How do you decide which firearms instructor is best for you?
Nothing is worse than having a bad instructor!! The situation was the same when we were all in grade school. Some teachers were great; they were kind, patient, understanding, courteous, and professional. Above all, they inspired and motivated us to learn and improve. Others were rude, short spoken, unmotivated, and worst of all….incompetent. So in today’s world of firearms instruction how do you find a good instructor that embodies all those positive attributes that you so highly prize in a teacher/instructor? Perhaps the question burns in your mind of, “Why do I need a firearms instructor.” Let’s deal with the second question first.
So why do you need a firearms instructor?
Part of the answer lies in the three goals of all NRA firearms courses; these goals are Knowledge, Skill, and Attitude. One of my favorite sayings is, “Knowledge will set you free.” In short, knowledge is the key to skill and a positive and confident attitude about your ownership and use of firearms. People who know how to do things do a better job than people who do not. People who know how to farm or fight or perform brain surgery all do a better job in those related areas than those who do not know or have never been taught how to do those same things. None of us are born with some divinely inspired ability to shoot a pistol, rifle, or shotgun well. Knowledge and skill must be acquired the old fashioned way by learning from someone who already possesses the knowledge and skill that you want. Just being born “male” does not guarantee that one will grow up and be a safe gun handler or a championship shooter or the top dawg at the local hunting club. I unashamedly acquired every ounce of knowledge and skill that I have from some other kind and capable gent who was gracious enough to show me how to shoot. I really thought I knew how to shoot a gun, a pistol in particular, until a highway patrolman friend of mine showed me how to hit a four inch steel plate at a hundred yards standing freestyle with an open sighted Smith 686 revolver. I was humbled and stricken with awe and immediately became a willing student. About the time I thought I was amounting to something, I went to my first IPSC match and once again got a big dose of humble pie when I realized again just how much better those guys were than I was. So again, I found a friendly and capable IPSC master shooter to travel with and study under as I worked my way toward master class in that organization. This scenario has repeated itself over and over many times in my life as I constantly grow and learn under capable individuals who have knowledge and skill to share. The conclusion to draw from this first principle is simple; we can all benefit from some good quality instruction. If you want to improve your scores in IPSC competition or IDPA competition, then get an instructor. If you want your Enhanced Concealed Carry Permit (IC sticker) then the state of Mississippi requires that you get an instructor. If your area of interest is skeet, sporting clays, combat shotgun, long-range shooting, or metallic silhouette, and instructor can advance your knowledge, skill, and attitude faster than anything else you can possibly do.
How do I select a good quality instructor
Now for the “other” question, “How do I select a good quality instructor that I will have a good quality experience with?” The short answer is to do some homework and ask some questions. The fastest growing type of instruction in our state right now is the Enhanced Concealed Carry Permit Class. Gun owners and concealed carry permit holders are flocking to ranges and private instructors in unprecedented numbers to jump through the “instructor certified” hoop and get their IC sticker for the Enhanced addition to the basic Mississippi Concealed Carry Permit. There are also lots of new instructors who have hopped on the bandwagon to take advantage of this new revenue possibility. Like our childhood schoolteachers, most of these new instructors are competent and capable of providing a quality experience ….but NOT ALL! So how do you avoid the bad apples, and what do you look for when selecting an instructor, particularly an Enhanced Concealed Carry pistol instructor? Let’s look at some stories that have come my way. How about the instructor who spent a lot of time during the classroom portion pointing a firearm at the audience and exclaiming, “Don’t worry, it’s not loaded”? Note to self, avoid this guy!! I sat in a class a while back and listened to an instructor repeatedly talk about the hammer on the pistol that he was using to demonstrate. The demonstration pistol happened to be a Glock which does NOT have a hammer. Again, minor error, but this fellow obviously was very new to firearms and firearms instruction as well, not dangerous, just incompetent. A student of another instructor’s class said that the instructor repeatedly belittled and made fun of people in the class and their firearms calling some of their guns “…pieces of s#!^…” No one intentionally pays to be treated that way. Avoid this guy! I met a lady in Jackson, MS just out of her Enhanced class. She was tickled to death with her instructor. I asked her if she got to do any shooting. She exclaimed excitedly, “Yes, we shot almost ten times!” Hmmm? Now what kind of instructor certifies a person for ENHANCED concealed carry of a real gun with a test of fewer than ten rounds of live fire? Avoid this guy. I’ve had a dozen people cancel one of my events to attend another area instructor’s classes because these guys are doing enhanced certification certificates in the evenings in less than three hours! Guys, the state of Mississippi Department of Public Safety requires that the enhanced class be at least eight hours. These guys are breaking the MDPS laws and guidelines with their shorty “drive-thru” certificate classes. Again, avoid such instructors.
So what DO you look for in an instructor?
First, look for EXPERIENCE! Ask how long he has been shooting. Ask if he has ever shot competitively and what rank he held in the organization. Ask how many rounds of ammo he shoots a year. Ask how long he has been teaching. Ask for some references and call and check up on them. Ask if he has his own range and how many classes he teaches a month. Ask what else he teaches besides Enhanced Concealed Carry. In short, you are looking for EXPERIENCE. Do not be overly awed and wowed by vocational titles. Just because an instructor is a police officer or former CIA or secret service or military or some other acronym does not make him a competent shooter or a competent instructor. The vast majority of the absolute best combat hand gunners in this nation every year are typically NOT law enforcement or military. I have the utmost respect for the law enforcement community and for our military service men. However, you can only ride those titles so far; at some point in time they also have to be able to demonstrate knowledge, attitude, and skill with a firearm in order to be an instructor. I personally watched a fellow with about half a dozen fancy instructor titles shoot in excess of 100 rounds of ammo and two different pistols before he qualified in a basic NRA pistol instructor course. Out of 17 participants only three people qualified the first attempt. Now which of those 17 do you want to PAY to be YOUR instructor? I watched another shotgun instructor candidate struggle with loading his semi-auto shotgun for a firing drill during NRA instructor training. I could not help thinking, “This is a nice guy and means well, but good grief, he is struggling with loading his own shotgun to shoot in this course….and at the end of it, he is going to be a certified shotgun INSTRUCTOR????”
As a thirty-year veteran high school teacher, it always troubled me to hear the saying, “Those who can …DO; those who cannot do…Teach.” I was always a tad offended by that saying; however, it seems to hold true in many cases in the firearms instruction business.
let’s consider the two questions posed earlier
To conclude, let’s again consider the two questions posed earlier. Why do we need to hire a firearms instructor? How do we hire a good one? The answers and solutions are clear. We all need Knowledge, Skill, and Attitude instruction and there are plenty of good instructors out there who have the three things we are seeking. Secondly, all we have to do is a little homework and ask a few questions to see if a particular instructor has the experience and people skills and general good manners to make his classroom instruction professional and pleasant. A really good instructor told me once in a classroom setting, “People may or may not remember what you teach them, but they will never forget how you made them feel.” When I come away from a class feeling motivated and energized and inspired as well to take that knowledge and skill and go out with a good attitude and share it with others, then and only then do I KNOW that I just gained and grew as a person and as a shooter; and I know that I must have had a truly great instructor.