The “Light Bulb” Moment

Converting Anti-Gunners To New Enthusiasts

Since the start of COVID-19 followed by social unrest, gun stores have continued to see record sales each month. From March to August, 11.3 million background checks have taken place in the U.S. (Source: NSSF-adjusted NICS). Conservative estimates say 40% of these purchases are from first-time gun owners. It’s a no-brainer as to why. Millions of Americans are realizing what the Second Amendment community has known for years: protecting ourselves is a fundamental right and our best line of defense.

Fortunately, a large number of these first-time gun owners are responsibly seeking firearms training. My firearms training company of seven years, Elite Firearms & Training, has never been busier. I went from teaching two to three classes a week to an average of five, which have been consistently sold out. Classes that are open to the public have ranged in size from six to 20 students per class, depending on location and safety protocols. (I’ve always maintained an extremely clean training environment, but during this period I’ve implemented additional cleaning precautions to ensure the safety of students.)

Converting Anti-Gunners

During the start of every class, I always ask the students to introduce themselves and tell me how much experience they have with firearms. Students typically share more information about themselves than what I ask, which I encourage so students can start to feel more comfortable in class. Within the past few months of this pandemic, it became clear to me early on I was teaching a new demographic, anti-gunners.

This might have been the perfect time to immaturely tell these people “we told you so,” but I embraced the opportunity to bring more people over to our side. Opening my classroom doors to them was easy, training them has been more challenging. I’m no longer teaching the student we’re all used to seeing who has an understandable fear of guns because they don’t know how to properly use them. I’m now teaching the person who was raised to hate guns, absorbed the corrupt narrative of the media and believed no one other than law enforcement and military should own a gun.

Millions of Americans are realizing what the Second Amendment community has known for years; protecting ourselves is a fundamental right and our best line of defense.

All of this mental conditioning makes an instructor’s job more tedious. Not only are instructors teaching people how to use a tool that’s foreign to them, they’re also trying to calm a long-conditioned fear going far beyond the recoil of the gun.

Students who grew up in states with stricter gun laws tiptoe around guns as if they’re doing something criminal. You can see the anxiety and fear in their behavior. I’ve given a record number of private lessons to individuals or families. Not because of COVID-19, but because they didn’t want to be recognized in class or at the range.

Patience Required

One gentleman, during a private lesson, told me he hides his gun behind a bookshelf in his home office because if his wife or daughter were to find out he was a firearms owner, they would be shocked and appalled. This same man, after firing his first cartridge, turned to me and said — out of surprise — it was a lot less intimidating than he expected. He then fired off 50 rounds, went back to the gun counter to buy more ammo and continued to shoot.

Other students haven’t had the same reaction. Many of these new students seem fine at first, but once they fire their first round, anxiety gets the best of them — they freak out and often break the “180” with their finger still on the trigger. This is exactly why I only allow each student to load a single round in their firearm until they can calmly handle the mechanics of shooting and demonstrate all safety fundamentals consistently. Additionally, only one student can fire their gun at a time, and I’m always right beside them, ready to act accordingly if they put anyone’s safety in danger.

This process hasn’t changed, but it has taken longer in recent months — requiring much more patience. I’ve reached out to other instructors to see if they also noticed the change in their demographics and if it has been more difficult to train. Every single one I polled had a similar experience.

Richard Patton, a firearms instructor from Whistling Pines Gun Club (Colorado Springs, Colo.) teaches evening classes. His time in class has expanded significantly as a result of this new wave of gun owners.

“I normally end class around 8:00 p.m.,” he relayed, “but lately I’ve had to stay longer because the range portion of class takes more time. I recently had a student that only fired eight rounds in the course of an hour because she had to take long breaks in between.”

Guiding A Positive Experience

Once students get past their initial fear, their glasses stop fogging up, their arms and hands shake less and you don’t see them wiping their sweaty palms on their clothes to gain better traction of the grip of their gun. They become noticeably more comfortable and confident, it just takes lots of coaching and repetition.

I always use words of encouragement so students don’t feel defeated. Even if they shoot the gun for the first time and they happen to have a breakdown, I tell them how proud I am they fired their first shot and now know what to expect shooting more rounds. I want students to have a positive first experience, especially if they disliked guns beforehand.

If it doesn’t happen during the first class, I ask students to meet with me again. Having time in between range sessions helps students to comprehend the information better and prepare themselves more mentally for the second time around.

Ron Carter, another local firearms instructor, noted, “The vast majority of students who shoot a firearm for the first time, almost all, display a massive smile after their first class. It’s that ‘lightbulb moment’ — the realization their fears were not warranted and they can safely handle a firearm.”

My goal has always been to create an enjoyable experience so students will practice more and continue their firearms education. In recent months, I’ve added on to this objective, determined to demystify the misconceptions these former anti-gunners have been taught to believe. The most common of these fallacies are guns can accidentally go off at any time, that “assault type firearms” are much more lethal and you do not need more than 10 rounds to defend yourself. Educating these new gun owners is key if we want to change our current political climate.

Meeting The Moment

Many believe the anti-gunners who have purchased guns will give them up once the world regains order. That might be true, however, right now we have their attention and they’re willing to learn. Make their experience a great one. Show them the stereotypes of gun owners aren’t true and neither are the lies anti-gun organizations and politicians are pushing.

Now is the best time to change people’s minds, it’s our best hope to change their future voting potential, in order to preserve the Second Amendment for everyone.

Ava Flanell is the founder of Elite Firearms & Training in Colorado Springs, Colo.