Thursday, August 18, 2005

Vile Bill's IPSC Shooting Genesis

Vile Bill and I have been exchanging email for the past week, and I have to say that referring to this gentleman as "Vile Bill" is similar to Robin Hood referring to the oversized John Little as "Little John". Bill seems to be a genuine Nice Guy, and a devoted convert to IPSC competition.

He retains this gentle humor even though he lives in Canoga Park, California. Canoga Park may be a nice place to live, but the politics of his home state are difficult to endure. For example, he wants to start 3-gun competition but can't own an AR in California. Bummer, Dude!

Bill sent me the link to an article he had written for this website. (You can read the article by clicking on the title of this article, or click here.) While the original article refers to "combat shooting", he is really talking about his introduction to IPSC generally, and USPSA specifically.

The experiences of "The Wizard of Canoga Park" (note obscure reference to Edison) are typical of many people who found IPSC as a means to fill a need, and actively sought a sport that matched their criteria by searching the interned. I told him that a thousand people could sign their names to his article, because surely that many people took the first step (an Internet search) of their own volition and were surprised by the warm reception they received.

Essentially, Bill wanted to shoot his pistol but found bullseye unexciting. His Internet search referenced both IDPA and IPSC/USPSA. The tone of IDPA was dismissive and contemptuous of IPSC, so naturally he chose IPSC. This isn't surprising to me. In my experience, the people who choose IPSC over IDPA may be a little rebellious, but they uniformly do not respond positively to a group of people whose instinctive response to competing venues smacks of elitism. This should, perhaps, be a lesson to us all.

Bill not only found an exciting sport in IPSC, but he found people who were inclusive and friendly. As Bill wrote in a private email:

If I dare say, I think it's a good account of someone who came across a great recreational outlet and some of the greatest people he's ever had occasion to associate with.

I always have the hope a non-USPSA'er might see it and give it a, er, shot. . . . (I)t's really about the people and the camaraderie. I've gotten the tips, the trigger jobs, etc. In fact, I think I trust my gunsmith/buddy more than I do my doctor!
I share his hopes that this will be read by people who don't currently shoot IPSC, who may even be entirely unaware that the competitive venue exists. It may encourage them to research the competitive venues available, and decide (as so many people who read this website have decided) that IPSC is a fun, safe and exciting sport.

Here's where I get on my soap-box.

I think that the individual clubs can do much more to attract new participants than USPSA itself. While the regional headquarters does provide a small amount of funding for some grass-roots programs, there is no leadership or policy to actively encourage clubs to make the effort.

Maybe our leadership needs to work on policy in regards to marketing the sport.
Maybe we need new leadership.

I don't know what we can expect from USPSA, but we (as IPSC competitors, and members of gun clubs which host IPSC competitions), don't need to wait for USPSA to show us how to build membership. We can design our own programs.

For example, one of the cheapest ways to attract new people would be for the club to print up a 3-fold brochure about the activities available at their club (prominently featuring IPSC competition, of course) and put them on the checkout counter of every gun store in their area. They need to follow-up to make sure that plenty of the folders are still available, and resupply the stores as needed. The brochure should include a contact number where anyone could call for more information, and even a website URL if available.

Every club which runs IPSC matches in the Columbia Cascade Section (CCS) has a website, and links to their IPSC program are on the main webpage. Also, at least one of the clubs (to my certain knowledge) has both USPSA brochures and club brochures, which they provide to attendees at their semi-annual gun shows.

A couple of years ago, SWMBO and I hosted a table at the gun show. We put out all of our various pistols, all the holsters and belts and magazines and magazine carriers, and wore our STI shirts and hats as a sort of uniform. The bright colors attracted some attention. Even more effective, we had a video tape a friend had made of the last Area Championship match, and we had that playing (with the sound turned up!) on a portable TV/VICAR combination on the table. We alternated the match film with training films I had purchased from Ron Avery. Between the two video sources, we had constant sight-and-sound attractions which often caused the aisle to clog up because we had so many people standing there, watching the videos.

SWMBO and I constantly manned the table for both days. We were friendly and happy to talk about IPSC and any other shooting-related subject the passers-by asked about. We repeatedly described the equipment differences between the Divisions, as represented by the various pistols on display, and we gave away so many brochures the first day, we had to go to Kinko's that night to print up another hundred in black-and-white (we were paying for this out of our pockets, so we weren't about to spring for full-color copies!)

The club had sponsored the table, and all we had to do was provide decorations and exhibits. They provided the initial run of brochures and they had the club table right behind ours, with a somewhat larger supply PLUS the club president and vice president on hand to answer more questions.

Also, they had sponsored a table for the Full-Auto (Machine Gun) program at the club, and sited that table right next to ours. Between the three tables, they had a crowd of people clustered in a small area at all times.

They didn't track any of the new memberships, or new IPSC competitors, who were enrolled because of that two-day effort, but judging by the number of visitors we had I assume that both the club and USPSA gained some new members through these efforts.

Not every gun club can present a website for their club AND a separate one for their IPSC discipline as does the Albany Rifle and Pistol Club.

But every club can, and should, provide brochures advertising the club and describe the kind of shooting activities available there. One of our friends, Awesome Al, recently showed me the prototype of a brochure which he had designed on his home computer. It was a 3-fold brochure (8x10 printed on both sides, full-color, folded into thirds) which was camera-ready for submittal to a printer. I hope his club provided the funds for the printing, and equally as important established a plan to distribute these brochures where they would be picked up by people who have already demonstrated an interest in shooting.

Again, any place where shooters gather is a good place to advertise. Gun shows, gun shops, public ranges -- these are all good candidates.

Here are other places where these brochures may be placed in quantity, or at least displayed:
  • the bulletin board at your place of work
  • shopping centers
  • churches (yes, churches!)
  • community centers
  • schools
  • youth centers
  • flea markets
  • yard / garage sales
  • sporting events
  • tucked behind windshield wipers in parking lots
  • on ranges at your gun club (people attending may not be aware of the wide variety of shooting sports available to them)
  • on ranges at OTHER gun clubs (it may encourage the BOD of those gun clubs to offer other shooting sports, or draw shooters to your club to try new sports)
I'm sure you can expand on the list. You know best where members of your community gather.
You will note that my list includes venues which cater to children. The USPSA Junior Program conducts an active youth drive, and of course parents are strongly encouraged to attend -- or even to join their children.

The emphasis on safety and training in IPSC is paramount; everyone who participates must receive training and undergo a testing regimen which insures that every participant is aware of, and is able to abide by, the necessary basic rules of gun safety AND the special techniques which are part of IPSC competition. Nobody is allowed to actual participate in competition until he or she has proven that they have both the skills and the maturity to safely handle firearms under the pressures of competition.

I have personal knowledge of people who had the desire to participate, but were unable to demonstrate safe firearms handling knowledge and skills even after training was competed, and were prevented from joining competition.

This is an extreme sport. It isn't for everyone. While we would like 'everyone' to participate, this isn't possible. IPSC is perhaps one of the safest action-shooting sports available if only because its standards are high.

The 'State' cannot -- or will not -- set standards of proficiency to insure safety in competition. It is to the credit of USPSA that this organization will and does set standards, and enforces them. When any competitor, no matter how experienced, fails to meet minimum safety standards on any given day, he or she is immediately stopped and Disqualified from further competition for the remainder of that match. Those who continually fail to meet safety standards (and they are few, given the rigor of the training and certification process) eventually drop out due to repeated disappointment; or, if their violation of safety standards is particularly egregious, USPSA acts to revoke their permission to compete.

Ultimately, IPSC is a safe sport because the safety standards are set high. They are constantly monitored by experienced and trained Range Officers. Any violation of safety rules immediately results in punitive action, which means that the offender is stopped from shooting.

This permits the sport to activively solicit juniors (with the consent and participation of their parents or guardians), and people who may not have previously considered Action Shooting as a viable sport.

This is a completely results-oriented sport. If you can meet the standards, you can compete. If you can meet the safety standards, but aren't particularly competitive -- you can still compete. If you are not a safe competitor, you can not compete.

In this day of ignoring responsibility for our individual actions, there are no excuses.

What could be more fair?

Thus Vile Bill can work to attract new participants in IPSC, with the comforting assurance that those who cannot participate safely will be weeded out. Those who are left will be at least safe. Whether they are good company will be accepted or rejected by societal pressures.

IPSC shooters will not abide a "jerk" among them.

They find no friends, and they don't get invited to the barbecues

6 comments:

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