Firearms / Personal Defense

The Association of Defensive Shooting Instructors: Semi-Professionalization of Civilian Gun Trainers?

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?” [1]

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. I will encourage my students to ask questions about course material, and I will answer them with thorough and objective explanations.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.

Screen cap of shootinginstructors.org, July 2017.

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.

Looking ahead

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.

Notes

[1] Harold L. Wilensky, “The Professionalization of Everyone?” American Journal of Sociology 70:2 (1964): 137–58.

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16 thoughts on “The Association of Defensive Shooting Instructors: Semi-Professionalization of Civilian Gun Trainers?

  1. “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.”

    Hmmn, interesting… I’ve long said that the firearms training industry should look to PADI for their role model, so now I wonder what technical base exists for scuba diving?

    Also, Rob is well-known for eschewing standardized drills for firearms training, yet the existence of a professional organization implies (if not demands) a set of measurable standards must be reached in order to join the group. With no such thing, and only a (non-enforcable) code to follow, yes, this was doomed from the start.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Thanks for the thoughtful reflections. I don’t know that its necessary for firearms training to become professionalized or semi-professionalized, but there could be some benefits. The obstacles may be too great, though.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Good article and good comment by Exurbankevin. Seems to me that some basic level of standardization of competency and curriculum would help everyone. Someone taking a class (and those teaching it) would know that what is being taught/learned was the consensus of a lot of knowledgeable people rather than a one-off. There may be benefits of this in terms of legal protection if something goes wrong for an instructor or student, and perhaps a way to use a training program in the hypothetical national CC dialogue.

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    • p.s. My comment doesn’t mean that all instructors would teach the same thing in the same way. But certainly there should be some level of agreement (as there is in faculties who offer degrees in various subjects) as to what is core and what is not.

      In my field, I don’t know two scientists who mentor their students in the same way, but it sometimes surprises us when someone else’s student doesn’t seem to grasp the basics about a particular aspect of the field. When hiring post docs, we sometimes find that out the hard way. That said, when research doesn’t get done its not the same as when a building falls down (which is why, at least in theory, we license the competence of professional engineers). In my present field of national defense, the consequences of failure or ineptitude are far greater so we have more rigor in certifying people as well as rigor in asking who is the teacher.

      But we are talking about lethal weapons here, so perhaps some analogy to buildings falling down applies. Some measurable standards on proficiency and some common core requirements (laws of self defense, how to draw safely from concealment, how to use movement and concealment, a discussion of weapons and tactics, standards of proficiency testing, etc) should probably be there.

      What there seems to be in defensive shooting instructors is a herd of cats, if I am reading David’s post right. Unless someone (the firearms industry?) suggests standards, its probably unreasonable to assume there will be any.

      Liked by 1 person

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  4. In my training in 2016 in NC I had to pass a written test and score more than 80% in both day and night firing. Passed the test with 100 and scored 100% daytime and 86% night time. However that was with a background from GC 1.0 and many years off and on shooting pistols, revolvers, rifles and shotguns. Not everybody comes to firearms, indeed as Professor Yamane has pointed out, (especially in GC 2.0) with that background. On the other hand it does not take all that much time to teach firearms basics. What it does take is time to develop are skills with a firearm. And no class or standard can do that. You do that the same way you get to Carnegie Hall, practice, practice, practice.

    Liked by 2 people

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  6. This is laughable, started by the king of “tactifool.” “The President” started this organization as a profit center to pad his wallet, don’t let the little man who doesn’t shoot in front of his students fool you. He is no more interested in helping the firearms training industry than the man in the moon, he is all about himself, and screw everyone else.

    Before you ask, yes I have trained with the tactifool and it was a epic fail on his part. Exactly what not to do as a “professional firearms instructor.”

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    • Thanks for taking the time to share your experience and perspective. My goal is not to endorse or to criticize the ADSI but to try to understand it. If it was just designed as a profit center to pad his wallet, what does that say about Grant Cunningham and Paul Carlson who worked on getting it up and running? And Massad Ayoob, Tom Givens, Ken Murray, Marty Hayes, Robbie Barrkman, Dr. Robert Smith, Mike Seeklander, and John Farnam who signed onto the advisory board? Were they tricked into it?

      I am also curious to know your thoughts about the idea of a professional association in the first place, even if the ADSI was not right for you? Especially the code of ethics? Not necessarily that particular code, but a code of ethics for civilian firearms instructors in general? Good idea or not?

      Last, alot of people beyond the advisory board signed the “tenets” of the ADSI. How do we understand their willingness/desire to put their names behind that code?

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  8. Thanks for a great article.

    ADSI was something that I really wanted to see succeed. Unfortunately, perhaps because of timing, those who had committed to the project never put the time in to follow through. I count myself in that statement… Just not enough time in the day for everything. ADSI was never set up to generate any significant revenue, but we stopped charging membership fees as soon as it became clear that we weren’t going to be able to meet our content production goals and give enough value back to the membership. The organization still exists and many people still send me notes from time to time thanking us for the information that was put out and, particularly, for the Tenets. Many Instructors have adopted them as guides for their own businesses and professionalism. I’m proud of that.
    It is possible that ADSI will re-launch at some point, possibly with new partners. It was never intended to be an I.C.E. Training, Combat Focus Shooting or Rob Pincus -centric organization…. we already have that. This September I will host the 10th Annual CFS Instructor Conference with attendees from around the country who live by the Tenets of Professionalism espoused by ADSI… it’s a good group of people that I’m glad to be working with.

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    • Thanks for weighing in, Rob. I don’t have a horse in the trainer race, but I have been a member of professional associations my whole life and (problems notwithstanding) on balance I have found them useful.

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  9. I for one signed on as an advisory board member in order to give it a chance. I also was instrumental in getting other colleagues to join as advisory board members. I believe the firearms training industry NEEDS an organization like this, in order to set accepted industry standards for the safe operation of firearms training courses. Not particularly speaking about techniques, but protocols which if a trainer is sued for something that happened on the range, they could fall back on a professional organization to show their training activities and protocols met this organization’s industry standards. Unfortunately, this did not happen, thus I backed out.

    Marty Hayes

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    • Marty – Thanks for sharing your perspective on this. Although I recognize they are not perfect, I have been a member of my main professional association and others for my entire career. So I am sympathetic to the efforts and was quite surprised, given how many significant individuals signed on, that it didn’t succeed more. Perhaps it was not the right model of a professional association.

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