The perils of ‘operatoritis’

Pick up any gun magazine and you’ll see the marketing scheme that, unfortunately, has become the industry standard.

There’s a burly dude with lots of tats and a tactical beard wearing a plate carrier, helmet, battle belt, $300 sunglasses, comms, high-speed tactical clothing, NVGs unavailable to civilian shooters, IR lasers, a suppressor, several knives — usually at least one a BFK — and maybe even a grenade or two.

The ad usually says something about a “mission” or “danger” or “when lives matter,” and it points out that only the strong will survive — and the strong, I assume, are those with enough money to buy their particular product.

This is how we’re marketing guns and accessories nowadays: You too can be an operator as long as you buy this.

This operatoritis has permeated all aspects of our gun community, and it’s given rise to some dangerous trends.

It’s placed guns and gear above all else — even training.

Guns and gear won’t save you during a gunfight — regardless of their cool factor — unless you know how to use them.

Training is far more important than stuff and, unfortunately, operatoritis has already hit the training world hard.

Gone are many of the advanced courses that previously honed mastery of the shooting fundamentals, and then took them to the next level. There’s still some around, but not nearly as many as there were before.

They’ve been replaced by circuses where students run-and-gun for a weekend — just like real operators — even though many of the drills are questionable at best.

Many of these “operator” classes are designed for one thing — entertainment.

Of course there are exceptions, but nowadays, many instructors strive only to keep their students entertained and happy. The happier the student, the more likely they are to recommend the course to their friends. The more recommendations …

The result?

The students don’t learn mastery of the fundamentals — the bedrock of tactical shooting — even though they’ve paid thousands for their high-speed, testosterone-fueled weekends.

The result?

There are far too many tactical shooters who simply cannot shoot — period. But with all their high-speed guns, gadgets and gear, they look like they’re ready to start breaching doors at the Fat Boy King’s palace in Pyongyang.

I’m the first to admit that running and gunning is fun — damn fun. And I too wish I could afford tactical pants that cost as much as a car payment, custom knives that cost as must as the car, or plate carriers capable of stopping cannon rounds.

But the truth is, I would rather spend my hard-earned dollars on real-world training, instead of on stuff I don’t need or playing army on the weekend.

Besides, I cannot fathom a scenario where I’ll be facing a threat while armed with all my tactical gear: AK, handgun, spare mags and body armor. If I’m wrong about this, trust me, no one will be happier than me.

There is a cure for this operatoritis — acceptance.

I’ve accepted that I’m a civilian shooter. I’ve accepted the fact that the threats I’m likely to encounter probably won’t include the North Korean Army’s Special Purpose Forces. They’ll be either a mugger at an ATM machine or a confused home-invader who got the wrong address.

I’m going to spend my time and my money mastering the fundamentals, and training with the tools I’ll likely have during a gunfight: a pistol if I’m out or an AK if I’m home.

While I get to run-and-gun occasionally — still one of the funnest parts of this job — the instructors I go to use drills that reinforce the fundamentals, not as a mechanism to entertain their students.

For me, when I’m in danger — when lives truly matter — my mission will be to win the gunfight without the latest and greatest do-dads.

Instead, I’ll rely upon my training.

It’s worked before, and it’s something you can never forget at home.


About Author

Lee Williams can’t remember a time in his life when he wasn’t shooting. Before becoming a journalist, Lee served in the Army and worked as a police officer. He’s earned more than a dozen journalism awards as a reporter, and three medals of valor as a cop. He is an NRA-certified law enforcement firearms instructor, an avid tactical shooter and a training junkie. When he’s not busy as a senior investigative reporter, he is usually shooting his AKs, XDs and CZs. If you don’t run into him at a local gun range, you can reach him at 941.284.8553, by email, or by regular mail to 1777 Main St., Sarasota, FL 34236. You can follow him on Twitter: @HT_GunWriter and on Facebook @The Gun Writer.


  1. I like that term “Operatoritis” because of it the public’s observation of shooting sports gets slanted as well.
    I’m understand the “acceptances” part as well, pushing 60, I ain’t on anyone’s top 10000 list to be able to suit up and ride the high country lookin’ for bad guys.
    So I volunteer with Project Appleseed
    Countering “Operatoritis” is one of the reasons I love to teach at Project Appleseed. The fact we teach safety and marksmanship fundamentals with whatever the students bring to the line. Irons or optics, Marlin 336’s, Ruger 10/22, AR’s, M1’s to Grandma’s ol Remington pump works just fine with us.. We work hard passing on the knowledge so the students can pass it on. Having a family fun safe time with firearms don’t require fancy geegaw’s and gemcrack’s , just some fundamentals’ and a nice sunny day.

  2. Way back in early 70’s I became president of a “Practical Pistol” Club in Southern California. I had been shooting 1911 pistols since I was 15 and by the time seven of us friends formed a “Practical Pistol Club” I was in my early thirties.

    In those days (and well before those days) Jeff Cooper was the guru of practical pistol shooting. That was it’s “civilian moniker” but it was Combat Shooting plane and simple. Draw, double tap multiple targets center of mass, and reload on the run. All timed. They were heady days. I learned a lot, shot a lot.. I reloaded like mad and grinned for the full five years I competed. And I never forgot what I learned about the 1911 as a weapon. It’s the best damn close quarter killing machine in the world for those who will learn its ways.

    I was a deputy prosecutor in two rural Idaho counties during my time. In one hand I held a briefcase. The briefcase always held a 45. As my children grew I taught them the lessons I learned about shooting and carrying a gun Cooper style. I have never regretted it. New things always come along; some good and some bad but the old ways seem to always shine. Maybe thats just because I’m an old guy now .
    Or maybe it’s just because the younger guys always think they invented it first.

    I also recall sharing a six pack behind a table with Jeff Cooper at a SHOT SHOW way back when. I don’t recall where where the beer came from but it didn’t last too long. He shared a lot with me that day. Have a good life. The memories are sweet.

  3. I’m an old man now but I plan to get older. I am armed everyday 18/24 with a 1911 Officers Model and 5 magazines. That will get me to my AR or 870.
    Like a Chiahoho dog I listen for noises and like the birds I feed in the backyard, I watch for shadows. I don’t go looking for trouble. I do dial 911 secondly after I draw my 1911.
    I plan to win the lottery and then I’ll change very little about my security plan. My new home will be poured reinforced heavy concrete designed to be flood and fireproof and tornado strong.
    There is a new show on TV, KNIFE or DEATH. Lots of fun to watch. Many of the people show up with years of “martial arts training” and they have flashy moves with their Kung Fu or other style. Most of these people, fail badly. Sometime their custom knife break in half. Sometimes they are physically unfit. Often they just [ hopefully ] learned that all those flashy movie moves just made them out of breath and too weak to swing their blade. Often their knife was so dull after the first cuts it was but a dull club.
    One lesson, good shoes or boots and the most important clothing item.

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