What Qualifies Them to Teach You?
Arizona has probably one of the highest concentrations of small arms instructors in the United States and a large portion of them are located here in the Valley of the Sun. They range from serious professionals who engage in full-time small arms training to higly qualified part timers who simply enjoy doing it as a part time business.They also range from extremely good to, well, sort of O.K. A few are probably down right amateur.
And I am sure that this applies to most locations. With the plethora of websites, ads, claims ect., how does a citizen, especially a new beginner, who is looking for quality training sort through all the claims and find the instructor that will provide them with the quality training he or she needs at a reasonable price? You shop around, and you evaluate all claims of expertise. Most small arms instructors (myself included) will advertise their wares based on their background and experience. These generally fall into three categories: Police, military or former competition shooter. So let’s analyze these experience criteria to put them into perspective.
Police: Most police officers receive very little advanced small arms training. This training is expensive and most departments don’t have the funds to do more than the minimum training required by law. Police firearms instructors may have had the experience and opportunity to gain the skills required to teach you, and many members of SWAT teams get to train extensively and many are dedicated enough to spend their own money and time to acquire advanced skills from civilian training centers. So find out what your prospective instructor actually did in regards to firearms training while a former or current police officer, and for how long. Simply being an active or former police officer is not sufficient to qualify as a professional small arms instructor.
Military: Even worse than police, the vast majority of members of the Armed Forces receive no training with handguns and only the minimum amount of rifle training for annual qualification. There are exceptions. Members of dedicated marksmanship training units such as the Army’s Marksmanship Unit and the Marine Corps’ Marksmanship Unit have cadres of highly experienced instructors who both compete and train a variety of both military and civilian personnel in various small arms skills. In addition, Special Operations types receive excellent advanced small arms training. So, ask your prospective instructor what he actually did in the military and if he taught small arms marksmanship for any length of time.
Former Competition Shooters: Many former championship competitors have started small arms training schools around the country, and many of them give excellent training. And many of them are honest enough to advertise their training as learning primarily how to win shooting competitions, as opposed to winning gunfights.
O.K., so you now know that much of the experience being advertised by shooting instructors does not necessarily qualify them to teach you the skills you need. You have to dig a bit deeper than just “10years LAPD” or “10 years USMC” ect.
Perhaps one would be better served to simply only attend one of the big name schools such as Gunsite, or Front Sight. You will most definitely receive world-class training there, and pay a world-class premium price for it. But keep in mind that a lot of that premium price is for a piece of paper that says “Gunsite”, or “Front Sight” or any of the other top name schools on it. And there is absolutely nothing wrong with that.
I have a Front Sight Legacy membership and I plan on attending some of their classes myself. But I am also aware that you can get equally good training from other instructors, and many of them have excellent training facilities available to them. You just won’t get a piece of paper with a famous name on it. This principle applies to all of the big name schools. It’s in the same class as a college education. You can spend a king’s ransom going to Harvard. Or you can get an equally good education at a less expensive and lesser known university. You just won’t get a diploma that says “Harvard”.
So, what do you do? Here is a quick checklist of minimums.
1. Ask the instructor to be specific about his background. How much actual small arms instructing experience does he have? How long has he been doing it and for whom? Does he have any real world experience actually carrying and using small arms in potentially dangerous situations?
2. Ask for references and actually check them out. Most instructors and schools will have former students you can talk to.
3. Does he actually have a range use permit with an established shooting range such as Joe Foss or Ben Avery or an indoor range such as Shooters World, or does he simply take his students out into the desert? (Illegal unless on private property with permission.) This will lead you to the next question many student don’t even consider:
4. DOES HE HAVE LIABILITY INSURANCE as a firearms instructor that will cover you in case of an accident?
5. Finally, never use cost of training as a serious deciding factor. There are expensive classes that are marginal and relatively cheap ones that are outstanding.
It’s a buyers market out there right now in regards to small arms instruction. With a little homework, you should be able to find the training you need from a highly qualified instructor at a reasonable price you can afford.
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