Training Counselor: One Night Stand or Relationship?

I’ve written before about choosing a firearms Instructor, but what about if you are looking to become or already are an NRA Instructor seeking a Training Counselor? (Training Counselors train Instructors.) The basics of choosing an Instructor apply to choosing a Training Counselor and links to my posts on the topic are at the bottom of this one.

What follows is long, very long…
(unfortunately it needs to be)

The first question to ask is of yourself:

Are you only looking for a certificate, or are you seeking to be mentored?

If you are only looking for a certificate, you can get that with any Training Counselor. If you are looking to truly learn the material and much more in order to be a great Instructor, seek out a great Training Counselor.

If you’re seeking to choose a great Training Counselor, it should be a long term relationship. Paying attention to the factors outlined below won’t guarantee you find one, but it will substantially improve your odds.

Traits of a Great Training Counselor

  • Open Book
  • Follows NRA Rules
  • Stays Current
  • Is a Mentor
  • Is a Student
  • Teaches
  • Knows their Limitations

Open Book

Do you want to take a class from someone that appears to be in witness protection, held at an undisclosed location that you’ll find out only after registering for the class?

There is a very limited amount of text that can be placed into the comments section of a class listing on the NRA’s Instructor portal and it’s impossible to get a complete picture of the quality of a class from it. A Training Counselor can put website addresses into the comments, however, to lead a potential student to information sources. Evaluate what they put into the comments for the class: are the comments designed to give you information to make an informed choice; are the comments solely about classes they have taken; are there no comments, minimal comments, or aloof comments?

One of the first steps to choosing a Training Counselor is to do an Internet search on their name and another on their business name (putting the name into quotes such as ” John Doe” often helps focus on the right person/company).  What can be found in a few minutes spent doing research can be tremendously enlightening.

Where are the classes being held? If it is an undisclosed location that will only be revealed after registering and you are seriously considering that Training Counselor, contact them to ask why they are concealing that information and the exact location BEFORE you register. You have a RIGHT to know where and in what environment a class will be held before you register for it.

Do an Internet search for the address of the class. In some instances, you’ll find that it is the Training Counselor’s home. Depending on the arrangements, being in someone’s home could be awkward and a poor learning environment, or it could be comfortable and a good learning environment. Regardless, it almost certainly means that range portions of classes are held somewhere else; contact them to find out the location of the range they use—Google/Bing/etc. the range location.

If shooting portions of the class are held at a “private range”, you should ensure that it is safe (has an adequate backstop well above the targets—you are responsible for every bullet that leaves your gun, whether in a class or not) and that it is actually insured commercially as a firing range (don’t be afraid to ask for proof).

Follows NRA Rules

The NRA’s firearm training programs for both students and Instructor Candidates are well thought out, as are the rules for teaching them. Instructors and Training Counselors must teach the curriculum completely and as it is designed; they can add supplemental information, but they can’t skip parts.

By not following the program as it is designed, Training Counselors are depriving the Instructor Candidates of receiving the training experience that they paid for and need to be prepared for teaching their own students. Two of the most common areas where this happens is insufficient Instructor Candidates and not having them conduct the range portion.

NRA HQ requires that there are a minimum of four Instructor Candidates in a class. This is because the Instructor Candidates are supposed to take turns actually teaching the student class for the discipline certification they are seeking (Pistol, Rifle, Shotgun, Personal Protection Inside The House, etc.). They are also supposed to be broken into groups for certain modules; working in groups shows the value of team teaching. This is particularly important for the first class that an Instructor Candidate is going to take (usually Pistol Instructor).

Failing to have the Instructor Candidates conduct the range portion of the class is a particularly egregious violation of NRA Rules. The Instructor Candidates are supposed to be learning how to conduct the range exercises of that particular discipline. The best way to actually learn it is to conduct it under the watchful eye of the Training Counselor.

Stays Current

The firearms training world is constantly evolving; the same goes for the NRA training program. A Training Counselor needs to be constantly seeking out the latest information. This requires reading a great variety of information sources and being actively involved in online groups and forums for firearm trainers, especially those targeted at NRA Training Counselors.

This, however, doesn’t mean adopting the latest, greatest, cutting-edge training/tactic/etc. and passing it along. The great Training Counselor evaluates everything they are going to teach, personally vetting it. We live in a media driven world where everyone in the firearms industry is trying to make a name for themselves by “inventing” the latest training/tactic/etc. and marketing it through social media. It’s the responsibility of the Training Counselor to separate the wheat from the chaff.

Is a Mentor

The NRA concept of a Training Counselor is that they don’t just teach Instructor Candidates, they mentor them so that they can become the best possible Instructors. The relationship isn’t supposed to end after the class ends—Instructors are supposed to take their questions to their Training Counselor. If the Training Counselor doesn’t know the answer to an NRA related question, it’s their responsibility to contact NRA HQ, get an answer, provide it back to the Instructor, and know it the next time an Instructor asks.

Mentoring doesn’t end with NRA questions, it includes the vast array of knowledge about firearms, firearm training, business, teaching, and more.

The great Training Counselor doesn’t see other Instructors, or even other Training Counselors as competitors. They share their knowledge so that the training industry can evolve, making it better for students. They want to see others succeed, raising the bar and thereby the quality of available training.

Is a Student

It is said so frequently in the firearm training world that it has become cliche, but it remains true that a great teacher is foremost a great student. The great Training Counselor thirsts for knowledge and seeks it continually.

This can include taking training offered by other firearm trainers, but it must also include studying things such as adult learning and methods of instruction, shooting issue diagnostics, legal, trauma response, and anything else that impacts upon them, the Instructors they train, and the students of those Instructors.

Teaches

Teaching is far different from instructing. Instructing is delivering material typically developed by someone else. Teaching includes instructing, but the great Training Counselor takes steps to ensure not just that the material is covered, but that the material is learned and understood by their Instructor Candidates. The great Training Counselor can also add their own material that enhances what is learned and retained.

The great Training Counselor understands that people learn in different ways. They have the knowledge and teaching skills to present important points in ways that all of the Instructor Candidates can grasp and retain. Any stories they tell will be aimed at illustrating a learning objective, not self-aggrandizement.

Knows their Limitations

The great Training Counselor is keenly aware of their own strengths and weaknesses. They aren’t afraid to admit they don’t know the answer to a question, but they will either seek out the answer or refer the Instructor to someone that knows it.

Likewise, a great Training Counselor isn’t afraid to refer students to other Training Counselors and Instructors, especially if the training being sought is better received from someone else.

Evaluating Options When Selecting an NRA Training Counselor

First and foremost, you should consider the Return On Investment (ROI) of the training dollars you are going to invest. One of the worst mistakes you can make is allowing price to be a deciding factor—value is the appropriate yardstick.

Pricing set by a Training Counselor may be based on any of a variety of factors:

  • What are their financial expectations?
    • full-time occupation
    • part-time occupation
    • hobby
  • What is their investment in training?
    • training classes they have taken
    • training aids they have purchased (SIRT pistols, computer simulators, etc.)
    • do they lease a dedicated storefront
    • do they own a dedicated facility
  • What is the level of their experience and expertise?
  • What is their reputation?

Of course, those factors don’t always enter into the Training Counselor’s pricing method. Some will simply seek to undercut the price of everyone else so that they get  Instructor Candidates that are selecting classes on price, not value. Others may simply set a price that is in the ballpark of everyone else.

So how do you determine the method a Training Counselor uses to set a price? Simple—ask them! If they are lower than most, ask them to explain how they can provide the same quality of training for less than others Training Counselors. If they are higher than most, ask them how that higher cost translates to the training experience that you will receive.

If you are going to ask them questions concerning pricing, the most important question is how does the cost charged equate to value for you, the student?

Factors for Consideration

  • What did you learn from the NRA Instructors portal listing for the Training Counselor’s class?
  • What did you learn about the Training Counselor and what you will experience in their class from their own website and Facebook page?
  • What did you learn about the Training Counselor by doing an Internet search for their name?
  • What did you learn about the location where the classroom portion of classes will be held?
  • What did you learn about the location where the range portion of classes will be held?
  • What did you find about the Training Counselor’s philosophies pertaining to firearms, firearm training, and mentoring?

Taking the answers to all of those questions, you’re now in a far better position to discern the true value of taking a class from that Training Counselor.

Previous Blog Posts on Choosing an Instructor

Choosing an Instructor

Did your instructor do this?

Lots of Bad Instructors—Choose Carefully

Firearm Safety in the Classroom

The Gun as a Modern Day Amulet

An amulet is something someone wears or carries that they believe will protect them from evil. That’s exactly the way many gun owners treat their gun.

Here’s something you don’t often hear a firearm instructor saying: Owning A Gun Doesn’t Make You Safer!

Here’s another statement firearm instructors don’t usually say: Learning how to safely handle and shoot a gun doesn’t diminish the likelihood of your being attacked!

Magic Amulet

Wait—I’ve bought a gun, taken training how to properly use it, and go to the range to practice. You’re saying that won’t keep me safe?

There’s a fairly well known proposition among those that study violence, drawing on a drawn gun is almost always a losing proposition. Put another way, if someone is holding a gun on you and you attempt to pull your gun, you’re probably going to get shot. The key to safety is avoidance of the situation, if at all possible, in the first place.

You Win Every Gunfight You Avoid!

Firearm instructors tend to concentrate on firearm skills. That’s not entirely a unexpected or bad thing, as an instructor should stick to the knowledge, skills, and abilities that they actually possess. The problem comes in failure to see the bigger picture—if the only tool you possess is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.

If you have to deploy a firearm in self defense, you’re experiencing the worst day in your life. Win, lose, or draw, it is likely to be a life altering experience as well.

I bought a gun, took a 3 hour concealed carry class where we fired a low powered bullet into a bucket of sand, got my concealed carry permit, and sometimes even carry my gun, oh and I took it to a range once—I’m ready for a criminal attack!

Does that sound as misguided reading it as it did when I wrote it? Sadly, that describes the vast majority of American concealed carriers.

The first thing missing from that statement is any training concerning avoiding the criminal in the first place. The NRA’s Personal Protection Outside The Home class (PPOTH) has good avoidance information in it and also teaches drawing and firing from a concealed holster or a purse. Unfortunately it’s a two day class and requires that you have already taken the Personal Protection In The Home (PPITH). The NRA also has a Defensive Pistol class that uses the same student book as PPOTH. We teach it as a full day class that is a condensed version of PPOTH, spending about 70% of the class in the classroom learning about criminals, how they think, how they select their victims, and how to minimize your chances of being a victim.  https://dpistol.eventbrite.com

Here are some of the major points:

  • Pay attention to what is going on around you. Get your face out of the cell phone!
    This is something that you don’t need to go to a class to learn how to do and significantly reduces your appeal to a criminal predator.
  • Avoid going places where crime is common. This includes avoiding “good” places at bad times.
  • Don’t look like a victim (meek, afraid, unaware, etc.).
  • Learn to spot the criminals before they spot you so you can avoid them.
  • Have a plan in case things do go bad.

Your gun and the skills you develop and maintain through regular training are what you are left with when every avoidance tactic has failed. A gun is not a magic amulet that ensures your surviving unscathed; it provides you with a final tool to use towards winning the encounter.

 

Bearing Arms Against Domestic Violence Campaign

twitter_baadv_cta_1-620x310A request went out last month to all NRA Instructors seeking instructors that would provide discounts in the month of October for anyone with an active restraining order who is looking to receive self defense, gun safety or firearms training. Jody and I decided it was such a worthy cause that we signed up.

Strategic Outfitters will offer our seven hour Pistol Intro class, which is normally $79, for FREE to anyone with an active restraining order. We also decided that this will be permanent, not just for the month of October. Please call or email using the contact information in the left column to sign up for a class using this offer.

A restraining order is nothing more than a piece of paper and many abusers have continued their abuse or even murdered their victim. If someone you know has an active restraining order, please tell them about this program.

A complete list of participating instructors is available at http://bearingarms.com/page/carols-crusaders/

Beware of 2-3 Hour Concealed Carry Classes!

Most concealed carry classes you see advertised online, in gun stores, in pawn shops, and at gun shows are just 2-3 hours. We don’t conduct them and never will. What you aren’t taught in those short classes can get you arrested, or worse, killed. In the 7 hours of our Pistol Intro class, we find it difficult just to cover the minimum knowledge and basic skills that you need to know.

Those classes are called “concealed carry” because they (barely) qualify you for applying for a concealed carry license from the State. They do not provide you with the knowledge and skills necessary to responsibly and safely carry a concealed firearm, much less the knowledge and skills necessary should you need to protect yourself or your family.

Typical 2-3 hour concealed carry class shooting a .22 into a bucket of sandYou’ll get to shoot a bullet or two for meeting the state requirement. You might not even go to a range though—it isn’t uncommon for those classes to have you shoot a low powered .22 round into a bucket of sand right there in the gun shop or pawn shop.

We offer a series of classes to take you from where you are today to where you would like to be. Our 7 hour Pistol Intro class takes you from being uncomfortable with guns to understanding gun safety, proper handling, and marksmanship. We’ve had students that had taken the typical 2-3 hour concealed carry class, but hadn’t gotten their permit because they felt less confident after taking that class than before. They leave our 7 hour class with confidence.

For learning proper concealed carry and defensive shooting techniques we teach the NRA’s Defensive Pistol course (1 day) and the NRA’s Personal Protection Outside The Home, PPOTH, (2 days). We also teach the NRA’s Personal Protection Inside The Home, PPITH, (1 Day) which concentrates of preparing you to defend you and your family in your home.

We keep an updated listing of our scheduled classes, along with sign up links, in a post pinned to the top of of our Facebook page.

 

Choosing an Instructor

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.

NRA Training Logo Suite-INST-3CSPOTIn 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?

Strategic Outfitters' Classroom
Strategic Outfitters’ Classroom

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.

Strategic Outfitters' Range
Strategic Outfitters’ Range

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.

Strategic Outfitters’ Menu of Classes

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.

Lots of Bad Instructors—Choose Carefully

On the heels of our last blog post, Did your instructor do this?, comes this story out of Texas.

July 23 (3:47 p.m.) A local gun store owner had an accidental discharge of his weapon while conducting a License to Carry class. A report was not made to police until the students in the class went home. When the police investigation began, the officer contacted an employee inside Potter’s Liquor, located next door to Triple G Guns at 1542 Sunset Drive, and discovered that the bullet went through the wall of the liquor store and hit a ceiling tile half-way through the store. The liquor store reported that this was not the first time the gun store has had a weapon discharge into the liquor store. James Goodwin, the owner of Triple G Guns, failed to report the discharge to the police department. The owner must report this incident to the State Board that regulates the License to Carry instruction.

Source: http://friendswoodliving.com/2016/07/25/police-report-july-25-2016/

And yet another…

N.C. — A negligent discharge at a  gun shop sent two people to the hospital last Wednesday.

The man, a retired military sergeant who teaches gun safety classes elsewhere, was told that it was loaded, but it went off.

According to the police report, the bullet when through the shooter’s hand and struck another man in the upper thigh.

Did your instructor do this?

The person in the photo below teaches firearm safety classes that qualify the students to apply for a concealed carry license. The photo is from one of their classes. They posted this and several more to their Facebook page and then shared that post to a gun group’s page. We have cropped it, eliminated the background, placed black boxes over their head and chest to conceal their identity, and converted it to black and white. The gun in the photo appears to be a real handgun, not a training gun (not that it makes any difference since training guns are supposed to be treated the same as real guns…).

bad instructor bwIf it is not bad enough that the instructor is standing in front of their class with the handgun pointed at his hand/arm and finger appearing to be on the trigger, apparently they saw absolutely no problem with this and posted it for the world to see…

To make matters worse, this instructor claims many years of law enforcement experience. If true, they are not someone that just took a weekend instructor class; they have decades of experience with handguns.

Another in the group of photos shows the instructor holding the handgun by barrel, appearing to be pointed towards his legs/feet. Yet another shows the students sitting at tables with what appears to be a handgun round in front of each. (Live ammo has no place in a classroom environment.)

This iGun Safetys why it is important to vet anyone you are going to take training from, basic or advanced. Look at their Facebook pages (business and personal), website, blog, Google search, etc. If you find images such as this, find another instructor!

Compare the photo above to this photo of a wounded soldier who is controlling the direction of his pistol and keeping his finger out of the trigger guard.