Everyone should take a firearms class! Unless you have been in the military or law enforcement, there is an excellent chance you do not have good training in firearms management. Without a doubt, firearms management is the key to safety and contributes significantly to reducing injuries and deaths. What is “firearms” or “weapons” management? You have most likely heard of firearms handling, gun safety, or marksmanship; to me these are all parts of firearms/weapons management. Management commences when you first touch the weapon and it ceases only when the firearm is safely stored. Therefore, it encompasses all aspects of dealing with a firearm. I use the terminology interchangeably – firearms management and weapons management.
By Dan C., contributing author
In some states it is mandatory for you to take a firearms class to qualify for a weapons carry permit/license. On the other hand, in many states no training is required to carry or obtain a license to carry. I am totally against any state or government agency requiring any person who wishes to carry for self defense purposes to take a course before they are allowed to do so. However, on the other hand, I am totally in favor of and fully endorse the idea that anyone who purchases or owns a firearm should take a training course. This is a responsibility that all gun owners should take seriously! Firearms are relatively complicated devices and safely handling them is of the utmost importance; thus I feel strongly that anyone handling a firearm should take a training class.
What Firearms Training Can Do For You
I clearly understand there are folks out there that grew up on farms where they got good training from their parents or family members. I also understand that there are folks out there that got training from their dad, mom uncle or aunt, who were well trained in the military and or law enforcement – these are all good sources of training. However, I am sure that they did not cover all aspects of firearms management that you will learn in a firearms class. You will be surprised at what you can learn in a well-taught class.
I do not know any firearms range that does not offer some sort of training courses. From very introductory informal 20 minute reviews to basic classes to advanced classes. So you should have a wide range of classes to choose from at most ranges.
Since most folks do not know much about the topic, (that is why they are taking the class) then most will never really know if you had a good instructor or a bad one. So why not start by knowing as much as you can about the instructor? If you do so, you can increase the odds you have going to have a great class and learn a great deal.
Traditionally, there are three “levels” of firearms classes. The first is “basic,” the second is “intermediate” or “personal/defensive carry” and the third is “advanced,” or more “tactical”. Naturally, beginners should start with a basic class; in fact most defensive carry and advanced classes will not allow you to enroll if you do not have proof of having completed basic firearms training.
The Three Levels of Firearms Instruction available
A Basic Firearms Class is essential to learning the fundamentals of safe firearms management, firearms functionality, understanding cartridge and bullet identification and function, shooting principals such as stance, grip, sight alignment, sight picture, trigger control and follow through. All of this teaching is done in a classroom setting and must be followed by time spent on the range, shooting. This course should be at least 4 hours long to adequately cover all the topics. In many cases, it is 3 hours of class time followed by one hour in the range. In general, there should be no more than 6 to 8 students per instructor during the range section of the course.
You should be able to shoot most caliber firearms. Novices may be given .22 caliber handguns and stronger students given up to a 9mm. I usually do not allow basic students to shoot anything larger than a 9mm unless they brought their own weapon and wish to shoot it. In that case, it is important to train them on the weapon they plan to carry or shoot.
A quick note here: I encourage every student to bring the handgun they own and plan to carry or shoot. Each student should be allowed to shoot at least 50 rounds. In my classes, I start the students shooting one round at a time at 3 yards until I feel they are comfortable with the basic principles of shooting. Then I gradually move the targets out to 5 and 7 yards and allow them to shoot more rounds each shooting session as they progress with their individual shooting skills.
The Intermediate or Defensive Firearms class is usually one that is taught to more experienced students that wish to learn, how to carry concealed, and draw from their holster. You will also learn how to rapidly reload your firearm by using a second magazine or speed loader. This is a more intense class that requires a good instructor to teach to correct principals and insure every aspect of the course is taught safely.
Naturally, since you are practicing and later in the class actually drawing from a holster and shooting, safety is of the utmost importance. In this class you should spend about 2 hours learning the techniques for carrying a handgun and 2 hours practicing drawing and shooting. Now this is a class that can go on as long as your instructor is willing and you have ammo.
There are many different locations you can open or concealed carry a handgun on your body, but for the purposes of this class, it should be limited to those that are easiest to draw from: appendix carry or very near your draw hand with the handgun in an inside or outside the waist band holster. In addition, for the purposes of this class I recommend that students wear kydex holsters which are easier to draw from, and much safer to re-holster.
In this class – intermediate or defensive carry – you should be reminded of all the safe weapons management rules and guidelines. Furthermore, you should be well-warned of the dangers during this class, and every student should clearly understand the rules of the class.
The instructor should make sure that all students are knowledgeable and comfortable with their respective firearms. Once that has been confirmed, then the class can proceed to the next segment of the course. In this section of the class the instructor should cover how various holsters function and let each student explore and understand their holster.
Next, the class should cover the steps of drawing, aiming, shooting and re-holstering the firearm. No live ammo should be accessible in the classroom during this phase of the course. Upon completion of this phase of the course – and when the instructor is comfortable – the students are taken to the range and will practice drawing in this environment and then drawing and shooting. In this phase of the class, I feel the students should shoot at least 150 rounds. Each student begins by firing one round after drawing from a holster. The round count can be increased based on the instructor’s format; the students should be getting at least 10 to 15 opportunities to draw from their holster and shoot.
Drawing your firearms from a holster, shooting and actually hitting the target are not easy at all. Television and the movies make it look simple, easy and just every day. Well it is NOT!!!! So for anyone who wishes to carry a firearm I highly recommend you take a class to learn how to do safely and accurately. Then practice, practice and practice more; practice is imperative to success!
While Advanced/Tactical Training Classes can be taught by shooting only handguns, others are taught shooting AR’s and/or shotguns. These classes can be taught using any combination of the prior mentioned weapons. Some of the classes I attended taught tactical handgun the first day, tactical AR the second morning then using both weapons together the afternoon of the second day or on third day.
Advanced classes are usually designed to teach students how to shoot on the move, shoot around obstacles, shoot using cover and concealment, in small groups, and in more advanced classes, how to shoot around and from vehicles. These classes are intense and require you have your head in the game at all times. There are a wide range of environments in which you can conduct tactical training programs.
Most will have shooting while moving, either toward to away from targets. You will be moving around obstacles while shooting. And you may be shooting from prone, kneeing or standing positions. In addition, you may be shooting around, under, or out of vehicles. There are so many scenarios.
Before taking any of these courses read all the information about them. They can be very physically demanding with running, kneeling, carrying a weapon and associated gear. The weather can play a large factor in the training environment; you will need to pay serious attention to your attire and accessories. In addition, you will most likely be required to bring or buy lots of ammo, bring a good cleaning and firearms tool kit. Advanced tactical courses require diligent preparation before attending.
As they say in one commercial…. I have found the course I want to take… Now how do I find an Instructor…?
Choosing a Firearms Instructor
When most people go to a range or training center, they make the assumption that all of the instructors there are well trained, thoroughly understand their subject matter, are proven educators, and have great supporting educational materials. Unfortunately, in many cases this is far from reality.
Here are a couple examples: Several years ago, when the gun owning and training business was hot, I knew several individuals that bought guns for the first time in their lives, took the NRA pistol class, then immediately took the NRA instructor class, and soon thereafter were advertising and offering firearms training classes! In another situation, I once heard a firearms instructor tell his students they could do something that was clearly illegal. And finally, I watched a firearms instructor brag about teaching an elderly lady to shoot an AR-15; he told her it was the best home defense weapon. These are just a few examples of the many inappropriate, incorrect, and inaccurate things I have seen and heard in regards to firearms instructors.
In most cases, you are going to pay a substantial sum of money to take a course, and you are going to commit at least a half a day for your time. In addition, your desire is to learn as much as possible so you can capitalize on the educational experience. This is important, as you are learning about weapons management. So here are my recommendations on how to find a well-qualified instructor when resarching any firearms class.
First and foremost: go to their website and read about the instructors! If there is nothing on the site about the instructors’ qualifications, I suggest you chose another training program or company. Any well trained experienced instructor is willing to provide any and all information on their training and background. Qualified instructors want you to have confidence in them, so they are usually happy to share information about their teaching and training experience.
If there is no information on the range or training facilities website, call and ask questions.
Questions to Ask Before Taking a Weapons Class
- How long has the instructor been teaching firearms classes?
- How many classes have they taught?
- Do they teach any other classes?
- What is their teaching experience?
- Where did they get their training/experience?
- What firearms teaching or related certifications do they have?
- Are they insured?
- Is this their full time job? If not, what is their full time job?
Now let’s break down each question, so you understand the reason for asking it.
How long has the instructor been teaching firearms classes?
This is a vital question. Everyone, including me, had to start somewhere, so everyone at one point was a new instructor. However, in general you would like to have an instructor that has been teaching for a long time. Again, the information from this question will be used along with the data from the other questions below. But absolutely, you wish to choose an instructor that has been teaching your desired class for a long time.
How many classes have they taught?
This is the second part of question 1. The number of classes taught is equally, if not more, important than the years as an instructor. I know instructors that have not taught a class in years. Thus, they may have been an instructor for five years, but only taught three classes in that time. Ideally, you want an instructor that teaches at least 20 classes per year; this is approximately 2 classes per month. If they are not teaching at least two classes per month, then it is hard to stay on top of your topic.
Do they teach other classes?
An instructor that is devoted to teaching firearms classes usually teaches more than one level. Please note I said “usually”; there is clearly nothing wrong with the instructor that focuses on a specific level of training. But in most cases, teachers are about teaching and should have a broad knowledge base that enables them to teach more than one topic. So if you identify an instructor that teaches a range of weapons classes, then you are more likely to get have an instructor that has broad knowledge of the subject matter.
What is their teaching experience?
Teaching (like public speaking) is an art. It takes a long time to learn how to teach well and understand the needs of the students. In my time, I have seen instructors that just read the slides given to them, while not really understanding the content of the slide. I have seen many instructors that talk more about themselves than the course content. I have also listened to highly trained and skilled professionals that could not talk in front of a crowd, never mind teach effectively!
Education is an art form, and if you cannot communicate the content in an easy to listen to format with a deep understanding of your topic, then you are more than likely not a good teacher. (I was personally blessed by having one of the greatest teachers and presenters teach me the art of public speaking when I was early in my educational career. Dr. Ken Grauer was instrumental in developing me into an excellent speaker and educator). I feel strongly this is one of the most important aspects of teaching a class. If an instructor just stands up there and read the slides, then nobody really learns much. If you do not have a solid knowledge base of the subject matter, then you most likely will not convey the message well.
So, when learning about your instructor, it would be beneficial if they taught other classes. Is an instructor at their job, or taught in prior jobs or give presentations to civic and community groups? You will get so much more out of a good orator than a poor one.
Where did they get their training and experience?
This is another very important question. To be a good instructor you must have good training, some of which may be formal training and the rest hands-on experience which involves application of said training. There are several ways to get good training and experience. First, just because you have instructor certifications, as I mentioned above, it does mean you have good training! Therefore, you should absolutely ask about the instructor’s training background. I place military training at the top of the list. Those that have been in the military usually have received extensive weapons training and experience. In most cases, they are exceedingly knowledgeable of weapons management and shooting principles.
Secondly, specialized law enforcement (LE) professionals. In this I mean those on SWAT teams, warrant serving teams, or rescue teams. These LE professionals get far more weapons time and experience than the patrol officer. Unfortunately, in most agencies, patrol officers actually get very little time shooting their firearms. The third area is armed private security. Unfortunately, just like patrol officers, most armed private security officers get very little weapons training. Do not be afraid ask for a list of the training classes the instructor has taken. Again, if the instructor is well qualified they will have no trouble sharing this with you.
Instructors that have taken the bulk of their training courses from the same organization have received the same doctrine. Thus, they have only been exposed to one way of doing things or one philosophy. I think diverse training is the key to really understanding your subject matter. Therefore, I would seek instructors that have taken courses and/or classes from more than one organization.
What firearms teaching or related certifications do they have?
This is another key set of information you need to know about your instructor. If they only have one certification, then I would be concerned. Some of the certifications instructors may possess are: NRA Pistol, NRA Home Defense, NRA Rifle, US Conceal Carry Firearms Instructor, A state license to teach firearms classes, Law Enforcement Certifications for various weapons classes.
Are they insured?
Many firearms instructors are hired on a “contract labor” basis or are not employees of the range. Thus, you want to be sure they have professional liability insurance. There are many organizations – in particular the NRA and US Concealed Carry – that offer insurance policies for instructors. Ask to see their certificate of insurance. Don’t just take their word that they have liability insurance.
Is their full time job? If not what is it?
This is kind a personal question but can be very helpful in understanding the experience level of your instructor. If they teach one class a month and work in a non-firearms related occupation, then there is a greater chance they will not be current on the subject matter. However, if they work in a firearms related field and are exposed to weapons on a regular basis then the likelihood that they are more up to speed on firearms is greater.
As mentioned in the first part if this article, I feel strongly that all persons owning a firearm should take a training class and be as well versed with their firearm as possible. Then practice, practice and practice your weapons management skills! But with that in mind, I want everyone to get the most out of your firearms class.
Ending Note: I wish to give a loud shout out to Kurt M. and Karl W. for reviewing my articles and making them better. Thanks guys without your input these articles would not be as smooth.
Special thanks to Peter Joyce and SRT Concepts, LLC for permission to use photos from his website. Please be sure to visit them for quality training in the New England Area! Their website: https://www.srtconceptsllc.com/