New Gun Owner Advice from a High-Level Shooter

Now that I have been wandering around American gun culture for over a decade, I consume fewer gun-related podcasts than I used to. Time is my scarcest resource and as podcasts have proliferated, the signal-to-noise ratio is often too low to merit the investment.

That said, John Johnston’s Ballistic Radio has been at the top of my diminishing list of must listen to podcasts for some time now. Recently he had on a guest who is an extremely high-level shooter, K.A. Clark. This is not unusual for Ballistic Radio, of course. What I found interesting was the advice Clark had for new gun owners.

The old saw has it that “those who can’t do, teach.” This is mostly false with a dash of truth mixed in, but so too is the opposite: “those can do, can’t teach.” When I was in graduate school there was a legendary story of one of the world’s top quantitative researchers in sociology who got so frustrated trying to teach graduate statistics that he flung an eraser across the room. Later when I was working at the University of Notre Dame, I tried to have one of the top 20 college tennis players in the country help me with my serve. I hit a few serves for him under his watchful eye as he formulated his advice: “Swing harder.” Uhhhh, okaaaayyyy.

It is a particular gift to be able to reach novices as an instructor, especially if you as the instructor are highly proficient at what you are teaching. Glenn Seaborg earned a share of the 1951 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for his (co-)discovery of ten transuranium elements including plutonium and element 106 which was subsequently named seaborgium in his honor. He also taught freshman chemistry at my alma mater, UC-Berkeley, long after he needed to. In his words, “The education of young people in science is at least as important, maybe more so, than the research itself.”

This brings me back to K.A. Clark on Ballistic Radio. He is a Glenn Seaborg-level shooter. He and Johnston review his credentials at the start of the show. But when asked to talk about goal setting, his advice for new gun owners — of which there are an abundance these days — was spot on.

Johnston asked Clark if there was a difference in goal setting for new shooters. Clark responded that goal setting is even more important for the novice. And the particular approach to goal setting he advises is worth quoting at length:

I think the first place to start, piggybacking off the work of Claude Werner, is avoiding negative outcomes. The first goal is your involvement with firearms and firearms training should be a value-add and a positive to your life. Not a negative. And if you buy gun and you’re unsafe with it and you don’t know anything about negative outcomes and you don’t get training and you don’t take it seriously, man, it can mess up your life. It can ruin your life. And people don’t realize that. They just say, “Well, I got a gun, I’m good.” And it’s like, well, maybe. Now it’s just random. Maybe it’s good. Maybe it’s not. So setting that goal of “I want to be able to protect my family.” Fantastic. So, guns are good place to start. Get some training. But you’ve got to learn about safe storage, you’ve got to learn about negative outcomes, you’ve got to listen to Ballistic Radio. That’s where you start. That’s much more important than, “Well, I want to do a two-second Bill Drill tomorrow.” One, that’s not going to happen. And two, it doesn’t matter that much, right? So the beginners really need to hone in on what’s important. They really need to get their goals together early. And that’s a challenge. How do we do that as a training community? How do we help those new people set realistic goals and relevant goals to make firearms ownership and their involvement in this community a net add to their life.

K.A. Clark on Ballistic Radio (Ep. 354)

As host John Johnston said by way of reinforcing Clark’s take, “A lot of people, lately especially, get into guns as some form of risk mitigation. Now, whether or not the risk is real or imagined doesn’t really matter. When you [get a gun] you’re not necessarily mitigating risk so much as setting it to random. Like maybe you’re good, maybe you’re not. And, and I agree with you completely that if you’re introducing any level of new risk in your life and you don’t mitigate it, that is probably not a net value-added.”

Whether you’re already deeply involved or are new to guns, there is a lot of value-added to listening to the Ballistic Radio podcast. And if you are outside or critical of American gun culture, you should listen also so you can see what thoughtful gun owners sound like when they talk to each other.

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