Come Christmas morning, there are going to be a lot of new gun owners in the United States. For many it will be their first rifle, handgun, or shotgun, and they’ll (hopefully) be strongly encouraged to take a firearms safety class, and after that, some classes specific for how they’re going to use their gun. This is where things can get tricky.
Unfortunately, while there are tens of thousands of people calling themselves firearms instructors, their level of training and experience and their actual teaching ability can vary wildly. There are no barriers to entry, and literally anyone can claim to be an instructor.
So how do you separate quality instructors for those who are not that good, and those who are not that good, from the truly dangerous?
Making that determination is more of an art than a science, but there are a few clues you can use as a guide both before you sign up for the class, and indicators of when you should bail on a class that is becoming unsafe.
Longevity. As the old saying goes, “you can fool some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time, but you can’t fool all the people all of the time.” A poor-quality instructor or shooting school simply isn’t going to last.
Frequency: Firearms instructors who teach sporadically are probably not going to be as sharp or on top of their game as are full-time instructors.
General Experience: If you look at the Web sites of firearms instructors, they should have a page that tells you who their instructors are, informing you of their background and qualifications. In general, more is better. If they’re vague on their qualifications, I’d consider that a hard pass.
Specific Experience: Someone may be an absolute expert in teaching the art of shooting from a moving helicopter, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that the same instructor is your best choice for a basic pistol class, or defensive shotgun, or for hunting big game with a rifle. Look for instructors that have a track record of working in the specific field of firearms instruction you need. Most reputable instructors will be more than happy to explain their relevant background to teach a specific class, and if they can’t give you those credentials, you should look elsewhere.
Continuing Education: I’d also look to see how active the instructor is in taking classes from other instructors. The best instructors I’ve met are hungry for knowledge, and take training classes from other instructors/shooting schools several times a year.
Reputation: If an instructor or shooting school has been around for any length of time, teaches classes frequently, and has both the general and specific qualifications to teach the kind of class you are interested and is engaged in on-going training with other instructors to better themselves, then you’re probably on the right track… probably.
That said, there are some instructors and shooting schools that have developed a reputation for controversy for some of their practices and/or results. As a general rule of thumb, I’d move with extreme caution when considering a school or instructor that promises something radically different than what the rest of the industry is teaching (the old “I have secret knowledge/products” scam of snake-oil salesmen everywhere). I’d take a hard look at after-action reports (AARs) and training reviews of classes, and specifically look for concerns about safety, or claims that students felt uncomfortable, or unsafe.
Cost: I don’t know of any other way to say it: good training isn’t dirt cheap. If the cost of a course is far below that of similar classes, it strongly suggests that there’s something wrong. You don’t get something for nothing in the firearms training industry, and competent instructors know their worth.
If you follow these guidelines, you should be able to steer clear of true disasters like the truly dangerous clown at Voda Consulting who calls himself “Lucian Black.”
We’re all human beings and we all make mistakes. We might listen to a glowing review from a well-meaning friend, or decide to take a class because it’s substantially cheaper than other training options, and we bargain with ourselves that “any training is better than no training.”
That’s not remotely true if the class you are taking is a threat to your life, or a threat to the lives of those around you.
There are a minimum of four safety rules that should be followed at any firearms class.
If at any time you see a student acting in an unsafe manner you should immediately call a ceasefire. Explain the unsafe moment to an instructor. Depending on the severity of the safety infraction, an instructor should either fix the problem (if equipment related), and either remove the student from the line for remediation before returning them to class, or if the student is truly dangerous, they should be removed from the line for the remainder of the class. If a student muzzles anyone, they’re done. Period.
If the instructor cadre refuses to take a safety violation seriously, immediately pull yourself out of the class.
If the instructor acts in an unsafe manner even once, it is time to pull out of the class, immediately. I know of at least one person who did precisely that, when an instructor pointed an “unloaded” gun at students.
Examples of unsafe behavior include, but are not limited to:
- Not having a medical plan in place and explained clearly to all students prior to commencing range work.
- Pointing a real weapon at any person, at any time, for any reason. This includes “unloaded” guns.
- Allowing the manipulation of firearms away from the firing line (exceptions made for areas with a backstop designated to work on malfunctioning weapons, typically under the eye of an instructor).
- In strings of fire requiring movement of the entire class, not keeping the line “dressed.” If a student gets ahead of or behind a moving firing line, it exponentially increases the risk of someone getting shot. In the incident captured on video below, the instructor tries to push a student in a wheelchair over a filthy range when the student was significantly behind other students, while commanding him to fire. The wheelchair hit debris on the range that caused the shooter’s muzzle to deviate wildly as he was pushed, and the shooter put a bullet significantly wide left, appearing to pass just a few feet from the man in the black tee shirt and blue jeans.
If you can think of any additional tips you’ve found to help find quality instructors, or good reasons to remove yourself from a class, feel free to make suggestions in the comments.