In thinking about the civilian gun training industry as a profession, I have drawn extensively on a 50+ year old article by sociologist Harold Wilensky on “The Professionalization of Everyone?” 
Having outlined what a profession is and the typical process by which an occupation is professionalized, Wilensky concluded by observing that “many occupations which fail to fit the professional model” are nonetheless “developing higher levels of training and performance, an increasingly sober, dutiful dedication to the task, and even some standards of honorable dealing.” Following T.H. Marshall, he calls this “a modern type of semi-professionalism” (p. 157).
Although it would be premature to offer any definitive conclusions as my research is just beginning, I do see some efforts at this modern type of semi-professionalism among civilian gun trainers.
Wilensky’s two essential characteristics of professions — an essential core of systematic knowledge acquired through long prescribed training and, even more importantly, adherence to a set of professional norms embodied in a code of ethics — can be seen to some extent in the Association of Defensive Shooting Instructors (ADSI).
In February 2012, gun trainer Rob Pincus released “A Code for Professional Defensive Shooting Instructors.” In it he explained the need for a clearer understanding of what it means to be a professional in the rapidly expanding private sector firearm training industry. Conversations with other trainers culminated in a list of seven tenets to which professionals should adhere.
Reflective of the fifth stage of professionalization, these tenets are in fact a code of ethics for professional defensive shooting instructors:
- I am committed to the safety of my students, and hold that the expected benefit of any training activity must significantly outweigh any known or perceived risk of that activity.
- I believe that it is my responsibility to understand not just what I’m teaching, but WHY I’m teaching any technique or concept, or offering specific advice.
- I recognize that defensive shooting skills, along with the drills and gear used, are inherently specialized and usually distinct from those of target shooting, competition and hunting endeavors.
- I will encourage my students to ask questions about course material, and I will answer them with thorough and objective explanations.
- I understand that Integrity and Professionalism are subjective traits and I strive to maintain high levels of both. I am capable of, and willing to, articulate the reasons for the way I conduct my courses and how I interact with students & peers.
- I believe that it is valuable to engage my peers in constructive conversation about differences in technique and concept, with the goal of mutual education and evolution.
- I believe that the best instructor is an avid student, and I will strive to continually upgrade my own skills and knowledge. As part of this belief, I understand that my own teachings need to be subject to critique and open to evolution.
Original signatories to these tenets included: Rob Pincus, Grant Cunningham, Omari Broussard, Robbie Barkman, Tom Givens, John Farnam, Tom Givens, Mike Janich, Claude Werner, Mike Seeklander, Billy Heib, James Yeager, Chris Collins, Mike Hughes, Alessandro Padovani, Paul Gomez, Jeffrey Bloovman, Larry Yatch, Curtis Dodson, Matt Devito, Justin Johnson, Eli Brown, Brent Wheat, Mark Craighead, Jim Perrone, Bryan Collins, Stephen Pineau, John Jouvelis, Chris Juelich, George Semchak, Jr., Ian Strimbeck, Jeremy Harrison, Dr. Robert Smith, Don Edwards, George Williams, Paul Carlson, Travis White, Jeff Dyke, Ralph Greer, Paul Mehn, Tobin Maginnis, Steven Grundy, Jim Clark, Jack Feldman, Zeph Thull, Tyler Capozzi, Ron Sparrow, Randall Holmes, and Marc Seltzer.
Although Pincus became the face of the organization, trainers Omari Broussard, Paul Carlson, and Grant Cunningham were also in on the ground floor of development. Indeed, in a long and passionate series of blog posts beginning with “What is a ‘professional,’” Cunningham explored each of the tenets of the ADSI code of ethics in depth.
A year later, in March 2013, now President Rob Pincus announced the founding of the Association of Defensive Shooting Instructors as an open member-based organization, with an advisory committee consisting of gun training luminaries Massad Ayoob, Tom Givens, Ken Murray, Marty Hayes, Robbie Barrkman, Dr. Robert Smith, Mike Seeklander, and John Farnam.
The announcement repeatedly refers to the membership of the organization as “professional instructors” and concludes by observing, “Defensive Shooting is a distinct discipline and teaching people to defend themselves (or others) with a firearm is an incredibly important endeavor that brings great responsibility.” This reflects both the technical and ethical dimensions of professions highlighted by Wilensky.
Alas, the ADSI seems to have been an idea before its time. In January of 2015, a message went out to members noting that “the start-up and growth of ADSI has certainly not gone as expected, but we are pushing through with the original vision and expect to take huge strides forward this year. . . . Best Intentions got us started… but it has definitely been a shaky start! The track that ADSI is on for 2015 would’ve been great to have executed in 2013…. but, we believe the end results will be worth waiting for.”
A virtual course on “Becoming a Defensive Shooting Instructor” was released in February 2015, shortly after this member letter went out, but it appears to be the last new material posted to the ADSI site. The professional association for defensive shooting instructors seems to have been dormant for over two years at this point (July 2017).
Which brings us back to one last observation made by Wilensky about “the professionalization of everyone:”
“The newer and more marginal professions often adopt new titles, announce elaborate codes of ethics, or set up paper organizations on a national level long before an institutional and technical base have been formed.” (p. 146)
Indeed, it was perhaps a warning sign of impeding failure that in his February 2012 announcement of the tenets, Pincus reassured his audience: “Of course, what we actually do … the doctrine, the techniques, the skills themselves … will never be standardized. I believe it would be a fool’s quest to try to establish standards for what is taught under the banner of Defensive Shooting.”
With no technical base it may be impossible for an occupational group to form the institutional base necessary to support their professional organization in the long run.
In this post, I consider the question of whether civilian firearms instructors are professionals beyond the diluted contemporary sense of selling a service for money. Following Wilensky, I have to conclude they are not full-fledged professionals, but for some civilian firearms trainers at least, they are at least semi-professional.
Of course, professionalization is just one way of organizing the civilian firearms training industry. In future posts I will also consider licensing/certification, the guild system, and branding as alternatives to professionalization.
 Harold L. Wilensky, “The Professionalization of Everyone?” American Journal of Sociology 70:2 (1964): 137–58.