Col. Jeff Cooper, Life Insurance Salesman

Continuing my work on the gun training industry, I of course have to say a brief something about Gunsite Academy.

I am looking forward to visiting Gunsite this June to observe their famous Gunsite 250 Pistol Class, a.k.a., “The Gunsite Experience.” Between now and then, I am trying to do as much background work as I can.

Items purchased from the Gunsite Academy online store. Photo Credit: Sandra Stroud Yamane

I am sure the PRE-history goes back much further – and if you know this pre-history, please educate me! – but by all accounts the history of the private citizen gun training industry begins with Col. Jeff Cooper and the American Pistol Institute (est. 1976 in Paulden, Arizona).

I spent part of the weekend watching the Panteao Productions video history of Gunsite, produced on the occasion of Gunsite’s 40th anniversary in 2016. In the video, Jeff Cooper’s widow, Janelle, speaks at length about their relationship and provides some interesting insights into his background and thinking.

Among the most interesting observations she makes is about the difficult transition Jeff Cooper had when he left the Marine Corps. When he decided to leave the military, Janelle recalls, “he didn’t find a ready slot.” His father was a bank vice-president, but that sort of work didn’t suit Jeff.

He did, however, have a short stint selling life insurance. “There was an unhappy period where he was trying to sell life insurance,” Janelle says, “That was not for Jeff, selling life insurance.”

At this moment in the interview, it is clear in her eyes and expression that she is having an insight. She continues:

“Although in a way he ended up selling life insurance, didn’t he? I never thought of that before. It was a different kind of an insurance policy that he was involved with later on, with figuring out how to defend yourself with a small arm.”

Col. Jeff Cooper, life insurance salesman, after all.



  1. I just finished Ayoob’s second edition of his book on concealed carry. He had many little mentions of history in the book and he may be able to help with the history of training industry.


  2. I had the great pleasure of meeting Jeff Cooper at either the 1979 or 1980 NRA show. He was a real character in every sense of the word and I mean the word extremely positively. Along with Bill Jordan, he probably gave birth to the contemporary interest in self-defense handgun shooting, in particular with the publication of Principles of Self Defense, which is to modern handgunning what Ben Hogan’s Five Lessons is to Golf. Come to think of it, the books are roughly the same length.

    But if you are going to trace your history of training from Cooper onwards, you are creating an absolute fiction because you talk endlessly about the ‘training industry’ and Cooper was many things but he wasn’t a professional trainer at all. And the reason he wasn’t a professional trainer is the same reason that your continued use of the term ‘training industry’ is totally misplaced.

    With the exception of one instance, I do not know of a single training industry; i.e., an activity engaged in by professionals defined as people who receive payments for what they do, which has not created an industry-recognized standard for determining whether an individual who receives professional training can consider themselves to be adequately trained. And the one exception is the gun-training industry which has never even made a serious effort to develop or adopt performance-certification standards for general use by the industry itself.

    The usual response to this issue, of course, is to hide behind the training activities of the NRA which certifies trainers without the slightest effort to determine their ability or fitness to deliver professional-level training content at all. I know because I happen to hold six NRA training certifications and I am also certified in multiple IT specialties so I know the difference between a real certification process and fluff.

    If the gun-training industry were to adopt professional standards to realistically measure the post-training competence of individuals who pay to learn how to shoot a gun, then one could refer to this activity as an ‘industry’ and perhaps real safety and training organizations like the National Safety Council would take gun training seriously. At this point, your attempt to give what is nothing more than a hobby and something of a money-maker for a few entrepreneurial types a gloss of professionalism shows your own lack of understanding about what professionalism really is.


    • is a link to what a profession is. The firearms trainers have not made much effort to become a profession. The Business Dictionary defines service industry as ” An industry made up of companies that primarily earn revenue through providing intangible products and services.
      Service industry companies are involved in retail, transport, distribution, food services, as well as other service-dominated businesses. Also called service sector, tertiary sector of industry. “. The firearms trainers sound like they are part of a service industry. They do not qualify to be a profession. If having a standard to test student competence is the standard how many self help or corporate trainers would count as being part of an industry?

      Isn’t a cottage industry still an industry? Firearms trainers sound like a cottage industry defined as ” An industry where the creation of products and services is home-based, rather than factory-based. While products and services created by cottage industry are often unique and distinctive given the fact that they are usually not mass-produced, producers in this sector often face numerous disadvantages when trying to compete with much larger factory-based companies.”

      Read more:

      Liked by 1 person

    • Since anyone who actually uses a firearm in self defense to shoot someone is likely to face a long and painful law enforcement investigation (not to mention, one had better be good at DGU if someone is kicking down your door), it would seem to me as though having some nationally recognized performance-based certification process would only work to a gun owner’s advantage. Might even be useful in the context of the present discussion of national reciprocity of concealed carry.

      My worry is that DGU is so polarized and politically toxic a subject that other than the NRA or perhaps the IDPA, who would want to certify people and catch hell from everyone else? I’ve just assumed (and yes, I know what the first three letters of assumed are) that stuff like MAG is probably pretty good but don’t know who or what else is out there as far as making an analytical comparison.


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