The Dumbing Down of the American Shooter

Anyone who has been seriously involved in the shooting sports for a long time has probably noticed that there is now a lot of (or at least a lot more) hype and myth-information floating around, as well as a distinct lack of inquisitiveness and a willingness to really learn about shooting, out there. The following rant expresses my feelings on the subject.

The "Gun Press"
A survey of many recent magazine articles shows a real lack of editorial depth and information.  Even reloading manuals are written as though for a 6-year old.  (Now "beginner's" manuals are just fine, it's just that everything seems to be written for the 4th grade level shooter.) Not to mention, many manuals perpetuate long standing myths as well as incorrect information. (And don't get me started on the pages and pages of warnings that you risk the end of the universe by doing anything.)

A review of current articles compared to those written in the 50s and through the 80s shows a lack of both technical depth and accuracy that used to be taken for granted. Not to mention that a lot of already published and well researched information has simply been forgotten.   Publications and their articles seem, for the most part, to be driven by advertiser's funding rather than a quest for accurate knowledge and its sharing.  Just about every product review indicates that the new item in question is "the very best," but real data on test conditions and their results are mysteriously missing or lacking key data.  Meaningless or unsubstantiated claims are given for ammunition or firearms performance, and the unproven personal opinions of writers are stated as fact--even when the truth is known to be different.  In addition, have you noticed the distinct lack of detailed gunsmithing and real reloading articles? ( Can you spell lawyerphobia?)

Interestingly, I was recently (12/09) given several Australian gun magazines and WOW!  Detailed articles on trigger work, bedding, chambering, making various high performance ammunition, reloading blank ammo, and more.  Given Australia's pretty anti-gun stance the amount of detailed information on "how to do it" was amazing.

Just looking at the size and content of our magazines tells you something.  I have a 77 year archive of  The American Rifleman and up until the 80s the magazine contained mostly articles.  Now days there are frequently more ads than information.  At one point things got so skimpy that I could store three years worth of issues in the space previously needed for two years worth.

The latest gunzine trend seems to be that everyone in the photos is attired in tactical gear and body armor, looking like a high speed low drag special ops trooper.  Most also sport what some associates of mine call the "tactical grimace" (some of which would do a Haka proud).  Most articles in the gun magazines could be written using a form letter, and what articles there are, are pretty weak 98 percent of the time, containing little real content.  

One recent article in a "respected national firearms journal" concerned throat erosion.  Hmmm! Something good here?  Nope.  The article had two pictures of bore sections showing the process of erosion that seemed rather familiar to me and several pages of the authors text expounding his personal ideas.  No data or test results were shown, no measurements taken or given. Just unsubstantiated opinions.  Another article in the same magazine on high power rifle competition turned out to be mainly an advertisement for the author's products with no really useful information.  Even many of the "high end" specialty shooting journals are publishing poorly researched and documented articles these days.

Because nowadays most shooters just don't bother to take the time to research things, experiment,  question, and learn on their own--a sign of the modern push button times(?)--these "experts" get away with it spreading "bullistics" and the masses believe them.  (What?  You mean you can't take your running deer at 800 yards with one shot, off hand, every time, in a 10 mph cross-wind?)  The skill and disciplines of marksmanship have been replaced by an equipment cult whose belief is that fancy or esoteric equipment obviates the need for practice,  marksmanship, and field craft.  

The so-called experts extol every product and announce that  "out there where the ranges are long and the game is tough you need the new Remingchesterby 8.431 Ultra Long Magnum and the Burkahlpold 22 x 95 super zoom scope."   Then there is the  fact that most articles in the gun magazines could be written using a form letter, and contain little real content.

Most of the old writers such as Powley, Wheelan, Ackley, Davis, Harrison, Harris, and and the like, could not only actually shoot, and shoot well, they were also immersed in the technical aspects of shooting.  They carefully researched what they wrote and could substantiate their ideas.  Their careful study led to many advances and better shooting.

Several years ago I assisted at a press event given to introduce "gun writers" to a new rifle.  While there were several knowledgeable shooters among them, we spent a lot of time trying to keep many of them from shooting themselves or others, and showing them what the capabilities of the new rifle were.  A couple could barely keep their hits on the paper at 200 yards--from the bench--and proclaimed that the rifle was inaccurate.  Yet several of the good shooters among the hosting staff present had no problem hitting things from field positions as far away as they could see it.  Of course, they  were published writers and they knew what they were doing--at least according to most of them. They were the "professional experts" and we were amateurs

In addition, most of the current so called experts can't be bothered to answer correspondent's questions (even when a postage paid return envelope is sent) and, if they do, they frequently blow the person off with flip answers or in many cases incorrect answers.  Several years ago I pointed out an major error in an article in a professional shooting trade journal and furnished the correct information.  Shortly thereafter I receive a very foul languaged reply from the author wanting to know who I was to criticize HIM--an expert--and that no stupid little hobby shooter was going to tell him what was what.  The old time writers would have either thanked me for pointing out the error or would have engaged me in a professional level dialogue on the subject.

The few really good writers still around, especially if their research shows that the truth is different from the status-quo or the ad hype, frequently never get their works published at all or have it heavily edited because advertisers may get upset.  As an example, the work of Bob McCoy who was probably the leading ballistician of the 20th century was never published in the various magazines, even in simplified form,  because it went against the "conventional wisdom" of the various manufactures who wanted their products to look good. Have you ever noticed that 99.99 percent of the time every gun, bullet, or accessory tested is "wonderful."

The "respected national firearms journal" mentioned above has a technical assistance column to which readers can send questions.  It use to be a real asset to folks seriously studying shooting or simply trying to learn something. Questioners would not only receive accurate answers quickly but frequently they would receive more information on the subject than they had asked for.  Now, replies if they are ever received, seem to contain juvenile level, incomplete, or frequently incorrect answers.

Similar things seem to be the norm in almost all shooting related magazines.  I attribute this phenomena to the fact that today's culture stresses high speed, glitz, and the easy way. This has lead to people with a modicum of knowledge who can simply write being put in the position of expert and their work is never questioned by the editors who know practically nothing themselves.  

The Internet
There is probably as much misinformation and bullistics on the Internet as in the current crop of Gunzines.  I have also noticed that many websites that did have good technical information on powders, pressures, advanced reloading, etc, have taken down those pages, especially on "official" organizational sites.  Can't have the peons playing with knowledge-we might get sued. 

The Manufacturers
Even many of the various manufactures can't be bothered to professionally discuss things or share knowledge.  When I queried a major powder manufacture about some characteristics of their powders I was told I had no need to know that information and that under no circumstances would they tell me.  Their attitude was "you people are too stupid to understand such things."  Interestingly, another manufacturer, to their credit, not only provided the requested information and experimental data on their powders but they also shared data on the other manufactures products with me.

Also have you noticed the cost of things, especially parts?  Small parts that use to cost $0.50 - $10 now cost $30 - $40.  Even a simple straight cross pin can set you back $10.  And, notice how quality has started to decline in affordable firearms?

Gunsmiths & Gunshops
When I was a kid I visited several local gunshops on a regular basis.  Not only did both the owners and employees know what they were talking about but they went out of their way to teach new shooters about the shooting sports.  Now days almost all the gunshop folks I run into don't have a clue about the facts and when asked a question act as if you are disturbing them. (Not to mention their abysmal gun handling.)  The "big box" sporting goods stores are the worse.

While there are still a lot of very competent gunsmiths there are an awful lot of folks, including some current big name 'smiths, that don't seem to know what they are doing.  These folks try to con new shooters into spending big bucks on custom work when they really don't need it or they refuse to do the work the way a customer wants, claiming that they know best.  Sharp edges, overly tightened tolerances, wonderful external finishes with crappy inside work, and failure to stand by their work when things go wrong.  It also seems from reports that I have been getting that there are more and more shysters who take your money and run.  Not only that, but some 'smiths charge ridiculous prices for the simplest work or adjustments.  One 'smith apparently no longer in business was charging almost $100 for a trigger adjustment that involved simply adjusting two screws.  Unfortunately, he didn't really know what he was doing, and while a light pull was achieved, the firing pin would frequently drop when closing the bolt. 

When I was a teenager, all of the local gunsmiths (a full timer and two part timers) were both very competent, and went out of their way to help a shooter get what he needed and helped new shooters maximize their dollars spent.  They even showed customers how they did their work.  Now days some 'smiths think their tricks (which were around--and published in the various gun magazines-- before they were big enough to hold a gun) are deep and mysterious secrets suitable only for "the chosen." 

The "Experts" 
This would probably fit under the "Gun Press" heading but it deserves its own heading.  Nothing irritates me more than some of the "Johnny-come-lately" experts who do nothing but bad mouth those who have come before them, and who had "been there and done that."  These newbees either denigrate what someone has done or the plagiarize former works, changing a few words or phases, and then giving themselves the credit for a new ideas.  Sometimes they put forth as doctrine ideas that have either never been tested, or that have been tested and found wanting, simply because they have never actually tried, or put any effort into learning what works.  If someone is busy putting down someone else to further themselves, stay away from them no matter what their hype.  They do nothing to further the sport.

The Shooting Sports
Another problem is that the shooting sports in America are not really growing because young people are not taking up the sport.  This is due in part to the socialist political establishment demonizing firearms and portraying hunters and gun owners as ignorant, violence prone slobs, and to the apathy of most shooters.  When was the last time you introduced a non-shooter to shooting?  In addition, the demise of the vast open hunting areas, especially in the east, has cut down on the number of individuals growing up with the hunting experience.

Many of the various shooting activities which use to be simply fun or realistic simulations of field activities (of both the hunting and personal protection scenarios) have been turned into big money games that many people can't afford to compete in, with winning scores measured in hundredths of a point.  The ordinary or beginning shooter is simply intimidated and priced out of the sport.  In spite of the protests of their sport's originators the attitude has become "Win at any cost."   People will often argue with the range officers and even cheat just to get another 1/10 point so they can "win."  To be competitive in many of the shooting sports can require thousands of dollars of equipment and frequently corporate sponsorship.

The Shooters Themselves
Whether it is due to lack of available time, or instant gratification attitudes of society, fewer and fewer shooter really "get into" the sport.  They learn just barely enough to get by, believe everything they read in the gun rags, and never take the time to really learn anything.  If it's on the Internet it must be true.  They seem to think that equipment makes up for the lack of skill and practice.  There is also a lot of name calling going on within the shooting sports.  There are no better or worse shooting activities nor good or bad guns, yet each sport seems to attract those who condemn the other sports or firearms types, i.e. the trap and skeet shooters with their high priced shotguns think pistol sports are "bad."  Rifle target shooters think Class 3 fans are nuts; "black guns" vs traditional rifles, magazine capacity arguments, etc, on and on and on.  This good gun-bad gun attitude among shooters plays right into the antigun crowd's hands who will work on their nefarious plans banning one "bad" gun after another until all "bad" guns have been banned. 

In addition there are a lot of "shooters" out there who seem to think that they are "gods" and when asked a question by a new shooter or some interested in shooting (especially in a sport other than theirs) they can be positively rude and obnoxious.  Why?????  The worst offenders are frequently the well to do shooters who poo-poo inexpensive equipment.  Not everyone can afford a $2500 pistol, an $1,500 range finder, or an $1800 scope.  When ordinary folks inquire as to what would be a good serviceable option within a reasonable price range they frequently get put down and are haughtily told the inexpensive stuff is junk.  I've had several people tell me that they were turned off to shooting by the attitudes of shooters they talked to.  I get a lot of correspondence from my web site and try very hard to respond to all queries.  I have received replies from folks I have responded to expressing awe and gratitude for my response and notes that they never hear back from any other sites.

And then there are the "range slobs" with their foul mouths, bad manners, slovenly looks, and even worse gun handling, who leave junk, brass, and frequently broken glass and other refuse all over the place where they go to shoot.  No wonder, many public shooting areas are being closed down.

It's In Your Hands
What to do?  If you are serious about shooting, do some of your own research.  Spend the time to experiment.  Keep careful notes of what you do.  Instead of spending money on the latest fad gun or accessories, buy a good chronograph and learn to use it. Read--build up a good technical reference library.  (See the "General Topics" section of my Q&A pages for a suggested library.)  Discuss things with other shooters, question things, and above all apply (GASP!) common sense.  Share your interests with other shooters of different disciplines.  Don't be afraid to question an answer or a result. Seek out good training and then share it with others, especially young people you have contact with.  Take non-shooting friends to the range and introduce them to shooting. Teach your own family members.  Clean up your shooting areas.  You will be greatly rewarded for your efforts both in personal satisfaction and in improved shooting.

Working With Non-shooters
Introducing a non-shooter to shooting is one of the best things we can do.  However, there are some very important things to observe when doing so.

Second Amendment Issues
Complacency and apathy are probably the most serious threats to shooting.  If you are serious about shooting you also have to become involved in protecting the Second Amendment, because even many of the pro Second Amendment organizations don't really have your best interests at heart as they have become profit centers, not rights centers.  Some of the worst and most recent antigun laws have been passed with the support of (or because of the apathy of) such organizations.  They either didn't want to look too politically incorrect, their uppity directors didn't personally like a certain type of firearm, or because they didn't bother inform their members in time for them to fight things.  Get involved, join pro-Second Amendment organizations, stay informed, and get your buddies involved.  Write your congress-critters, and do it frequently.  In addition, if you see something incorrectly portrayed or demonized in the newspapers or on the evening new, just don't sit there, write a letter to the editor.  Be calm, be polite, be factual.  Every little bit will help the shooting sports.

Know Your Enemy
The anti-gun folks operate on the philosophy that guns and gun owners are not just bad or dangerous, but actually evil satanic like things. 
These people believe that firearms have a demonic will of their own that corrupts people's minds, and that they should only be possessed by the police or military (who are, a-hem, highly trained), or if by ordinary people, at least only under very tightly controlled conditions and regulations as to the type, number, and caliber that may be possessed.  The proponents of this philosophy generally fall into 3 types.

Group 1  These are the primitive, superstitious people. These people believe that some 'magic' talisman will protect them from bad things. A rabbits foot, a four leaf clover, a string of garlic around their neck, or a sign with a picture of a handgun with the international "no" symbol.  There is ample proof that magic talismans do not work to keep people safe. Otherwise there would be no mall shootings, no school shootings.  Yet the people in this group make a decision to ignore observable reality and choose to retreat into their superstitions and ignorance and to rely on others to take care of them.  Pass a law, post a sign, and we'll be (feel) safe.

Group 2  These are the mentally ill. They are the people who actually fear guns, gun owners, or any object that makes a person able to be responsible for themselves. They think that if firearms magically disappeared that the world would be  a huggy-kissy place.  Unfortunately I do not know of many mentally ill persons who were suddenly cured by observing reality. If anything, reality tends to drive the mentally ill deeper into insanity. It usually takes professional therapy to 'cure' the mentally ill. However, since it appears that most "mental health professionals" belong to either Group 1 or are mentally ill themselves, I don't think we'll see a therapeutic resolution in the near future.

Group 3   This group is the truly evil group in our society. They are people who gain validation from chaos. The Hitler syndrome. "I will give you safety and security if only you will surrender a few 'unimportant freedoms' and give me just a little more power.  WE will take care of you."  These people gain pleasure from the suffering of others. They are the bigots, the socialists, the race baiters, and the hateful, spiteful  people who love control for the sake of control. Many of them live behind high fences and employ armed body guards for their safety but don't want mere common folk to be able to protect themselves.  Most of the anti-gun legislators are in this category, as are many business owners and college administrators who choose or lobby for "please kill us zones." 

Thanks to Charles Carter for these thoughts

Good shooting!  As they said in the movie The Patriot, "Aim small, miss small!"

Fr. Frog


Become a "good" shottist."  I commend to you my page on "Gun Manners."

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Updated 2018-01-15