By Mark Houser
Most of us have been told that firearms training is important and valuable. Maybe even essential.
But my own early experiences with formal training were…disappointing.
In fact, I found that there was a significant disconnect between the ostensible value of firearms training and what I actually experienced in those classes. I’m sure that’s been the case for many of you. Unfortunately, poor training experiences can dissuade students from seeking training of real value: if your first class was disappointing, another class that’s twice as expensive and twice as far away isn’t going to be very appealing.
That’s a shame. As with any other skill, you won’t reach your full potential as a shooter without quality training.
But, in the realm of firearms instruction, there is a serious quality control problem. The gun community tends to be very hardware-oriented. Pick up any gun magazine and tell me, what’s the ratio of gear content to training content? Probably 10 to 1, or worse. With the relative lack of consideration and scrutiny, it’s no wonder that training of marginal value is pervasive, while quality training can feel elusive.
Part of the reason for the lack of scrutiny is that, however shoddy it might be, the most prevalent forms of firearms training still provide exactly what the market demands: marginal training can fulfill the basic, statutory training requirements for carry permits, certain licenses, and so forth. As a means to that end, low-value training that simply checks the right legal boxes and produces a signed certificate is perfectly adequate.
But what about those of us who actually want to develop our skills to the fullest, those of us who want to be as competent as possible in the event that we need to use a firearm to preserve life? What’s out there for us?
Fortunately, more than you might think. I hope my experience can encourage you and help you to find the instruction you need — even if your personal training journey has had a rocky start.
My Own Rocky Start
In retrospect, I’m embarrassed that I didn’t walk out of my first class when the instructor had students point real pistols at one another as part of an inane presentation drill. (Yes, of course the guns had been assiduously confirmed to be unloaded, but that doesn’t matter — “all guns are always loaded.”)
I understood that it was wrong. Safe handling of firearms had been an integral part of my upbringing. But, at the age of 20, I didn’t have the confidence to tell the instructor — an Iraq War veteran who referenced his military experience repeatedly — that his methods were unacceptable.
That class left me feeling queasy and, frankly, doubting the value of further training, especially training of the sort that was accessible to me — financially, logistically and geographically. Sure, I knew that the legendary Gunsite existed somewhere out west, and I knew that at least some military and law enforcement elements got good training.
But if there was anything of real quality available to a regular guy like me, I wasn’t aware of it.
Over the next several years, I only took about as much formal training as was necessary to procure carry permits for the various places in which I lived and worked. Compared to my first class, nothing so egregious happened in any of these subsequent classes.
However, in terms of knowledge or marksmanship, they didn’t really challenge me or improve me, either. The fact that I practiced regularly and studied on my own made me competent and knowledgeable relative to my classmates and instructors. Thus, it wasn’t even clear to me that I really needed to improve in any significant way.
In early 2019, a friend and I decided we wanted to learn how to run our ARs more capably. The fact that most of my prior formal training had revolved around pistols probably made me more open-minded about giving training another shot — for better or worse, I knew I’d at least be in for something different.
I had seen a flyer for a training company called Green Ops at a local range. I found their website and saw that they ran carbine courses. On a whim, my friend and I booked a private lesson with a Green Ops instructor who turned out to be Joshua Shaw.
From the start of the lesson, it was immediately apparent that this training was unlike any I had taken before.
- Firearms safety rules were taken seriously and observed rigorously. I cannot count how many times I have seen other instructors explain the basic rules of firearms safety and then, moments later, violate those rules or tolerate students’ violations. Those instructors knew the rules in theory, but, in practice, adhered to those rules only approximately. Josh was different. He handled his rifle like a professional — first and foremost, safely — and he expected us to do the same.
- We were held to high standards of marksmanship and performance. We spent most of our time shooting at roughly index-card sized targets. For drills at longer ranges or under stricter time constraints, we might be allowed a standard “A-zone” target area. This was a stark contrast to the full- or half-scale silhouettes I usually saw in training. We were expected to call our shots and analyze misses.
- This was also the first time I ever saw a shot timer in a training course. We were challenged to maintain our marksmanship under time constraints — and we definitely found our breaking points more than a few times!
- Josh demonstrated everything. He didn’t ask us to shoot a drill without first showing us that it could be done faster and more accurately than we could do it ourselves. Again, this differed from other training experiences I have had in which instructors did not demonstrate drills or even chose to use class range time as their own personal range time — shooting what and how they felt like shooting instead of shooting for instructional purposes.
- Technical critiques mattered in a way that I hadn’t previously experienced. It’s one thing to be given a technical correction (e.g., “grip your rifle like this”). It’s another thing entirely to be shown how the correct technique is superior. The instructor’s own competence is key here: it’s hard to sell a student on a technical correction if the student can still outshoot the instructor with his “incorrect” technique. The fact that Josh can outshoot me by a wide margin gave his technical critiques a particular weight.
It was an eye-opening experience. During that lesson, I developed a new perspective on my own capabilities and the real value of training.
I discovered that I wasn’t nearly as competent of a shooter as I thought I was or as I wanted to be. Over the next couple of years, I’d go on to find that this sort of ego-check is highly correlated with good training. It’s also one of the reasons people avoid challenging training and competitions: simply put, it feels good to never encounter people or circumstances that make you doubt your abilities.
Being a proverbial “big fish in a small pond,” as I’d been in other classes, is comfortable. However, that’s not a circumstance that motivates anyone toward rigorous self-improvement and skill development. No wonder, then, that my shooting ability had pretty much plateaued at that point.
Fortunately, I also learned that the kind of training that could help me to develop into the kind of shooter that I wanted to be was real, available, and accessible. And while my assessment of my own abilities took a hit, those abilities actually improved markedly over the course of just a few hours of rigorous training. Moreover, that session left me with a much better sense of what I needed to practice on my own time and how to do it.
I’ve been growing as a shooter ever since.
Green Ops and More
Since that first carbine lesson, I’ve trained with Green Ops instructors on three more occasions:
- a private pistol training
- a private pistol/carbine training
- a group carbine training — Defensive Carbine II (Green Ops invited me to this most recent training in exchange for writing about my training experience. The prior Green Ops training was all at my own expense.)
All of those training experiences have been of similar quality to the first. There is a clear, central focus to all of the Green Ops training courses I’ve taken: Execute the fundamentals safely and to a high standard of proficiency regardless of the challenges posed by target size, distance, movement, shooting position, or other factors.
There aren’t any wasted rounds in a Green Ops class, no mindless paper-punching. Every drill challenges students in terms of marksmanship and/or speed, and the outcome of each drill is analyzed. Targets aren’t just “something to shoot at.” They’re tools for measuring performance. Students are held accountable for where on the target their rounds land.
It’s clear at this point that I enthusiastically recommend Green Ops. Currently, they have classes coming up in Virginia, Texas, and Michigan. Green Ops offers classes focused on basic and advanced pistol and carbine handling, combatives, competition skills, LPVO and pistol red dot use, and more. (Personally, I’m excited to build some skill with an unfamiliar platform in their Defensive Kalashnikov class next month.)
In addition, my positive experience with Green Ops also encouraged me to find other high-quality instruction. For example, last year I took an ECQC course with Craig Douglas of Shivworks. It was an excellent class that I probably wouldn’t have sought out or committed to were it not for my positive experience with Green Ops. In that sense, training with Green Ops helped to network me into a community of instructors who are interested in helping students build real competence in life-saving skills.
I want others to start having the positive training experiences that I have had since my first encounter with Green Ops. I encourage you to use resources like Firearms Training Hub and Practically Tactical to both find and vet instructors and training. The general proliferation of quality trainers’ content on social media also makes it easier than ever to find training that suits your needs.
My training journey got off to a rough start. I wouldn’t be surprised if yours did, too.
Don’t be discouraged by the bad experiences. There are some phenomenal instructors and training companies out there. The time, effort, and expense necessary to seek them out and participate in their training is worthwhile.
Get out there and train.
Mark Houser is an independent researcher who writes about the right to bear arms and firearm policy.
This article was originally published at marklivesthings.medium.com and is reprinted here with permission.
Firearms safety training is very important. People are going to handle their firearms more than actually firing them.
Most of the incidents profiled here and at other sites show that John or Mary Smith of Anytown USA do quite well defending themselves against the criminal element without a great deal of more than basic gun handling and safety training.
I drive a car everyday in the heavy traffic of the Bay Area and yet I’ve never had training beyond that taught me in Drivers Training in High School.
How much of that is blind luck and happenstance, though?
Yes, we all agree that rule #1 of a gunfight is indeed rule #1. Starting there gives you a pretty substantial edge. But prevailing despite an utter lack of training is not the example we as a firearms enthusiast community should be pointing towards as the example of the way things should be.
I’d also point out that there are also numerous examples on the other side – times like the West Freeway Church of Christ church shooting where the concealed carrier who was clearly behind the ball, skills-wise, got smoked, and the one who had the training and skills killed the shooter.
The point of carrying a gun is to put the odds in your favor. If you can put the odds even more in your favor by investing a day or two of time in some effective training… why not? It’s a lot better than just plinking away at the range at a leisurely rate, not ever realizing what you don’t know about shooting.
Training for firearms use, like racism, has become an industry in this nation. What I’m afraid of is the slippery slope. When does it become mandatory and who is appointed to oversee the requirements? The ATF?
No one in this article was arguing for compulsory training, so I am unsure why that’s relevant. If you think the answer to the problem of states forcing training via legislation is to eliminate and/or ostracize civilian trainers and people who train on their own volition… that seems crazy to me. I’d say it’s like throwing out the baby with the bathwater, but way worse.
Excellent article. So, now, what do we do about it? It’s our “thing” (whether a hobby, devotion, meditation, . . . ); no one else is coming to improve things. (I.e., “I’m from the government and I’m here to help you” does NOT apply). A few things that stand out for me:
First, commoditizing training isn’t going to improve things. State carry permit training mandates will not help. They will probably make things worse. The reasoning here should be raised in any state legislature where a training requirement is being debated.
Second, commoditizing training is a necessary evil. We want to promote safe gun ownership and that requires readily accessible training en mass. NRA has traditionally served this function. It may not survive. Even if it does survive, it’s training programs have always been a step-child to other priorities. Given that NRA may not survive and that it’s training programs may not be properly funded (if NRA survives), we ought to think about what to do about this.
Third, we need to constantly hone “best practices”. Use of real OR SIMULATED guns in a training exercise is a good example. We probably ought to draw on our own community’s resources in – maybe industrial psychology – to figure out how best to handle this issue.
To defend ourselves we might one day need to point a real gun at a real threat. Soon video simulations with laser guns will be ubiquitous; whereupon we will routinely be pointing good simulations of guns at good simulations of human images. Can we really develop the skills and safety disciplines needed by pointing guns – real or simulated – in training? How much better is a “blue gun” than a real gun with a chamber flag? I don’t think it’s sufficient to say that it’s fine to use a blue gun but forbidden to use a real gun with a chamber flag. The psychology of the discipline is – I think – more complicated than that.
Where do we collect, collate and publish best practices? NRA was formerly the logical place but it is no longer. Nor likely to serve in the foreseeable future.
Fourth – The story presents a dilemma. People who seek training are on a “learning curve” where they are – almost by definition – on the downward side of the slope relative to the instructors. Especially so for recent entries to the community. Only less so for the most experienced seeking to advance their skills to the next highest mountain.
Curing this problem will be difficult and expensive. Especially so for the lowest level courses. Franchised programs will need to deploy “auditors” or instructor supervisors to the field to spot-check franchisee instructors. Other industries have this problem; e.g., SCUBA diving instructors’ training agencies. Perhaps we could learn from them.
Fifth – Perhaps we should think about a central site (perhaps sponsored by TTAG) where training programs, franchisees and individual instructors get listed and where student critiques could be posted. E.g., if I took a course taught by John Smith under the auspices of North Hollow Rod & Gun Club, an NRA certified instructor and program, I could post my critique of my experience.
Ideally, a student could sign-up for an account where his postings would be anonymous. He shouldn’t have to post a critique immediately after taking the course; too easy to identify him and retaliate if he had a run-in with the instructor. Should be able to edit a critique for a couple of years after he realized something (good or bad) that wasn’t obvious immediately after taking the course. And, the person giving the critique could be qualified by the other courses he had taken. (Some value where a student has taken several courses, revised his critique of early courses, and now posts with more authority. A Gunsite grad who goes back and revises his NRA First Steps Pistol course would carry more weight than that of the critique of a recent grad of that course.)
Sure get “training”…but being willing to pull that trigger is paramount. I’d say having an attorney/and/or a concealed carry membership is more important. JWM is right about gun handling.
Professionalism and safety are definitely important.
I think it’s more important that instructors can demonstrate that you using their techniques yields a superior result than they can outdo you. They could have thousands of repetitions on a technique that works for them but doesn’t translate for you. If you’re experienced, you might be able to outshoot them with poor techniques that can be improved. Instructors are also coaches. I don’t expect a gymnastics coach to get a 10 on the uneven bars, or a football coach to hit the numbers on a receiver 40 yards away. Their job isn’t to be the best — it’s to help their students get better. If you aren’t failing, you aren’t learning. A good instructor will be able to tailor drills to your weaknesses.
I did the required course for Illinois CCW. I wasn’t impressed with the State mandates or the majority of the instructors ability to teach. One instructor was a over the top ego driven moron. His block of instruction was more about him and not the instruction.
They didn’t appreciate the review I gave and deleted it from the site.
My instructor for my renewal certification is someone I have known awhile and recently became certified to instruct for Illinois. He knows I will critique him and he looks forward to it. He was a Marine, and worked in the trades before he opened his gun store. I expect his instruction to be more than adequate.
We will all have a bad instructor somewhere but that is true of any profession that is driven by legislative mandates by people without experience in the field they want to legislate. We must seek out the best and often that information comes from our peers.
Without any reservations, stuttering, apologies, hesitation I would have told any so called instructor who requested students to point firearms at each other to go pound sand.
There are waaaaay too many legalities that have to be in order before you can even factor in using a firearm much less pointing a firearm at another person. You want to play pretend games play it with targets and not your classmates. You want to see how a gun looks pointed at you point yours at yourself…you’ll get the picture.
Pointing a firearm at another person is to be reserved only for a very special life and death situation where all the pretend games are over and you are flying on your own. You certainly do not want anything that some bozo stuck between your ears to gum up your train of thought. Otherwise while your so called instructor is still blowing smoke about his glory days you could be dealing with detectives, attorneys, bail bondsmen, court dates, lawsuits, inmates, etc.
I took a class with former Israeli special forces. For one exercise, guns were unloaded, magazines removed, everything inspected visually and physically, and a barrel blocker was inserted for training where we pointed our weapon at someone. I had no issue with that, neither did anyone else.
I understand if someone is not comfortable with such a thing, I would have balked if the gun was able to fire.
Yeah, I actually see the value in it. It gets you over the psyc barrier of never pointing a gun at someone which is ingrained in so many of us. God forbid you actually pull the trigger. Many of the “safety” barriers and rules we put on ourselves can have drastic negative consequences. How many external safeties have gotten people killed because they thought it was on when it was not or visa versa? And then there is always this:
The point is to stop the threat and often that means killing another human being. If you balk at the former you will likely balk at the latter. If such a narrow view of safety is taken I guess training force-on-force with blanks and/or simunition is out of the question. Many of the great gun movies we know and love would never have been made because never-under-any circumstances-ever point a gun at someone . . . even if its in the script.
I won’t say it wasn’t weird! Because it was. But it was a one-time drill, I trusted the instructors (plural) and the scrutiny for an cleared, empty gun. There weren’t many in the class, 5 or 6. It was an environment you could control better than a large group.
They also had a stress fire drill that is better than anything I’ve ever been a part of. They get your heart racing like crazy, similar to how it would be under real stress. It’s an incredible drill, I don’t know if anyone in the US does something similar.
No, no, and NO!
Do not muzzle anything you are not willing to destroy.
There is no provision for unload weapons.
A) I would NOT rely on magazines for anything but advertising. Certainly not for training.
B) This is one of those things that require people to have discussions. It’s one of the biggest problems with what the ‘cancel culture’ is and the level of absolute censoring taking place on Facebook and Twitter. There ARE things that people need to discuss and talk about. Firearms training is one of them.
I took a look at the Green Ops website. Nothing about the cost of any of their offerings. I guess if you have to ask you can’t afford it. So, Mr. Houser, how many thousands of dollars have you spent on this training?
Gunnygene you needed to look a little harder. The carbine course in TX hasn’t been scheduled yet so no price. I just went to VA and MI and found out it was $240 or $250 depending on location. I’m guessing the TX course will be about the same.
And… in reality you have to factor in the cost of ammo these days as a BIG factor. Took an excellent training weekend with Gamut Resolutions a while back. It was $500 for the two day pistol & carbine class, but we also each shot up about $750 in ammo. Mamma Mia!¡
If you’re spending that much on ammo, do you at least get to take home your own brass?
Yes, we could pickup as much brass as you wanted.
Personally, I shot up a lot of the steel case Wolf & Tula.
Which in turn taught me lot about my firearms. Both my (5.56) Aero carbine & PSA 10” pistol ran great, as did my Sig X5 (9mm); my S&W 9Pro couldn’t handle the hard primers in the Wolf Classic. (But it has an APEX trigger in it.)
NONSENSE! The price of each course is listed on the page describing the course and stating the location, date, requirements, etc., etc.
What? It’s on there. Click on the course. Most of them are in the $150-$250 range per day. Hardly unaffordable.
Time and money are barriers. Especially money. As much as I’d like to learn in-person from experts and build real skill and versatility, I don’t have hundreds to thousands of dollars to throw at it.
Which is one reason why I’m dead-set against ALL training requirements. Not only do they create a miniature rentier economy where “training” mostly amounts to instructors checking boxes on a government form, they can price the people who need it most out of exercising a fundamental civil right.
I did take a look at the Firearms Training Hub website — good stuff there. (Although a site that bills itself as a place to find trainers should at least have a damn search function. What the hell, man?)
Turns out there’s a reputable group in my state offering basic pistol courses for $95. For that price, I *might* actually be able to get myself and my wife into one. She wants to be able to defend herself and owns two CCW-worth pistols, but is actually kind of afraid of them (I’ve tried to help and instruct, but I’m not actually very good, and it’s one of those cases where the relationship is a handicap to learning). I’ve practiced a fair bit on my own and carry all the time, but I recognize that I’m not very good with a pistol, and could use a better grounding in the fundamentals.
Not long ago, anything beyond the cost of a box of ammo would’ve been prohibitive. I’m by no means swimming in money, but finances are better now… Just under $200 for the pair of us is almost affordable, and could be more than worth it for good instruction. This article may have been just the right thing at the right time.
” Which is one reason why I’m dead-set against ALL training requirements ”
I’m kinda on the fence about this, but one thing I do support — if the State is going to mandate any training requirements, then it is the responsibility of the State to provide that training at no cost, in a convenient location and time, and do it within a reasonable time-frame.
Agreed. Which is also why I’m still dead-set against it, because you know the government is never going to hold up its end of that bargain.
So, in reality, UpInArms, you are also 100% against required training.
Training is absolutely a good thing and I will always recommend it where possible for anyone. However, ‘required’ training for anyone non military or law enforcement is a completely different thing. Requiring it is a registering of the user. Just like having a license to carry or a FOID.
Training used to be done as a form of bonding from parents with their progeny. Often done within the context of hunting. Personally, I have always considered that to be perfectly adequate for most people until government stepped in and ruined it.
The State = you, the taxpayer. You’d be paying for that training no matter what.
I’ve taken training from local trainers. It was professional and done well. It also cost less. $150. But in Nashville Tn, 40 miles from home, there is an indoor range that hosts Gunsite and other well known national trainers.
I put all their schedules on my calendar. And I’m saving up the money. At least I don’t have to pay for a plane ticket and a hotel. I suggest folks check the training schedules at your local ranges. The big cities tend to have Hosted training by some of the trainers you may have read about.
All the training in the world will do you ZERO good if you don’t have the proper mindset. Not only do you have to be Able to Kill if necessary… It is imperative that you be Willing to Kill. Any hesitation when SHTF may well Cost your or a loved ones Life. It isn’t no Rambo Game. Having to shoot someone and possible Kill them goes against what the majority of people are taught from an early age. Understanding not only the Real World consequences of doing so, but also the Mental consequences of the act. Living with oneself and the decision you have made can truly mess some people up. This along with the fear of those consequences can result in the hesitation I speak of. You must make Peace with yourself and whatever Deity you choose to worship long before any action is taken.
Time, Money, and Travel are the most commonly mentioned barriers to training. And yes, those are real challenges.
In addition to those, lets add absurd scheduling (unless you happen to live next door to a major full-time training facility), vague course descriptions, and prerequisites.
For most formal training, you have to first attend that trainer’s “Intro to…” course where for a hundred dollars or more (plus time and travel) you can spend a day learning the rules of safe gun handling and maybe go through a series of repetitive drills where you get to learn that the front sight goes towards the target and the rear sight is the one closer to you.
I understand why instructors insist on students having basic skills and even why most instructors don’t trust training conducted by anyone else. But when you combine the prerequisites together with worthless course descriptions, the result is that you are expected to spend the time and money for multiple basic intro level classes just to shop for an acceptable instructor.
Look at training calendars — if the “intro” level course is even offered at a suitable location, it will be conducted the day before the basic level course; so either you sign up for both (and pay for both) in the hope that the basic course will teach you something; or you can sign up for Intro AND Basic AND Intermediate (all non-refundable; all taught on consecutive days).
Training is mostly accessible for people who are:
2) Spending Other People’s Money
3) Really really dedicated.
4) Some combination of the above.
Do your research on where you are going. Look for red flags such as instructors threatening you, making statements such as the only way to do something is my way, safety accidents etc.
If you put in a little effort it’ll pay off and you’ll gain
Shoot USPSA for a year and you’ll have better administrative handling, safety, and be able to outshoot any of these “instructors” in no time.
Josh is a USPSA CO GM, and a M in Production. By all means, come to a class and demonstrate you can outshoot him. Take some video of your attempt. Mike Green is a Production M. I believe Luke is an A shooter, and I want to say Rowdy is either an M or a GM in something.
You will not be outshooting these guys with a year of USPSA. Not even close.
You actually proved his point. The instructors are great shooters because of USPSA, they didn’t show up to their first match with those skills. No one does.
I didn’t prove his point. His exact words were: “Shoot USPSA for a year and you’ll have better administrative handling, safety, and be able to outshoot any of these “instructors” in no time.”
In the case of Green Ops, anyways, this is untrue. You will not be a better shooter than the instructors with a year of competition under your belt. His statement is literally untrue.
Now, the premise that shooting USPSA will make you a better pistol (and PCC?) shooter is undoubtedly true. But there are plenty of dudes out there who have shot USPSA for years and will never perform at a super high level because they don’t put in the dry-fire time or learn what they’re doing wrong.
Green Ops is an amazing organization. I have been to 2 of their classes here in Texas and not one bit of disappointment with anything from beginning to end.
I was a little nervous signing up for one of their classes – I am a female (and not a young one) but there was no need for concern. Every single drill has a purpose to improve your skills. Every drill was explained and demonstrated. Safety is a priority and not taken lightly.
The instructors are top notch and if you need help or a little extra attention – you get it!!
Every class (and I am taking some private classes with a Green Ops instructor) moves me further out of my comfort zone.
Highly recommend this organization if you have had any bad instructor experiences. They will change your mind!!!
Front Sight is a top notch training school. Everything taught has a purpose, and it is clearly explained why. Safety is taught from the outset and maintained throughout. Just outside of Vegas.
Too many mall ninjas and desk jockeys “doin trainin'” these days. Even some of the CIB warriors teach how to game USPSA/IDPA instead of how to stay alive and neutralize the threat. Depends on what you want I guess. I’ll just keep my $600 and buy another gun or more reloading components.
That may be true, but the outfit described in this article has a number of gents who’ve been there and done that overseas. Even if they enjoy competitive shooting, they have the professional credentials to back up their judgement on what works and what doesn’t in the real world.
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Thanks for pointing out that when it comes to firearms training pistols and carbines are treated similarly. I’d like to buy my own handgun soon because I’m currently working on improving the security of my home. Keeping a gun in a safe would be a good last resort to have.