Full disclosure: I despise the modern marketing languages surrounding firearms. In fact, the whole “Modern Sporting Rifle” thing borderline pisses me off. I think it’s a blatant product of misdirected public relations and marketing.
My biggest issues come down to two things:
- First, the term “Modern Sporting Rifle” is clearly an effort to convince people that rifles like the AR-15 fall within the bounds of the Gun Control Act of 1968’s “Sporting Purposes” clause. That in of itself isn’t a problem, but I’d rather we attack the sporting purposes clause directly as unconstitutional versus playing the game of categorizing good guns and bad guns.
- Second, such language continues to dance around calling rifles what they are: weapons (This is my subject today). By avoiding the term, we play into the idea that owning weapons is a negative thing.
Here’s the deal, I’ve never been one to shy away from referring to my rifles as weapons.
I know for a fact that my doing so makes a lot of old NRA-types uncomfortable, but that’s their issue and not mine. The simple truth is that we do ourselves a disservice when we try and separate firearms from other commonly owned weapons used for sporting and defensive purposes.
By avoiding the subject, we further push ourselves into a corner that gets progressively harder to get out of.
A Bit of Background
I don’t think many people bat an eye when they see someone practicing archery, fencing, or traditional forms of martial arts. When I was in college, I was an early member of the Medieval European sword fighting group known as the Historical European Martial Arts (HEMA) Alliance. We met up every week and studied fighting techniques from old German and Italian fight manuals, then we sparred.
From the outside, I’m sure it looked like a bunch of goobers LARPing with swords made of wood or blunted steel. But our intent was not to “look the part,” it was to actually learn how fighting was done. There were blows and techniques completely illegal to use in the reenactor world, and we practiced them repeatedly.
During that same period, I also practiced boxing and aikido, and brought those lessons with me to the weekly HEMA sessions.
Later, during the ammo shortage of 2012, I picked up archery as a way to scratch the marksmanship itch. I used to set up in my front yard with a target, my backstop, and a recurve bow.
Again, nobody batted an eye. I was just a guy into martial arts. So why is it any different with rifles?
Political motivations aside, I don’t really see a distinction between someone practicing shooting skills and someone working their way up the belts in Jiu-Jitsu.
The Gun Control Debate
I’ve been involved in this debate for a long time. For a lot of reasons, I stay away from it now. I realized there isn’t a point to
Every so often in these debates, someone says that I’m just upset about having my hobby limited or taken away. They tell me that I need to get over it and that I should want to give up my hobby if it meant saving lives.
“Why should anyone,” they will ask, “be involved in a hobby that is all about killing?“
I admit to laughing at these kinds of arguments as they come primarily from a place of ignorance. But I cannot fully write them off. It’s easy for us to parry such a statement with pointed language about competition or collecting, and that our guns have never killed anyone.
But such a counter has never quite felt complete, if not hollow.
The question has always lingered in the back of my mind: why do I enjoy what I do so much?
Why is it that I fight so vehemently to keep my rights as they are? If this was purely about marksmanship and competition, then logic would dictate that I could do just as well with a bolt action or a simple .22 LR.
Sooner or later, we must dig into our motivations.
I think we do ourselves a disservice when we shy away from that truth. We deflect by talking about competition, history, collection, and maybe hunting, but we rarely confront it head-on. When presented with the notion that firearms are primarily designed as weapons, we recoil and redirect- perhaps to the detriment of our own credibility.
Our firearms are, first and foremost, weapons. I embrace that, even if it’s not how I use them day to day.
Marksmanship as a Martial Art
The Merriam Webster Dictionary defines a Martial Arts
I say that definition applies to the
Like any martial art, becoming proficient in the use of firearms is to become proficient in the controlled application of violence. Whether or not we actually intend to use it is immaterial.
I believe, culturally, we avoid the subject because we want to believe our mothers when they told us, “Violence never solves anything.”
Deep down we know that this is simply not true. Violence, as horrid and unsavory as it may be, can be a solution. For example, all forms of law are ultimately backed up with the implicit threat of violence by the state. Sooner or later, someone committing illegal acts will be confronted by an armed agent of the state ready to do violence on behalf of “the people.”
I’m not going to dig into the relative merits of an armed populace and the monopoly of “legitimate violence” by the state, that’s a very different philosophical discussion. I’m just pointing that violence can and does serve a purpose.
When someone goes out to learn something like boxing, Muay Thai, Krav Maga, or any other fighting skill, we say it’s empowering. That’s doubly true if it’s a woman learning these skills. I argue that we should treat it no differently for the shooting sports.
In fact we should use it as a model.
Martial Arts Discipline
“Bushido is all very well in its way, but it is no match for a 30-06.”– Jeff Cooper
When we think of traditional martial arts, we almost invariably think about the codified colored belt systems. Not all martial arts share this similarity, of course, but it serves as a nice illustration. These fight systems have ways of designating who are novices, intermediates, masters, and higher.
Nobody who has studied this stuff long enough thinks that the flashy displays seen during belt tests and matches have any relevance to a real self-defense situation. In fact, it would be downright problematic. What these events do show, however, is progressive mastery of the fundamentals.
Marksmanship is no different.
We progress within specific shooting disciplines and classifications. You will not achieve the highest classifications in the shooting world without exceptional mastery of fundamentals.
To reach that point takes discipline to practice, focus, and will to continually show up. My range days are not about turning money into noise. They are about intentional practice of the fundamentals: position, sight picture, trigger control, breathing. I want to chew that X ring out every magazine.
Some people will tell me that it’s just for show and has nothing to do with the real world, just like belt tests for traditional martial arts. They aren’t wrong.
That’s where additional training comes in, though. You can learn to think and act correctly in a self-defense situation, and the fundamentals you learn through practice and competition will transfer. John Buol at The Firearms User Network has a great series of articles on this very subject.
I have little interest in fighting, but I still show up to hit the heavy bag at my gym. It builds endurance, strength, and technique. I’m not terribly interested in a gun fight either, but practicing marksmanship builds focus, body awareness, and discipline.
Building a Better Gun Culture
Few outsiders bat an eye at someone announcing they are into martial arts. Most reactions are along the lines of, “Oh, that’s cool!” or “can you teach me something?”
Part of our problem is the pop culture depiction of the average gun owner. I can’t do much about that, honestly. The trouble with stereotypes is that there’s someone always willing to live up to it.
But what I can do is state my values and vision and invite you to come along with me.
If we have any hope of salvaging our own narrative, it can’t be pinned only on some national organization that we on-again off-again support. It needs to come from us and our daily interactions. Shooting and marksmanship is part of who we are.
I’m just a regular dude who likes to practice military skills. They build discipline, encourage fitness, and promote self-sufficiency. But I’m also into nerdy board games, spending time with my family, and enjoying a good craft beer every once and a while.
I believe in a nation of “normal” folks who also have some measure of martial skill. It doesn’t need to involve running around on the weekends wearing load bearing gear, but it does mean that we all maintain a basic level of fitness, discipline, and skill.
I realize this post is a little more rant-like than my usual. But it’s an important topic to me.
Nobody else is going to take us seriously if we don’t hold ourselves and each other accountable to the martial art of marksmanship. Whatever your motivations for picking up a rifle and starting down this path, I commend you. Stand and be a good example for others to see and hear from.
Of course, I could just be crazy here. I don’t know. What do you think?
Matt is the primary author and owner of The Everyday Marksman. He’s former military officer turned professional tech sector trainer. He’s a lifelong learner, passionate outdoorsman, and steadfast supporter of firearms culture.