and no matter what your views are concerning Georgia’s House Bill 60, the complete failure of logic occurring among the governing authorities of some Georgia counties and municipalities is astounding.

Under current state law, it is illegal to carry a firearm into a “government building”.  Here is the definition of a government building from 16-11-127 O.C.G.A.:

(3) “Government building” means:

(A) The building in which a government entity is housed;

(B) The building where a government entity meets in its official capacity; provided, however, that if such building is not a publicly owned building, such building shall be considered a government building for the purposes of this Code section only during the time such government entity is meeting at such building; or

(C) The portion of any building that is not a publicly owned building that is occupied by a government entity.

(4) “Government entity” means an office, agency, authority, department, commission, board, body, division, instrumentality, or institution of the state or any county, municipal corporation, consolidated government, or local board of education within this state.

Currently, the only thing keeping armed criminals from entering many government buildings within the state is words on a piece of paper: a written law.  Outside of courthouses, active security screening is not present in the majority of government buildings.

HB60 changes state law as to carry into government buildings.  Effective July 1, 2014, it will be legal for the holder of a Georgia Weapons Carry License (GWCL) to carry into government buildings that do not have active security screening.  It will still be illegal for those who do not hold a GWCL to enter such buildings.

Now, as to the logic failure, a simple perusal of media outlets indicates that there are numerous city and county governments contemplating installing security equipment and hiring security staff to conduct screening at government buildings that do not currently have such security measures in place.

That’s right, the city and county governments in question who before were not worried about armed criminals entering their buildings thus they took no measures to stop it are now taking active measures to prevent legally armed citizens, citizens who have undergone background checks and obtained licenses no less, from entering.

One more time: no security measures to prevent armed criminals from entering versus security measures to prevent legally armed citizens from entering.

That’s right; people who took no steps to keep out armed criminals are taking steps to keep out people who have actually passed background checks.  I just wanted to make sure everybody was clear on that.

But wait, the law said criminals can’t enter government buildings with firearms, and we all know criminals are so good at obeying laws…

From Subjects to Citizens

A few hundred years ago, there was a prevailing political theory that asserted that certain men should have dominion over all others. They claimed this power was a divine right bestowed upon them and their posterity and that any disobedience to their rule equated to defying the very will of God. Individual merit, talent, or achievement meant nothing. Morality meant nothing. Sound judgement meant nothing. All it took to rule was to be the closest living blood relative to previous occupant of the big chair.

A counterpoint view began to emerge that man possessed inalienable individual rights and that government not haveing the consent of the governed was not legitimate. In order to stamp out this political theory, a king sent forth his troops to seize the very means to resist from those who opposed him.

Those that rejected absolutism resisted. They resisted with weapons exactly the equivalent of the arms being sent by those seeking to keep them subjugated. In fact, they actually captured the king’s cannon and used his own weapons against him.

Subjects became citizens. When the shooting was all over, those same men who had just fought a bloody war to achieve a new status and establish a new political order wrote a document outlining and limiting the power of government. Included in this document was an enumeration that the people have an un-infringed right to possess arms. These men had just used very same type of weapons that the king sent against them to defeat his forces. It does not stand to reason that they would enumerate such a statement and not intend for it not to follow through the ages along with the evolution of technology. That right was not frozen in 1791 just as the right to freedom of speech is not restricted to writing letters on parchment with a quill and sending it via horse and rider.

Now, let us move forward to a more modern age.

My grandfather was drafted into the Army for World War II and was sent to Italy to serve as an infantryman. He was issued a rifle and sent into battle.

In the 1960s, my father was in command of a National Guard unit that took part in protecting Civil Rights marches in Georgia.

In the days after the horrific events at a Connecticut elementary school, I put on my badge and uniform and stood in front of a local middle school with a not only a semi-automatic rifle close at hand but a select-fire fire weapon as well.

In the three examples above, each individual was receiving a government paycheck and was carrying the respective firearms in the service of the government.

Why was it acceptable to some for my grandfather to have fought in defense of his country with a rifle while using that same rifle to protect his wife and children is considered wrong by some people? Why was it acceptable to some for my father to carry a rifle to defend the civil rights movement while possessing that same rifle to protect his wife and children is somehow wrong? Why was it acceptable for me to have a rifle at the ready to protect school children while having that same firearm to protect those that I hold dear is wrong?

Let us take that one step further. Does somehow being in the service of government grant a special dispensation of morality while only evil is bestowed upon the same rifle when in the hands of someone not receiving a government paycheck? I answer firmly in the negative. Are electricians, systems analysts, statisticians, or whatever else somehow devoid of the moral clarity to defend their own homes and families? Again, I answer firmly in the negative. Should they be restricted from having the very same tools as those they are being taxed to purchase for those whose salaries they are also being taxed to fund? No shocker here as I again answer firmly in the negative.

I end with this quote from Lt. Col. Jeff Cooper:

“The rifle itself has no moral stature, since it has no will of its own. Naturally, it may be used by evil men for evil purposes, but there are more good men than evil, and while the latter cannot be persuaded to the path of righteousness by propaganda, they can certainly be corrected by good men with rifles.”

On Trainers and Training

While some denotations of the term make it technically correct, I don’t like using the term “civilian” to differentiate between peace officers and citizens; however, for the purposes of this writing it will simplify things; so, I’ll operate in typical government fashion and give myself an exception to my own rules. By civilian training, I mean firearms training for those people that are not actively serving in the military or acting as sworn peace officers, basically the proverbial average citizen. Recently, I had a discussion with a “civilian” firearms instructor whose opinion I highly value. That discussion prompted me to formally address the topic off our conversation with this article, which will focus on the credibility of instructors and the validity of certain training approaches.

I am certified by the Georgia Peace Officer Standards and Training Council (POST) as both a general and firearms instructor thus allowing to me train Georgia’s peace officers in the use of firearms and other general topics to include the use of force, and at the time I write this, I am certified by the National Rifle Association (NRA) to conduct their Basic Pistol, a pure safety and target shooting course, and Personal Protection In The Home (PPITH) courses, both of which are “civilian” firearms classes. The PPITH course does involve some defensive shooting techniques, but it approaches the subject matter from the perspective of a person defending themselves from a home intruder. I offer this information simply to illustrate that I am engaged in firearms training for both peace officers and civilians.

I strongly encourage those seeking firearms training to verify their prospective instructors’ qualifications and claims, especially when it comes to awards and certifications. For instance, there is one instructor in Georgia that claims numerous awards and has them listed on his web page. The fact is that those awards he is claiming simply do not exist; at least they do not exist in the manner in which he is portraying them. It’s also common for instructors to point to the fact that they are competitive shooters. Well, are they winning, and what is the nature and competitiveness of their contest? I shoot competitively, but somehow I don’t think my having won a Diet Coke as a trophy in the Monday night league at the Firing Lane puts me in the same class as Jerry Miculek or Rob Leatham.

There is no accrediting body for firearms instructor certifications, and there isn’t a legal requirement that a person or company offering firearms training actually be certified to do so unless such a requirement is specified as part of a license or permitting process. It is up to the individual seeking instruction to ascertain whether the prospective instructor has the legitimate credentials to be teaching the course(s) in question.

As for instructor certifications, just what do they mean? As for the NRA certifications, they simply mean that the holder is deemed qualified by the NRA to teach NRA developed and backed courses. They do not mean that the NRA deems the holder qualified to teach any other courses. With this is mind, consider a person that is certified as an NRA Basic Pistol instructor and that comes from a background in bullseye style target shooting with no substantial training in defensive shooting disciplines or tactics. Is this person really qualified to teach courses in combat shooting? Compare that to a person whose only formal instructor certification is NRA Basic Pistol but spent years in a SWAT unit or in a combat arms unit of the military. Their teaching a combat shooting course holds a lot more credibility, does it not?

Another issue to consider is the entity issuing the instructor credential. What is its credibility? Was the certification issued by a reputable organization, or did a person hoping to make a few bucks form a company and certify them self or employees as instructors? While this may be legitimate provided the instructors have other experience and credentials to stand on, but is it legitimate to simply issue a piece of paper to a person stating that they are certified to teach a “tactical” course? I should add that a company credentialing its own instructors in and of itself isn’t an indicator of chicanery. It could be a matter of insurance requirements or copyrighting. I am simply urging the potential student to verify the actual credentials and experience of the instructor.

Validity of training is another important piece of the puzzle. By validity, I mean more than the simple notion of whether or not the techniques being taught are fundamentally sound. Validity also entails the question of whether or not the techniques being taught are applicable to the world of the average citizen that chooses to carry a firearm. I recently saw a clip from a civilian training class in which students were formed into two and three man fire teams and were moving across the range as if they were clearing a street in Falujah. How is that a realistic scenario for a civilian: three shooting buddies shopping at the Gap forming a fire team and moving down the mall’s promenade to take on an active shooter or armed robbery in progress maybe? I typically refer to such classes as Advanced Tactical Weekend Ninja training. Another instructor group has clip of a student conducting a mock traffic stop. My first problem with this is when is the average civilian going to be legally conducting routine traffic stops much less a high risk felony style stop? The student was completely out of his element and had no fundamental foundation upon which to draw. He lost complete control of the “stop”, yet, the instructors told him how wonderful a job he did with the scenario.

I’m not arguing in the least that civilians shouldn’t be getting top quality and tactically sound training. What I am arguing is that the scenarios should encompass incidents that are likely to be faced by a civilian that also take into account the differing responsibilities and priorities of the civilian and the peace officer. For instance, in an active shooter situation I would expect a peace officer to actively engage the threat. For a civilian, a defensive mindset to include escaping the situation is perfectly acceptable. Taking three civilian students and teaching them a three-man stack and then sending them storming into a building towards the sound of the gunfire has a certain “cool factor” to it, but would I really be doing the students a service by focusing on such tactics when we could be spending time and ammunition on shooting while moving, shooting from cover, and target identification drills?

This piece was aimed at students and instructors alike. I hope that it encourages students to closely scrutinize prospective instructors and the classes they offer prior to putting out money to take such courses. I also hope that it encourages instructors to examine their course content with the validity question in mind. Perhaps it will cause a few of them to also examine their claims as well.