On the shoulders of giants

Yesterday, my good friend Richard Mann put up a very thought-provoking post called “Where have all the great gun writers gone” in which he examined the current state of gun writing and its lack of great writers such as Jeff Cooper, Jack O’Connor, and Elmer Keith, to name a few. I agree with Richard; I grew up in the sport reading those same writers, and they were a huge inspiration in my getting into writing. I said as much on Richard’s facebook page. My comment was immediately followed up with this:

John Wydra
Being in my sixties I am well acquainted with most of the writers you mentioned. I feel the internet has diluted the quality. Quite a few of these young welps have actually disparaged the writing of those men. Yes what they wrote those many years ago still hold true today. But some of these internet warriors feel they have the new answers due to the change of tactics and equipment. Kicking dirt on the faces of those that preceded them. While these new writers lack experience as well as respect for those gun writers of long ago. Their lack of experience hasn’t slowed their opinionated writings.

My first thought was, “Well, that didn’t take long.” My next thought was a truly deep sense of frustration, because Richard’s article wasn’t about tearing anyone down. It was asking a question. I was frustrated and dismayed that John decided to go negative so quickly, and tear down and entire generation of up-and-coming writers and speakers for no actual reason.

There are great communicators out there in the gun community, and many of them are online. They stand on the shoulders of giants like Jeff Cooper and Elmer Keith, but they also don’t accept that just because something was said by one of the greats that it’s still applicable today. Techniques have evolved, tactics have changed, and guns have gotten better. What may have been the best ideas during the dawning of the Modern Technique may not be the best today, as tactics and techniques must adapt to a changing world. We have experts and warriors who’ve been tested in over a decade of warfare, competition shooters who can shoot to a level that would be unimaginable to the greats in days of yore, and yet to question them is seen as sacrilege to many.

My generation of writers, communicators and trainers stand on the shoulders of great men like Jeff Cooper. Every single defensive pistol instructor uses some bits of what Jeff Cooper began so many years ago. Every single modern action pistol shooter owes a debt to the original Southwestern Combat Pistol League. But that doesn’t mean that we or anyone should mindlessly genuflect to the ideas of the greats simply because they were great. If we don’t question assumptions, we become stagnant. We stop learning. If Rob Leatham and Brian Enos hadn’t questioned the assumption that Weaver was The Way, we’d not have the superior Modern Isosceles technique. If Gaston Glock hadn’t questioned the way guns are made, we wouldn’t have the modern age of polymer pistols. Jeff Cooper was a great, brilliant mind. But he also said that it was acceptable to toss your first DA shot in the dirt to “skip” to the SA trigger on a DA/SA gun. That’s not great or brilliant.

My generation of writers has many great communicators. I’m not one of them; I’m just an average IDPA shooter that happens to blog. But people like my friend Natalie Foster are bringing the gun culture’s message to an entire new generation of shooters and gun owners. Ryan Gresham is following in the footsteps of his father and grandfather, and there are countless other writers, bloggers, and youtube personalities out there producing smart, insightful comment. Sure, there are plenty of clowns and jokers, and yes the internet has given them a voice as well. The benefit of that is we live in a world where it’s easier than ever to find information on guns, shooting, hunting, and defensive firearms use. If the trade-off for that is having to be a little more careful with information selection than you were during the age of the magazine, I’ll take that any day of the week.

I’ve said it several times now, and I’ll say it one last time in conclusion. My generation of communicators stands on the shoulders of giants. Without Jeff Cooper, Jack O’Connor, Elmer Keith, and the other great writers it is entirely possible that we wouldn’t have anything to write about at all. But in standing on their shoulders, we also question assumptions, and by so doing we create a stronger and more vibrant culture than they could have possibly imagined. No community is enriched when ideas and assumptions go unchallenged and are not discussed out of deference for their progenitors; instead it grows only when people are free to question the ideas of the greats. By doing that, we have continued to grow a gun culture that today stands larger and more powerful than it has ever been. If I have to question the ideas of my heroes to get that result, I’ll do it gladly.

7 thoughts on “On the shoulders of giants”

  1. Thanks for this. I enjoyed reading Mann’s piece, and it reminded me back when I subscribed to G&A a million years ago (some of it before I was old enough to legally buy a gun), whenever I’d get a new one, I’d flip to the back page and read Cooper’s Corner. Then it was Skelton’s Down on the Border, and only after those two would I return to the front and read cover-to-cover. Often I ended up reading Cooper’s Corner again when I got to it.

    Mann’s piece, and yours, have inspired me to find some of that “old stuff” and put it back on my reading list.

  2. Shooting is a science, not a religion. Col. Cooper, et al, were not prophets laying down unqustionable dogma from the heavens. They were researchers like Newton, Bohr, Einstein, discovering principles and techniques. Sometimes they would go down the wrong road, making mistakes and drawing the wrong conclusions. But humans do that sometimes, and that doesn’t make what they did any less appreciated.

  3. Very well said. Now since you made me famous,lolol. While it seems like you took my comments personal, they were a very broad and general statement. They were not pointed at you as a writer/blogger. Let me put it this way, there is way too much misinformation on the web about firearms. Being as I said, in my sixties and having been shooting since nine years of age. When some of the newer shooters who know me ask me questions about what they have read online I have a hard time believing what they have read/youtube. I have always told them to get their information if they must via more reputable sources, I.E. Brownells, NRA, GunNuts, writers who make a living writing like Richard Mann, Jim Wilson, etc. Not the general yahoo who has a video camera and worse grammar than I, which I realize is poor so forgive me for that. Unfortunately, like firearms instructors, there are a lot of “experts” out there. Many of the newer shooters take the word of these folks as gospel. they really don’t know the difference between good and bad info, they are a trusting lot. It is unfortunate as the saturation of opinion has more misinformation. This is what I was referring to ,not you, And if you look, I follow you, Shelley, Gun Nuts, etc. But again, if we are honest, don’t you feel like there is a ton of poor firearms information being spread by these folks? Yes, I have my favorites like Cooper, Keith, Skelton, Taylor, Johnston, etc. I understand things change and progress, my 1911 even has a brother a striker fired Glock.lolol So to make this long rambling story come to an end, if you took my opinion/comment as personal, it was not meant to be. Keep on writing/blogging as you are one of the sources I do enjoy.

    1. Note: this is a repost from my response to John on FB

      John, I didn’t take them as a personal attack; rather I saw them as an example of something that frustrates me from time to time. Being relatively young by gun industry standards, I frequently see writers and communicators of my generation dismissed as “kids” regardless of their expertise. Your comment served as a handy springboard for me to put my thoughts into a more coherent format.

  4. It’s true there’s a lot of nonsense on the web and on YouTube, but sometimes people looking back forget that for every Elmer Keith, Jeff Cooper or Finn Aagaard there were carloads of other guys writing for the monthlies or getting published in Guns Annual, Shooters Bible, Gun Digest etc.who didn’t really know what they were talking about.

    The biggest difference now is that with a search engine and a few keystrokes you can check other opinions and do some research from your home instead of going to the library or waiting for future publications.

  5. There are a few really good ones out there still. Most of the happen to be a Guns/American Handgunner; John Taffin, Duke Venturino, Clint Smith, Massad Ayoob. Garry James over and Guns and Ammo does the old stuff better than anyone. Patrick Sweeney seems to be pretty good all around. I’m sure there are others, those are just the ones I can think of off the top of my head. This is after reading the gun mags for 25+ years.

  6. What Robbie says.

    It’s like music. Everyone gets older and laments about how modern popular music is so much suckage “these days”, as opposed to the great music from their youth. Completely forgetting that, in their youth, there was a bunch of mindless dreck side-by-side with the few pieces that are pretty much the ONLY things remembered now.

    Three words, that will bitch-slap us back to reality, concerning the rose colored view that the “old” gun writers were all greats, as opposed to today where there are so many hacks and so few greats: “Acceptable combat accuracy.” 😉

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