If you own a gun, and if you plan on using it for anything other than just shooting empty soda cans for fun, you really need to get some training with a professional instructor. To paraphrase gun legend Jeff Cooper: “Owning a handgun doesn’t make you armed any more than owning a piano makes you a musician.”

If you have a gun with the intent of using it as a way to defend yourself against a potential robber, or someone who breaks into your home in the middle of the night – you really should get some training. Some might say: “Hey, I already know how to shoot a gun…” That might be the case, but SHOOTING a gun, is a lot different than defending yourself and FIGHTING with a gun!

The act of holding a gun in your hand, pointing it at a target or threat, pulling the trigger, and hitting what you are aiming at, is only a tiny fraction of what happens in a self-defense situation. Using a firearm for defense against a threat, is the use of deadly force against them. Whether they are killed, wounded, or even if your shot missed, if you do something wrong, you can easily find yourself being arrested, and ending up in prison.

Of course, if you wish to carry a firearm concealed on your person in Nevada (and most other states), you will be REQUIRED to attend a training course that covers information as specified by the sheriff, or another local or state law enforcement authority, BEFORE you can get a Concealed Carry Permit that allows you to do so legally.

Most of these one-or-two-day training courses are designed to do two things: 1) make sure you are familiar with the legal ramifications of carrying a firearm and when you are legally allowed to use force – specifically deadly force – to defend yourself or those you care about. And 2) that you can safely handle, clean and care for, and shoot your firearm – qualifying with it on a basic course of fire.

The typical course is introductory in nature, it WILL NOT make you an expert in the legal issues involved, nor will you have enough time to become completely comfortable in shooting a firearm in all the potential circumstances or situations where you might need to do so. It is intended to have you learn enough to realize that you still have a lot to learn.

In the Reno-Sparks area, there are well over 100 people who have been authorized to teach CCW classes. They have varying levels of skill, diverse backgrounds, and different experiences. They all use lesson plans that cover the key elements that are required to be taught, and each has met the requirements established by the controlling authority to teach on this topic.

Of course, if you plan on carrying a firearm for self-defense, the stakes are very high, you need to take your training seriously, the instructor you chose needs to take it seriously as well. Over the years, I have taken several local firearms training courses. My wife has also done so, and I have friends who have taken CCW classes too. After my experiences, and talking to others – let’s just say that some instructors are better than others, and some classes offer more information than do others.

One spent the first two hours filling out forms for the class, and then encouraging those in the class to join a firearms organization. Another spent the first hour –  and whenever possible throughout the rest of the class – lecturing everyone that if they didn’t own or buy a specific make and model of firearm, they would probably not survive a shooting situation and also might be mocked by “real” shooters. Another would stop students if the first rounds fired at the range were hitting the center of the target – he explained that he could see they could shoot “well enough,” and he wanted to use their allocated time to help others who needed more coaching.

When I teach my firearms and CCW classes, I take what I do very, very, seriously. Just as when I was doing training for police and law enforcement officers – I realize that those who are sitting in front of me may, someday soon, actually need to use a firearm to save their life, or the life of another. Based on what I and others I’ve spoken with have experienced, I don’t think all of those who teach these classes understand that.

Recently, I spoke to a group of firearms enthusiasts, many of whom had CCW permits. The topic I spoke to them about, was how to choose a firearms instructor that was right for them. I had limited time, so I came up with a series of questions they could ask BEFORE taking a firearms training class, so they could be more certain that the instructor, the material they presented, and the class itself – actually met their needs. So, here are some examples:

  • Will they flunk a student? Will they remove someone for unsafe gun handling? How many times have they done that? Or, are they are running a “Diploma Mill” with 20 or 30 students in each class and everyone passes, all the time?
  • Will you learn something useful in their class? What are some of the things that you will learn that you don’t currently know about? How are these things going to help you understand the legal issues pertaining to the use of force, or better defend yourself against a threat?
  • What is the Instructor’s Attitude – are they trying to impress you? Are they there to meet YOUR needs? Or will the instructor spend most of the time telling “war stories” about how great they are and the great adventures they’ve had? NOTE: many years ago, I was taught that you can tell some “war stories” – but only if they directly relate to the topic at hand, and are used to make a specific point.
  • Will the give you a refund if the class sucks? That’s a worse-case scenario, but it is important – if the person next to you keeps pointing their gun at you on the range, the instructor spends as much time taking breaks and telling gun stories as they do actually covering the material, and you decide this isn’t for you in the first half of the class, will they give you your money back? Or at least most of it if there were expenses incurred before the class started…
  • What is their background and knowledge base, and how does that help you and meet your needs? If they carried a rifle when they served in the military, or have been hunting since they were a kid, or they have been shooting targets for decades – good for them. BUT, if you are not going into the military, going hunting, or target shooting, how does that directly relate to teaching you about carrying a firearm concealed on your person?
  • What help will your CCW instructor be if you are in a shooting: The better their credentials & experience, the more they can help. If two years after the class, you actually have to shoot someone to defend yourself, will they be able to intelligently explain what they taught you in the class. Will they be able to justify how and why they used a particular example in the class – you know, the one you were thinking about as you pulled the trigger. Or, will what they presented to you in the class bring you closer to being arrested?
  • What else do they discuss beyond guns and shooting. How much time do they spend on legal issues? What about spotting and avoiding trouble so you don’t have to use a gun? What do they tell you about “after the shooting?” What to do and not to do as law enforcement responds, and what will happen after they get there? What information should you share, and what should you say – and not say? – being able to shoot a gun well won’t do you much good if when you do so, you go to prison.
  • Course Material: some instructors seem to have only three or four hours of material that are stretched to fill the 8-hour minimum time requirement, and sometimes, the class might “end early” once their material is covered. Be wary of those who promise that the class will only be a certain length, because if a lot of questions are asked during the class, or someone needs additional time of attention – will something important be passed over or not addressed to meet that time limit?
  • What is their experience instructing? Have they taken just a class or two, and been teaching part-time for only two years? Or have they been certified as an instructor in a variety of self-defense topics and disciplines, and do they have 10, 15, or 20 years teaching these classes?
  • Have they been involved in a shooting or serious self-defense situation – either directly or by being investigated or investigating such situations? Have they testified in court or been deposed in a legal case about the use of force? If not, what is their expertise to teach you about what will happen if you need to defend yourself?

There are a lot of other potential questions, but you get the idea. Understand that there are instructors that have less expertise than others – and they may still provide you with excellent training. But, I have found that those who have spent years learning all they can about their topic, staying current on the best techniques and trends, and are devoted to refining their craft, tend to offer the best information, and present it in a way that benefits their students most.

Attending a course with a training professional is a commitment – of time, money, and usually a great effort on your part. You deserve the best information and instruction that they can provide. Taking a little time BEFORE you take a class to ensure the instructor will meet the needs you have, will help you to get the best learning experience possible.