Jeff Gonzales: How to Succeed at Firearms Training Without Really Trying

Jeff Gonzales at The Range at Austin (courtesy

There is nothing more frustrating or unsafe than chaos in a firearm training class. When you have eight to 16 people of various skill doing their own thing it can be a recipe for disaster. Ultimately, it’s up to the instructor to maintain safety, discipline and a productive learning environment. But here’s what you can do to stay safe and get the most out of your class . . .

The Art of Listening

A training class should be fun! But you can’t multitask. At best, you can “switch task,” moving from one task to another. If you’re not fully engaged in one task, you might jump to another task at the exact wrong time.

There’s nothing more dangerous than a high risk live fire exercise performed by people who aren’t paying attention. Folks who’d rather load magazines, play with their gear or even socialize when they should be focusing entirely on an assigned task. 

Schmoozers and fiddlers put themselves and their classmates at risk. So don’t do either and listen closely to your teacher’s instructions.

Don’t feel like you have to be “an operator.” Move slowly, deliberately and sequentially in all things. But above all remember that firearms are a serious business. Listening is a serious business. Safety and learning demand that you take them both seriously.

Position yourself for success

Firearms instructors often provide important information to a group based on an individual’s question or performance.

To learn from this technique, remember that it’s not all about you. You can learn a great deal from watching others and appreciating a simple idea: there but for the grace of God go I.

But first you have to be there.

If you can’t hear your firearms instructor, move closer and/or tell them to speak up. By the same token, If you’re instructor’s demonstrating a skill, move to the best position to observe.

As Mrs. Incredible would say, when you’re in a firearms class it’s time to engage. 

Realize you don’t know

We say it all the time (I even put it on the gear list): bring an open mind to any firearms training class.

When people are mentally closed off, they fail to evolve. They end up having to listen to a re-brief or make the same corrections. Simply put, if you’re closed off to new ideas, techniques and strategies, don’t bother showing up.

No matter how much you know about a subject, remind yourself that you don’t know what you don’t know. And you can’t know everything.

Even if you’re familiar with a topic, keep an eye out and an ear open for a new twist. If you learn one new thing in a firearms class, it will be time well spent. It may even save your life.

Mind your manners

Some students feel compelled to constantly interrupt a teacher. Not to learn something new. To establish their own expertise and/or dominance.

Don’t be that guy (and yes it’s mostly guys). Needless interruptions disturb the flow of the class, making it difficult for anyone to learn.

There are good firearms instructors and their are bad firearms instructors. But you can always walk away with something valuable from any class — provided you come to class with an open mind and a positive attitude, ready to listen and learn.

Jeff Gonzales is a former US. Navy SEAL and preeminent weapons and tactics instructor. He brings his Naval Special Warfare mindset, operational success and lessons learned unapologetically to the world at large. Currently he is the Director of Training at The Range at Austin. Learn more about his passion and what he does at


  1. avatar Missouri_Mule says:

    Jeff Gonzales seems to be one of the former military/law enforcement operators turned instructor who has successfully made the transition to the civilian mindset.

  2. avatar strych9 says:

    And since there are always assholes who will follow exactly NONE of this advice, keep your head on a swivel and consider wearing body armor in certain classes.

    1. avatar Red in CO says:

      What’s wrong with just kicking their ass to the curb? “Sir/ma’am, you are here to learn, and I am hear to teach, the proper handling of deadly weapons. Since you clearly can’t be bothered to approach this task with the proper maturity, you need to leave, and I’ll give you a refund. If you decide you want to take this seriously, you’re welcome to return at a later date. Otherwise, please stay away.”

      1. avatar strych9 says:

        Some instructors don’t want to give out refunds and so are not particularly keen to kick people out. Seen it and walked out of my own accord.

        Students vary in their quality. So do instructors.

        I’m not suggesting rocking armor all the time but there are certain types of classes where I wouldn’t attend without a plate carrier and plates.

  3. avatar Michael says:

    I have been in 2 classes where the instructor kicked people out. Both were law enforcement only classes. Both times the instructors tried to get the offenders to be safe, but no luck. Everyone was very happy they were kicked out.

  4. avatar Rick the Bear says:

    Good piece.

  5. avatar Ralph says:

    When you’re the “pro,” you have to take charge. In my store, when I hand a gun to a potential buyer, I tell him/her “there are two places where you absolutely cannot point this gun — into the store, or at me. If you do either one of those things, you will not be allowed to buy the gun.”

    When I teach an individual or a class, I use a variation on this theme.

    A firm command that makes the point while preserving a sense of humor goes a long way. I say it with a smile, but the point is made. Since I incorporated this into my sales presentation, I haven’t been muzzled.

  6. avatar Tile floor says:

    Teaching a new recruit class is exhausting. Watching every little thing they do to both correct form and harshly correct safety violations 40 hours per week is mentally taxing. I do enjoy it though.

    What frustrates me as an instructor is when I see you’re doing something that is obviously affecting shooting, inform you, you say “got it” and continue doing what you were doing.

  7. avatar Accur81 says:

    Good stuff.

  8. avatar Mark says:

    I attended Massad Ayoobs’ Mag40 class last year and I uttered not a word about my 3 DGU’s more than 15 years prior. I wanted every nugget of info the man had to give and the thought of displacing a single minute of class time with my stories just seemed unthinkable to me. I also wanted to appear as just another student to my classmates as, in my mind, I was. Even though I sort of robbed them (no pun intended) of the lessons I learned being actually robbed. I also knew, correctly, that what Mas had to say was more to their benefit.

  9. avatar Don from CT says:

    I have a fool proof way to get the most out of training. Its a one step program.

    1) Check your ego at the door.

    Everything else is derived from this.

    With that said, this is a GREAT little article. So great that I’m going to bookmark it and send its link to all of my students as part of the prework that I require for my classes.


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