Reality Check: Just Having a Gun Isn’t Enough in Today’s America

range train mindset
Courtesy Paul Markel

“Well, I have a gun, so I think I’m ready.” Such was the response of one gentleman during a recent group conversation regarding the potential for civil unrest, a la the summer of 2020 when America’s cities were burned in a “mostly peaceful” manner.

Sadly, that’s not the first time I have heard such a comment from a “reasonable” person. There seems to be a common thread flowing through reasonable and respectable people that by purchasing and then owning a gun or two will dissuade those who would come to their neighborhoods to loot and riot.

Everyone Will Have a Gun

The cold, hard fact is that whether we’re discussing a street attack, a home invasion, or a full-blown riot situation, the bad guys are going to be armed, too. They don’t fill out Form 4473’s. They steal guns, barter narcotics for them, or simply purchase them on the black market. Heck, the Mexican drug cartels were armed by the so-called US Justice Department and what Sniffy Joe likes to call the “AFT.” Another ugly reality is that the looters are counting on you owning guns, because one of their missions is going to be to overwhelm your neighborhood and steal them along with whatever else you may own.

Good-hearted, respectable people need to stop deluding themselves with the idea that career criminals are afraid of the sight of a gun. Kyle Rittenhouse was holding an AR-15 rifle and before he was forced to press the trigger, a mob harassed, chased, and attacked him. That mob certainly saw his gun. The bet that they lost was that he would be afraid to press the trigger.

Why would they have thought that?  Simple. A large percentage of the good people of America don’t want to fire a gun at another person and criminal vermin are betting on that fact…or at least the built-in hesitation that moral people have. They don’t possess morality and can’t conceive of others being burdened by it. 

It’s cliche to say, If you own a gun, you need to be mentally prepared to use it. Nonetheless that statement is the absolute truth. Far too many people of whom I have spoken seem to operate under the false premise that looters, rioters, and other criminals will see that they have a gun in their hands and run away scared while requiring a change of undergarments.

Almost every career criminal has had guns pointed at them by police innumerable times. Many have even been shot and lived to tell about it. Yes, it’s possible that a criminal will see that you have a gun and retreat. However…that can’t be your total defensive strategy. If you point a firearm at a looter, rioter, or attacker, they need to believe that you’re serious and will use it.        

Mindset, Tactics, and Skill

So, if we’re all in agreement that all of the participants in an urban conflict will be armed, we need to address the topics of mindset, tactics, and skill level. During 2024, Student of the Gun University has held numerous training courses to address skill with handguns, shotguns, and rifles. In each and every class, we have had students relate how they invited a friend or relative to join them, only to be told “I think I’m pretty good” or “I know how to shoot.”

That’s the Dunning-Kruger effect in all its glory. For those uninitiated, the Dunning-Kruger Effect occurs when a person’s lack of knowledge and skill in a certain area causes them to overestimate their own competence.

During a recent class we had a younger man who, on the first morning of the first day, stated that he had “a great deal of shooting experience.” What he was able to come to understand on his own was that going to the shooting range with his dad is tremendously different than training to carry, draw, and operate a firearm as a fighting tool in a martial fashion. Shooting guns is not the equivalent of fighting with a gun in your hand. 

Let’s go back to the fact that everyone in the fight will be armed. If such is the case, what is the “X factor” that will determine who will come out victorious and who will lose the fight? It seems pretty obvious that those who employ the best tactics and have the most skill (training leads to skill) will be the ones who win. 

It might be easy to assume that the average gangbanger or rioter has never taken professional firearms training and that could be a safe bet if we didn’t know that many organized gangs do indeed have military veterans in their ranks. Platt and Matix, the killers in the FBI Miami Shootout, were both military veterans. 

Let’s say for the sake of argument that none of the gangbangers and rioters headed to loot your neighborhood have had any professional training. There’s something they absolutely do have; experience with violence and no compunction about using it to get what they want. Career criminals have been attacking rivals and victimizing citizens all their lives. 

Criminal gangs might be populated with troglodytes, but they are frequently organized and they know how to work as a team. How many armed citizen homeowners have ever gone out and worked with their fellow armed citizens as a team? No, going to the shooting range at the same time is not team training.   

Forget criminals’ training, experience committing violence, and organization. Another hard cold reality is that the average rioter or looter is going to be younger and in better physical condition than the average suburban homeowner. They also tend to come in packs.

“That’s why I have a gun, because my attacker will be younger, faster, and stronger.” Cool story, bro. But you already told me that you don’t have training and your plan is to point your gun at them. Remember, they will have guns, too and they will have numbers on their side.  


I saved “Mindset” for last, not because it’s least important, but because it deserves its own section. Mindset is what determines every choice you make. Your mindset determines whether or not you take the time to attend training and prepare your mind and body versus just buying a gun. Your mindset determines whether or not you will try to bluff the vermin who have descended on your neighborhood by pointing a gun in their general direction.

Mindset is a intangible and critical thing that you can’t order from Amazon or pick up at the local gun shop. Mindset isn’t automatic, nor are you born with it. Mindset must be developed over time with dedicated effort and determined application.

The positive news is this; as an American citizen, you have the unique opportunity to make the decision to attend training, get realistic and practical experience, and develop the fighting mindset you need to survive in the gravest extreme. As Geddy Lee once opined in song, “If you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice.”

Choose wisely. Your life and the lives of those you love may very well depend on it.   

Paul G. Markel is a combat decorated United States Marine veteran. He is also the founder of Student the Gun University and has been teaching Small Arms & Tactics to military personnel, police officers, and citizens for over three decades.

9 Responses

  1. This should be required reading for those who think they know it all.
    Problem I have with some people is getting them to listen and accept.
    Many have a closed mind and think they know it all.
    One person told me, ” know how to point and pull the trigger” and refused
    any further conversation about safety, handling etc

  2. While everything this guy says is true, the whole tone of it just screams “wannabe tacitard douchebag.” There’s an expression — walk softly and carry a big stick. You see douches like this on youtube, dressed up in camo, cosplaying the tough guy, when in reality, it’s gonna be the guys dressed like civilians, pretending to be homeless and injured, with pistols and short barreled rifles beneath their coats, that will get the jump on you. Reality time — dressing up like a soldier makes you a big fat target. Walking around with an AR15 decked out with the latest gadgets makes you a big fat target. “Come and take it” stickers and patches make you a big fat target. Hopefully this gasbag sets aside some time to talk about “walking softly.”

    Oh … and thank you for your service.

  3. This is why I say, If you not going to train with your gun? Then get a revolver. It’s regular training that helps to build a mindset, that you need to pull, and not pull that trigger.

    Because most times you don’t need to pull the trigger. Most times you need to just walk away. Avoid confrontations.

    1. And what happens when your opponent doesn’t deign to give you that option?

      Confrontation, like the start of a war, can be avoided only if both parties agree to avoid it. Also like war, once started, it can only be stopped when both parties agree, or when someone has won decisively.

    2. You don’t get to make that choice when its 2AM and you have an armed home invasion by multiple intruders. Or if you’re at the mall or movie theater and someone decides to take their problems out on a crowded area. Planning for “most times” is utterly stupid. Plan for the worst. If you’ve already made the commitment to be armed and responsible, you should be planning for the worst. Telling people that they should carry a revolver because they don’t train is worthless advice.

  4. No matter how much you train or how proficient you are with a firearm. If you lack the mindset to act when SHTF it is all for not.

  5. There might be riots in downtown Atlanta, but that isn’t going to happen where we are, the facts on the ground just don’t support it. Rioters are mostly lazy and not up to walking more than a few blocks, so if you avoid going within half a dozen blocks of crowded and blighted areas you will be fine. Armed and trained is far better than not, but avoiding stupid people, problematic places, and especially at idiotic times will help keep your life less interesting!

    1. Bussed them in for the 2020 Albany riots but unless your region has either easy targets of opportunity, some political control issues, or is just an easy testing ground next to an FBI HQ.

  6. Disappointing responses. ‘Not going to happen here’ is exactly the mindset this article references. Spontaneous riots may in fact be limited to dense urban areas, but what was shown during the COVID/BLM ‘Summer of Love’ was that these groups were organized and being transported to rural/suburban areas to share the misery with the middle class demographics that only saw the drama on the news. Several busloads of antifa were turned around by organized groups of armed residents in various locales, who had no interest in facing another Rittenhouse response. If you review the Kenosha riot case, many of the participants were brought in from as far away as Portland, Oregon and other points on the left coast.

    The knowledge actually retained from a 4-day class in gunfighting while dressed in tactical gear may be just enough to get you through a situation where you need to cover the 2-3 access points of your home, in the middle of the night in your boxers and a t-shirt, while coordinating with one or two family members. I suppose an even better litmus test of your abilities would be to run the ‘Rittenhouse Drill’ and see how you would fare under similar circumstances. As the article states, shooting and fighting with a gun are two different animals – most any monkey can put a red dot on a target and pull the trigger. It is the movement, communication, gunhandling and situational awareness that is only learned through experience that moves one beyond a recreational shooter, and you don’t get that on a 180-degree range.

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