As I walked the aisles of the 2010 SHOT Show and the 2010 NRA Show, I couldn’t help but stop and wonder, “What are we doing?” Everywhere I looked there were AR-15 rifles with more stuff on them than could possibly be used in a confrontation that lasts a few seconds, 1911 pistols galore (how many do we need?), gizmos and doo-dads of every type. Many of them were just plain silly, and I wasn’t sure what many of them were actually for.
All shared one common theme: They were designed to enhance shooting performance in the street/field in one form or another. Although quality equipment is certainly worth having, does anyone really feel that gear will replace skill? As I surf the various gun forums to try and get an idea of what folks are saying/thinking, I can’t help but notice that equipment always gets more attention than training. It seems that American police officers and shooters just can’t get enough gear are are always looking for a crutch.
One of my favorite people is former CIA Operations Officer Ed Lovette. Before Ed entered “The Company,” he was a Special Forces officer followed by time as a New Mexico law enforcement officer and trainer. After entering federal service, Ed was stationed in many of the world’s hot spots, fighting the wars on narcotics and terror. Although he still can’t talk about some of his assignments. His work really is classified in contrast to many of the BS trainers who give you the old spiel, “I can’t talk about what I did.” Ed offers insight that few others can.
Recently we were talking about a trip he made to a Special Forces training course, and he laughed about all of the crap people put on an M-4. Ed told me, “These are the guys that actually go out and do this stuff, but you don’t see all the gun magazine junk on their weapons. Hell, they try to reduce weight. Their M-4 has an Aimpoint or EO Tech, a sling and a white light. The stuff you see on the cover of a gun magazine is editor fantasy.”
He talked about the controversy over one-, two- and three-point slings and offered, “In my day we had a strip of Para-cord that we used as a sling and it worked just fine. I’m not saying that we shouldn’t have better, but sometimes you can’t help but shake your head over all the silliness.”
This attitude is the same with all of the real operators who I’ve spoken with. I don’t profess to hang out with these guys as others do, but I’ve trained with some and they always seem to offer the same commentary: “We aren’t looking for complicated; we’re looking for simple. We have so many skills to practice that simple is what we seek. Simple makes things easier to do.”
John Farnam, one of my favorite trainers, offered recently, “After viewing glittering new equipment at this year's SHOT Show, and patiently listening and re-listening to all the new and rehashed theories of lethal confrontation, I am, once again, invariably drawn to the conclusion that while our art must and will advance, key principles continue to stand at our foundation, keeping us from going astray.” John is referring to fundamentals, which will continue to be revisited, even though we already have a solid understanding of what they should be. There are a large number of folks trying to earn a living via firearms training and in the interest of raising their profile, they profess to have the latest and greatest or lessons learned from real operators. But do they really?
The phrase Tacti-stupid is nothing new, as shooters have been trying to shortcut the training-practice-skill development process for as long as guns have been used for personal defense. Wyatt Earp, in his later years, observed, “I would shun, as I would poison, flashy trick-shooting... in all my life as a frontier peace officer, I never knew a proficient gunfighter who had anything but contempt for the gun-fanner, or the man who literally shot from the hip.” Although Wyatt didn’t engage in the number of gunfights that legend would bestow, he was there for the moment in time when the handgun was considered an essential tool of personal security. His good friend and fellow law enforcement officer Bartholomew “Bat” Masterson had an even simpler view of what was needed for armed conflict. To prevail in gunplay, one must have “deliberation, accuracy and speed.” Although Masterson thought having guns made for him personally was a good idea, he didn’t include gear in his formula. His use of the word deliberation is interesting as well as profound, as one can be both fast and accurate, but if you’re not willing to fight in the first place, skill is a waste. According to Earp, Masterson was also “totally devoid of fear,” which is a hard thing to fight. Imagine facing an opponent that did not fear what was to come, certainly a huge advantage that few shooting skills could overcome.
I suppose that there will always be gun trickery and other shooting cool techniques that will come and go, but that doesn’t mean we must embrace them. Equipment will never replace skill, and I think that it would be wise to come to grips with this basic premise. I guess it comes down to this: Do you want to look good, feel good or shoot good? The choice is yours.