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By Travis Pike

As a student paying for a service, you have a right to expect your firearms trainer to provide a few things. Yes, they should provide you with quality training, but since we do not have an objective, reliable method of rating firearm instructors, there are a few things you should look into. Here are a few things every good trainer should have outside of a certification from the NRA, Tactical Response, Gun Site or whoever. If you want to be a firearms trainer I suggest keeping a few of these things in mind . . .

Liability Insurance

A lot of trainers start an LLC thinking it will protect them from any kind of lawsuit. It may do that, but it doesn’t protect your students. When I am training students I am taking their safety into my hands, and if I make a mistake I need to have good liability insurance for them, not so much for me. Don’t be afraid to ask your instructor if they have insurance before signing up, I make it a part of my advertising.

A Medical Kit and an Injury plan

Before I start any class I go over a few basic admin notes, where the bathrooms are, where’s the appropriate smoke break area, where the trash cans are, and our injury plan. I do this for two reasons; first to reinforce that guns are dangerous and second so people know what to do. I ask if anyone has any medical training, nurse, doctor, EMT. If so, I ask if they would mind aiding in any injury that may occur. I also have limited medical training in basic things like CPR, shock treatment, how to apply tourniquets, stop bleeding, etc.

I show my students my range medical kit, and let them know where it’s located, in case I’m the one who gets hurt. I also ask for a volunteer who’s job is to call 911 in the event of an emergency, while the patient is being treated.

The Ability to Learn

Anyone who thinks their way is the only one possible way to do something, and is universal among all shooters is not fit to be a trainer. This person has stopped learning, and will soon be outdated, if they aren’t already. The biggest and only universal in gun handling is safety. If a student is shooting one-handed, from the hip, and hitting the bulls eye every time at 25 yards, I’m not trying to correct their form, I’m trying to learn from them.

However, if a student is doing something ‘odd’ and missing the target, I’ll ask them why do they do that odd thing that particular way. If they have a legitimate answer, i.e. something like, “my shoulder injury,” I try to keep that in mind and I find a way to get them on target. If they say, “I don’t know.” I suggest they try it another way.

A good trainer should also work to refine their skills in the discipline they are teaching. This doesn’t just mean moving vertically towards advanced courses, but laterally. Take a class in what you already teach, you’ll be surprised what you can learn from how a more experienced instructor teaches. For example, I sat in during a fellow local trainer’s class and learned how he used analogies anyone could understand to explain how to handle a firearm. He associated how to shoot with everyday activities.

Be adaptable to your students

A firearms instructor should adapt to his students, not force students to adapt to the trainer. What I mean by this is as a trainer, I never tell someone their gun is terrible, their holster won’t work, etc. Unless it’s a safety concern, of course. The easiest way to define this is don’t be a brand or caliber fanboy.

I can caution someone, and explain logically why a Walther P22 isn’t the best option for self defense (.22 LR being nowhere near as reliable as a centerfire cartridge). But if that’s what they are going to carry, I have an obligation to teach them how to operate it effectively and safely, regardless of my personal feelings.

I never tell a student their equipment and method are wrong, I simply suggest something that may work better for them, and tell them why that is. I don’t say things like, “Get a GLOCK cause I carry a GLOCK and GLOCK is the best everz.”

A lot of new shooters who do not own a gun, ask what gun they should buy. I carry a P07, and I love it, but I’m not going to suggest that for the 100 lb. little old lady taking my class. I keep a variety of different modern firearms for students to handle and test, at a variety of different price points. I really like my S&W Performance Center, but it’s not a realistic expectation for everyone to go spend more than I’ll honestly tell my wife I spent on it.

A Cool Pair of Sunglasses

Rule Number 2, always looks cool. Duh.

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  1. are you sure? are you sure it isnt far better to yell at someone who doesnt have X that they are “wrong as dick cancer”? because thats what i thought all the good instructors did.

    im saving my pennies to go train somewhere, maybe next year. thanks for the tips.

  2. Great stuff here! I can see a few that are missing, however.

    1. The old NRA rule of no more than five students to an instructor is a good one. Since safety is our goal, it makes sense to have more eyes and ears available when inexperienced people are shooting and handling guns. If you have 20 or 30 students, you won’t SEE the safety goofs in the classroom, let alone on the range.

    2. Involve the students in every aspect. Hands on – not just demonstrations. Give the students the material and have them teach it to each other. I no longer lecture. I present an idea, and have students reframe it, then ask the class what they got from it. Nobody sleeps or hangs back in my classes.

    3. Offer activities outside of the class for ongoing experience. I hold a shooting clinic one day a week at the local range. My clinic is offered at no cost, except range fee for non-members. Coaching is optional (also free), though I maintain the position of RSO. So far we’ve not had a crowd come out, but I have other instructors available if there are more than five or so. I’m thinking of other activities that could be presented by the gun club as well.

    Far too many people take a class and then never practice anything they learned. Go the extra mile, if possible, and provide an opportunity for both practice and ongoing instruction.

    • “2. Involve the students in every aspect. Hands on – not just demonstrations.”

      Excellent remark. Different people learn in different ways. Audio means more to some, visual to others, hands on for others. If an instructor just stands up there and talks, he may not be reaching many.

    • Alan… novices do not carry at all. Intermediate students carry however they plan to carry. What is the point of training otherwise? That’s one of the reasons five students to an instructor is a good idea… you have to watch.

    • No, but then he knew you already- your tendency to listen to and follow instructions, your ability to focus. And he had already established his credibility with you as well.

  3. Excellent advice.

    I’ll add my own semi pointless rules and rants here;

    Seems silly but if they are gun snobs (I’ve seen No Hi-points or Kel-Tec advertised) or if they wear $5000 worth of “tactical” Realtree camo or if they like to immediately tell me all about their political/religious/NRO. I’m not only out I was never in.

    Now I don’t own a Hi-point or Kel-Tec firearm, nothing against them I just don’t. Yet to have some tool refuse to teach what may very well be the only firearm someone can afford (new young family, college kid etc.) but wants to learn how to better defend themselves and their families annoys the hell out of me.

    Or maybe they are just frugal owners and those brands meet their needs doesn’t matte, still it irritates me.

    The realtree thing may be fine for a hunter but those I’m complaining about are the taci-tard type. Closest they have come to combat is watching JR. play Halo but will gladly tell you about their time as a Super Army Ranger Marine Man/SEAL.

  4. BA shades – got it. But I thought it was required that you shave your dome and have a 3day growth (every day). Or you’re not SEALish.

  5. 1. A good teacher.
    2. A good plan.
    3. Awareness and empathy for students.
    4. More than one way of understanding and conveying something.

  6. Finding the right (quality) firearm training program for you
    by Yours Truly

    (Guns Save Life) – Carrying a gun lawfully for self-defense can make the difference between life and death in a critical incident, yet at the same time it can be fraught with risk to the carrier thanks to a long list of laws and regulations.

    In the perfect world, you wouldn’t need a permit to carry, nor training in the use of a firearm effectively for self-defense. Unfortunately, the world isn’t perfect and neither are people.

    All it takes is a single incident of oversight, sloppy gun handling, or lousy gear and you can find yourself without a permit at best and in jail at worst. And heaven help you if you have a negligent discharge or pull your gun without proper legal justification. Make those mistakes and you may end up in prison!

    By seeking quality, comprehensive training, the risks of carrying are greatly diminished and more importantly, the odds of prevailing in a deadly force encounter are significantly enhanced.

    Increasingly, with the proliferation of everyone and their dog offering “concealed carry classes”, training courses aren’t all high-quality affairs.

    In fact, they run the gamut from inadequate and incompetent to thorough, well-presented programs designed for those who wish to learn how to avoid confrontation and have every advantage should they ever find themselves a reluctant participant in a deadly force encounter.

    Of course, the best way to win any gun battle is to avoid it altogether. Where this is not possible, training will make the difference between whether it was luck or skill that allowed you to prevail.

    Most forward-thinking folks would rather not rely on dumb luck to win a life-and-death struggle. This is where proper course selection could someday pay huge dividends to you and your loved ones.

    The skill sets needed to use a firearm decisively to defend yourself can be broken down into three subsets. The best training will incorporate all three areas for their students.

    The Mindset.
    Mindset is the knowledge and psychological attitudes needed to lawfully utilize deadly force for self-defense. This includes the legal parameters of when deadly force is appropriate (regardless of the weapons system) and mental preparation for dealing with all aspects of a violent encounter at home or in public.

    This particular aspect of training emphasizes avoiding conflict, layering your defenses and teaching you the standard by which you will be judged. A well-taught class will keep you out of jail for inappropriately introducing a weapon – firearm or otherwise – into a confrontation.

    Functional ability/training.
    The functional ability training consists of knowing how to make your gun work, and the ability to use it safely and effectively, and the associated aspects of its proper care and feeding.

    Any reputable course will inculcate you with basic firearm safety. Exercising proper muzzle discipline and keeping your finger off the trigger until you have decided to shoot should be as natural as breathing. Sadly, for those who haven’t had good training, poor muzzle control and trigger finger discipline are the norm.

    Gun selection plays an important role as well. Some folks may have compatibility issues with the gun they like, making it a bad choice for them as they are unable to operate it effectively. Arthritis, hand strength or other physical limitations are a common cause for these issues, as well as a lack of familiarity with a firearm’s controls.

    Tactical training.
    Tactical is not “tacticool” where people dress up in “cool guy” gear to pretend they are something they aren’t.

    Instead, it is the practical, hands-on study of the tactics needed to fight with your personal defense tools. This includes learning proper use of cover and concealment, proper presentation of the gun, situational awareness, proper force “application” strategies, malfunction clearing procedures, proper reloading and so much more.

    Reading a book or watching a video can serve to introduce these concepts, but there’s no substitute for doing it for yourself under the tutelage of a skilled instructor who will ensure you’re using proper technique and minimizing wasted movement. This allows you to act decisively, without “thinking” about the mechanics of what you are going to do once you’ve decided to act.

    The old saw of how you won’t rise to the occasion but instead default to your level of training is pretty much true. Indecisiveness, wasted movement and/or poor skills will get you killed unless you’re a very lucky soul.

    Better, more enjoyable courses will share many common attributes. Here are some:

    Look for experienced instructors. While everyone has to start somewhere, previous instructional experience measured in years, not months, will usually lead to a better end result for you, the consumer / student. If they try to razzle-dazzle you with experience in the Boy Scouts, ROTC, or “personal interest”, or a long list of certifications without offering how much experience they have actually teaching real students, look out.

    Look for instructors who have been to some of the nationally-known schools. Instructors who have continued their education at top-tier national schools will bring lessons and teaching techniques they’ve learned from the nationally-respected masters to your local class.

    “Team teaching” is always a good thing, as instructors can teach to their strengths and students enjoy hearing a more diverse set of perspectives. Sure, the instructors make a lot less individually when utilizing “team teaching”, but end result is a better educational experience for the students.

    A “team” of instructors also offers greater opportunities for the student to get more one-on-one help as needed, particularly on the firing line during live fire.

    Previous law enforcement or military instructional experience is a bonus, especially if it is in the arena of training the elites of military or law-enforcement. Again, it’s about bringing applicable aspects of the latest tactics to the local students.

    High instructor to student ratios. We can’t stress this one enough, especially for range exercises. If you have one or two instructors trying to run a range with ten or twelve entry-level students on the firing line at once, you’re getting badly short-changed as a student and it’s not as safe as it could be.

    Courses that offer more than the minimum. Good instructors won’t cut corners, but in fact will supplement the required material with valuable and useful information they have learned from other schools or instructors.

    Referrals, testimonials, and word of mouth are all things to look for in reputable, experienced instructors. Ask your friends who have been to a class what they thought of it. Visit your local gun club or gun rights organization and ask those present for recommendations on instructors and/or classes.

    With the booming popularity of non-resident carry licenses, there are a lot of instructors, especially newly-minted ones, who vary significantly in skill, ability and ethics.

    There are a number of red flags one should look for in entry level training to help you avoid a disappointing experience.

    Airsoft: Do instructors attempt to replace live-fire with airsoft guns for the class?

    Internet classes: Do instructors attempt to “teach” the classroom segments of the class on the internet?

    Charging for permit application packets: One firearms training group charges students $20 each for Florida and Arizona license application packets, even when those respective states promptly send them out for free.

    Unsafe gun handling: Do instructors demonstrate safe gun handling or do they routinely put their booger picker on the bang switch inappropriately? Are they careless about muzzle control?

    Cutting corners to do less than even the minimum requirements. If it is supposed to be a four-hour class and the instructor finishes in three and a half hours? That’s not good.

    Instructors teaching flawed, out-of-date or just plain unsafe information that could get students killed or injured needlessly, either from tactics or a safety perspective. Example you ask? Recently: “You should carry with an empty chamber” and “you should rack the slide of your empty-chambered handgun on your pants.”

    Our recommendation

    Do a little research. There’s no need to settle to spend money for a course that will disappoint you. Use the information contained here to help guide you in course selection.

    Make sure the class you enroll in will provide training that meets and exceeds your needs instead of a marginal offering that falls short in one or more areas.

    Remember, training is inexpensive compared to your life and it is not a place to cut corners.

    Good training that allows you to come out on top is priceless in the long run.

  7. Travis, you raise some good points, but your list is more of how to be a good instructor than helping members of the general public pick and instructor.


  8. When the first question from a student is: “Can I shoot a police officer that has entered my property without a warrant?” you need to keep an eye on that student as he just might be a nut or an undercover federal officer.

    I have a first aid kit that looks like it came out out an EMT truck, complete with chest seals and saline IV’s. The first thing I do is ask: “Who is in the medical business?: 9/10 there is a RN, LPN, EMT, or physician in the class and I appoint them “medical officer”. Our range is 45 minutes by car to the closest hospital (and that is moving) and air rescue is unreliable. Even though I have taken advanced first aid I would rather not have anything to do with it unless there is nobody else. Remember, QuickClot works wonders.

    Good article and remember to praise and offer constructive suggestions

  9. Say it ain’t so. You lie to your wife about your gun purchases?
    Hope she doesn’t read your posts 😉

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