This week's SHOOTING GALLERY, totally by coincidence, is "Learning the GUNSITE Way," a video tour of the GUNSITE 250/350 pistol class — the baseline for practical shooting.
More than 25 years ago, before the mainstream media totally abandoned the gun culture, Esquire Magazine called Col. Jeff Cooper, "The most dangerous man in America."
They were right, of course, but not for the reasons they thought. It's easy to think of Jeff's legacy in terms of his huge contributions to shooting — creating of the "Modern Technique" of the handgun; codifying the four rules of gun safety; founding GUNSITE, still the standard against which other shooting schools are measured; resurrecting John Browning's masterpiece, the 1911; inventing the sports of practical shooting; though his writings, redefining how we looked at armed self-defense; birthing the "Scout Rifle" concept and advancing "the art of the rifle."
I think, however, that when such things are tallied up, Jeff Cooper's legacy will be writ much larger. Jeff was the bridge between the old world and the new, between Elmer Keith and Skeeter Skelton and the profoundly more dangerous world we now live in. At a time when America seemed to be sleeping, Jeff Cooper challenged us to take our lives into our own hands and to live those lives under the unfashionable precepts of duty, of honor and of grace. In essence, he did something unique — he challenged us all to walk the path of the warrior, then gave us the tools to do so.
I believe he succeeded beyond his wildest imagination. The gun culture now is a powerful force in American culture, and not just politically. We are armed and we are competent. There are more armed, trained civilians in America today than at any time since the Revolutionary War, and every one of those people is Jeff Cooper's legacy.
He remained an irascible bastard to the end...during my SHOOTING GALLERY interview with Jeff last year, he didn't hesitate to shake his finger in my face and set me straight when he thought I'd strayed from the point. At the end of that interview, though, Jeff said, "So Michael, you want shoot some of my personal guns?" So I stood on the first GUNSITE range with Jeff's personal lightweight .45 Colt Commander. It felt...familiar.
Thanks for everything, Colonel. And say hello to Elmer and Rex for me.