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Massad Ayoob on Guns

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Archive for March 12th, 2012

Massad Ayoob


Monday, March 12th, 2012

Teaching people how to shoot well has been how I’ve made much of my living for many years. Shooting lessons, I remind the students, include the lessons about life that shooting teaches us. I just realized that I’d lost sight of that a bit myself of late.

One point I make is that an Unconscious Competence level of skill, the ability to do something well on auto pilot, is a wonderful thing but not attainable on demand. When performance on demand is of the essence, I recommend ratcheting down to Conscious Competence and taking an instant to think about what you’re doing.

I change guns often. Partly because testing different ones is another thing I do for a living, partly because my students all have different guns and I have to be familiar with all of them, and partly because I simply like to do so.  A few months ago I decided to forsake my ballistic promiscuity and stick for a while with one particular style, a polymer-framed pistol I’ll call Brand A. For the most part, that plan has worked, fulfilling the advice most of us give that if you stay with one “platform” you’ll become better and more reflexive with it.

There’s another side, though, that I’ve been reminded of in the last ten days. Testing polymer-framed pistol Brand B for a gun magazine on Saturday the 3rd at an IDPA match in Jacksonville, FL, I managed to take First Master and top score overall in the Enhanced Service Pistol division with Brand B. On the weekend of the 10th and 11th, I took Brand A to Clearwater for the Florida State Championships…and absolutely tanked.

I’ll tell you right now, it wasn’t a “brand versus brand” thing. I consider the two guns equal in quality and inherent accuracy and “shootability,” model for equivalent model. The first match was smaller, 122 shooters compared to roughly 300 for the second, a deeper pool with bigger sharks in it, but as the guy behind the sights and the trigger both times, I have a pretty good idea why I shot quantitatively worse with the more familiar pistol.

With the less recently familiar Brand B gun, I was focusing on its subtleties. Its grip to barrel angle was slightly different than what I’d been lately habituated to, as was its trigger reach and length of trigger reset. I was running Conscious Competence pretty much every shot. With Brand A, the old familiar extension of the hand, I found myself going auto pilot and taking overconfident liberties.  There were stages where I KNOW I relaxed my grip, where I pointed rather than aimed, where I rushed instead of pressed the trigger.

Where I took my familiar gun, and my supposed skills with it, for granted.

We do that with people, paying more attention to the new folks we want to impress than we pay with our familiar loved ones.  It hurts us in the end.  Life lesson.  We drive our friend’s new Corvette Sting Ray with more care than our own casually-handled Impala, and it does us no good at the end of the day.  Same, same.

That’s why I say that shooting – like some other sports, and other seemingly casual undertakings – can reinforce for us the more important lessons of Life.

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