Rob Pincus and Gun Culture as an Impolite Society



adjective: polite; comparative adjective: politer; superlative adjective: politest

  1. having or showing behavior that is respectful and considerate of other people.

            “they thought she was wrong but were too polite to say so”

            synonyms: well mannered, civil, courteous, mannerly, respectful, deferential, well behaved, well bred,

            gentlemanly, ladylike, genteel, gracious, urbane, tactful, diplomatic

            “a very polite girl”

  1. relating to people who regard themselves as more cultured and refined than others.

            “the picture outraged polite society”

            synonyms: civilized, refined, cultured, sophisticated, genteel, courtly

            “that sort of behavior is not tolerated in polite society”

A passage in the American science fiction writer Robert A. Heinlein’s 1948 novel, Beyond the Horizon, is invoked frequently in gun culture:

“Well, in the first place an armed society is a polite society. Manners are good when one may have to back up his acts with his life. For me, politeness is a sine qua non of civilization.”

There is the Polite Society Tactical Conference and the Polite Society Podcast, to name just two examples.

Although I have generally been received graciously by those I am studying, I have also seen a good deal of impoliteness in American gun culture. Which makes me think more about Heinlein’s statement.

As I read him, Heinlein isn’t saying that an armed society makes OTHER people polite. It is not, “You had better be nice or else!” It is supposed to make OURSELVES polite. That is, “I had better be nice or else!” I had better use good manners or else I might have to back up my actions with my life.

However we read the passage, Heinlein’s conclusion is straightforward: “politeness is the sine qua non of civilization.” So, if an armed society is a polite society, then an armed society is an essential condition of civilization.

Given the lack of civility that exists just within gun culture, I am not yet convinced that this is so.

Shortly before I left for Minnesota last month to attend the 10th Annual Combat Focus Shooting Instructor Conference, I came across a post on a friend’s Facebook wall that included a picture of Rob Pincus standing in front of a target. It was an I.C.E. Training/Combat Focus Shooting branded target. At the top it read: “Balance of speed and precision.” The paper was riddled with bullet holes, many of them outside the target areas. In the foreground Pincus is holding a pistol and pointing down at the slide.

Pincus with Target on Chandler Page
Original photo by Tamara Keel, reposted on Facebook.

I was surprised by some of the comments on the post, which appeared to me to be personal and hostile. Anything but polite. Like the one that posted a meme of Pincus sitting with the controversial and not always well-respected James Yeager, calling them both douchebags. (Yeager who is not often thought of as civil and obviously embraces the hate: Instagram bio of mfceoyeager = “More people hate me than even know who you are.”)

Or the one that posted a graphic calling Pincus stupid.

A polite society doesn’t mean that everyone always agrees. But we can disagree without being disagreeable. In my university classes, especially when we are discussing controversial issues, I insist to the students that we engage, challenge, and criticize IDEAS but never PERSONS. Obviously this assumes discussion with people of good-will like peers, fellow members of a community, other citizens. It would not apply to bad people promoting bad ideas. But we move too quickly and too often from “I don’t like those ideas” to “I don’t like that person,” or from “bad ideas” to “bad person.”

There is a strong tendency in some quarters of American gun culture not toward the first meaning of polite in the dictionary definition above — civil, courteous, respectful, gracious, tactful, diplomatic — but toward the second:

relating to people who regard themselves as more cultured and refined than others.

This sort of polite society is the one that feels superior, that looks down upon and is dismissive of those who are less “cultured and refined.” It is a way of drawing boundaries between the cultured and refined in-group and the ignorant and unwashed out-group.

To take just one small example, I recently saw a Facebook post and comments in which the self-righteous polite society of gun culture emerged to ridicule and mock someone whose ideas they disagreed with. When I jumped in to express my surprise at the harsh responses, I was accused of being thin-skinned and trying to police what people could say and how. In-group/out-group dynamics at their worst. No doubt those in the in-group felt reaffirmed in their superiority. But to me it reflected gun culture as an impolite society.

I would hope we could become a polite society in the first sense of polite, but given the lack of civility, graciousness, tact, etc. I see not just in gun culture but all around me — from the politicians in the highest levels of our government to the keyboard commandos in the deepest basements of their homes – I am not optimistic.

[Additional Reflections on Pincus and the Impolite Society Coming Tomorrow]


  1. Nothing to add except I am too often guilty, particularly on social media, of allowing frustration to control my responses to people on a host of issues but gun rights in particular. It is always good to be reminded, and to hold others accountable.

    The whole “never apologize” and “never criticize ‘your own team'” ideas are nonsense, if we want to at least strive to transcend the emotional parts of our human natures with reason and the gift of grace. If only for our own self-respect and well-being.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Serendipitous timing by the respected trainer and author, Dave Spaulding (former LEO in Ohio who is as no-nonsense ans curmudgeony as they come – great guy who has worked in both GC 1.0 & 2.0).
    Suffice it to say, he agrees the keyboard warriors are more interested in a *ahem* “measuring contest” than furthering gun culture, safety and proficiency.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Eating our own has become a competitive sport in GC2.0 it seems.

    We 2.0ers just love to pounce on 1.0ers for their antiquated techniques that will “get them killt in the streets” ie Charlie’s Angels/Angie Dickenson-type “tea cup” gripping of a pistol, not “EDCing” two tourniquets, a 1000 lumen flashlight, fixed-blade knife, a 2.0-approved pistol (non-Glocks need not apply), a back up pistol, paracord, water filtration straw and secreted handcuff keys on one’s person at all times.

    “Fudds” (ie Elmer Fudd 1.0-type gun owners) and new gun owners are assailed for not “training realisticially” and for wasting their time doing anything but Chicks-Dig-It Tier-One Sheepdog Operator-type practice.
    God help the person who utters the word “clip” when referring to an external magazine.
    The 5.11 wearing, khaki-cap-bridage will pounce like a fox on a wounded bird.

    It is sad but true, David. The insecurities of many in the gun culture are apparent when we act in ways you’ve described. Some trainers (Mr.Pincus’s teachings have their share of detractors and fans from all corners), brands, gear, verbage and techniques are reserved for only those at the cool-kid table. Other preferences are spotlighted as The Other. (I picture Donald Sutherland in “Invasion of the Bodysnatchers;” mouth agape, pointing in horror at the uninfected.)

    In your profession I imagine you see this pattern of cliquedom not ending after jr.high as we all hoped it would. The adult world soon shows us it never ends.

    Truly sad when, in the micro, we gun owners should all be encouraging newbies and respecting those who have gone before us. We have bigger battles to fight.

    Same could be said for the macro – we’re all in this together. Gun owner or not.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Well-said, sir. When I was much younger and followed politics more closely, we would often say, “The smaller the stakes, the more vicious the politics.” Our politics at the highest level have devolved since then, but I do some of this reflected in my own profession – people working in marginal areas of the field are much more critical of each other than people in the more common areas. As a large number of gun trainers compete for a small number of students, I wonder if some of this same dynamic plays out?

      Liked by 3 people

  4. As far as Heinlein’s quote, I guess he was never much read in New Mexico’s curriculum. A lot of stupid spats out this way end up as gunfire. So in my view, this quote is good for political discussion but highly overrated as far as reality is concerned.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. It’s getting worse. The “bubba’s” are ruining the discourse with their hateful comments. Most of these people are clueless about the Law and the Constitution and how that all works in practical terms. They are living in a fantasy world of absolutes that exist only in their minds. None of them have an idea about critical thinking and civil discourse and debate and simple discussion. They are “brave” with their chirping because no one will have to face the other guy in person. If they actually did have to face them few would say what they say the same way to the other person. Otherwise there would be manly consequences. I would like to see you address this phenomena more closely. This type of hateful attack by these “Bubba’s” will ultimately tear the gun culture apart and in fact it has been.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I think more than “in group” “out group” it’s just cyberspace vs face to face.

    And that brings out an interesting dichotomy. Plenty of firearms places online are filled with vitriol or else moderated with an iron fist. On the other hand in person, I’ve found gun guys to be very polite and more welcoming than most other groups.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I think you are right that anything in real life is made worse in cyberspace. I, too, have generally found those in gun culture to be welcoming. Some are not, but so are some people in any group.


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