Several years ago I had a girlfriend with a terrible flinch. She desperately wanted to shoot her GLOCK well, but every shot landed two or three feet below the point of aim. I applied my basic instructor skills, but the usual remedies failed to resolve the problem. In a rare moment of good sense, I decided to seek professional help and considering my friend’s personality, I thought a female instructor would be a good idea. The only problem was where to find that rare species, the female firearms instructor . . .
At that time Gila Hayes offered private training sessions at The Firearms Academy of Seattle, and she had my friend shooting straight in all of about ten minutes. I’d seen good instructors work before, but this was something to remember – I knew I was watching a master at work. Gila agreed to sit down for a TTAG interview at FAS last week, with the sweet sound of pistol fire in the background as students went through their drills.
To start with, the name is pronounced Geeh-la, not Guy-la and certainly not Hee-la, like the Arizona lizard. Her home base is at the Firearms Academy of Seattle, which is in the foothills of the Cascade Mountains about half way between Seattle and Portland. The climate is relatively mild, allowing outdoor classes to be held almost year round and encouraging fast-growing vegetation to turn the earth berms into jungle hillocks. FAS is owned by Gila and her husband, Marty Hayes, who merits a TTAG interview of his own one of these days. In addition to keeping FAS functioning on a daily basis, Gila also handles the administrative chores for the Armed Citizens Legal Defense Network, a program of membership benefits, some of which include financial assistance with legal costs after the member is involved in a self defense incident.
I always like to ask people how they found their way into the community of the gun. Gila grew up on a ranch in Wyoming, but only knew firearms as simple tools of the trade. She was trained as a graphic artist and ran a small newspaper for several years. At one point she had to accept a night shift job in Seattle during the time that the notorious Green River killer was active. Her strong involvement in martial arts classes helped her realize that she needed a more effective means of self defense, which led her to the Firearms Academy of Seattle run by her husband-to-be, Marty Hayes.
After more than twenty years in the business of firearms training, she has too many instructor certifications to list here and she’s trained with virtually all of the big names in the field, including Cooper, Cirillo and Ayoob, to name but a few.
Gila no longer offers private, one-on-one training, partly because of her hectic schedule and partly due to her belief that people learn better in a group. She finds this to also be true when enjoying her hobby, glass blowing. “Even when I’m blowing glass, I know I learn much more from the studio owner when I’m one of several people working in the studio for that session. When I have a piece on the blow pipe, the pressure is on to rapidly perform the many steps required to get a good piece finished and into the annealer. When I’m assisting someone else who is making their own blown glass piece, I can watch the instructor work with that person and I learn a lot more because I’m not under pressure. Shooting instruction is also a very detailed matter. In watching someone else learn, we can come to understand what is required to make an accurate shot under pressure and when our turn comes on the firing line, apply what we learned through observation.”
Gila doesn’t do much teaching herself any more, but she takes great pride in the cadre of instructors who actually teach most of the classes. FAS has fourteen instructors listed in the current cadre and in 2013 will host guest instructors Massad Ayoob, Ken Hackathorn and Rob Pincus, who she speaks of like old friends.
As a graduate of four levels of FAS handgun classes myself, I can say this about their resident instructors: they do an amazing job of teaching firearms skills, but they strongly emphasize ethics, tactics and avoiding danger whenever possible. As Gila says, “We put a lot of focus on the full spectrum of the situation. People don’t come here and learn to shoot without learning the when and why as well as what to expect afterwards.”
She feels that too many gun owners are operating under the impression that, “If I don’t think about this it won’t happen to me. Then suddenly, a self-defense incident has occurred and you are being questioned by a detective.”
Although FAS has trained thousands of armed citizens, very few have had to use their guns in life-threatening situations. Gila attributes this to the fact that FAS teaches the principal elucidated by John Farnam: “Don’t go to stupid places, don’t associate with stupid people, don’t do stupid things.”
“I think our students do an incredible job of staying out of bad situations,” Gila said proudly.
What about the Great Ammo Shortage? Gila says she has spent a lot of time on the phone lately, helping students round up enough ammo for their upcoming class. She can tell that the ammo shortage is slowly improving in the Pacific Northwest, but since there is still rationing going on, she advises cartridge-deprived shooters “to set up a route that includes regular visits to several local retailers so that they can accumulate their ammo two boxes at a time.”
Gila is well known for her two books: Effective Defense – The Woman, The Plan, The Gun and Personal Defense for Women. She taught women-only classes for many years, so of course I had to ask her about the differences in training men and women. To paraphrase, men like to charge ahead and get to the shooting without interacting much with each other or the instructor. Women want to talk things over and make sure they have a full understanding of the mechanics of shooting before they go to the range. They discuss what they hear with each other in order to process the new knowledge.
Gila notes that when she first started teaching, it was normal to have about ten percent female students. Currently at FAS, women make up between a quarter and a third of the students in the most basic classes. As female participation has increased, FAS has eliminated the women-only classes and now meets that need with one or two female instructors in every class up to an intermediate level.
Gila’s next book, Concealed Carry for Women, will be out at the end of September. She says, “I believe it will help ladies see that there are plenty of ways to carry a handgun on body where it is more secure and more available in an emergency. All it takes is ingenuity, and women have been solving problems for millennia so why should carrying a gun for self defense not deserve the same problem-solving effort we put in to so many other challenges?”