This is going to be a touchy subject for a lot of shooting instructors and students out there. This isn't about claiming superiority; rather, it's a response to the numerous messages and calls I've received from individuals dissatisfied with their firearm training experiences. It's a call to action to ensure that all bases are covered when it comes to firearm education. Closing the gaps of confidence that they have post-training. That's what prompts me to say that some firearms instructors are not covering all the bases.
In states like New Jersey, where concealed carry permits are now granted, the demand for training has surged. Many instructors have joined the fray, offering a plethora of courses with varying levels of competency and content. Some are comprehensive, focusing on the essential shooting fundamentals, while others veer off into unrelated territory. The problem is not confined to a single region; it's a nationwide concern.
I have had conversations with friends nationwide. Far too many instructors are concerned with teaching about local laws, travel with firearms, storage, school shootings and political viewpoints, that the actual shooting fundamentals are sometimes barely touched upon.
I have been instructing, training and coaching students since 2011 and continue to learn more about teaching year after year. It's the fundamentals of shooting that will always have center stage when people take a class that I am teaching.
When running our National Champion junior program, they are taught that the fundamentals will never fail them when all else does (in both life and shooting) and this has become the foundation of instruction. Stance (or position), Grip, Sight Picture, Breath Control, Trigger Control and Followthrough will always be at the core. And when the class comes to an end, If I am not satisfied that a student has not grasped these concepts at least in theory, I cannot allow them to pass the class. Some instructors run their classes and offer a certificate as some kind of weird participation award. Yes, I have failed students in my classes. Yes, I have told students (privately) that based on what I can see, they should not be owners of firearms. I have told students that carrying a handgun concealed on their person while outside of their home would be a danger to society as a whole. Sometimes they accept and agree with me. Sometimes they do not. Positive reinforcement is offered to all students during the class. Any negative comments are reserved for private consultation when in review.
Ten Questions You Should Ask Before Taking Any firearms Training Class:
Does the instructor focus on the fundamentals of shooting?
Like I said, is this class all about the firearms and teaching the proper methods and techniques for keeping everyone safe? Is Stance, Grip, Sight Picture, Breath Control, Trigger Control and Followthrough specifically taught during the class? Learning about local laws should be touched upon and then sources for further information should be pointed out to student interested in learning more about this. Storage ideas, detailing parts of the gun and how it all works, cleaning techniques, etc... all have their place, but should not take up more than 1/3 total of the entire class. Discussing politics of gun control should NEVER be part of an instructor curriculum. It's a deep rabbit hole that will make the class heated, argumentative and take away from what you are really there for as a student.
Does the class involve live fire?
Well... yeah? So gun ownership and learning all about it involves a lot of time in the classroom. CCW (Concealed Carry Weapons) courses as well. But without actual range time, there is no way to fully understand, appreciate and embrace what it is to put this information all to practical use. Unless it's a class specifically offered to not involve range time (like the Florida or Arizona CCW courses) then you will be missing out on the important stuff, not to mention the fun stuff. Plenty of students approach these classes with NO experience with guns whatsoever. Theory of practical application is not enough to get that new shooter to take those first shots on their own.
What are the instructors credentials?
A very fair and legitimate question! What kind of experience does your instructor have? NRA, CMP or other nationally accredited organization certified? How many years has he/she been teaching? How many classes have they actually taught? A lot of people feel funny or even intimidated asking this of an instructor, and if the instructor gets insulted or takes an attitude with you for asking this, then they are not the instructor for you. I have heard plenty of horror stories about classes who's instructor was "and ex cop" or "former military", even "an army sniper". Well, as impressive as that sounds and with all the love going to law enforcement and the military, I've instructed plenty of individuals who have these same credentials who couldn't hit the broad side of a barn. Okay, maybe not the ex-army sniper--but that doesn't mean they are good teachers.
What is the safety record of the instructors past classes?
Prepare to be lied to! No instructor on earth will ever say to you that they have a percentage of safety that's anything less than 100%. that makes sense, right? I mean, who would admit to having an unsafe class? Well, if you teach enough classes, there are going to be safety violations...always. There are two kinds of safety issues--instructor safety issues and student safety issues. Instructor issues are when the instructor either does something unsafe themselves (accidental discharge of the gun, breaking major safety rules, assigning an activity to the class that can cause an injury, etc...). Student safety issues is when one of the students breaks a rule of safety that quite possibly they have just learned moments ago and do not yet grasp the concept. Finger went right to the trigger, swept the instructor or class with the muzzle of the gun, loaded the firearms before receiving the go-ahead to do so, etc... The point here is that student safety issues happen ALL THE TIME. Even if you only obey ONE of the three major safety rules, everyone stays safe. Although a few times I wish I'd brought a change of pants after experiencing it.
When questioned about my classes safety record, I assure that the only safety violations we've had were the expected ones, and I explain as I have above as to what this means.
Does the instructor bring a variety of guns for the class to hold or fire?
I do. All the time. I always ask the potential student what kind of experience they have and if they own any firearms themselves. After taking this consensus of the upcoming class, I am sure to try and bring a variety of things for them to hold or actually fire. This is especially true with revolvers. 99% of students, if they have a gun at all, will have something like a Glock-this or a Ruger Semi-Auto-that. I am always sure to bring a wheel gun or two in order to round out that education a little. Every class I have brought revolvers to usually ends up converting someone into a revolver lover. Yes, in that case I have to supply the ammo and ammo is expensive, but it's worth it to give the students little something extra to make the experience more memorable.
Does the class offer a certificate or some form of credential showing that the student has made an achievement?
Let's face it, people like diplomas. Something you can file away or hang on your wall that in one way or another tells the entire world: yes, I did this and succeeded at it, so nyah-nyah. Students should always receive something as proof and something to show off when completing a class.
Private comments and review?
It's unfortunate that very few instructors take the time to do this. It's not something you can technically ask for before taking a class, per se, but good instructors will make the effort. People taking a firearms class want to learn as much as they can from your class, but also how they did specifically. After a class ends, I invite people to stick around for a few minutes so we can discuss how everyone did. I usually give accolades to the entire class for doing a great job, paying close attention, being safe and helping everyone have a good experience. If I have any "negative" feedback then it usually takes the form of constructive criticism and I will PRIVATELY offer them guidance to overcome whatever it is that is giving them trouble. I keep this private so as not to embarrass anyone--some people take criticism of any kind very differently.
What kind of followup is offered by the instructor?
So Frank Smith took your basic pistol course and passed with flying colors. The next day he is at the range practicing what he has learned when suddenly he has a question that never came up during class. Can Frank reach out and ask his question? Sure! Do many instructors take the time to answer Frank's question thoroughly and within 24-48 hours? No way. Less than half answer at all. I am always careful to end my classes by telling students that as far as the material covered in this class is concerned, they have me for life. To this day, I have many students who reach back out to me via email with questions and I am always careful to answer them. One of them is from my very first NRA Basic Pistol Course that I taught. Ah, memories.
Is training available after instruction?
Shooting is not an easy sport. Anyone can pull a trigger and make the gun go bang, but to be accurate and disciplined with a particular gun takes time, patience and in many cases, continued instruction. Perfect example--when a student takes a CCW class, one of the most important techniques covered is drawing from a holster. During class time, each student spends a few minutes practice with real firearms but no ammunition in the room. Then on the range they spend a few minutes practicing and demonstrating the technique with their particular setup. No way is that enough practice time to get it perfect and develop muscle memory to do it right every time. So many times I will offer additional range time for a nominal fee where the students can come back and practice what they have learned with myself or one of my assistants watching over them and offering advice. Remember, instruction is not training. Training is not coaching. Coaching is not instruction. Instruction is providing knowledge in an organized fashion to facilitate retention of the information. Training is going over those techniques individually, multiple times and getting advice from the trainer about your specific needs for the technique. Coaching is providing the motivation, custom options and individualized skills developed specifically for that student to keep them moving forward and achieving goals and milestones. You do not get training and coaching from a classroom setting.
How many times can you take the class over?
"What?" You ask, wondering why someone would want to take a class a second time. "I passed the class, but am still not confident in much of the information provided in the class. I would like to take better notes." Happens all the time. There are so many brand new firearms owners out there who do not have the benefit of learning even the must rudimentary basics from a friend or family member who has experience shooting. In these cases I always make room in my classes for a "standby seat" so that a former student can come in for a portion or the entire class to get more information or improve upon the notes they took in the class the first time.
My commitment as an instructor has been to ensure that students leave my classes with a solid grasp of these fundamentals. This includes hands-on experience, rigorous practice, and clear guidance. It's not about simply handing out participation certificates; it's about equipping individuals with the knowledge and skills they need to handle firearms safely and effectively. That's what you need to look for in the classes that you are considering.