Not as Easy as It Looks

Let’s face it. Most people learn about firearms from television, movies, and video games. In these media, the hero can pick up a gun, snap off a few shots from the hip, and start dropping bad guys left and right … often without any training. Firearms must be easy to use and exceptionally deadly, right?







Copyright © A.D. 2007
by M. D. Van Norman.

The reality is far more complex. While firearms are relatively easy to use, they are not so easy to use well. Common street gangsters, for example, are infamous for their frequent inability to hit their intended targets. Similarly, recent police shootings have been noted as much for their low levels of accuracy as they have for their high volumes of fire. Luckily for the victims of such gunplay, bullet wounds are often not instantly fatal. In fact, the majority of handgun-related injuries are readily survivable.

Historically, firearms were adopted for military use not because they were especially effective weapons but for reasons of economy. A malnourished conscript could be trained how to load and fire a musket in a matter of days, while it took years of training and physical conditioning to make an effective bowman. Guns, powder, and shot also quickly became cheaper to manufacture than bows and arrows. Firearms could be fielded more quickly, in greater numbers, and less expensively than longbows and crossbows. However, their effectiveness on the battlefield depended on massed volumes of fire rather than individual marksmanship. It wasn’t until the 19th century A.D. that firearms commonly achieved the precision we know today.

The problem is an angular one. Small errors in the alignment of the gun with its target are magnified more and more dramatically as the distance between them increases. At longer ranges, gravity and wind also become important factors. The untrained or inexperienced shooter who fails to align the sights and/or who jerks the gun off target as he pulls the trigger will miss more often than not.

I knew all of this before I ever fired a shot, but I was still chagrined at how poorly I performed the first time I stepped up to the firing line. My shots were all over the target, even though it was only a few feet away, and this was after several hours of classroom instruction. In fact, it took me about three years of somewhat regular practice to become passably competent with a handgun.

It took three years of practice for me to produce this result at a range of just 21 feet.
Marksmanship is a skill that must be learned and practiced. The mere presence of a firearm can deter violent aggression, but just having one doesn’t mean that the defender will actually be able to fight off an attack. Even shooting an attacker doesn’t mean that he won’t still be able to beat, stab, or shoot his victim to death before becoming incapacitated by his wounds.

It’s just not as easy as it looks.

Dancing Giant
“Owning a handgun doesn’t make you armed any
more than owning a guitar makes you a musician