Received an email the other day from a fairly new firearms instructor. My correspondent asked what I would have to say about teaching credentials, because (they wrote) some people they know were using my blog postings about teaching as a way to trash newly-minted instructors. Those people, the writer said, use my work to tell would-be instructors that they should not even try to teach unless they’ve been shooting and competing for years.
That’s not my position.
So here’s a peek into my email box and my attempt to set that record straight.
Dear New Instructor,
According to John Lott’s research through the Crime Prevention Research Center, as of 2013 there were 11.1 million concealed carry permit holders in America. That number does not include people who live inside states with provisions for no-permit, Consitutional carry, just the ones who have state issued permits, so it’s a little low. Lott’s research aligns with GAO and NSSF estimates that somewhere around 10 % of gunowners are licensed to carry a weapon. This means we can say with some confidence that there are at least 11.1 million people licensed to carry firearms in America, though there may be more than that.
According to Claude Werner (an experienced, excellent trainer who blogs at Tactical Professor), there are around 15,000 class slots available every year. His reasoning is as follows:
I went through the NRA course database and pulled the number of PPOTH classes available by state. Then I extrapolated that to an annual number of classes available for the year. Assuming each class could accommodate 12 students, the number of training opportunities to take PPOTH is about 6,700 per year.
Looking at the classes available for Gunsite and FAS, it appears that each can accommodate between 200-300 students per year for handgun instruction. So, let’s say 300 to be optimistic. That’s about what we did while I was at Rogers also, so that seems a reasonable figure. Then there are the other well known institutions such as Rangemaster, InSights Training Center, TDI, KR Training, I.C.E. Training, and Thunder Ranch. I’m sure I’m leaving out a few, so let’s say there are 20 reputable training academies turning out 300 graduates a year, which would be 6,000 more training opportunities annually.
If we add the NRA numbers to the reputable institutions, we come up with about 12,700 handgun opportunities annually. Let’s round it up to 15,000 because I’m sure there are many private individuals who provide good training on a smaller basis.
Taking Claude’s numbers for 15,000 current class opportunities to be shared among the 11.1 million concealed carry permit holders discussed above, we can see that if every existing permit holder decided to take just one class from existing instructors and schools, we would still have people standing in line for their class 740 years from now. And that’s not even counting the people who want to know how to shoot and who don’t yet have their concealed carry permits.
If your friends are saying there are already too many firearms instructors, they are flat out wrong. There aren’t enough. We desperately need more, and more-qualified, people who are willing and able to teach people how to shoot. As you know, that’s particularly true on the women’s side of the market.
If your friends are saying that a new instructor must have military, law enforcement, or competition credentials in order to teach good classes that address the needs of ordinary people interested in using firearms either for recreation or for self defense, they are wrong. While solid credentials in any one of those fields might reassure prospective students about the instructor’s shooting abilities and thus provide good marketing strategies for those who hold those creds, none of those fields by themselves apply directly to teaching self-defense in the context of everyday carry by ordinary people.
If your friends are saying that every new instructor must already be an experienced instructor before they can start teaching … hm. That’s contradictory and a bit silly.
But if your friends are saying…
- that a new instructor should not regard their instructor certificate as the be-all, end-all of shooting knowledge and expertise, or
- that a new instructor should not be complacent about their own skills, but should continue to improve their skills as time goes on, or
- that every instructor should continue to learn, continue to grow, continue to push the envelope of what that instructor already knows, and work hard to become better tomorrow than they are today, or
- that it’s good to get one’s material from more than one school, more than one trainer, more than one franchise…
… then we’re on the same page.
An instructor who says that all ballistic wisdom comes through himself alone (or through herself alone) isn’t telling the truth either to themselves or to their students. Ditto for schools and franchises. If a trainer, school, or franchise tells us not to attend any other schools or programs, one has to wonder why. So if your friends are recommending that you as a new instructor should be working to get a wider picture of what’s out there, who’s teaching it and why they’re teaching it that way — that’s all to the good. If it’s just about learning more and continuing to grow after a teaching certification is in hand, that’s what I’m all about, too.
But if they’re using any of that to bludgeon you or anyone else into sitting down and shutting up, they’ve completely missed the point.
We aren’t born knowing this stuff. And there’s not enough time for any one person to learn all of it. It’s a big field.
Nobody has the perfect resume — the one that belongs to a buff, perfectly in-shape 20-something person who also has two decades of LE experience and has done at least three tours in the sandbox; who competes every single weekend but also has the time to teach a full class every weekend; who has been involved in a dozen deadly force incidents as an ordinary person, but whose personal awareness is so keen that they’ve never been the intended victim of any type of criminal activity; someone who has taken a thousand hours of training from various schools all over the country, but also has trained extensively in only one school so they’ve become very adept at everything that one school teaches; someone who …well, you get the idea.
That person and that resume don’t exist. We don’t have to be that. We just have to do the best we can with what we have. Start where we are, learn more as we go along, share what we know with others. That’s it.
Now that said?
Just between you and me: if your friends aren’t just protecting their own personal territory or being jerks at you just to be jerks, they may be trying to tell you that your own skills aren’t as advanced as you feel they are. In other words, your friends might be giving you a hard time about the certificates you have right now because they’re actually concerned that either your shooting or the gunhandling skills that they’ve seen from you aren’t up to par. Not knowing you in person, obviously I can’t say one way or the other, because I haven’t seen you shoot or handle guns. So I might be totally off base here and if I am, feel free to disregard this next bit.
As instructors, you and I both know that a person who has a poor grasp of the fundamentals will struggle to impart those fundamentals to others. Even if a naive student enjoys the process, they still won’t learn as well as they would from someone who has the foundation solidly built. This means that a beginning student’s recommendations are not always the best measure of our teaching skill, though it is a good way to check that we’re keeping our customer base happy. Better to look at their shooting skills at the end of class, and especially at their ability to not shoot themselves or others unintentionally. (Did you know? Around 16,000 people a year end up in the emergency room with unintentional gunshot injuries. That’s a lot of painful and dangerous oopsies we can prevent!)
So maybe, despite what your students say, your friends are trying to gently talk to you about your shooting and gunhandling skill, and are pointing you toward my work so that they don’t have to say it to you directly. Maybe. That’s a guess.
Some measures you might use to check:
- Can you consistently shoot a measured group of less than 2.5 inches in slow fire at a distance of 7 yards?
- Can you consistently perform a semi-auto reload in less than 5 seconds, with proper trigger finger discipline and muzzle control? (Have you watched a video of yourself so you can check your gunhandling safety in slow-mo?)
- Have you measured your shooting skill against an objective standard, such as the LFI-Qual from Massad Ayoob or the IDPA Classifier? If so, how did you do relative to your own score on that same course of fire a month ago, six months ago, a year ago? Are you getting better?
- Can you confidently show your students how to hit an 8-inch target at 15 yards?
- Can you consistently put 5 shots into a 5-inch circle, at 5 yards, in 5 seconds or less?
None of these tests are go/no-go for teaching the basics. They’re simply one way you might either reassure yourself or give yourself a kick in the pants about what you’re learning now and what you want to learn next. And as I said: those are for you to check, not ammunition for you to hand your friends for them to criticize you with. It’s a tool for you to use, not a weapon for them to use against you.
Hoping none of this offends you, or if it does, that you’ll see the goodwill behind it. I’m a big fan of new instructors doing what they can with what they have, and working to learn more as time goes on. There’s absolutely no reason for anyone to be tearing a new teacher down or trying to chase them out of the field. There’s every reason in the world to come alongside each other and spur each other on to greatness.
Stay safe and be awesome,