The Gunning-Kruger Effect

Right off the bat, let’s go ahead and let me admit I stole the term Gunning-Kruger from a meme page on social media. Yep, I stole it, but it’s clever, and it gave me the idea for this article. The world of firearms has a lot of Dunning-Kruger effects going on. Gunning-Kruger is just a much more clever name for the phenomenon. One of the key tenets of Dunning-Kruger is that some people are overconfident in their skills because they lack the insight to know that they could do better. You don’t know what you don’t know, but you think you know everything. 

That describes a ton of people in the firearms world. Enough so that I think we can adopt Gunning-Kruger to describe the behavior of these people. The more you train, the more you study, and the more you listen to educated sources, the more you realize what you don’t know. Sadly, some people don’t even know where to look for this information and usually don’t even know it exists. While it’s easy to make fun of those people, it’s better that we educate them. 

The best way to point out that people are suffering from Gunning-Kruger is to point out the most common symptoms of the condition, and that’s what we plan to address today. 

I’ve Been Shooting My Whole Life

This is one of the most common excuses, responses, and qualifiers in the world of Gunning-Kruger. It’s often used to excuse poor technique and firearm choice. It’s used as a means to make one’s opinion valid. You’ll hear it a lot from someone who doesn’t know how to shoot well. You can do anything for a long period of time and be bad at it. Without proper instruction and training, you won’t know how bad you are. 

I’ve been shooting for as long as I can remember. I got pretty good at hitting cans with a .22LR and open sights, but that’s about 0.05% of shooting. Introduce timed drills with accuracy standards, and hitting a soda can for fun seems awfully easy. If you’ve been shooting your entire life but can’t score an all-black 10-10-10 drill, then you might want to get training. 

My (Family Member) Was a Cop/Military 

This is another good one. If I had a nickel for everyone who claimed they knew how to shoot because their dad/brother/uncle was in the military or police officer, I’d have enough to pay to send one to a class. Plenty of awesome shooters are or were in the military or law enforcement, but not every military member or police officer knows how to shoot. 

Most might know more than the average bear, but qualing with a service rifle once a year doesn’t make you an expert. Your dad might be a DEVGRU member, and maybe he did teach you how to shoot pretty well, but that’s not most people.

A recruit of Company K, 2nd Recruit Training Battalion, aims in on a target 500-yards away at Edson Range aboard Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, Calif. Jan. 24. Recruits must become proficient with the rifle and qualify at the firing range during the sixth week of recruit training.

Most soldiers and cops aren’t gun guys, and they might have taught you some basics, but that doesn’t make you an expert shooter. 

If you’ve received instruction from a family member but never saw a shot timer, then it’s likely not the best training. Take that training you’ve gotten and try to shoot a Bill Drill. If you can get it done in under three seconds, then you’ve been well-trained. If not, maybe you should accept you’re suffering from Gunning-Kruger and seek training. 

I Was In The Military 

I, too, have suffered from Gunning-Kruger. When I got out of the Marine Corps in 2013 I thought I was hot stuff. I’d been in gunfights, I shot a ton as an infantryman, and honestly, I had great NCOs and officers who made sure I could do my job. 

I took this to mean I was a fantastic shot, a pro. It turns out my military training might have been great for a military member, but it didn’t prepare me for concealed carry or even home defense all that well.

In the military, you are trained for militaristic combat in most cases. It turns out fire and maneuver doesn’t really apply to civilian self-defense or even police use. Your knowledge of civilian self-defense is pretty low, and being in the military isn’t a valid argument for a radically different mission set. 

Sure, there is some crossover, but military training doesn’t make you an expert, especially when you did one contract and embraced that end-of-service freedom. You might know a thing or two, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t seek additional training for your new life as a civilian looking to defend themselves. 

Bet You Won’t Stand In Front Of It 

One of the most common symptoms of Gunning-Kruger used to defend poor choices in guns, ammo, and more is the classic, “I bet you won’t stand in front of it.” Yeah, you’re right. I won’t let you shoot with birdshot, but that doesn’t mean it is a great option for home defense. I wouldn’t let you shoot me with a marshmallow gun. That doesn’t make it a good gun for home defense. 

A picture of a Nerf Elite Strike 2
photo credit: Nerf/Hasbro

If this thought is about to cross your mind and make its way to your fingertips for an internet argument, just stop. Take a movement to consider your firearm and have objective, factual data. Post a video of you shooting a FAST Drill and prove them all wrong. Find something written by an expert and present it as evidence. If you can’t defend your choice outside of ‘bet you won’t stand in front of it,’ then maybe you should do more research.

The Gunning-Kruger Days 

I learned a few years ago that shutting up and listening is often the best way to go. You’ll learn a lot more. This goes along with associating with good, knowledgeable people and being willing to be the dumbest one in the room. That’s how you get better and how you learn, and it helps overcome Gunning-Kruger. It’s okay not to be good at something. However, it’s pretty embarrassing not to be good at something but assume you’re an expert. 

Travis Pike
Travis Pike is a former Marine Machine gunner who served with 2nd Bn 2nd Marines for 5 years. He deployed in 2009 to Afghanistan and again in 2011 with the 22nd MEU(SOC) during a record setting 11 months at sea. He’s trained with the Romanian Army, the Spanish Marines, the Emirate Marines and the Afghan National Army. He serves as an NRA certified pistol instructor and teaches concealed carry classes.