Last week I wrote a somewhat logorrheic post on the things I perceived to be wrong with USPSA- in no particular order (found here). There were several interesting points made in the discussion that followed, (alongside the standard lack of social consciousness fare that Internet anonymity provides). One topic that I found to be the most compelling was the question of whether or not USPSA should grow, or if it is best left the way it is. I view this to be the single most defining conversation that we should have as practical shooters.
If one looks at the numbers, both USPSA and IDPA have approximately 25k members (USPSA / IDPA). I imagine that there is some substantial overlap as many of us started in IDPA then graduated to USPSA for the higher level of competition. Across the country, taking an estimate of 40,000 people active in the action shooting sports (out of 55 million adult gun owners in the US, which represents about .07%) would probably be on the high side. I would be curious to statistically determine levels of participation in both sports, but was unable to determine this outside of NSSF's Industry Intelligence Report for IDPA. According to this study, the average IDPA shooter is 51 years old, and he shoots 14 events per year. I suggest everyone peruse this, as I imagine that there are several parallels over to USPSA (although I would assume a younger average age for us). In 1998, USPSA had 400 active clubs- today we have 411 (as seen here and here). Additionally, one of the most salient points that I found in the aforementioned IDPA study was that a majority of people discovered the sport either through a friend or family member. This has been my experience with USPSA as well.
What does this all mean? I means that the action pistol sports are growing at a rate of a little under 10% per annum in terms of membership. Most people shoot exclusively at their local clubs, of which there has been a fairly static number over the past 20 years. The practical shooting community is insular, as most new members find out about the sport through a personal connection, and most members are middle aged men who tend to earn good salaries. IDPA also appears to be growing at a faster rate than USPSA (which is undoubtedly because it's more accessible to the average shooter). Anecdotally, we probably knew a lot of that. Also anecdotally, all of us have invariably received the "oh what is that?" response from countless people when we tell them about our hobby.
So, is that enough growth? One major problem that I'm witnessing is that the number of affiliated clubs is not expanding to accommodate the membership. This is why we've seen Area matches sell out at record speed, and some local clubs (mine included) have over 110 shooters on USPSA weekends. Also, the talent and level of competition has gone up even at the highest echelons of the game. If we were to suddenly bring on 10,000 new members, where would they go? Unfortunately, this is somewhat of a causality dilemma. We need more members to justify more clubs, and more clubs to support those members.
My personal opinion is that USPSA should grow as fast as possible. While I realize that the vast majority of gun owners will never compete in a match, and the vast majority of LEO/military personnel have no desire to shoot for score, I think we can do better. While many of those 55 million adult gun owners probably haven't heard of USPSA or IDPA before, I bet they've gone to one of the 18,000 indoor or 3616 NSSF certified commercial ranges in the US at least a couple times. What will we likely find in each one of those ranges? Bullseye or torso targets on a shooting lane shot from a single static line. The mindset needs to be shifted in that there is more to shooting than just plunking a group downrange and calling it good. The fact that this awareness does not exist is a travesty. I'm not saying that we need a USPSA club in every range, but I think that the shooting public at large should at least know what their options are.
For those of you who think things are fine and don't need to change, I'm probably not going to convince you. However, let's make no mistake- this is a niche sport. USPSA is about on par with fencing. I frankly think that this sport deserves more participation and more respect.