Choosing a Firearms Training Class

A few considerations
Some heavy hitters in this pic. If you know, you know.

I get asked regularly what my opinion might be about a number of firearms instructors and classes, so it seemed like a good idea to put several of my thoughts into one place so that I’d have something semi-complete that I could send out.  My opinion on things is very likely to change or shift over time. I hope it does. It should. That’s growth.

I’d like to start by saying that I am not anti-law enforcement or military.  My opinions here may rub some folks the wrong way, including firearms and self defense instructors, but I have my reasons for them.  It may not ruffle any feathers at all, but I’d be surprised. This isn’t about whether or not those folks agree with me. The opinions expressed here are based on my own personal, direct experiences and are not representative of anyone else’s unless directly addressed, with citation.  Please keep in mind that I am fully aware that X does not always equal Y. There are always exceptions, but that doesn’t make it the rule.

First things first.  Context.  This is a word that I use often.  I use it often, purposefully, because it’s an important word that is easily forgotten.  The context of a class can be found out pretty easily by reading the course description.  Sometimes the title will tell you plenty. You have to decide for yourself if the context of a particular class has legitimate relevance to your concerns regarding personal safety, or if it just sounds like a fun class to take and that you recognize that.  Should you be taking the class where we’re zip lining off of buildings and shooting exploding darts from a crossbow if your actual concern is not getting mugged in the grocery store parking lot? Those don’t exactly match, do they? No. Of course not. Let’s narrow that scope down a little.  If your main concern is making it from the front door of the grocery store to your car, should your first and potentially only firearms class be centered around your Bill Drill times? Or shooting from retention? Carbine manipulations? Ask yourself what’s important to you, relative to who you are and your realistic capabilities.  Personally, I feel like your time would be better spent looking into ways to avoid a conflict altogether, rather than jumping straight into how many holes you can put into something in under three to five seconds.  Let alone navigating the legal considerations for escalating to lethal force. See, you’d think that anyone putting on a self defense class centered around the use of a firearm would cover those things, right? Not so.  I know of handgun classes being put on right now where the four cardinal firearms safety rules aren’t covered. At all. You know, the things that should be covered in the first five minutes of any firearms training class?  That’s right. There are people profiting in the name of spreading quality and “professional” personal safety classes that aren’t covering even the most basic of safety principles. Not ok, to say the least. (pst…hey…person who’s been around guns all their life and doesn’t need this stuff…you can recite the four safety rules…right?)

That leads us to Experience/Resume.  A totally legitimate question to ask when considering choosing any type of class or instructor “Who taught you and what was the context of your training?”  In my own corner of the self defense pie, I teach jiu-jitsu classes. I don’t teach professional wrestling classes. They both are branches of the grappling tree, but they really aren’t anything alike.  How dishonest and unethical would I be to proclaim myself as an instructor of something that I have very limited direct experience in? Could I pull off a clothesline off the ropes? Maybe. Let’s say I did a couple times and then started charging people to learn that skill.  How would I answer “who taught you that?” if asked? The only honest answer, at least presently, would be “Nobody.” Then what would I say to “So, how can you know that you’re doing it correctly and possess a depth of understanding that allows you to adequately relay the information necessary to your students’ own understanding?”  Once again, the only honest answer is “I don’t.” What my analogy is attempting to point out is that just because you have “some” experience that “kind of” looks like the information that you’re out to sell, that you would be being both dishonest and unethical to attempt to profit from the sale of that information. Here’s where folks might get irritated. If your job description basically spells out that your duty is to go and find conflict, and that your direct experience is limited to training and expertise in that area, you have to be very careful about selling folks on the idea that you know best how to help them avoid it.  Unless you’re really bad at your job. If we add a contextual ear to pre-class introductions, how often are the fights that were avoided lauded as achievements? In my experience, it’s quite rare (read – never). This is where the current and our previous topic blend a bit. If you’re selling self defense for the average citizen, and the first picture that pops up on a company website is some dude who looks like he’s ready to tackle Fallujah or Detroit, I’m going to be pretty instantly turned off. Is the double stack chest rig on the gear list for Mema’s intro to handgun class? I know, I know. Marketing. What that marketing tells me is that you’re doing whatever it takes to sell seats.  Res ipsa loquitur, or “the thing speaks for itself”.  If an instructor’s heart is in the right place, and they are truly out to help the folks who need the help the most, that will show itself.  If I’m looking at pics of people climbing walls or kneeling beside burning cars, it’s gonna be hard for me to recommend that Uncle Earl come take your class.  If that stuff is what you’re teaching and you’re being honest to your audience, then rock on. If 99% of your firearms experience is with a SAW, maybe you’re not the best fit to be teaching Gam-gam the when/where/why/how of her .22LR revolver.  One of the most surefire ways to get me to pay extra attention to habits (for my own safety) on a shooting range is for a person to say “My (insert paternal figure) was a/in the (insert job involving guns here), and he taught me how to shoot a pistol.”  I got some bad news for ya, friend. Stamping “CERTIFIED” onto your page or posts doesn’t tell me much, either. Certifications aren’t terribly difficult to come by. Particularly ones from large, national organizations or companies. Look for the instructor’s training resume, which they should have no problem publishing. It should be varied in experience, with that instructor having attended dozens of classes with several different coaches and organizations. Do a web search for the names on their list.

“Where should I go?” is a good question.  I have a secret that I’d like to share with many of my local friends.  There are no walls around south Georgia. I know, I get it. Big world scary. Hear me out.  You know what else isn’t here? People interested in personal safety in large enough numbers to attract the pros.  That means you may have to travel for quality information and training. I’ve been all over the eastern half of the United States learning from some of the best in the business, so you’ll get no sympathy from me.  Get out. See some stuff. Meet some folks. You’ll be fine. Promise.

One of the things you can do right now, is start to focus on the muscle between your ears.  There is an endless supply of information that is readily available.  There are multitudes of quality resources where you can start your journey.  I recommend books. The Gift of Fear, by Gavin DeBecker is a universal recommendation (just get rid of the last 40 pages or so, as he gets quite anti-gun, though he’d be more than happy to send an armed person to your home for a fee.)  Left of Bang by Patrick Van Horne and Jason A Riley is another good one. So is Concealed Carry Class, which is a recent release from Tom Givens. Another solid recommendation for a quick read is Principles of Personal Defense by Col Jeff Cooper.  Verbal Judo by George Thompson, PhD is a book that should be read and periodically reread by literally everyone. Something that’s immediately actionable is to start acting like you don’t want bad things to happen to you. Things like locking your doors, not looking at your phone while you move from space to space, and leaving lights on in select areas of your house, both inside and out.  Lots of this stuff is free, but ignorance and/or negligence could be costly. Having said that, you’ll still need seat-time in front of a professional. There have been classes where I’ve taken 10 pages worth of notes, even after having read all of the titles listed above, and then some. Context, again, creeps in here. Define your goals, and look for the classes on that. “Shooting class” isn’t nearly enough.

Trust me when I say that you want to look for classes that put a pretty fair amount of emphasis on not shooting people.  If all you want to know how to do is put holes into things, bring a gun and 100 rounds and give me an hour.  It’s that simple. Much harder, and infinitely more important, is learning how to think your way through when to shoot vs when not to.  There are legal considerations, that if not thought through and made allowance for, can at a minimum bankrupt you for life. Worse would be a life sentence in prison because you didn’t know the rules.  Getting a life sentence isn’t “winning” a fight, or “getting home to your family”. Get the egotistical hero “sheepdog” nonsense out of your head. The sooner, the better. There is no more masterful way to win a fight than to cause it to be over before the fuse was ever lit.  This is an art, and there are good folks teaching it. “You carry a gun!” Yes, every day, and I hope that I never need it. My goal is for the ammo that I carry for personal defense to go bad in the magazine. The bullet having never been set free of its casing.

Look out for “gun people”.  They nearly always go straight to the gun as the answer.  The “as long as I’ve got my pistol…” folks. If you bring up the subject of road rage, and what they might do if they’re caught in traffic and somebody comes up to their window, it’s almost a certainty that these folks will make some statement about a gun coming out.  A display of force. Well, Wild Bill, your “display of force” could be seen as an invitation to a shootout. Were I you, and found myself looking at a muzzle while trapped in a box made of glass and sheet metal, and maybe with my loved ones in the box with me, I’d probably rather be somewhere else if I had my wits about me, because you are not in what’d be referred to as a “position of dominance”.  You’ve heard of fish in a barrel, right? What if I could rewind your predicament and point out that if you’d leave a car length or so’s distance between you and the car in front of you, that you could have given yourself the opportunity to just…drive away? Who wins now? I think I do, if I’m sleeping in the bed of my choosing that night. This is preparation. PREparation. Pre. Before. Left of “bang”.  Folks whose line of thought regarding self defense and personal safety are along these lines are the ones we want to have lay the tracks in our brains. Be careful with this. Once new and exciting information makes its way into your brain space, it takes some diligent work and a lot of frustration from your peers to get out. These are called “training scars”. They can be avoided, mostly, by taking careful consideration into who you give your attention to.

The stuff that actually works isn’t very sexy and can be seen as very boring, from the outside looking in.  A generally safe assumption is “the cooler it looks on the ‘gram, the less likely it is to be practically applicable to the everyday person.”

Folks, there is so much more to this stuff than I can put into a single post that would actually get read, but I’ll leave you with this – I need you guys to be thinkers first.  The things that we can stuff into our pockets or purses and strap to our belts can’t be seen as anything more than tools that make options available to us. Our brain is the thing that puts these tools and options into play, and how we’ve trained it to process information and stimuli can ultimately be the determining factor in whether or not we go home in the same shape we left without ever catching the Boogeyman’s eye. This is by no means an exhaustive article, nor is it meant to be pessimistic, though it may sound that way. Folks who know me won’t hesitate to tell you that I can be quite critical, but that I’ll give it to you straight. The intent here is to provide a directional indicator towards a solid jumping-off point. There are plenty folks getting it right, but it does take a bit of homework to decide if what they’re teaching is right for you.

Recommended resources – 

Growing Up Guns – Mark Luell

Active Reponse Training – Greg Ellifritz

Aprill Risk Consulting – Dr William Aprill

The Civilian Defender – Dr Sherman House

The Complete Combatant – Brian and Shelley Hill

The Tactical Professor – Claude Werner

The Law of Self Defense – Andrew Branca

Own Her Own – Annette Evans (follow all of her pages)

Take care of yourself,

Scott Ferguson

1 Response

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: