Gun Training and the Story of Monkey No. 3.

I seem to spend an inordinate amount of time thinking about thinking. What I mean, is that I spend a lot of my clock cycles thinking about the how, why, and all of thinking, and pondering questions about how we learn, why we learn the way we do, and is there a better way to do it. Way too often, we do things in a certain way because that’s always the way it’s been done. And that reminds me of the sad tale of Monkey No. 3.

The story goes something like this:

A group of researchers conducted an experiment on some lab monkeys. The experiment studied learned behaviors. First, they put an electrified “shock” plate in the center of the test subject room. Above the panel, they suspended a bunch of bananas. They introduced Monkey No. 1 into the room. He immediately spied the bananas, and moved to the center of the room to get one. The minute he hit the electrified shock panel, they shocked him. Every time he tried to go for a banana, they shocked him.

Next, they introduced an old friend of Monkey No. 1 into the room, the one known as Monkey No. 2. The second monkey immediately noticed the bunch of bananas and ran to the center of the room to get some. Monkey No. 1, sensing the impending disaster grabbed his friend, Monkey No. 2 to keep him away from the shocking experience. Monkey No. 2 was understandably confused. He kept trying to get at the bananas, but every time he got close, Monkey No. 1 went all Johnny Weissmuller on him, eventually getting to the point where No. 1 would beat the stuffing out of No. 2 if he even looked as if he was going for the bananas. So there they sat, two hungry monkeys and a bunch of bananas. Note that Monkey No. 2 had no idea that the plate below the bananas could shock him. It never did. His only negative stimuli was provided by Monkey No. 1.

In the third phase of the experiment, Monkey No. 1 was taken out of the room, and the new guy, Monkey No.3 was introduced into the scene. Now Monkey No. 3 looks up at the bananas, looks at Monkey No. 2 and says something like, “Dude! Bananas!” When he gets no positive reaction, he decides to play the part of a Monkey of Action, and go for the bananas. And that’s when Monkey No. 2 beats the every-lovin’ crap out of Monkey No. 3.

Realize that neither Monkeys number 2 and 3 EVER experienced the electrical shock. Yet Monkey No. 2 had learned, painfully, that screwing around with those bananas will get you hurt.

So what does this have to do with guns? Plenty. How you train at a range was decided long before you even took up a gun. And you’ll likely find if you challenge the conventional wisdom, you’ll get much the same reception. But allow me one more, quick detour first. Seth Godin is a well-known marketing guru, and the author of a bunch of successful marketing books.

Seth recently wrote about the state of education, and why we teach our kids the way we do. His point was that there was a time when kids worked long hours for little pay in factories. When activists proposed child labor laws, the robber barons were furious. Just like today, the CEOs argued that if you removed their source of cheap labor, their companies would not be able to compete.

Advocates argued that even though they’d lose their child labor, that schools would be set up just like factories, and churn out kids already pre-conditioned to factory work. They’d sit in neat, ordered rows, work at repetitive tasks, take instructions and orders from an authoritarian figure, and generally learn to expect boredom for long stretches of the day. Schools were never really intended to educate kids, so much as they were designed to indoctrinate them and prepare them for work in the factories of their futures.

Fast forward to the 21st Century. We’ve shipped most of those kinds of jobs overseas, and replaced a lot of the work with automation. Today’s jobs require people who can think and work independently, and demand imagination, intelligence, and critical thought. None of which you’ll learn in school. So throwing more money at schools, paying teachers more – none of that will solve the real problem: how to prepare our kids to work at jobs that don’t involve assembly lines.

We can extend this analogy further, to encompass gun training. It’s easy to imagine that, short of a little hand-eye coordination practice, shooting at a range is piss-poor training for actual, tactical situations. You’d think (or hope) that maybe this problem is unique to private citizens, but training for police and military is not much better,, and suffers from the same limitations.

Sure, there are places like Thunder Ranch and Gunsite. But they are the (expensive) exception to the rule. I don’t know what the stats are, but I’d be surprised if even as many as 20% of CHL holders have been through training that involved a “fun house,” moving while shooting, or shooting in simulated, real-world situations.

“We’ve always done it that way” is a powerful tool to stop progress in its tracks. And I’m thinking maybe it’s time for us to rethink that, and try fixing how training works (for both schools and ranges), rather than just becoming Monkey No. 3.