#75: Mason Lane on Participation vs Development

Ben BerryPodcast

This is a lightly-edited transcript of the episode.

Welcome to Short Course, Episode 75 for September 22nd, 2021. I’m your host, Ben Berry. I know this podcast has been a little sparse recently. I’ve been taking all the content that normally would be these solo episodes and writing them up as blog posts, which has been a generally a good thing. It’s been working out.

And I see that continuing. But as we’re in an interesting chapter for the sport, I thought it might be an interesting chance to take the podcast and turn it into something a little bit different. A short form interview show. Having 20 to 30 minute conversations with people who I think have something interesting to add to the conversation.

And this episode is the first. It’s an experiment. I learned a lot doing it, and hopefully I’ll be doing a lot more soon. Things are as busy as ever with me, so no promises on a schedule, but hopefully there’ll be more of these forthcoming. My guest for this episode was Mason Lane and we get into his bio at the top of the interview.

But the only thing I will really add is don’t assume that I agree one hundred percent with everything he says. We have a lot of overlap in our thoughts, but, I think everyone has something different to offer. And that’s okay. I don’t intend to, or want to agree a hundred percent with everyone I talk to on the podcast.

I just want people who wouldn’t normally have a way to have their voice be heard because they don’t have a podcast or blog or something like that. I want them to have a voice and to be able to contribute because a lot of these people are people who are out actually doing the job. They’re teaching classes and shooting matches and they don’t have time to do things like host a podcast. And so if I can give them an outlet to put some of their ideas out there and contribute to the conversation as we go into this upcoming election, then that’s mission accomplished for me.

So I look forward to talking to and sharing as many as I can. It definitely won’t be as many as I would like, but it’ll be as many as I can manage. So here is the first to, hopefully, more short course interview podcasts. Thank you for listening.

Ben: Mason Lane, welcome to Short Course.

Mason: Thank you very much.

Ben: You and I, we’ve talked over the years. I think we did an episode or two of the Shoot Fast Podcast together, but, for those who have not heard anything you’re on, what’s your sort of quick bio? I mean, you, you shoot a lot. It’s basically your living at this point, right? How do you see yourself as a shooter?

Mason: I define myself to people who ask is a semi-professional. So I shoot a lot of matches, some successfully. I have some sponsors and stuff, but I make most of my money from teaching other people how to shoot better. The sport is something that’s near and dear to my heart. I’ve been shooting for almost 10 years now.

Ben: And you’re GM in a couple of divisions. I think you’ve got a limited title under your belt? You’re the guy who shot one handed for like most of a year?

Mason: Yeah, I’ve done some cool stuff over the years. I’m a GM in a few divisions. I won the nationals last year, which was cool. I shot two nationals with one hand once, which was cool.

Ben: Okay. So for those folks out there who may not be up on the details right now we’re recording this in September, 2021. The vote came down from the board. Mike Foley is out Sherwyn Greenfield is acting President. And at some point in the future, there will be a special election to elect someone to serve out the rest of this term. And in the meantime, approximately everyone and their mother has said they’re running for President. That’s about the whole of it?

Mason: Yeah. That’s, that’s pretty good to know.

Ben: So the reason I kind of wanted to get you on the call, and hopefully others in the future, is this really is a sort of crossroads for the sport. I think a lot of people were sort of united in being frustrated with the way things were going. But now the challenge is to build a consensus about what we want instead. You know, it’s easy to be against things. But, we want to talk about where we want to see the sport actually go, not just where we want to pull it back from. And I saw a pretty interesting exchange that you had signal boosted. And I just wanted to riff on that because I thought there were some good points made, and I know you are someone who takes this stuff seriously.

Like I said, obviously you compete, but there isn’t that much money in the actual competition right now. It’s much more in the teaching. But you are someone who’s passionate about the sport and want it to succeed as a sport, not just as a hobby and something people do on the weekends. Is that, is that a fair statement?

Mason: Yup. I poured a lot of time into it to not make very much money, which should tell you how much I like it.

Ben: Exactly. So what kicked this off was an exchange that, like I said, you had signal boosted. Somebody had posted an Instagram story and then someone else, a mutual friend of friend of ours, Tyler Turner, had responded to it. And, I just wanted to kind of read that out because I thought what was said on both sides was, was a pretty cogent take on, I think, what are two emerging viewpoints.

Ben: And then, like I said, just riff on that for a bit. So the original post. And again, this was a couple of weeks ago, and I don’t know this guy who made the original post, so it’s not really relevant who he is, but like I said, this is a pretty comprehensive take of one side of the view, which says:

“I understand and advocated for the need to make a change in USPSA leadership.

At the same time, I also acknowledge that the previous president did a lot of good things for the sport, spearheading Carry Optics, PCC, and more. We stand at a crossroads and begin the process of picking new leadership. Don’t undermine the good that was done and pick a regressive Fudd that will make the first order of business banning flashlights or appendix carry.

We need to continue the positive rules changes to modernize the sport and increase participation. Don’t let this positive event become a move by entrenched elites to undo the good that has been done in the sport.”

So Tyler says: “Not a good take. This fails to recognize that the modernization of rules and insane focus on participation was entirely an artificial agenda to achieve personal financial gain.

Don’t be fooled into thinking any of this progress was done for the good of the sport. We need a president who prioritizes competitive excellence above all else. Ironic that the author thinks we’re in danger from regressive entrenched elites, when that’s exactly what the Foley administration represented. The standard for our sport should not be how many warm bodies we can pack into a match.

We ought to be acutely concerned with the quality of our competitions and, unpopular opinion time, the quality of our competitors. Higher barriers to entry result in higher quality members and investment in the sport. The org should be concerned with shooter development and performance. The org itself should care more that its members are improving as shooters instead of what cool new parts they get to bolt on their guns.”

Maybe that’s the place to start what’s the problem with flashlights and appendix carry? It seems like we’re just making the sport more inclusive. I know this issue is kind of been debated to death, but for someone who hasn’t heard, what’s the issue? Why was adding those things to the Production and CO rule set not helpful to competition?

Mason: In my opinion, there’s nothing wrong with any individual rule change you can make almost completely. So, take flashlights, for example, take addition of Carry Optics or PCC as that guy addressed, take the belt positioning rules, none of those things in isolation are necessarily bad for competition, right?

People will say, “Hey, why are you so against flashlights?” I can tell you, it’s not because I’m afraid that I’m going to get beat by someone with a flashlight. It’s because of the fact it doesn’t contribute to the benefit of the sport in any way. And it’s intended to try to bait more people end up participating, which isn’t really what we need to be doing at all, really.

Ben: So why is that? Why is it, as Tyler says, why is, why is the sport actually healthier with not necessarily arbitrarily high barriers to entry, but correctly calculated, meaningful barriers?

Mason: Because we don’t have the carrying capacity as far as the number of clubs and resources that we need to support every gun owner in America being a USPSA member right now. If we just blindly increased participation numbers, we’re going to run into some issues. So having some barriers to entry that are going to encourage people who are really serious about competing or who take one look at USPSA and say beyond a shadow of a doubt, that’s what I want to do.

Not someone that needs you to bend the rules to make them want to be a part of it. If someone showed up to a match and they had a Ruger Mark Three or something like that, it’s like, “Hey man, we really we’re glad that you’re interested, but, uh, you can’t use that here.”

“Oh, well, why not?”

“Because it’s not going to knock down our steel and it’s going to be obtuse for the match flow. And that’s just not what we’re going to do. If you really think this is cool, you should get some gear that will work for this, or borrow some from someone and come back and do it.” And if that guy says, “Nah, I think I’m okay,” then the support wasn’t for him to begin with. And frankly, people that don’t care about the sport enough to even go get or borrow gear that makes sense for the divisions that we have, they probably don’t really need that much political power to be influencing, the rules and systems that we have in place.

Ben: Yeah. The idea being you want to take of all the potential candidates that might come in, you want to basically weed out the ones who just aren’t that interested.

Mason: Yeah. And so what you’re going to hear from what this guy alleges is the elite, right? I assume you and I both fall into that category because we’re pretty staunchly anti- most of the stuff that he purported as benefits of the previous administration. I think that’s probably going to be where the two ideological lines are drawn, right between people that are under this impression, that progress comes from the form of packing people into matches and people that believe that, as Tyler alluded to, the quality of competitions and the quality of engagement of shooters is the most important thing that you can value.

Mason: And that’s really going to define, at least in my view, the two main camps that are going to be contending for this upcoming election.

Ben: So, to the people who say, well, membership growth has, you know, USPSA is the biggest it’s ever been, members have been steadily growing. And this is at the same time that we’ve been making the sport more approachable. Why should we change that, right? The sport’s growing. Isn’t that a good thing?

Mason: Yeah. First ofall, I think it’s important to understand that the organization is a nonprofit, but it’s not a charity. So it’s not just intended to be, “Hey, like let’s get everyone out and get their first exposure shooting a gun.” It’s not intended to be that. They have a lot of programs that are places that are good for that.

Even Steel Challenge is pretty good for that. But USPSA as a shooting, discipline is not intended to be strictly speaking inclusive, it’s intended to be a crucible for competition. So, you know, eight year olds, people that don’t really care that much about competing, the guy with the Ruger Mark Three that I spoke about a minute ago, someone’s wife who might come like once every three years. Those people aren’t necessarily the people we’re really trying super hard to pull into the fold. We’re looking to get people who are really enthusiastic about practical shooting as a discipline and wanting to get better at it and compete.

That’s what our sport is optimized for. Not every person who’s peripherally interested in firearms.

Ben: Right. And, even if we had capacity and all the matches, making the rules unnecessarily broad, allowing basically everything under the sun when those aren’t something that necessarily adds to the competition, right there, there’s a case to be made that even if we have the space in matches, just adding random stuff that doesn’t actually enhance competitiveness, it doesn’t make the guns more interesting to shoot, it just means you don’t have to buy a competition specific holster. If you’re having to cater to people who are that uninterested in competing, I mean, like you say, what are we doing this for?

Mason: Right. And so as a thought experiment, right? Let’s just say that the capacity aspect is removed from the situation. Let’s say that every range in America, all of a sudden is a USPSA club. It’s still not a good thing for there to be 15 different rimfire divisions, a single action revolver division, plus all the divisions we have, plus multi-gun divisions. At the end of the day, it’s a competition.

And when there’s the implication of having a competition is that you’re going to award people for winning and competing and doing well, like that’s the whole point. So when you dilute down the meaning of winning or the meaning of competing, by having, you know, two dozen meaningless divisions or all kinds of contradictory or nonsensical rules, it does degrade what it means to have a competition and an organization that is intended to promote competition.

I know not everyone necessarily shares that view and not everyone necessarily shares the view that we don’t need every individual we could possibly get involved with the sport either. And, I’m sure that would be regarded as a hot take, but, it’s just the way our sport is structured now, in the way it’s optimized, it’s not really optimized for those sorts of people or those sorts of guns or anything like that. Like you mentioned, like Tyler mentioned, barriers to entry that are sensibly placed and, deter people that don’t really care that much are not necessarily a bad thing.

Ben: Yeah. I mean the real question is, where where’s the soul of USPSA? Is it at the club match? Is it at nationals? Obviously it’s a balance somewhere in between, but at the end of the day, anybody can start a local outlaw club match. In fact, I’ve done it around here, and we don’t run USPSA rules because it’s meant to be beginner friendly.

Ben: It’s run what you brung, gun and two mags, just show up and shoot. But that’s it’s a different sport, where USPSA, to some degree it is, like you say, it’s the crucible at which we will test and determine a national champion and determine our team to send to the World Sshoot to represent the United States.

Mason: That’s right in the first page of the mission statement. There’s five items, which I can never fully remember off of hand. It really does at least in passing allude to the fact that USPSA has a place on a club level from people that want to shoot a match once a year, all the way up through the World Shoot, and I won’t bother to attempt to recall what those items are in specific, but you can find them on the first or second page of the rule book.

On the subject of candidates and ideas and stuff, one of the ideas that’s been batted around a lot lately is that Steel Challenge should be bisected from USPSA, or as far as the organizational leadership goes. And I think that’s a really good idea for that exact reason, because at least as one organizing body, it seems like it’s really difficult to manage what’s good for clubs, for people that just want an inclusive atmosphere, with all the benefits that this dude cited. And there’s the guys like you and I that are really serious about competing and want to compete on the highest levels possible. And it seems like it’s a really tall order to manage and make the best possible experience for both of those two different camps of people. So bisecting or segregating, if you will, the organizational leadership of Steel Challenge and USPSA at a minimum would make it so that you could at least have people that really care about both of those things a lot in charge. I know I can speak for myself when I say I wouldn’t want someone who’s strictly a Steel Challenge shooter to be involved with managing what happens at USPSA matches because they’re not going to care and they’re not going to look out for my interest as well as I can myself and vice versa.

I would imagine I’m not going to be particularly apt at managing Steel Challenge because I don’t do that very much and I don’t know what they would want. So there’s one specific idea which really paints into the same broader discussion over whether or not we should be leading those things individually or how we should be managing at a minimum. It seems like for sure it would be a good idea to put people in charge who care the most about this stuff.

Ben: Yeah, absolutely.If you have different purposes, they can be owned by one organization, maybe that’s smart, maybe it isn’t, but certainly having different people overseeing the different departments who care about those. So what’s the case to be made that USPSA would actually be a stronger organization potentially if it were not necessarily smaller, but if it were to grow more slowly with a more dedicated competitor pool, from a headquarters perspective? What’s the upside? Why not just chase participation?

Mason: So I mean the view, it seems, of the prior administration, if that’s what you’re asking is that it’s a thirty or forty thousand member of strong organization. There’s only 4,000 “active” members, meaning people who routinely shoot multiple matches per year.

So the 37,000 or whatever, whatever the number is, the significantly larger majority are the ones footing the bill for pretty much everything. So it is their view that they should be doing everything they can to get more people out to club matches with whatever frequency possible. Most likely, if they throw a bunch of marketing dollars at it, the best they can hope to do is get people to come to maybe one or two more matches per year.

And I don’t really necessarily agree with that, obviously, based on the way I’ve been speaking. It seems that the main benefit of doing that is for financial gain for the organization. And again, if anyone’s seen our financials were not really hard up for cash and ultimately it’s a non-profit.

Ben: So in your view, as long as the Org can cover the cost to put on a high-quality nationals, send out whatever collateral they need to get to members, potentially help out clubs to some degree if possible. But as long as we’re, breaking even, we don’t necessarily need to just be chasing the dollar as long as we’re doing… Like, what are the core jobs that as long as they are done…

Mason: Here’s a not particularly hot take at this poin It’s impossible to complain about or be motivated by money and say, oh, we don’t have money for this. We don’t have money for that. We have those nationals at this range because they’re cheapest. It’s impossible to make any sort of a financial case when you’re giving away $300,000 to three people. So if you really wanted to make anything happen, you could borrow money from somewhere to make it happen. The financials of the organization really are not interesting to me at all. As long as we have the money we need to look after everyone’s interests. And I don’t think USPSA needs to start building ranges for people or reaching down into the grassroots, on that really deep level and propping clubs up and throwing money all over the place.

But if they can host a decent nationals and they can host a decent NROI program, then those seem like two really good places to start to me if you need to spend money somewhere.

Ben: And those are two places from what you’ve seen, that that really are not getting a lot of resources dedicated to them?

Mason: I mean, I don’t want to throw too much shade on specifics because I don’t really want to volunteer specific opinions on what I would do differently. Like we talked about, we want to keep this thing brief, but, yeah, people had multiple, multiple criticisms of the nationals that was hosted earlier this year, as far as the resources that were doled out in the form of bathrooms and food. And straight from Foley’s mouth, he said that they took this place because it was the cheapest. And I don’t really know if that’s necessarily the best reason to do anything. Not that the facility isn’t nice and stuff, and it’s no secret either that NROI has been slipping since the Foley administration started. The RO quality seems to be inverse to the level of the match that you go to these days.

Mason: And I think that’s probably the opinion of most of the “active members” that you would talk to. It’s not good. There’s a lot of things that need to be fixed both with the actual rule book, and there’s a lot of things that need to be fixed with how we service, supply, and discipline match staff, when it comes to ensuring quality. And I don’t really know necessarily know if the latter part of that is even necessarily need to be solved with dollars. Probably not. I feel in a lot of cases, it’s not, here’s the hot take. It’s not necessarily about comprehension of rules on the part of the staff, that’s the issue. So I don’t necessarily know specifically what to do differently, but I don’t necessarily think that it needs money to fix.

Ben: And to some degree, it’s, it’s a matter of having someone in the office who you know…

Mason: …who really cares. Who their number one priority is, as Tyler said, making competitions excellent, ensuring a competitive quality and equity and not just growing participation.

Ben: And when they don’t know the answer reaching out to people, polling, maybe not the membership, but maybe everybody who’s been involved in running a level two match this year. “Hey, what worked? What didn’t?”

Mason: Yep. And so this is again, you know, to, to take a step further. It’s been one of the most common and scathing criticisms of the past administration is they did not solicit feedback from members in any way. One of the first things I would try to amend if I was king for a day is ensuring there’s referendums on things that happen, especially when it comes to changing bylaws, but in particular with the rule changes, because it’s been, if nothing more for the benefit of your USPSA political career, that’s a good idea. Obviously, people are very upset about how many things they change without asking for permission and for the long-term health of the organization, if you’re changing positions and bylaws and the way that you structure the organization that needs to be voted on by referendum, not just by a closed captive audience.

Ben: Yeah. I mean, it kind of seems like a lot, especially with, with some of these rules. I don’t know if you agree with this, but it looks to me like they didn’t ask because they knew the answer wasn’t going to be favorable. So they wanted to just do it anyway.

Mason: Or maybe they didn’t even think about it. In all honesty, that’s really what it seems like to me, like when it comes to like the flashlight thing, I’m sure they thought people would love that. Like, that’s why they did it. You know, like they did it because of the fact they thought it would get more people involved, but they didn’t think about any of the potential adverse consequences. Like in a matter of hours from that rule rolling out, there was good people machining tungsten battery slugs to put on your flashlight, right? It’s like, well, clearly that was not the intention, but that was just, they didn’t think about the unintended consequences at all.

Ben: Well, right. Yeah. I mean, because there were sort of two issues there. One is, is this generally the direction we want to go? And secondarily, if it is, let’s make sure we wrote, we write an airtight rule set that actually defines it.

Mason: Yeah, for sure not to nitpick the specifics of the flashlight thing specifically, but all that could have been fixed by thinking it through a little bit more thoroughly. And/or, having some kind of option for public commentary, which at the time was a part of the bylaws and they just did whatever they wanted anyway.

Ben: Well, like I said, I think this is going to be the, hopefully the first of many discussions. We’re going into this season where apparently at some point in the future, there will be a special election. Nobody really knows when or where…

Mason: Yeah, that information has been pretty hard to get ahold of.

Ben: so hopefully, I’ll get a chance to talk about this again some time and…

Mason: I’m sure we will. Yeah, I’m sure we will. This is good. I mean, the one good thing for all the shit we’ve talked over the last half hour, right? The one good thing is people are more politically engaged right now with the org and they care more than they ever have in the past. And the number one way to make change is to increase political engagement because when people know, at least know what’s going on and care, they’re a lot more likely to hold people accountable to make sure that their leadership is working for them, which is a good thing.

Ben: Yeah. When, when you just get so used to, “Don’t even bother, nobody cares. Nobody’s listening.” People just tune out and, and that’s the way the organization sort of gets into a death spiral.

Mason: Yeah.That was like the way that Foley campaigned for his second term was he’s like, “Oh yeah, people are always surprised when they email me and I respond, and I’m trying to be really responsive.” And then it’s like six months later, he’s blocking people on Facebook for critizing him.

Ben: Ah, good times.

Mason: There’s room for improvement. Things look good, good change is coming, as long as people continue to care and they continue to talk about the stuff they want. I think really good things are coming soon.

Ben: I hope so. And hopefully this contributes to that discussion. So Mason Lane, thanks for your time.

Mason: Well, thank you buddy.