I recently saw a post on a gun blog† that said military and former military personnel are unqualified to teach civilian firearms classes. There is a kernel of truth to this statement, but while the words have traveled widely, their meaning has been left in the dust. Let’s look at the argument that military guys can’t teach CCW, then let’s clear this up, shall we?
Disclaimer: I’m going to pick on this one specific statement in this one specific blog. You can accuse me of cherry-picking a statement or making a straw-man to knock down, but I find this to be a growing sentiment among some shooting/self-defense enthusiasts. Before my other computer died I had a folder of links to articles that expressed similar sentiment. I’m not going to recreate it now, but I do find this sentiment seems to be becoming a bit more common.
I grew up in the 80s and 90s. I’m not going to lie: I joined the military partially because of the mystique that former special-operations types had during that time. They weren’t quite as prolific in real life as they are now, and all the TV and movie heroes – from MacGyver to Commando’s John Matrix – had some military service in their background. I was going to be that guy; I was going to have a backstory.
I don’t think I was the only one. For a long time former military guys were the hotness in firearms training. Regardless of what they had actually done and regardless of how good a teacher they were (or weren’t), former military guys had some cachet as firearms instructors. Unfortunately civilians with no military experience don’t have a great idea how the military works, and oftentimes don’t have an understanding of what good training looks like‡.
…someone who is ex-military even an ex-military trainer is not qualified to train civilians in firearms since it is two different worlds.
I’ll be the first to admit that the military doesn’t make great shooters out of most of its enlistees. It makes great pistol shooters out of only the tiniest fraction (I was lucky to be one of these). The military typically doesn’t make you a well-rounded “gun guy” with knowledge of a large number of firearms, calibers, and a broad array of techniques, though outliers do exist. That wasn’t common knowledge, though, and for a long time anyone with a military pedigree was thought be the best possible firearms instructor.
In the past thirty or so years, though, something has happened in the firearms training industry: there are hundreds of outstanding firearms instructors out there. The internet allows us to review their classes and compare notes with others. Now many of us know that the fact of doing a few years in the Army or retiring from the Marines by itself doesn’t say much about your skill with firearms, and says even less about your worthiness to instruct.
Unfortunately the pendulum seems to have swung, maybe too far in the opposite direction. People don’t like grey areas and treating things on a case-by-case basis. They do, however, like generalizations that reduce their cognitive load. The generalization now seems to have reversed, at least in some quarters to, “military guys can’t teach CCW.” There are some problems with that particular generalization, too. Let’s talk about them.
Military Members are Also Civilians
People really like direct correlations. I can’t tell you how many times people have remarked about my early-morning wakefulness, “you must get up early because you were the military.” The truth is getting up early has nothing to do with the military and everything to do with being married to someone I didn’t like very much. I started getting up early because that was the only time of day that I had completely to myself to engage in creative pursuits like writing. Not very compelling, and not as obvious a correlation… Point being: very few of us can be so neatly categorized. Which brings me to my first point.
Military personnel are also civilians. Even though I was in the military for eight years, I have also been a civilian for about four times as long as I was in the military! Again, I’m not just a military automaton; the military was only a portion of my life, not the dominating factor in it. And for that matter, even during my military time I was still accountable for knowing, understanding, and abiding by civilian law. During most of my adult years – about 20 now – I’ve been a licensed concealed carry permit holder. Even while I was in the military I was issued various concealed carry permits, as are thousands of other military members. If military members can only comprehend “military information” and employ military tactics, why in the world would they be allowed to hold a concealed carry permit? It comes down to the issue of context.
Context, Context, Context
Second, military personnel are capable of understanding context. Or at least as capable as a civilian of comparable intellect. Contrary to popular belief a frontal lobotomy is not requisite to military service. Nearly all of us get out and are re-adapt to civilian life with very little issue, which requires the ability to understand context. A good example would be saying military guys can’t drive on “civilian” roads because military driving and civilian driving are “different worlds.” They are different worlds in some ways. Sometimes military members drive blacked out, on NODs. Does that mean that can’t drive any other way? No, because they, like most human beings, can comprehend if-this-then-that context.
Are there some military guys out there that don’t understand this distinction? Sure there are – some of them just don’t get it. Are there also civilian instructors that completely misunderstand basic self-defense concepts that most of us take for granted? You bet there are. There are former military guys that teach military-style tactics that are inappropriate to civilian self-defense. A few of them teach it because they are showmen, can exploit a niche market for financial gain, or because it makes them feel cool. But there are also some veteran instructors who completely comprehend context and who I would recommend unhesitatingly like Ernest Langdon, Mike Seeklander, Mike Green, and John Murphy.
The Whole Truth
The whole truth is that some military members and veterans are terrible instructors…just terrible. On the other hand, some mil/vets are amazing instructors – some of the best I’ve ever seen. Some don’t know much about guns at all while some know more about guns that I could ever hope to. Some are amazing shooters and consistently perform at the top levels of IDPA and IPSC, while others absolutely suck. But then again the same could be said about law enforcement officers or electricians or tractor-trailer drivers. Or civilians generally. Unfortunately, knowing only one fact about a person probably doesn’t tell you a whole lot about that person’s ability to instruct or perform with a firearm.
Now, I’m going to take the liberty of rewriting the sentence around which this article was written to see if we can make it a bit more accurate:
…someone who is ex-military[,] even an ex-military trainer is not [necessarily] qualified to train civilians in firearms [merely by virtue of having been in the military.] Since [the military operational environment and the civilian concealed-carry environment are] different worlds[, the individual’s ability to instruct should be judged carefully. You should vet his or her training resume to ensure that it contains training from respected trainers that is applicable to civilian self-defense. You should also read reviews of the instructor’s classes from other attendees to see if the material taught aligns with what the training you need. You should attempt to interpret the instructor’s webpage and be honest about whether he/she is offering a, “this is how we did it in Ramadi” DUMPEX, or if the training is realistic and appropriate to your needs.]
Simple, black-and-white statements are compelling because they don’t require much thought on our part. Unfortunately this particular statement can cut out a huge number of eminently qualified trainers, some nationally-known and some not. It also does a disservice to veterans to completely discount their ability to teach firearms because they chose to serve in a profession of arms. I get it…it’s much easier just to say “military baaaaad, civilian gooooood!” (sorry, just finished Animal Farm) but we can do better.
†Granted this wasn’t a blog I place a lot of truck with, but it’s still interesting that any blog would make such a sweeping generalization about veterans. Or such a grammatically questionable sentence for that matter.
‡This is very much a thing. Since taking a concealed carry class about a year ago, I’ve heard rave reviews of that class from other alumni. The only way they can think that is because they have no basis for comparison. I’ll also say the same about my paramedic class where the average instructor ability is pretty poor. Most of the remaining student body has no basis for comparison and rates instructors mainly on how personable they are or how good a paramedic they are, neither of which is a great yardstick for their effectiveness as an instructor.