Whether you’re choosing an instructor for a basic class to obtain your concealed carry permit or looking for someone to take an advanced course from, you need to do your homework to first ensure that you have a safe experience and second have a positive educational experience. I’ll try to break down things to consider in making your choice.
In Florida and many other states, becoming an NRA Certified Pistol Instructor by taking the two day class is the only requirement to being able to teach classes required for the firearm safety component of the state’s concealed carry license. This means that someone with absolutely no firearms knowledge or experience beyond a two day class can teach firearm classes!
Something else to understand is that in Florida an NRA Certified Instructor can create their own class that qualifies for applying for a concealed carry permit. These classes are not vetted by the NRA or the State—or anyone else for that matter. This is why there are classes that are only a couple of hours and the students “demonstrate” their safe firearm handling skills by shooting a single low power .22 caliber round into a bucket of sand.
There are four general categories of instructors:
- Part-Time: doing training because they want easy money
- Part-Time: doing training because they genuinely want to help people learn
- Part-Time: doing training to help people learn and to earn extra money
- Full-Time: doing training as a business
The first group are best to avoid. They put on minimal classes of just a couple hours and often use the low power .22 caliber round into a bucket of sand. They have very little investment into training aids such as inert training guns. We have had numerous students come to us for basic training after having already taken one of these types of classes. They left the other instructor’s 2 hour class being more afraid of firearms than before they took it.
The second group includes individuals that have a wide variety of experience levels from very little to expert; what they share is an honest desire to help everyone they can to learn to use a firearm. Many will give the training for little or no cost. The quality of their instruction runs from teaching improper firearm handling to outstanding teaching.
The third group is very much like the second, except that they charge reasonable rates for providing training.
The last group certainly want to help people learn as well—if they fail their livelihood fails! Instructors in this group often have far more investment in teaching aides, training tools, and their own training. For some of us the investment, which includes real estate for classroom and range, can be in the hundreds of thousands of dollars or more.
So how do you separate the good instructors from the bad instructors? Be a good consumer and do a little basic research. If you have friends that have taken firearm classes, talk with them about their experiences.
Next use the incredible power of the Internet to Google (or Bing, or whatever your search engine of choice) the instructor and their company. Internet tip: put a person’s or company’s name in quotes when you do the search, especially if they are common names/terms. (I.E.: search for “John Doe” instead of John Doe)
Be wary of instructors with little or no Internet presence beyond a Facebook or Craigslist ad. While there are certainly very good instructors with little Internet presence due to their lack of computer skills, there are far more poor quality instructors looking to make a quick buck. They have no Internet presence beyond a Facebook or Craigslist ad because they have nothing to tell you about themselves aside from having taken a two day Instructor class.
While doing your Internet search, pay special attention to photos of the instructor, the classroom, and the range. Is the instructor dressed professionally? Is the instructor exhibiting good safety? (Take a look at Did your instructor do this?) Does what you read and see bolster your confidence in the instructor? Looking at websites other than the instructor’s, what do you learn about them?
What is the location of the class—a dedicated training room, a pawn shop or gun store sales floor, a motel conference room, a shack in the woods, etc.? Is it an environment that is conducive to learning and that you would be comfortable in? How many students are in the class? If it is more than a dozen, what’s the likelihood that you will be able to ask questions? Obviously the more students in the class, the less individualized attention you will receive which is why we limit our classes to 8 students.
While you are still looking at pictures and descriptions, where is the range portion of the class held? If it is in the classroom (I.E.: shooting into a bucket of sand…), that is almost certainly an instructor you’ll want to avoid. If it is at a public range, will the range training be held on a firing line with others not associated with your class? First, it is difficult for an instructor to work with a student shooter when there is other gunfire going on. Second, there is a lot of bad (dangerous) gun handling by people at public ranges.
If it is held on private property, is it actually constructed as a range (as opposed to just a pile of dirt, or worse targets in an open field with no backstop)? If the “range” is in the middle of nowhere, how long will it take EMS to reach it in the event of a mishap? Does the instructor have have a trauma kit at the range and know how to use it? Is there space to land a helicopter for an air evac?
Even more importantly, is the private property insured as a commercial range? Homeowners insurance is not going to cover a mishap for firearm training.
Do they carry instructor liability insurance? Any professional instructor, whether full time or part time, should.
Is the basic/concealed carry class the only training they offer? Instructors that provide a variety of advanced classes typically have a broader experience base that you will benefit from.
What is their philosophy of training and of civilian firearm skills? The role of an armed civilian is very different from the role of a law enforcement officer or a soldier. While learning advanced tactical skills employed by law enforcement and the military can be fun, many have limited or no usage to the armed civilian. Tacticool instructors that advertise their classes will turn you into a tier one operator should be avoided!
If you don’t find the answers to these questions during your Internet research, ask the Instructor. If they won’t answer the questions or provide unclear answers, cross them off the list—you have a right to those answers.