We’re taking a slight departure from the world of hunting this week although technically this topic does apply to the hunting side of the industry. It’s simply an issue more prevalent on the tactical side.
My July was a bit crazy. Almost the entire month was comprised of back-to-back business trips in different states all in areas with little to no signal. Totally worth it, but it created a pileup of work and emails. On those trips, all of which fell under the purview of tactical training and work, I noticed a trend I’ve seen before and will undoubtedly see again. This time I decided to rant – I mean write – about it.
Being inked, pierced, or possessing oddly-colored hair are traits frowned upon by many among the older generation of gun owners. Some came from a generation where only sailors and inmates were tattooed; some simply don’t like the look in general and assume everyone around them must agree…right? Guess again.
Here’s the thing about ink. There’s good ink and bad ink – as in, beautifully applied ink versus the kind of ink you paid some guy fifty bucks to slap on after you’ve had a few too many. I’m not talking about gang tats or gore, I’m talking about the average person’s ink.
There’s ink done on a whim and ink chosen because it represents a poignant, deeply-held memory. You can immediately see the difference between truly well-done tattoos and poorly done ones but you cannot tell at a glance whether a tattoo falls under the “whim” category or the “deeply emotional” one. And yet there you stand, judging the wearer of said tattoo because they – gasp! – dared to put ink on their bodies.
Before you ask, no, I don’t have any tattoos. I’m one of those people who has wanted good ink for years and just never gotten around to it. Quite a few of my friends have them, though, and I’ve watched those friends get insulted and have their skills and reputations as firearms instructors called into question based entirely on the existence of their tattoos.
Have tattoos? Well, then…you cannot possibly be a competent shooter let alone a skilled firearms instructor, range master, or lecturer. Same goes for piercings – now those I’ve had quite a few of although I’m currently down to single digits – and brightly colored hair. Yes that would be me over here with my unnatural, inappropriate blue hair.
Sapphire-blue hair? You can’t possibly be a good representative for the firearms world. The horror!
Ink representing a lost loved one? Heavens! So trashy (if you’re with me saying, “wait, what?” you’re getting it). You cannot possibly be a qualified, certified firearms instructor.
The presence of ink, piercings, or blue hair – or the lack thereof – has nothing to do with firearms skills. Full sleeves on one or both arms do not tip your body weight forward and negate your ability to stay on target; piercings do not magnetize the barrel and ruin groups.
It’s reality that my generation – I’m a Gen X-er – and other, younger generations have been much freer with tattoos and piercings (and blue hair). For us these things should not be relegated to sailors and inmates. They’re awesome ways of expressing ourselves and remembering lost loved ones.
Picture yourself as a new shooter or even as a liberal who has decided to try out guns for the first time (I met one during my trip which was a trip in itself). You find a firearms academy or a public range where lessons are being offered. You sign up for a training course or basic firearm safety course.
The very first day of class you walk in and find yourself facing a bunch of – forgive me here guys, because I have many friends I respect among what some might consider the Good Old Boys Club – a group of older men, fully representative of the earlier era of the industry. Might these men be stellar trainers? Yes. Might they be a bit intimidating? Also yes. Might they disapprove of the newcomer’s tattoos, piercings, or colored hair? Oh, yes.
Now imagine you’ve signed up for a pistol course and walk in to find the lead firearms instructor is a woman – or a man – closer to your own age. They have tattoos. Or piercings. Are you immediately put at least somewhat more at ease? I bet you are.
The new generation of firearm instructors are often inked or pierced and are every bit as competent as their un-inked counterparts (or more). If more academies would bring in talented shooters who just happen to be younger and inked – or whatever – it would open the doors to a younger generation of potential shooters who would be far more comfortable training with people who, well, look like them.
Think what this would do for concealed carry and self-defense alone. It would also welcome more seasoned shooters looking to expand their defensive training horizons who are intimidated by the current, older pool of instructors.
Last year someone with prominence in the media slice of the industry took one look at Kris “Tanto” Paronto’s shirtless, tattooed Ballistic Magazine cover and laid out some seriously bad insults on social media (more than once). Tanto was one of the men who battled insurgents in Benghazi and survived (if you’re not familiar with the 2012 Benghazi attack it’s past time to familiarize yourself). His actions make him not just some guy on a magazine cover, but an American hero.
His response to the insult was reasonable:
“Every day since I was on that roof, I promised to do new things that force me to be uncomfortable so that I can grow. We don’t inspire those around us by doing the same thing. Not all scars are visual and my tattoos represent the culmination of my life’s experiences. Many servicemen have tattoos that mean different things to them. Things that they can’t explain. Displaying my tattoos on the cover of Ballistic Magazine means displaying some of the most intimate parts of what makes up my identity. Through that I hope I can encourage others to enrich their lives and the lives of those around them by allowing themselves to be authentic.”
Those who work in the gun world should be judged by their knowledge and shooting skills, not by their appearance. Be clean and put together, yes, but things like tattoos and colored hair have zero to do with someone’s abilities.
After watching someone I respect be treated poorly because of ink – ink representative of a dearly-held memory, by the way – I decided it was time to speak out. The industry is changing whether you like it or not. It’s a good thing, people! We’re diversifying, and that diversity opens the floodgates to newcomers we might not otherwise have a chance to teach. Insulting, belittling, or otherwise degrading someone because they’re tattooed does not help the industry. It cripples it.
Here’s a thought: next time you consider saying something sharp and cutting to someone, not because they aren’t skilled but because they dare to have tattoos, hit pause. Consider that your own personal bias is just that – personal – and the majority of people either think nothing of the existence of tattoos or think they’re awesome. We will not thrive until the industry quits tearing itself apart from within.
Knock it off. Knowledge, skill, and a stubborn desire to learn are the things that matter. A tattoo neither cancels out skill nor sucks away someone’s ability to garner respect. Our strength is in our diversity and it is time the industry at large acknowledged that. Now if you’ll excuse me, my blue hair and I have guns to review.