I’ve written a number of posts on training, including classes that use force-on-force, which elaborated on some of the most effective forms of self-defense training available to civilians today. In response, there always seems to be a commenter or two criticizing civilian firearms training for a host of reasons. One went as far as to call me an unscrupulous a-hole collecting a ton of money teaching pure, unadulterated, uh, merde.
I had a chuckle. Who was it who said that it’s better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to open one’s mouth and remove all doubt? Oh yeah, Mark Twain.
One said he didn’t trust firearms trainers/”dumbass mall ninjas” and that he’s too much of a cheap-ass to pay thousands of dollars and devote weeks of time to training. “‘Untrained’ people have perfectly good DGU’s all the time,” he wrote. “It seems to me that most of this stuff is a solution in want of a problem and it’s hellishly expensive in many cases.”
Let’s discuss some of that with an eye towards America’s newer gun owners.
Time and money
First off, you don’t need to spend thousands or devote weeks of time to training in order to develop more competence and confidence than the average person at shooting, while going a long way toward keeping yourself out of the crime victim pool.
There are thousands of experienced NRA and other instructors across America who provide competent training for very affordable rates. Most Americans — including non-gun owners — would benefit from taking an NRA course or two. While these courses aren’t really thought of as the slick, high-speed, low-drag stuff that Walter Mitty-types with an extra-thick man-card want, they provide real value and good basic fundamentals to build upon.
In reality, the things you learn at basic NRA and other classes really are high-speed, low-drag in that most HS/LD is really nothing more than the fundamentals executed very well with minimal wasted movement (and without thinking about how to do it which we call “unconscious competence”).
In fact, a single, high-quality class over a weekend — taught by some of those NRA-certified instructors — will often get even the greenest of noobs shooting somewhere on par with some police officers. That same class, for a more accomplished shooter, will eliminate wasted movements and tighten their groups.
Average cost to pull a trigger as well as some cops? Maybe $150 to $300, depending on location and range availability. A better class will also include lectures on how to avoid becoming a victim at home and in public, the proper care and feeding of your guns and legal considerations to using deadly force justifiably in self-defense.
You can learn the same things from nationally known trainers like John and Vicky Farnam for about twice as much for the same two-day class. The Farnams and their adjunct staff know their stuff and you’re paying a premium in part for their reputation, not because they’re going to teach you something from a “Mystical Order of the Secret Stuff.” I use the Farnams merely as an example. There are more than a few other very good instructors of the same high caliber…pun intended.
Again, in most parts of the country, you can get more affordable and more local options from NRA instructors. Be cautious and seek out referrals or recommendations from people you know and trust to avoid disappointment.
Most NRA trainers are competent and many teach for mostly altruistic reasons. Some are better than others and word of mouth will help you find them. Insider information: There’s not a lot of money in training, especially where trainers are using “team teaching” with a group of instructors as opposed to one person trying to run a class by themselves.
Project Appleseed is an even better bargain than NRA classes. For about a hundred bucks and 800 rounds of .22 ammunition, you and your kid can get a weekend of solid training on firearm safety, the fundamentals of rifle marksmanship and some American history at an Appleseed rifle event…and they’ll give each of you a t-shirt on top of that.
Appleseed instructors, regardless of the color of their hat, are pretty much range from good to excellent and the only variable is the ratio of instructors to students at any given event. They (actually “we” as I’m an Appleseed Instructor-in-Training) will teach you how to become a rifleman.
Shooting the “Rifleman” standard doesn’t usually happen on your first outing, but it does for some. It took me three years of frustration, bruises and practice before it all came together. Today, I shoot Rifleman (at least 210 of 250) in my sleep and you can too, but probably not without some training and practice.
Formal training is good training
I’ve trained under scores of instructors ranging from local NRA people to regional trainers to some of the most famous names in civilian training – Ayoob, Tarani, Rogers (God rest his soul), Farnam, Grossman and plenty more. I’ve also watched plenty of training videos ranging from very good and slickly produced (the old Magpul series) to the snooze-fests.
The bottom line: even a mediocre training class is better than the best training video. Here’s why: with a class, you have someone who knows what they are doing critiquing your technique, pointing out any bad habits you as the student might be exhibiting during live fire, and helping you improve your skill set.
I’ve trained thousands of kids and adults over the years, and there are darn few people walking into classes without aspects of their shooting they can improve upon. Most people need help internalizing basic safety protocols including muzzle control and keeping their cotton-pickin’ fingers off the trigger before we begin tackling the fundamentals of good shooting.
Yes, the men are usually the more challenging students. It’s sometimes why their wives or girlfriends (or both) out-shoot them towards the end of class…the women are usually more inclined to listen to instruction and leave preconceived notions behind.
Untrained people have perfectly good DGU’s all the time
Yes, :untrained people do have perfectly good defensive gun uses all the time.” And if you Google “rejected self-defense claims“, you’ll get millions of hits, most of them from people who thought they were acting legally in using deadly force. But they weren’t.
You, as a gun owner, need to know the legal standard by which you will be judged so that you can act accordingly. If you haven’t had training in the justifiable use of deadly force, then you can unwittingly find yourself in a heap of trouble.
Look at the man pictured at the top of the page. His name is Orville Wollard III and the Miami Herald sums up his case this way . . .
…Mr. Wollard is serving 20 years in a state prison for firing a warning shot inside his home to scare away his teenage daughter’s unwelcome 17-year-old boyfriend; the shot was meant to scare the teen, and no one was hurt. But the use of the gun triggered the state’s mandatory-minimum sentencing. Mr. Wollard was convicted of aggravated assault with a firearm, and a judge had no choice but to throw the book at him.
And there are others. In Pennsylvania, a carry permit holder intervened in a spat over reserved church seating. After getting punched, the carrier drew and fired two rounds, killing the other man. Dollars to donuts Mr. Permit Holder saved himself a weekend and a few bucks by not getting any training…after all, “untrained” people have perfectly good DGUs all the time. And it cost him his life as a good citizen, his livelihood and his reputation.
I’ve had first-hand experience with an untrained good guy getting jammed up in the criminal justice system. In my role as president of Guns Save Life, I’ve received all manner of calls, including people needing help or wanting to tap GSL’s legal defense fund.
One such call came from a member who found himself facing prison time for using his handgun to hold the grandson of our then-Congressman for skipping on a cab fare until sheriff’s deputies arrived. It took place at 2:30 in the morning in a small Illinois town.
The GSL member, also named John, got a plea bargain offer to avoid prison, but it involved taking a felony charge, serving time in the county jail, a fine, a couple hundred hours of public service and forfeiture of his gun rights. John didn’t have a lot of money and he dreaded the felony, but he dreaded prison a lot more. He thought his goose was cooked.
I coached him on better articulating the threat he faced (the crook threatened to kill John if he wouldn’t let him go, the punk wouldn’t show his concealed hands in the low light, and a few other things). He took that back to his attorney along with a check from Guns Save Life. Six months later, John called with good news: The charges had been dropped, he got his gun back and his attorney sent the check – uncashed – back to GSL.
But if John had taken a class, he might have known better how to articulate the threat and saved himself a lot of time, stress, grief and expense… or avoided it in the first place. If he hadn’t been a GSL member and hadn’t called me, he might be a former gun owner, for life.
Losing in court is the second consideration in critical incidents. If you ever find yourself getting served a crap sandwich in the form of a deadly confrontation with a violent criminal predator, you will have the rest of your life to consider the pros and cons of your training experience or lack thereof.
Rob Pincus has talked and written about what untrained gun owners do in a critical incident. They observe, orient, decide, and act. While good old American ingenuity and improvisational skills are good, Pincus writes, “we are better when we’ve trained realistically to respond efficiently.” Agreed. Responding efficiently in a tactically sound manner almost always trumps dumb luck and improvisation.
Take the case of the crossfit gym owner T.J. Antell. He went to the aid of a woman screaming for help after she had been shot. As a carry permit holder in Texas, he’d taken a short firearms training class to get his carry license.
However, in a perfect storm of poor tactics, he ended up getting himself killed in a Walgreen’s parking lot. Mr. Antell accessed his gun, pursued the bad guy who had broken off the confrontation, approached the suspect, and was then shot in the head.
If Mr. Antell, a former Marine, had spent a weekend and a few hundred bucks on tuition and ammo for a good class, there’s an excellent chance he’d be with us today. With training, your likelihood of success in self-defense situations increases dramatically.
It’s up to you. What is your health, wealth, and ability to earn an income worth? Is your life and freedom worth a weekend or two and a few hundred bucks of education?
Another one of our would-be Armed Intelligensia offered this nugget: “If I take any advanced firearms training the first question I’m asking the potential instructor is how many gun fights has he been in? If none, he don’t get my business.” Really?
Renowned self-defense expert instructor Massad Ayoob has never been in a gunfight. The person offering that comment would apparently never train with Ayoob simply because Mas has avoided needing to fire the gun in self-defense. That’s OK…it means extra attention for people like you and me who don’t impose meaningless, arbitrary standards when considering a teacher.
The best way to win a gunfight is to not be in one. How do you avoid it? Practice situational awareness and confidence in your daily life using skills you pick up in class or study. Bad guys, when given a choice, will pick on those who don’t practice those behaviors. I’d rather continue to avoid or manage potentially deadly confrontations than to become a member of the gunfighter fraternity. I believe most clear-thinking people would agree.
Breaking the “freeze”
“Some people, no matter how much training you give them, will freeze when the metal meets the meat. Most people can be trained to react to a threat but some simply can’t be.”
Hint: Everyone freezes when the metal meets the meat. How long it takes to break that momentary freeze is what distinguishes people who have had training from those who haven’t. And pretty much everyone can be trained to break the freeze and react to the threat. Some will be a little quicker than others.
Once more, many of those with training will have already skipped the freeze by avoiding the confrontation through their situational awareness and threat management skills.
Training offers something for everyone
In short, formal firearm and self-defense training offers something for everyone. It helps keep you on the law-abiding side of the criminal justice system and helps keep you around for the people who love you. It instills confidence and skills you will use everyday to avoid becoming a victim.
Training makes you safer, both for yourself and the people around you, at home and in public. You might not be an expert using a gun after training, but you’ll be an expert at firearm safety and that’s something you can share with the people around you to help keep them safe, too.
With a modicum of effort on your part, you can find reputable training programs by using the Internet or by talking with family and friends to get their advice and recommendations. Keep reading The Truth About Guns and this coming month I’ll have an article on what to look for in a better training course – and red flags to watch for when considering a class.