The Average Gun Owner

I recently had the opportunity to attend a CCW refresher class.  This class is mandated by my Sheriff for all permit holders, as a prerequisite to renewing a permit. It was really interesting to get a refresher on what the “average CCW applicant” looked like.  I’ve spent so much time around dedicated, highly trained, and well practiced shooters that I’ve become accustomed to people with a high level of proficiency and knowledge.  Seeing “John Q. Public” up close was a good reminder that it’s not always this way.

I saw and heard lots of crazy stuff and wasn’t real happy with the instructors because they missed a lot of things that they should have been seeing and correcting. I stepped in a few times when it was necessary in the interest of safety, but had to grit my teeth for most of the rest. In the end, I was really glad to be done with all of it, and thankful nobody got hurt . . . especially me!

you’re the expert

I thought I’d mention a few highlights for you because the truth is that all of you are instructors too. You are the “gun expert” for the people in your life, and will certainly find yourself teaching somebody something about guns someday.  It would be good for you to think about some of these things to be ready for that opportunity.

let’s meet “TAGO”

With that in mind, here’s  a dozen thoughts for you to ponder about the uneducated and non-dedicated gun owners out there, and some lessons to take from them:

-The average gun owner (we’ll call him “TAGO” from now on) doesn’t know what he’s doing.  TAGO (who’s not always a guy, but let’s stick with male pronouns for convenience) doesn’t know or abide by the basic safety rules that we strive to follow, without exception. He doesn’t know how his gun operates, or how to fix it when it doesn’t. He doesn’t know the right way to hold it, load it, fire it, reload it, operate the safety, or (God forbid) take it apart for cleaning. He probably doesn’t even know the model or type of gun he has. Ask him, and he’ll tell you he has a “9 mil” (maybe a “Glock 9 mil” if he’s really sharp) but doesn’t know much more than that.  LESSON: Never, EVER assume that TAGO knows anything. Start from Brick #1 every time, with the basics of gun safety, and show him how you want EVERYTHING done—handling, loading, unloading, firing . . . the whole works. Assume he’s a blank slate, and start from there;

-TAGO thinks he knows more than he does.  Unfortunately, TAGO isn’t a blank slate. He already has lots of bad habits, but doesn’t know that they’re bad habits. This makes him extra dangerous, especially if you get tricked into believing that he’s competent. LESSON:  Don’t trust him. Watch him like a hawk. Be ready to intervene at any time. The injury you prevent might be your own;

-TAGO doesn’t practice.  He doesn’t know his gun, because he doesn’t practice enough with it. He’s not comfortable with the basics of handling or shooting it, so he’s going to be a little task saturated and overwhelmed when it’s in his hands. He can’t operate it smoothly, safely, or efficiently, even at a conscious level. LESSON:  Watch for signs that he’s overloaded. Be ready to intervene, because he might be using so much mental energy trying to remind himself how everything works, that he won’t pay attention to where it’s pointed or where his trigger finger is.  Be ready to provide helpful instruction on the best ways to operate the gun without offending him;

-TAGO buys junk.  The gun may or may not be junk, but everything else probably will be—the cheapest ammo, the cheapest holster, the worst accessories, the wrong accessories. There may be a higher than normal rate of gear problems and malfunctions. Look for improperly-fitted grip sleeves, the wrong holster for the gun, ammo that is unsuitable, etc..  LESSON:  Things get more dangerous when TAGO has a gear failure or experiences a malfunction—a LOT more dangerous! Be ready to intervene if he hits a speed bump. It’s best if you fix the problem first, then talk about it (or demo it with an unloaded gun) later. Don’t try to talk him  through fixing things with a loaded gun in his hand or holster—safe the gun, fix the problem, then debrief it afterwards;

-TAGO doesn’t take care of his gear.  Even if he buys good gear, he doesn’t take proper care of it. That nice pistol will burp if it’s dirty or not properly lubricated. Adjustable stuff won’t be properly adjusted. Batteries will be dead. Screws will be loose. Loose ends of straps will migrate into the wrong places. Accessories will fall off. LESSON:  Keep some oil and screwdrivers handy. Inspect gear before you start shooting, and look for hints of problems to come;

-TAGO doesn’t know how to safely draw or holster. Good Lord! I thought a few folks were practicing to kill themselves in the class. The instructors wisely required a cold range, but failed to correct severe deficiencies in drawing and holstering techniques. I saw lots of fingers on triggers as guns were put away, lots of “palming” the gun as it was put away, poor muzzle discipline on the way out/in, lots of people pointing guns at their off hand as it opened or steadied the holster for the gun to go back in, etc.. I saw LOTS of clothing interfere with holstering, and I’m convinced a few guns would have gone bang if they had been loaded. I don’t think anybody in the group of 30 students (besides me) had ever been taught how to draw and holster their firearm. LESSON: Drawing and (especially) holstering are two of the most dangerous things you can do with a loaded handgun. These actions are ripe for an accident if you’re dealing with TAGO, so teach him how to do it right (starting with an unloaded gun, and moving on to loaded gun only after he demonstrates good technique and safety) and watch him like a hawk! Go slowly here with TAGO—you don’t want him trying to go fast. Safe is more important than fast;

-TAGO has a crummy holster.  Making things worse, TAGO probably has the wrong holster for his gun, or a cheap piece of junk that’s not even good enough to be a decent chew toy for his dog. LESSON:  If a gun doesn’t fit properly, or the holster doesn’t cover the trigger guard, or the holster won’t allow him to get a good firing grip on the gun, or the holster uses a retention device that could be a safety issue (i.e., a strap that might cause an accidental discharge, a trigger finger-operated lock like the SERPA), or it collapses when the gun comes out, or . . . whew! . . . just don’t let your student train with it! Replace it with something good and safe, and maybe have some loaner holsters on hand;

-TAGO doesn’t know where to put his holster. I can’t begin to list all of the horrible mistakes that were made in holster placement. I’ll just say that it was sad, comical, and frightening all at the same time.  LESSON:  It might seem obvious to us, but you’re gonna have to help TAGO out and show him where to put his holster on his belt. Not only for efficiency and comfort, but safety. Hint: The small of the back is a bad idea. So is wearing a right-handed holster with a forward cant on your left hip. It’s also a bad idea to shove a belt holster into your front pocket. Yeah, I saw it;

-TAGO doesn’t have a belt.  Silly me, I forgot. TAGO often doesn’t think you need a belt. That’s what the cheap metal spring clip is for, right? If I just stuff the scabbard into my pants, it kinda stays there in place . . . unless I move or breathe. LESSON:  No belt? No drawing practice. Crummy belt? No drawing practice. Work from the bench or low ready, instead. A good belt is a necessity if you’re going to use a holster. It’s a safety thing;

-TAGO doesn’t know when he should and shouldn’t shoot.  The CCW class doesn’t help a lot. Most students walk away without really understanding when they are legally justified to shoot in self defense. LESSON: TAGO often thinks he is justified in shooting when he’s not.  You need to be a sanity check and put a muzzle on that dog. There’s no shortage of good training and resources out there, when it comes to the law of self defense. Make sure you’re up to speed, so you can help educate TAGO and save him from himself;

-TAGO doesn’t understand how fast and confusing a violent attack can be. He thinks he’ll have plenty of time for everything—to draw and fire, to retrieve his gun from his truck (or her gun, from the bottom of a purse), to chamber a round . . . you name it. He doesn’t understand that he will almost always start out behind the curve, and it may be over before he can get his gun out. He overestimates his abilities, and doesn’t understand the dangers of armed confrontations.  He thinks his gun will always trump a knife or a beatdown. LESSON:  You need to deliver a dose of reality and urge him to improve his situational awareness in public, so he can see threats coming and avoid them. Teach him that the reality of armed defense is different than what he “knows” from TV, and help him to understand that it’s always better to avoid the fight;

-TAGO thinks his gun is a talisman.  TAGO thinks the mere fact that he’s armed will keep him safe, even if the gun is practically inaccessible, or he’s not trained and proficient with it. In the worst case, he thinks open carry will scare the bad guys away. LESSON:  The real weapon is the man, not the gun. Your gun will quickly become your enemy’s gun, if you’re oblivious, stupid, or aren’t skilled enough to pull things off. You can’t buy competence, it takes work.

the good news

The good news about TAGO is that we can usually fix him. Most often, he just hasn’t had someone who knows what they’re doing show him the ropes. He’s not a bad guy, he’s just ignorant.

If we approach him in a friendly and helpful manner, he’ll probably listen. He may not understand what he’s doing wrong, but will probably be eager to fix it—with your courteous and patient help—once he understands that there’s a better and safer way.

So, your task as a RevolverGuy is to be careful around him, and to do your best to help and educate him in a friendly, constructive manner. If you don’t feel comfortable with teaching him yourself, steer him towards reputable trainers who can do it right. Model the good behavior that you want to see in TAGO, because we don’t need more like him in the gun community. The rest of the world will judge us by his behavior, so help him along, for his sake and all of ours.

If he won’t listen though, give him a wide berth. You don’t want to be around a fool who has access to dangerous tools. Nothing good can come of that, so avoid the situation entirely. That might mean packing up and leaving the range early, which could be disappointing, but not nearly as much as getting hurt.

Keep an eye out for TAGO and be careful out there!

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Author: Mike

Lieutenant Colonel (Ret.) Mike Wood is a bonafide revolver nut, a certified law enforcement instructor in handgun, shotgun, patrol rifle, less-lethal, and diversionary device disciplines, and the author of Newhall Shooting: A Tactical Analysis, the definitive study of the infamous, 1970 California Highway Patrol shootout in Newhall, California. Mike wrote the "Tactical Analysis" column at for 8 years, and enjoys teaching both armed citizens and law enforcement officers.

28 thoughts on “The Average Gun Owner”

  1. How timely.

    Went to a newer indoor range yesterday. They’re popping up all over in my area…not necessarily good long term…but that’s another discussion. Anyhow, I finish my thing and decide to do a bit of window shopping at the retail counter. As I’m looking at the latest and greatest in what the manufacturers believe I “want” (Distressed 1911’s with embossed flags) I hear “Hey!…HEY! HEY!!! Be careful where you’re pointing that!!” Guy behind counter immediately looses attention on me (another bad sign) and starts moving toward range entrance door.

    TAGO apparently had an issue with his small auto jamming. He decides that walking off the range with it, into the retail section, whilst waving it in every direction possible was a good idea.

    Window shopping was done for the day. I left quickly.

    In the words of the late George “Just think for a minute how stupid your average person is. Then realize that 50% of them are stupider than that.”

    1. Ha! George had it right, buddy. Good Lord, that must have been a circus. I was getting nervous just reading your description!

      Sometime I’ll tell the story about the pistol-whipping I observed on a public range . . .

  2. Firearms trainers need nerves of steel. I could not do it.

    The biggest issue when I teach friends to shoot is to keep the finger off the trigger. That is critical with today’s semis. The triggers are so light. They seem to grasp the idea of where to point the gun, thank God.

    One friend opted for a home-defense revolver after lots of time shooting rented plastic 9s with me. She wanted “simple with heavy trigger” because it would be less to remember in a crisis. I wish more TAGOs thought that way.

    1. Amen, brother. As I recall the story, she had some excellent guidance from you and Mrs. Old School. That certainly helps!

      1. The important thing was that she made up her mind on her own, without “gun-splaining” from either of us; Mrs. Old-School is a revolver gal through and through. Plus I got to enjoy many guns of a type I rarely shoot!

  3. “TAGO doesn’t know when he should and shouldn’t shoot.”

    I see this as the biggest single threat to lawful concealed carry. People thinking they can use their gun to stop a fleeing shoplifter or shooting at shadows in their backyard gives the rest of us a huge black eye. Frankly, I would love to see CCW courses be about 50% legal info. I know that doesn’t leave a huge amount of time for safety and shooting, but I personally think that %50 legal, 30% safety (including things like holster selection), and 20% shooting would serve a lot of people way better than the more shooting-focused norm. I sure there are some really good reasons why I am wrong, but that would be my preference.

    1. I wouldn’t necessarily disagree with that. However, here is some food for thought. I’ve lived and held permits in at least a half a dozen states. I’m usually exempted from the requirements for a CCW class (a DD-214 usually qualifies as “training”) but in the two states I’ve actually had to take the class, one was about 90% legal (videos, at least at the time) and the other was 100% legal (as I recall; it was all lecture with no range or practical). I wouldn’t say that either actually prepared me legally.
      I listen to Civilian Carry Radio occasionally, and I love their motto: gun ownership is your RIGHT, safety and education are your RESPONSIBILITY. I would love to see more gun owners accepting those responsibilities. I don’t guess I have a real focused point other than I don’t begrudge anyone exercising their rights, but I’m reticent to be on the range with most of them.

    2. Funny enough, Greyson, the class I took was broken down along very similar lines to your 50-30-20 formula (closer to 50-15-35) and I was still unhappy, because they didn’t use the time well. Like you, I like a strong emphasis on classroom work in these programs, with legal making up the lion’s share of that, but you have to do better than regurgitate statutes. The students need a framework on how to actually apply the law in realistic scenarios, not get lost in the details of “paragraph 2.1, subsection (d)” . . . any monkey can read the codes, but it takes a talented teacher to help the student understand them well enough to apply them. Alas, that’s a lifetime study, and well beyond the footprint of the typical, state-mandated training, but we can still do better than we are in most cases.

      The Originalist in me rejects the notion of government mandates, training, and fees to bear arms, but the trainer and responsible owner in me wishes that every person who owned a gun—and especially those who carry one—would fully accept the responsibility that comes with the right, and get some good training.

      Ironically, when a state mandates training, the graduates often think they’ve received all that they need, and they don’t seek further instruction. “If it wasn’t good enough, they wouldn’t have given me the permit, right?” I’ve found that—counter to what many would think—when a permitless carry system is instituted in a state, MORE people actually seek training, and the training is of higher quality.

      1. You have a good point about mandated training. Your sentiment pretty much mirrors a recent discussion on the Lucky Gunner Lounge (the video about shooting the Texas CCW test blindfolded). Your point about states with permitless systems is interesting, but doesn’t really surprise me all that much.

        I was thinking about entry-level training in general, regardless of whether it was mandatory or voluntary, but I wasn’t real clear on that. Also, like you and Justin pointed out, the time does have to be used effectively. Sadly, there are no quick fixes for any of these issues.

      2. Your statement about mandatory training leading to a lesser degree of training is 100% correct. Look how many people are out there offering training above & beyond a ‘bare minimum of competency’ in guns and compare that to how many people are offering the same with their cars. 99.99% of people with a drivers license they got when they were 16 will never seek out anything more. I bet that the number of CCW-ers in this country with something more than a basic CCW class is higher than 1 in 10,000.

  4. My recent CCW recurrent was heavy on the “where” but not on the “when”. Too many questions like “If I drop my daughter off at school and it’s a Tuesday, and it’s snowing so I have to go onto the circle drive…” (you get the idea)

    Three words:

    1. Ability
    2. Opportunity
    3. Intent

    …but as George Carlin was saying….

    1. Or the legal elements of a self-defense claim: innocence, imminence, reasonableness, avoidance, and proportionality.

  5. Very good article. They always are good and I look forward to everyone of them.

    I took the CCW course with my wife 16 years ago. I’m glad I didn’t allow her to take it without me. IMO the instructor was incompetent. I told my wife all I want to do is get the two of us out of here alive with the certificate.

    Speaking of drawing and holstering a firearm I don’t do show and tell. One of my complaints with some CCW laws they want you to disarm and lock the gun in your vehicle. I don’t like locking a gun in a vehicle. I think it’s safest on your person in a quality holster and belt.

    Probably wrong and probably going to offend some. When it comes to firearms if you weren’t Marines, Army or a specialty mos in the Air Force like Combat Controllers, or Security Forces or a Navy Seal/UDT I always start with no trust with safely handling a firearm. Sorry Mike but I’ve seen some real Jackass stuff with cops. The cops that are gun guys who pay for additional training and practice stand out quickly. I have some friends with Denver PD who say you can always tell the Vets. I have a friend who is a Sergeant with a large metro Sheriff’s Department and was a former Army MP and he said some of deputies scare the Hell out of him. I know some gun owners who weren’t military are well trained and it shows. Pretty easy to spot the trained and those who practice.

    That being said stupidity crosses all lines. The 3 cops in St Louis comes to mind. Two were supposed to be on duty. One was a former Marine and the deceased off duty female officer was a former Army MP. Drunk playing Russian Roulette. No words to describe that kind of stupidity. It’s not an accident it’s criminal.

    1. Sorry Mike but I’ve seen some real Jackass stuff with cops.

      Oh Jack! ABSOLUTELY no offense! Some of the worst offenders are police officers! Half my gray hairs came from being around them on the range. Sometimes they’re a prime example of, “a little learning is a dangerous thing . . .”

      TAGOs come in all flavors. Some wear uniforms.

  6. The two most dangerous places to be when it comes to firearms:

    1. A public firing range
    2. Any place where police are.

    This was driven home when a radio dispatch call came through on my patrol car’s scanner (of county and municipal frequencies) that a deputy sheriff had shot himself on the training range. My first thought was WTF – how do you screw up a double action revolver; however, I never underestimate the power of human stupidity. Turns out, I knew the deputy that put a .38 wadcutter in his leg.

    Since then I usually travel with a Dumbrella because it’s raining stupid out there.

    This guy had grown up around guns, and had become so complacent about his confidence with a S&W revolver that he forgot to pay it homage and respect. When I didn’t offer him sympathy or empathy, that ended our aquaintence status, much to my relief.

    1. I now have a new word to add to my lexicon—“Dumbrella.” I love it!!

      When you lose your respect for guns and their dangers, bad things happen!

  7. Interesting stuff. I requalify every year for my LEOSA card, that can be scary too. As others have noted cops are not the best at gun handling. Every year the range officers end up chewing someone out for a safety violation and these people have literally decades of gun handling “experience”! Luckily the safety guys are rabid about it, they’ll toss someone in a heartbeat for putting their finger on the trigger when they shouldn’t

  8. My state has an eight-hour course of instruction for the Concealed Carry license. A large part of it is legal issues, such as the different homicide and assault/battery statutes, CUI, and so on. I print that portion out as an extra handout so students can (if they’ll do it) take it home and read it for themselves to supplement what we discuss; not enough time to go over all the details in the class. I do profile the students during class, to kind of get an idea of how closely they need supervised when we get to the range; but that’s mostly from interaction during the class, we don’t do any ‘training’ in drawing or gun handling.
    I do offer two other classes if people want them–a Basic Handgun Manipulation class, where I’ll help them with the basics of safe handling, using, carrying, reloads, malf drills, and shooting, more safety—just the basics, so when/if they go on for more and better training, they’ll be ready; also what I call the Next Step class, where we spend time on issues other than using the gun, ie: Situational Awareness, Interacting with LEO, Social Issues, After-Action Issues like dealing with the Post-Incident Stress and your social circle and the news media, Legal Issues such as dealing with the cops and lawyers–the things that aren’t as fun as going to a class where you see how many rounds you can put down range how fast. There’s a lot more to a defensive incident than ‘just shoot the bad guy’, but a lot of people don’t want to focus on that; it’s not as entertaining. The short time we get to spend on all that in the State class just don’t cut it.

    Sorry for the long post, but you kinda hit a nerve on the subject. I’m also dead set against State-mandated training in order to buy/own/carry/use a gun for defense purposes; also dead-set for taking responsibility to get that training even if you don’t have to. I like the remark about Rights and Responsibilities.

    Another good article. Thanks. Ace

  9. G’Day from New Zealand – where I’m government licensed to own & shoot various classes of firearms.
    A good story about ‘TALO’ .. I enjoyed it – but down here your description of “the average gun owner” matches “the average non-gun owner”. Folk here seem to believe anything that they have seen in gangster and cowboy movies .. where for example they were impressed by some third-rate actor spinning a replica “Peacemaker” six gun around his finger so they KNOW that is how it’s done. – Of course they don’t have a clue about the difference between a single action revolver and a double action semi-auto.
    They also “KNOW” that guns always hit what they are aimed at by the ‘good guy’ but often miss when used by the ugly snarling baddie like a fireworks show. Licensing here at least ensures a decent level of safety training .. but most of our criminal nutters don’t bother with those formalities.
    Cheers & thanks, Marty.

    1. Oh Martin, it’s no different over here. Some things are the same on either side of the globe. Hang tough, brother. You guys are in for some very difficult lessons, the way things are going there WRT gun rights and freedom.

  10. Good advise mike. The ‘average’ gun owner likely has an ‘average’ IQ. Average IQ being referred to as 100. So, just as many people with an IQ of 140, have an IQ of 60. Then there is the matter of ability with tools, and judgment. I’ve been involved with firearms and training for decades. Plenty of FoF. The scary thing is how often experienced, trained, concealed carry persons (including LEO’s) will shoot each other (with Simunitions or pellets) during a practice store hold-up or robbery training. Carrying a firearm should really require three tests – Personalty, Aptitude, IQ. And, the highways would be mostly devoid of accidents if drivers were held to those same testing standards. Because of relaxed standards, every moron (IQ 75 or less) can be armed and drive a vehicle. Then, because of naive behavior (naive and outright stupid are hard to distinguish), people who have been victimized buy a gun. I don’t want those people anywhere near me. They are still naive but believe that owning a firearm will change their ‘luck’. I prefer people who are proactive about personal security and have never been victimized. Same for car wrecks. Accident prone people must be avoided.

  11. Boy does that bring back memories of the CCDW class and many of my visits to various gun ranges. One of the reasons I’m in favor of CCDW classes and renewal classes. With a test. I do believe the Second Amendment applies to everyone who can legally own a firearm, and those people should practice it. But the good Lord knows there are times you see things that are scary.

  12. “You don’t want to be around a fool who has access to dangerous tools. Nothing good can come of that, so avoid the situation entirely. That might mean packing up and leaving the range early, which could be disappointing, but not nearly as much as getting hurt.”

    Been there and done that. I have a membership at a large outdoor private range in a big city. It got to a point were I knew the fool’s vehicle and if I saw it parked behind the firing line I would just turn around and go home. Disappointing? Yep. Leaving was much less painful than watch or being near the unsafe fool who believed “Don’t Tread on Me” meant the range belonged to him and everyone else should just leave.

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