Give Me 5: Gunsite Academy CEO Ken Campbell

May 15, 2024

Today’s feature comes to us from our companion service, Shooting News Weekly.

This is the first in a new series, talking to prominent people in the firearms community. Gunsite Academy’s Chief Executive Officer Ken Campbell is also an instructor, an armorer, and a retired Sheriff.

1. We want to know more about you. Give us a glimpse into your journey with firearms.

I’ve been married nearly 46 years to the love of my life, Shari. (We started dating in high school.) I started shooting with my dad on mom’s bowling night with a .22 bullet trap in the basement playing tic-tac-toe. A sheriff bravely hired me at 19 years old as a jail deputy.

During the next 35 years, I worked in various capacities at the Sheriff’s office, including patrol, K9, crash reconstruction, firearms instructor and SWAT. In 1990, I attended Gunsite with Jeff Cooper, eventually coming on as part-time staff in 1993. Then, in 2014, I was blessed to be asked to lead Gunsite by Buz Mills, and here we are today.

Ken Campbell (courtesy Mike Detty)

2. What two pieces of advice would you give someone interested in learning how to shoot or purchase their first firearm?

Patience, young Jedi! Seek out good training. Vet it properly. Don’t be in a rush to purchase your firearm. Do your homework there as well. Rent some guns at ranges and try them. Rent firearms at the training school you go to. Then you can go be an informed consumer and be a student the rest of your life.

3. What is your favorite piece of firearm-related equipment that you own? Why do you like it?

I’m a 1911 guy. That doesn’t mean I own, shoot, or carry only 1911’s. But I carried a 1911 as my duty gun for 20+ years, and it’s a part of me. It fits my hand, can be customized easily to my preferences and it just works.

But, there is a book called “Principles of Personal Defense” by Jeff Cooper. To quote Cool Hand Luke, “You gotta get your mind right.” This book does just that. It’s the software, not the hardware, that drives your survival.

Ken Campbell (L) with Gunsite owner Buz Mills (R) (Michelle Cerino for SNW)

4. What was something someone told you (or you read) that significantly influenced your life?

I was doing a ride-along with a grizzled police captain one night. We passed a fellow walking down a side street from a bar. The captain made a disparaging remark about him. At the next stop sign, he stopped, looked at me and said, “Don’t let yourself get like me. That may have been the nicest guy in town, and I made an unfair assumption. You can get jaded like that easily in this job. Remember that the vast majority of people we encounter are glad to see us, even in a crisis in their lives. Keep them in mind.”

I’ve remembered that all these years and hope I have passed it on to all the young deputies and officers I had the privilege of training.

5. What do you wish you knew about getting involved with firearms right from the beginning of your journey?

Save your money and do more homework. Buy cheap, buy three times.

— Michelle Cerino