Shooting sports ethics, part 3

“Winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing.” – Vince Lombardi
“If winning isn’t everything, why do they keep score?” – Vince Lombardi
“The only thing I’m addicted to is winning.” – Charlie Sheen
“It kills me to lose.” – Jackie Robinson
“A person who says ‘winning isn’t everything’ never won anything.” – Mia Hamm
“I’d run over my mother to win the Super Bowl.” – Russ Grimm

Winning is hugely important in our culture. We put sports champions up on pedestals, excuse their bad off-field behavior, and look the other way as long as they’re winning. Sports fans see this all the time and make the mental justifications: “Oh sure, Ben Wafflesburger raped some people but he’s won the Super Bowl twice!” All in the name of winning.

How does that mindset translate to the shooting sports? It’s interesting, because in many cases it doesn’t. In the NFL and MLB, all the players are professionals. Their job and livelihood is directly tied to victory on the field. A .250 hitting middle infielder with a great glove is a lot more likely to have continued employment on a good team than he is on a team that’s looking for a solution to their woes. But in the shooting sports, the vast majority of the shooters aren’t professional shooters. For the sake of this post, the term professional shooter will be applied to people who make most or all of their living from employment in the firearms industry and performance in shooting matches figures in to their compensation and employment duties. But that’s not the point; because the “win at all cost” mindset is actually pretty pervasive, and it leads to the really sticky ethical situations.

Yesterday, we looked at obvious penalties like shooting a no-shoot. But what about the less obvious stuff? Here are three simple examples:

  • You break the 180 doing a reload, but the RO doesn’t see it.
  • You break cover at an IDPA match and shoot but the SO doesn’t call it
  • You have an ND that you know is an ND, but the RO doesn’t call it because it went in the general direction of the target.

Situation 1, what’s the “right thing?” If you go the RO and say “hey, I totally broke the 180 on that reload” there is a very real chance you could get DQ’d. I can’t tell you what the right choice is, but I’ve had it happen. I had a match where I broke the 180, didn’t get called for it, and finished the stage. After I’d be scored, one of my shooting buddies told me that I broke the 180, and I said “yeah, I know. I got away with one there.” I didn’t say anything, but I did learn from it, and have been very conscientious of the 180 line ever since then.

Situation 2, we’ve all had that happen. It usually happens so fast that it’s a “bang-bang” play as they call it in the NFL. Everyone at every IDPA match ever gets away with one or two cover violations.

Situation 3: I’ve seen some shooters self-DQ for that, where they’ll have an ND that they know is an ND, and stop themselves and unload and show clear. I’ve also seen shooters just keep on keeping on, because since the round went in the general direction of the target they were engaging and didn’t meet the specific requirements for a DQ, they hadn’t broken a rule.

The reason I want to talk about these situations is that these are the ethical questions that are a lot more common than shooting a no-shoot that no one sees. These are the little decisions that are easy to justify in the name of winning, or sometimes just not getting DQ’d.

There is also a huge difference between actions that would negatively affect you (DQ’s) and actions that would negative affect the integrity of the match like procedurals or penalties. On top of that, we all seem to agree that some forms of cheating are worse than others. Here are two more examples:

  • Using a gun that’s illegal for your division due to competitive modifications, because you know there won’t be an equipment check.
  • Committing a foot-fault on accident and not getting called for it

Everyone would agree that the first example is bad, because it’s intentionally cheating. You’re breaking the rules and you know it, and you’re doing it to gain an advantage. No one would sanction that kind of behavior. But the in the second example, you’re still breaking the rules, just this time it’s on accident. But no one is going to think that you’re an evil cheater if the RO doesn’t call a foot fault and you don’t fess up to it, because it was accidental. Yes, it’s a double standard, and it’s one that creates the gray areas that this post deals with.

I can’t control other people’s actions. I’m also not very smart, so I like to keep my decisions simple. An action taken with the intent to circumvent the rules and gain an advantage is wrong, and should be penalized in every instance possible. That’s cheating. If I won a match with illegal equipment, it wouldn’t be a real win even if I got away with it.

When you commit an objective penalty like hitting a no-shoot or a foot fault in USPSA, own it.

When you commit a subjective penalty like maybe breaking the 180, or a cover violation in IDPA, it’s up to you to decide what’s right or not. I’m not in the business of judging people, so if you chose to let it slide, I’d understand that. If you chose to self-report to the RO, I respect that as well. For the guys like me, who let the “little things” slide, we run the very real risk of then justifying further bad behavior. The only way to prevent that is to make sure that when you “get away with one”, you learn from it. I’m maniacal about paying attention to my 180s now, because I got away with one once. If you don’t learn it from, you’ll end up rolling down a slippery-slope, and at the bottom of that hill is Cheater Land. Don’t go there.

And whatever you do, don’t ever argue that a shot is a perfect double when you know it’s actually 1 hit and a miss.


  1. “I’ve seen some shooters self-DQ for that, where they’ll have an ND that they know is an ND, and stop themselves and unload and show clear.”

    A member of the super squad did this at Production Nationals. Classy move.

  2. One I think you missed. The SO calls Mr. Fast & Crazy for not slicing the pie, but Mr. F&C argues. Everyone saw it. Do you throw in with the SO, Mr. F&C or STFU? What if the SO is an a-hole? What if he is an awesome SO who helps everyone out? Same for the shooter?

Comments are closed.