The rain was coming down in buckets that Saturday afternoon. A good thing, given that all of southeast Michigan was in a drought at the time. Still, it curtailed most respectable outdoor activities.
Luckily, I was spending the day talking about Firearms Law with fellow gun owners and spending time on the firing line indoors.
As much as I enjoy range time and training, this class wasn’t optional. I was now a Detroiter, after all. The city’s reputation precedes it, and even Detroit’s popular, Democrat-appointed Chief of Police has urged Motor City residents to carry their own firearms for their own protection. Although Michigan is a “shall-issue” state, and Article I, Section 6 of the Michigan Constitution declares that “Every person has a right to keep and bear arms for the defense of himself and the state,” the law still requires residents to complete a training class “no less than eight hours long” on safe gun handling and Michigan law as a prerequisite to issuing a Concealed Pistol License.
I’ve completed 150 training hours over the last five years in firearms law, safety, and tactics, all of which were supplied by nationally-recognized instructors, including a full week at Gunsite. Alas, none of those classes covered Michigan law, so in the eyes of the CPL-issuing bureaucrats, they didn’t amount to squat. So: “no less than eight hours” of state-mandated training awaited.
It seems like you can’t swing a bat in southeast Michigan without hitting someone who does CPL classes. In the end, Rick’s Firearms Academy got the call. For good reason: Rick is a nationally-known firearms trainer, gun rights advocate, and founder of Legally Armed In Detroit, the gun-rights group with the awesome acronym. His story is also chronicled in Chapter 9 of erstwhile TTAG contributor Dan Baum’s 2013 book, Gun Guys. And based on my telephone conversation with him, he is a pretty cool guy. He teaches alongside Terry Johnson, a Michigan attorney with ten years of experience in firearms and deadly-force law.
That was enough for me. Tons of people spoke favorably about Rick, and although I’d not heard of Terry before, nine times out of ten, I’d rather have the law explained to me by a practicing attorney, not some guy who is just reading it out of a book.
The classes are held at Firearm Exchange in Livonia, a hamlet in the gargantuan suburban sprawl that surrounds the Motor City. Despite its mercantile-sounding name, The Firearm Exchange is a gun range, not a gun store; no firearms are actually sold at the Exchange — although they do lease guns for use on the range, and sell a variety of accessories.
The Firearm Exchange has eight indoor bays. This was a pretty decent indoor range, as far as such things go. That said, I have my biases, and normally prefer outdoor ranges, especially for training purposes. As we’ll see later, that feeling was somewhat validated.
The classroom at the Firearms Exchange was pretty comfortable, in a ‘standard conference room office furniture’ sort of way. Free coffee was offered too, which is always helpful when you’re looking down the barrel of an eight hour class.
Things kicked off with Rick going over administrative stuff at first. Those with firearms were asked to show that they were unloaded, and one of Rick’s assistants went around checking; those without made arrangements to rent a Glock-flavored GLOCK at the counter outside.
The course, Rick explained, was actually the National Rifle Association’s “Basics of Personal Protection in the Home” class, which met all of the Wolverine State’s requirements for CPL training. As for the oft-used acronym “CCW” – both Rick and Terry quashed any use of that with a glee normally reserved for verbally smacking people who refer to magazines as “clips”. Not solely out of schadenfreude, but because in Michigan, “CCW” refers to the offense of carrying a concealed weapon without a license, punishable by up to five years in the klink.
And, indeed, the class covered every subject you would have wanted a complete novice to know about firearms before diving into the deep end. I took the class some time ago, and looking through my notes, we covered the following:
Firearms Safety Rules
Safe storage of firearms
Safe gun handling
Dealing with malfunctions
Elements of marksmanship
State and Federal Firearms Law (possession, carrying, buying, selling, prohibited persons, where can you carry, etc.)
Tactics at Home
Choosing a Firearm
That is a list of things every gun owner should know. In fact, it generally tracks the subjects covered in the Gunsite Defensive Pistol 250 class I completed in Arizona back in 2012. The critical difference, though, is that Gunsite 250 lasted over forty hours spaced out over the course of a week. The Michigan CPL class was eight hours, give or take.
In reality, you could’ve spent eight hours on any one of those subjects without running out of things to talk about. Heck, I’ve attended eight-hour seminars that dealt solely with federal and Pennsylvania laws relating to possession, sale, concealed carry, and NFA items, and walked out realizing that there were still topics that were left untouched. Those are, after all, the compromises that happens when the state mandates minimum training — all too often, the training is unfocused, minimal, and (the worst sin of all,) boring.
In my judgment as someone with experience in a courtroom and in front of a classroom, with such a broad mandate, and such a minimal amount of time, the quality of the instructors is paramount.
Fortunately, the instructors were up to the challenge.
(1) Rick is a great teacher. It was enjoyable to spend a day in his company, listening to him talk about firearms, interactions with police, places to steer clear of in Detroit, and stuff that new gun owners and new Wolverine State residents need to know about from a lifelong Michigander and a long-time firearms owner (e.g., don’t leave an empty holster in the trunk of your car when you’re going to Canada unless you enjoy spending the afternoon answering questions from Mounties.)
Rick is a straight shooter in more than one sense. He flat out said that he was “not a fan” of the idea that a constitutional right should be predicated on completion of a training course. But the law was the law, and he wanted to make sure that as many people as possible had the legal ability to exercise that right, which is how he became motivated to become a trainer. He bought his first handgun after being the victim of a crime — a mugging in his own driveway — something that he had in common with at least a few of the students in the class that day. He also is the sort of fellow who finds common ground with diverse people. Those things make him a great teacher.
(2) Attorney Terry Johnson was solid, and not only fielded questions presented on picayune points of Federal and Michigan firearms and self-defense law, he also took me busting his chops in the way that only a lawyer can do to another lawyer in stride. Michigan firearms laws have more landmines in them for the unsuspecting gun owner than my former home state, Pennsylvania, that’s for sure. For instance: in the Wolverine State, if one’s blood alcohol content is more than 0.02%, in Michigan one had better stop carrying a firearm concealed and switch up to open carry, and lock the heater up in the trunk, relying on FOPA for the drive home. Also: concealed carry into a bar is verboten, even with a license. How do you know if it’s a bar, and not just a restaurant? Easy. It’s a place “licensed under the Michigan liquor control code of 1998…where the primary source of income of the business is the sale of alcoholic liquor by the glass and consumed on the premises.” Hope you didn’t show up at the Applebees in Ann Arbor the week after the Ohio State game with an LCP in your pocket, because, Mr. Johnson reports, there have been cases where the Five-O have carefully reviewed alcohol sales receipts of restaurants to determine whether or not charges could be brought against an unlucky CPL holder.
(3) The students in the class were there to learn. You can have the best teachers in the world, but if you’re in a class with a bunch of jokers, it’ll be harder to learn. That wasn’t the case here. Everyone was pretty focused. Although the class was given in a suburb, the student body appeared to contain a good number of folks from within Detroit itself (and yes, that means a lot of them appeared to be African-American, for what that’s worth.) Most people also seemed to be middle-aged or older (where “middle-aged” == older than your Gen-X correspondent, who, objectively, still possesses a JFK-esque youthful vigorousness.) One husband-and-wife couple were attending because a few months prior, the wife had been carjacked one evening (a sadly not unheard-of crime in the Motor City,) and, in her words had been dumped outside and “left for dead.” She had clearly never fired a gun in her life prior to that course, but she left proudly carrying her perforated target (which, IIRC, wasn’t too bad for a literal beginner.)
She wasn’t the only one who had stories like that, and it was a sobering reminder that abstract words like “shall not be infringed,” ultimately, must be there to help people like her protect herself and her family, and if they can’t — if we allow those words to be twisted to mean little more than protecting the ability of law enforcement officers or the Air National Guard to carry firearms, as some would have it, it is precisely people like her who will be harmed the most.
(4) There’s an exam. Nothing helps people focus on learning than the fact that they’re going to be tested on the subject matter, even if it is an open-book, multiple-choice exam. And nothing helps people learn the law better than applying it to hypothetical scenarios.
(5) There is range time. I once sat in a ‘mandatory’ concealed firearms license class that literally involved the instructor sitting at the table, reading a prepared script for five hours and occasionally flashing around his 1911 to illustrate various parts of a gun. This ain’t that class. For a novice who’s never even touched a gun, being able to shoot under the guidance of a friendly, knowledgable instructor is pure gold. In this case, Rick is exactly the instructor you’d want. He comes across as a warm person who is open to questions, although he clearly can lay down the law if he has to.
(1) Michigan wants the class to do too much. There is no way in hell that an eight hour course can successfully cover everything from the basics of firearm safety, shooting, federal and state law concerning “civil liability issues and the use of deadly force” (dude, that’s a 15 hour seminar at your local law school,) *and* pistol shooting positions, *and* “controlling a violent attack”??!? You could easily do fifteen hours exploring the fundamentals on each one of those subjects. Just doing a class on the over 20,000 federal and state laws and regulations relating to firearms would take a semester as it is.
From a pedagogical perspective, five hours spent purely on safe gun handling at a firing line with dry-fire practice and loading/unloading drills — even with no rounds EVER sent downrange — might advance the cause of gun safety more than the “here’s everything in the Gunsite 250 class; you have eight hours–go!” method that the Michigan legislature has opted for. You may judge for yourself the legislature’s true aim here; I suspect it had something to do with erecting an entry barrier to people on the margins of society who wish to legally carry a concealed firearm to satisfy the anti-gun lobby.
On the other hand, perhaps there’s more value in a broad class like this than I give credit. By exposing true novices whose level of skill and knowledge about firearms is almost zero to everything that’s necessary, they’ll at least know where their own gaps of knowledge might be. What was it Don Rumsfeld said? It’s the “unknown unknowns” — the stuff you don’t even know that you need to know — that’ll bite you in the rear. Maybe the class is at least moving all these vital subjects into the “known unknown” category, which the students can follow up on later. If they have time. And they’re motivated.
(2) I don’t like indoor ranges. Have I said that enough yet? They’re loud, crowded, smelly, typically don’t allow freedom to practice basic things like drawing from the holster. Also, did I mention that they’re loud? I don’t like doing a class for beginners at an indoor range. Between the noise and the hearing protection, just trying to hear the instructor shouting at you from bad-breath distance can be a challenge.
In my class, the situation was made worse because the place was packed with shooters on that late Saturday afternoon. It felt a little cheek-to-jowl in there, and at one point, the line for using the range was almost out the door.
In a general sense, as a Second Amendment defender, it’s a good thing that lots of people in the Detroit suburbs want to go to a firing range on a Saturday afternoon. Michigan is one of those borderline states that has a lot of gun owners and a strong tradition of gun rights, but doesn’t always send representatives friendly to gun rights to the nation’s capitol. Pennsylvania has at least a strong gun culture, and I never saw Pittsburgh indoor ranges as packed as this one.
As a student, though, it was subpar. We only had two bays available to be used by our class, and there needed to be an instructor in each bay to shout instructions at the student, instead of one instructor for eight or nine students as might be possible on an unshared outdoor range (or, indeed, if our class had been able to use every single bay.) This also meant that there was down time as we had to wait for all of the students to cycle through the range before the next step took place. In general, I will always want to have an outdoor range for training or practice. Two hours spent on an outdoor range doing presentation drills and dry-fire practice would’ve been time much better spent than the ninety minutes spent waiting for a bay to open up, followed by fifteen minutes of live-fire practice inside.
Unfortunately, while indoor ranges are fairly common in metro Detroit, outdoor ranges for pistols are few and far in between. For Detroit denizens who need a concealed pistol license for their own safety, and for whom the eight, nine, or ten hours the class already demands, plus, the cost of the class, the cost of the pistol, the cost of a holster, the cost of the license, and the cost of ammunition, the notion of adding another hour or two of driving time to go to an outdoor range in a rural setting is just a non-starter. I suspect this just isn’t a viable option for a most inner-city residents, and even a lot of suburbanites.
That is a shame given the availability and relative inexpensiveness of land around these parts. (Come on, guys, people are buying up abandoned land in the city to put up apple orchards; surely an outdoor range is feasible in Motown.)
(3) People shouldn’t have to take a class to exercise a basic civil right. Enough said.
I really enjoyed listening to Rick and Terry lecture. You can tell that they put a lot of effort into making the class as helpful as possible, and knew their stuff.
If I had a suggestion to improve it, it would be to rearrange the time balance. Right now, 25% of the class was range time (or waiting for range time,) and 75% was in a classroom. I think a 50%/50% balance would be far better for a class of this nature, although I understand the constraints the instructors are under from both the NRA (which designed the curriculum) and the State of Michigan (which has its own agenda.) Yes, obviously, I think use of an outdoor range would be more conducive to that.
Whatever my quibbles, though, the instructors made the difference here. If I’m still living in Michigan in 2020, I will go out of my way to take this course to fulfill the refresher course requirement for license renewal. If you’re a brand new gun owner in Metro-Detroit and need to take a CPL class, this is the one to take.
Ratings (out of five stars):
Instructors * * * * *
Both Rick Ector and Terry Johnson are high quality instructors, who can explain complicated subjects to a lay audience well.
Facilities * * * * 1/2
The Firearms Exchange was a decent enough place to hold a course. The classroom was comfortable, the shooting bays were about as good as one gets for an indoor range. It would’ve been a more pleasant experience if the range hadn’t been so crowded.
Curriculum * * * 1/2
The law and explanation of self-defense situations and basic safety stuff was solid. That said, the State of Michigan wants too much to happen in this mandatory eight hour course.
Overall Rating * * * * *
If you’re in Metro Detroit, and need a class for your Michigan CPL, the quality of the instructors make this the one to take.
NOTE: If you’re looking for instructions on how to apply for a CPL in Michigan: follow this link.
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article incorrectly described Michigan law with regard to licensed carry of a concealed firearm into a bar or tavern. The author apologies for the error.