Red flags abound when trainers run line of bull

AP Photo/Michael Hill

Firearm training is vital for any gun owner. Learning not just how to safely handle your firearm, but to use it effectively is what separates those who can make a difference from those who can’t. It’s just that simple.


Yet when it comes to trainers, there can be some tricky difficulties.

You see, there’s no real accreditation for firearm trainers. There are few ways to determine just who is legit and who is running a line of BS.

Oh, there are some with such a well-respected reputation that you know you can trust them. Massad Ayoob, Ken Hackathorn, and Tom Givens, just to name a few, are folks who fall into that camp. Then there are places like Gunsite Academy and Thunder Ranch that lend a certain gravitas to instructors as well.

But not everyone is able to get to one of these folks’ classes. Geography and economics can keep people from being able to take a class from one of these guys, which shouldn’t be too big of a deal.

It is, though.

This was rammed home for me the other day via a discussion I witnessed on social media. An individual whose circle of social media contacts overlaps with mine and who bills himself as a firearm trainer started throwing up all kinds of red flags.

Now, what kicked this off was whether or not one should carry a semi-automatic with one in the chamber. This individual said you shouldn’t. Now, I disagree with that, as did a lot of other people, but that wasn’t the red flag for me. His supporting arguments for that position didn’t help, mind you, but it wasn’t enough in and of itself to serve as a red flag.


However, the ensuing discussion was more than enough.

It dawned on me, though, that there are a lot of people who fill the training space who send up similar red flags, and it’s something I figured we should talk about.

Let’s start with their experience.

Many firearms instructors tout their military or law enforcement experience, and that makes sense. Why wouldn’t they? It’s something that tends to illustrate not just that they’ve been trained in firearms usage, but also likely have some experience in using them in bad situations.

Yet not everyone has that experience, which is fine. Some people are excellent trainers by virtue of having learned from excellent trainers. They’ve learned from others’ experiences and are good at passing that along to others. They don’t step out of their lane or pretend to be anything but what they are, a person who has taken classes and is sharing that information with others.

Where you run into a problem is when the person claims all kinds of “life experience” with life-or-death situations yet doesn’t have a military or law enforcement background.

You see, most law-abiding citizens will never be in the kind of combat where death is on the line outside of the military. Even most law enforcement rarely need to fire their weapon in the line of duty, so someone who has never worn a uniform cites numerous instances of such fights, you need to be concerned.


Again, a lack of military or law enforcement experience doesn’t mean someone can’t know what they’re talking about. Further, the presence of it doesn’t necessarily mean someone is a gun master.

But tread cautiously with anyone lacking those credentials but claims to have all kinds of real-world experience.

Then there are those who throw around jargon to make them sound all tacti-cool. They’ll use terms like that at the drop of a hat, as if it makes them sound like a Super SEAL Operator, despite no military experience. They talk about life “outside the wire” while referring to day-to-day life in the United States, for example.

In essence, they’re trying to sound like something they’re not.

Now, the odd utterance isn’t an issue. People pick up terms they think sound cool and run with them. Even those who have never served using the odd term like “two-way range.” I’m guilty of that one, actually, because it tickled me when someone used it talking to me and I’ve kept it.

So a trainer using a term like that isn’t an issue.

Where it becomes a problem is when they use that kind of military-sounding jargon all the time. What they’re trying to do is make it sound like they know more than they do. They’re trying to lend credence to their words by, at a minimum, suggesting they have experience or knowledge they don’t.


Oddly enough, most veterans who become instructors don’t use those terms when acting as civilian trainers. Neither do law enforcement officers. It’s generally only those who are trying to impress their students. People who know their subjects well don’t try to impress anyone.

Finally, if they get introduced by some nickname that sounds just too badass to be true, like “Beast” or something similar, you should probably raise an eyebrow, especially if it seems they want you to know that nickname.

Especially if one of their professed areas of expertise is something like knife fighting.

See, this is yet another way these know-nothing trainers use to create validation in your mind. If the nickname is “Killer,” people tend to think they’ve, you know, killed someone. If you’re in a class for law-abiding citizens, you’re likely to think that this is someone who has had to fire a weapon while his life or others were on the line.

Now, this one can be a bit shaky. Most of the time, earnest nicknames that make someone sound tough have a funny story behind them. It often turns out that they’re not really about how tough they are, but something maybe a smidge embarrassing.

They might have embraced it, even using it instead of their real name. That’s especially true if it sounds cool, I suppose, so it’s not 100 percent of the time.


Yet when someone touts their life experience, claiming they’re some uber warrior because they grew up on the mean streets of anywhere in the US, but uses language that makes them sound like a reject from some gritty cop show or war movie and has people use some nickname that helps paint a picture, you should be very wary of them.

My advice is to find another trainer. It’s also to warn off everyone else you can think of, pointing out that the red flags you’ve witnessed.

Instead, find someone whose experiences can be verified and who doesn’t try to convince you they’re a super warrior. Find someone who is more than happy to stay in their lane and who, if they want to expand that lane, recognizes expertise in one area doesn’t translate to that new lane and gets relevant training beforehand.

It’s your life we’re talking about here.

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