Limited Civilian Gun Training: Are Things Not What They Seem?

Although I think he might reject the label, The Tactical Professor Claude Werner thinks a lot like a sociologist. Although sociology is sometimes seen as “the painful elaboration of the obvious,” in reality the discipline’s motto is “things are not what they seem” (to quote Peter Berger’s famous Invitation to Sociology).

Professor Werner has a knack for taking issues that we think we know something about and showing us a different way of seeing them. Case in point: gun training.

The Tactical Professor Claude Werner teaching at the 2018 Rangemaster Tactical Conference. Photo by David Yamane

I have yet to meet someone who is opposed to gun training. Gun control advocates are appalled at how low the training requirements are to get a concealed carry permit in most states (not to mention permitless carry). They also frequently lament the lack of training among gun owners in general.

For their part, gun rights advocates do not think much of required concealed carry “training” either. Many of those involved in the large and growing U.S. gun training industry take strong exception to the notion that the typical state-mandated concealed carry course is even training in any meaningful sense of the term. “Concealed carry is a licensing class, not a training class,” Arkansas gun trainer Rob Jennings once told me over drinks in Little Rock. “If gun training is a ladder, a concealed carry course is just walking up to the ladder.”

Noted trainer Karl Rehn of KR Training offers a similar perspective in his book with John Daub, Strategies and Standards for Defensive Handgun Training. They argue that “state standards aren’t realistic minimum performance standards” because they “don’t include all the skills the average gun owner should be trained in” if they carry a handgun for self-defense.

Rehn has famously attempted to quantify how much or how little training gun owners pursue. Using data from Texas, he estimates that only 4% do any kind of training beyond the mandatory license-to-carry class, and 75% of those only take some kind of basic NRA course. Rehn’s analysis raises the question of how to get “beyond the one percent”?

Image by Karl Rehn from

Why more gun owners – especially the growing percentage who say they own and carry guns for personal protection – do not get training is a frequent topic of discussion among the gun trainers I know.

Re-enter Claude Werner. He begins a 2015 blog post about “Why People Don’t Train?” like a good sociologist by questioning the premise of the question itself. Werner observes that the civilian gun training industry has only existed since the 1970s and yet people have defended themselves with firearms for all of American history. Moreover, people with minimal training continue to do so today quite regularly. So, how important is formal gun training, anyway?

A gun trainer himself, Werner is not opposed to training in the least and he does consider the good reasons more people don’t avail themselves of training. These include time and other resource constraints. As economists would say, the benefits must outweigh the costs for a person to consume a product or activity.

But while economists seek to explain the rational choices people make, sociologists highlight the many constraints within which people must make those choices. The Tactical Professor-qua-sociologist highlights an obvious but overlooked constraint on training: limited places to shoot. He notes:

According to the US Census, 80.7 percent of Americans live in urban areas.  Where are most training facilities? Out in the boonies, in what the Census describes as ‘rural areas.’ While there is some instruction that goes on at indoor ranges, my experience is that it is best described as ‘familiarization’ rather than training.

(Werner has also discussed another constraint: the limited number of gun trainers in the US relative to gun owners.)

Professor Werner generously shared with me an infographic that highlights the imbalance between the number of gun owners in the United States and places for them to receive training.

Courtesy of The Tactical Professor Claude Werner.

But what if there were ways of conducting gun training that didn’t require a live fire shooting range? This could help rectify some of the imbalance Werner observes. My experience at The Complete Combatant’s Force Readiness class offers one model for doing this, as I discuss in my next post.



  1. While I am all in favor of quality, thorough, well-designed training for shooters, where I part company with the gun-control community on the subject is on what problem they think they are addressing. While there is death or injury from negligent or ignorant gunhandling, it is not a major category, and in fact when you hear of such the problem is less not knowing HOW to shoot then not knowing when to refrain from shooting.

    Improved training is unlikely to reduce suicides, or the criminal use of firearms, or the mindset that leaves unsecured guns within reach of children. One suspects that the gun controller’s demand for training is intended to place more obstacles in the path of gun owners simply for that purpose alone.

    Liked by 1 person

    • rustygunner,

      Often that is the goal. To limit or deter the exercise of the right in question. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t encourage training. Heck, my counter to the needs training mantra is to ask what sort of legislation are they proposing that funds more ranges and free to any legal gun owner training courses.

      And encourage shooting buddies to become training buddies. Way too often folks want to go to the range and blast away at a single target with no goal. Have two drills in mind work those. Have some friendly contest at the end, loser buys the coke/beer or whatever. Try to make it an enjoyable thing. All of use have training for our jobs, and it is almost never fun. Why would we pay to take training on our own time? It is the same reason getting adults tondo martial arts training is so difficult, they see it as a chore.


  2. It’s an interesting thought that “availability” or rural supply of training opportunities not aligning with urban demand of training would explain the lack people seeking training would fit a rational explanation. But, for what it’s worth, I don’t know if it holds up. I have done some statistical analyses that suggest FFLs (a proxy for gun ranges, which in true sociological fashion is debatable) do not correlate strongly with demand for things like concealed carry licenses. If the availability argument worked then we might expect there to be some association between people seeking such licenses because they have more places to hone defensive skills, but I haven’t seen that after controlling for things such as politics and demographics.


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