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How to select the best firearms instructor

You may have recently purchased your first handgun and may be looking for a handgun safety course to get you going on the right foot.  Naturally, your first step is to open up your internet browser and search in your neck of the wood to see if there are any classes conveniently located at a reasonable price. Great. That’s how most new gun owners proceed, but the search engine returns with numerous websites offering almost the same stuff.  You click on several websites and they pretty much look and talk the same.  Then the natural next step is how much? You will pick the best price for your bank. 

Well, if I didn’t know much about the industry that’s exactly would be my steps. Afterall, what’s the big deal? It’s just a simple safety class and pretty much everyone’s going to teach just about the same things, right? Perhaps.

When taking your first firearm safety course, the class should include the following information in a nutshell:

  • Firearms safety rules and be able to describe each of the elements with great conviction
  • Home storage and the state law
  • Transporting firearms in accordance to the state law
  • “When can you shoot another person in your state?” Use of Force and legal analysis 
  • Handgun terminology and it’s function
  • Function and Ballistics of ammunition
  • Elements of Marksmanship 

When selecting the right class or instructor, let’s look at couple things that may enlighten you on things you may not know or see from a consumer’s stand point to make the right decision. 

Shooting range staff vs Independent firearms instructor?
There are two distinct classes you can look around for.  One of the first places you may look for is either shooting ranges or even from gun stores.  Generally speaking, gun stores do not offer classes in firearms safety, but instead they may refer you to a firearms instructor or a school that they know who might be worth a try. 

Your local shooting ranges often do offer classes in gun safety.  Shooting ranges like to promote gun safety for their clienteles to enjoy shooting at these facilities as it reverberates to their liability. The intentions are good but often lack deeper understanding of home/personal defense and how to correctly teach marksmanship.  Often these classes are short spanning 2 to 3 hours.  Usually, with that short of time they won’t be able to cover the needed information listed above for you to have enough information to be a responsible gun owner. 

Furthermore, shooting ranges offer these courses taught by their certified range staff.  Their level of knowledge and ability will vary and it’s very difficult to assess that prior to the actual class.  They are often not compensated well beyond their hourly wage and the incentive to teach these classes may not be great either.  That will reflect the instructor’s preparedness and their desire and motivation. 

Independent firearms instructors often own their own business and have a stake in the company.  Their compensation is directly related to the student enrollment thus their motivation for teaching and customer service is much higher than those on the payroll.  They are often more educated and the knowledge base is more superior than the run of the mill range staff. As result the prices are usually higher but the quality of lessons should match it. 

This is one of the most important credential you must look for in an instructor.  Generally, shooting schools are operated and taught by an instructor or a group instructors. Sometimes, the class is offered by a shooting range whom appoints one of their certified (or not) staff to teach a course.  Be sure to ask for their certification and credential to demonstrate that they are in fact able to teach the course as described.  If the instructor is a civilian and never been law enforcement or military they generally do not have the proper certification to teach any “tactical” courses or anything to do with with holster draw as those instructor certifications are generally very difficult to get as a civilian. 

Most civilian firearms instructors get their certification from the NRA and usually by taking their “NRA Instructor Pistol Shooting Course” which is a 16-hour course which requires attending their classroom lecture and taking their live fire proficiency test.  This course is very easy to complete so long as you have the patience to sit and listen and learn the NRA’s expectations and be able to shoot 10 rounds from 15 yards with 80% proficiency. 

The problem with this certification is that it limits the instructor from teaching anything beyond shooting off the table top and limiting to teaching the basic safety and marksmanship.  It forbites instructors from instructing any tactical shooting concept including presentation from holster, shooting on the move, scenario based training, immediate action, use of cover, shooting from various shooting positions, etc,.

But what if the instructor had proficient understanding of each of the tactical concepts? What’s the big deal with certification?  Afterall, the instructor demonstrates it pretty darn great on Instagram and TikTok videos you watched.

They have no business teaching it.  That’s the problem. 

Insurance and Business Liability

First and foremost.  Be aware that firearms training and operations have inherent risks which may result in serious injury or death.  Operating firearms with explosive components involves certain inherent risks which may require transport to a medical facility; explosive detonations, misfiring, hang firing, and other malfunctioning of ammunition, the firearm or its components; ricocheting of projectiles, or impacted materials which may occur during training.

The training may be conducted at a site that is remote, either by time or distance or both, from a medical facility.  You are agreeing to proceed with such instructional activities in spite of the possible absence of a medical facility in proximity to the training site. 

The problem lies in legal liability. Every firearms instructor should be fully insured and legally protected from liability and medical cost in case something goes sideways – as in you are gravely injured and unable to work as result. If you get injured due to gun shot wound or from ricochet from a bullet, who is liable and responsible?  Who must pay for the medical bills? Who will pay for the lost wages? 

It will be the responsibility of the firearms instructor, his business, and as well as the responsibility of the shooting range where the class was held.  All entities must be fully insured.  Let’s just say that the instructor was only certified as NRA’s basic handgun instructor and conducted classes or private sessions that was out of classification (beyond the scope of his expertise and credential).  What will happen? 

First and foremost, the instructor’s insurance company will conduct their independent investigation. If the class was to involve beyond the scope of his expertise, then the adjustor could simply deny the claim.  Meaning you don’t get anything.  You could suit the instructor civilly but the instructor does not have a general business insurance so there’s nothing to be paid and he could simply claim bankruptcy to try to get out of the responsibility.  Many shooting ranges are now becoming extremely strict as to whom they allow to teach at their facility as most litigations falls on the shooting ranges claiming faulty equipment or unsafe range condition. 

Knowledge & Expertise
Certification and liability coverage is obviously important for your own protection but after all you are there to learn something vital.  How would you know about their knowledge and ability to teach? This is enormously difficult for one to assess.  One thing for sure is that this industry is full of false and misleading information.  Most people do not have the sufficient knowledge to tell the difference between good and bad information.  

Simple way to know is to look at the instructor’s resume.  Look at or ask what sort of instructors he had trained with to find out how diverse he is with his knowledge.  Look at any mentioning about competition shooting which will speak volume about their shooting proficiency and knowledge on the shooting mechanics.  Look at the years in which they’ve been instructing.  Look for those instructors who have or had law enforcement teaching background as they have the direct knowledge of what works and be able to apply field data into their teaching.  But again, anyone can cook up a resume and you may not have the time or the energy to verify its authenticity. 

Ask around others who may have information about instructors they’d trained under.  Online reviews are helpful but you know how that works.  Those review are written by those who may not have the right tool to assess the quality of the instruction.  Look for safety protocol on the range in those reviews.  If you yourself in a class with 15 people or more with only 1 instructor and no line safety officers, the safety ratio may be of an issue.  You must not attend classes that lack high level of safety practice on the range.  Finally, be aware of fake reviews. They are often written by the insiders to give themselves high praises to persuade the unawared consumers. 

On the final thought.  The best investment you can spend is on classes and training to ensure that you become a responsible gun owner.  Shooting is not easy and learning how to shoot is a great way to truly enjoy its capability.  Selecting the right instructor at an early stage of learning can make or break your habits and the respect for the deadly weapon.  Ensure to pick the right instructor in doing the right homework. Externally, they all look the same and may appear to teach the same stuff, however, the content of the class, the delivery of information, their resume and the knowledge of the instructor, the instructor qualification and having appropriate business liability is some of the key components in selecting the right one for you.