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A time to learn, a time to play…

A number of years ago a client was sitting in our lobby with a confused look on her face.  I had just walked out of the lab after a private event and was exhausted.  The lobby itself was a place of controlled chaos as people were both coming in for their classes and people, who had been in the private event, were leaving. 

I saw her just sitting there with a gun box on her lap.  She looked to be in her late fifties or so and there was both a palpable expression of sadness and anxiety about her. 

I went up to her and asked if she had been helped yet, and she told me no… she knew we were very busy and she did not want to be a bother.  Nonsense, I told her, and sat down next to her.  Candidly, I am not the most empathetic individual out there… but something in her demeanor suggested suffering.

She told me she had recently become a widow.  Her husband had always told her that he would protect her, and he had told her he had a gun in the closet.  Now she realized she was all alone and had no idea how to even operate the gun.  She had literally never been alone before in her life.  She had gone from her family directly into the home her late husband and she had shared. 

With her children grown and out of state, and her own parents long since departed, she felt completely isolated.  She asked if there was someone here who could show her how to use her husband’s gun so, if the situation warranted it, she could defend herself. 

I took the gun box from her and opened it up… it was a Browning .22 target pistol.

I sat with her in the lobby for the next couple of hours and we just talked.  She broke down occasionally as she talked about her husband.  I told her that just “learning” how this gun functions is not enough; she needed to begin a process of learning mastery of skill-at-arms.  Her husband was evidently very proud of that little .22 and in no way was I going to tell her at this time it was not exactly appropriate for self defense.  That would come much, much later as her understanding of weapons grew.  I told her this education was a process, and one that took time.

She became one of our regulars.  A sponge seeking more and more information, over time she went from being an acceptable shot to an outstanding markswoman.  She also became a CCW holder and continues to regularly train.  She quickly understood the magnitude of gun ownership and use, and felt it was her moral responsibility to become as knowledgeable as possible. 

This woman taught me a great lesson.  Never, ever, under any circumstances, be dismissive of people’s desire or need to learn the skills necessary to defend themselves.  I also realized that each person comes into our lives with a complete, complicated, and often bittersweet past.

The key is their desire to learn…

With that… let’s discuss the train wreck that was last week’s CCW class…

(If you have arrived here from our newsletter, continue reading here…)

About a month ago four friends decided to sign up for our CCW program.  Since we now do all of our lecturing on Zoom, the day of the class they had decided to all gather together and watch from one computer.  This does happen fairly frequently, and we are, of course, fine with that.  When Sandy was taking roll at the beginning of class one of the four was not responding to her repeated request that he acknowledge his attendance.  After a few times of calling out his name she decided to mark him as a “no show”.

During the class she could see that all of the students were paying close attention to the lecture… except the four.  They were talking, walking around and, at one point apparently (and rather oddly), performing martial arts moves on each other. 

Sandy was furious.  She wanted to turn off their feed and dismiss them from the class, but decided instead to call them out specifically.  She spoke to one of them offline and explained they needed to pay attention, and that their antics had the potential of disrupting the other students’ experience.   While that stopped the physical antics, it was still apparent to her that they were continuing to have conversations among themselves. 

As she was organizing the students into their shooting groups for the next day, she continued to call on the missing student to see if he had ultimately shown up. 

Nothing.

In the end, she left him off the roster and set up the shooting groups for the following day.  The students first report to Artemis is on Sunday, where their guns are checked for serial number accuracy, and they are given their first safety briefing, along with a basic weapons manipulation instruction.  Once that is complete, they head over to Prado Olympic Shooting Park, where our range staff is set up to have them qualify on their firearms.

When she began going over the shooting groups, the missing student finally piped up, “I am not on the list!”  She looked at her computer screen incredulously… “Did you not hear me calling your name repeatedly?”  “I am sorry… I did not hear you,” was his timid response.

She included his name and went over the program with the entire class.  She explained when they would arrive at Artemis, and to bring all of their weapons.  She also told them that she had just sent them all an email with these very detailed instructions. 

The next day the four decided on their own to bypass Artemis and just go to the range.  They were not allowed to shoot (obviously), and were told they would have to reschedule their shoot for the next CCW class.

That was this last weekend.

The four showed up in the morning and one announced to me that the only “gun” he had was an air-soft gun.  He seemed confused and dismayed that he could not just use that.  Another had a Glock that had a cable lock in it, and he nonchalantly told me he had lost the key… he did not seem particularly concerned or embarrassed by this. 

When we took them to the classroom they immediately began displaying an utter disregard for anything resembling gun safety.  (As part of our protocols we had ensured they were completely devoid of any ammo as we went through the functionality of their guns with snap caps.) 

Finally, after being told not to touch their guns, they drew their guns anyway. 

That was the last straw. 

For the first time in my career I threw a student (actually four students) out of the class. 

We have had a small handful of students who were so poor in handling their firearms that we told them we could not give them a certificate.  We have given them, literally, free training and then the opportunity to re-qualify and they have done so… but this was the first time I have literally called an audible and told students we would refund their money… but they were done.

As you can imagine, they were not happy about this… but, honestly, I didn’t care.  The safety of the other students and our instructors was now in peril due to the spectacularly dismissive attitude of the four. 

Unfortunately, my disgust with their behavior and attitude came out when I pulled them outside the classroom and told them to leave.  I pride myself on developing my Stoic behavior… dealing with them I failed.

After they had left I was upset both at them and myself.  I had allowed problem students to metastasize to a point where they, ultimately, had to be thrown out.  It would have been easier to have terminated our relationship when they clearly displayed zero interest in the lecture.

I thought of that woman from years ago, and was concerned I had failed these four to some extent.  Then I realized I had not.  The fact of the matter is commitment to mastery of skill-at-arms is a bilateral agreement.  It requires empathy on the part of an instructor… but it also requires commitment on the part of a student. 

Failure of a student to perform physically to the standards we set is a direct reflection on us as instructors.  Failure to have the requisite commitment to training… that is a reflection on the student.

Comments (9)

  • Andy Harber Reply

    Stephen, you, your family and the whole Artemis team are a terrific asset to the local and global community and I deeply appreciate your commitment to training excellence! Thank you for standing up for what Is right and keeping the chinning bar HIGH!

    09/02/2020 at 08:12
  • Robert Colgrove Reply

    Kudos Steve, for your actions! Totally agree with your decision.

    09/02/2020 at 09:19
  • Tom Redfern Reply

    You were set up. They knew exactly what they were doing.

    09/02/2020 at 09:45
  • Gary Burger Reply

    I feel you did the right thing at all levels. The students were not showing the proper level of action during the on-line part of the course. You accepted that there may have been technical issues or that being on-line may affect their demeanor. You gave them a second chance. When they showed up with a toy gun you realized they did not understand the seriousness of firearm safety and tossed them out. This was acceptable. Sometimes you feel the need to help people along. This is why you are successful in your training.

    09/02/2020 at 11:16
  • kenneth gryske Reply

    …And don’t let the door hit you on the way out!

    09/02/2020 at 13:49
  • Rodger Borgr Reply

    Good job Steven and Sandy on kicking the 4 out. Paying for training doesn’t guarantee an “automatic pass the class”. You learn and demonstrate proficiency. Firearms training is no place for “participation trophies “.

    09/02/2020 at 14:46
  • Mike Reply

    Proud of you guys for doing the right thing.

    09/02/2020 at 22:53
  • Sung Ahn Reply

    You and Sandy have more patience than I. I applaud your giving them numerous chances to become responsible gun owners. It angers me to hear about adults being this rude to you, Sandy and the rest of the students. Imagine how they behave in the rest of their lives?! Kudos to your & Sandy’s professionalism. Your current students respect what and how all your instructors teach at ADI!

    09/13/2020 at 12:15

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