I recently had to attend my state’s concealed carry class. Most concealed carriers don’t get to attend these classes too often. I haven’t attended one in years, but through a bit of a fluke I had to attend one to one to get my current state’s resident permit. I love training, but was I ever disappointed in the class. Today is going to offer an after-action review of my state concealed carry class.
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I’m going to cover this in two sections. The first will cover instructorship and some things witnessed in the conduct of the class. I’ll be honest – though this is a review of a specific class, it could also double as a how-to for being a bad instructor. Part II will be a follow-up post covering some of the incredibly bad information passed during the class.
I’ll be honest: I’m pretty salty about this class. I had to pay almost $100 to attend. For my money, I got to watch two instructors who have no idea how to run a class. They also, obviously, have made almost no effort to keep up with the latest and greatest in the self-defense community. Mostly, they just strutted around, impressed at how cool they were for being instructors, spouting one-liners and telling “war” stories.
Sitting in this class was a personal embarrassment for me; there were a lot of new students that now think that’s how “gun guys” think and act. It was also a professional embarrassment: these people came to the gun community for their first paid, professional training, and this is what they got. It’s hard to overstate how embarrassed I was and continue to be. As I go through this, and the next article, it
may will definitely seem that I’m making some stuff up just to have things to complain about. I promise you I’m not.
Bad Instructorship: Introductions
I’ve written before that instructors should be able to introduce themselves in 90 seconds or less. I mostly just want your big experience bullet points, and things that are specific to the class you are teaching. If you were a cop at some point, that’s relevant to teaching a concealed carry class. If you have attended Andrew Branca‘s legal training, that’s relevant to the legality of lethal force. If you spent ten years at the School of Infantry teaching machine guns, that’s relevant to being an instructor. I don’t need to know that you were promoted to vehicle maintenance officer for your platoon on your second tour in Panama in ’87. If you were the NCO of the quarter at the 673rd Space Shuttle Squadron, Q3 of 1995…that’s not relevant to a concealed carry class and I don’t care.
However, the only thing worse than a too-long introduction is no introduction at all. In my recent concealed carry class there was no introduction. I had to piece together a. that there were two instructors (I thought there was only one) and b. what their names and backgrounds were. The first instructor was obvious – he walked into the classroom, sat down at the front, and started talking. He did not provide his name, any sort of background, or list any credentials relevant to the teaching of a concealed carry class.
I was able to piece together each instructor’s background from vague anecdotes given through out the class. I didn’t know their names until sometime after lunch. Their names were presented on the very last slide of the PowerPoint presentation. Why the very last slide and not the first slide? If you figure that out, let me know!
The primary instructor was incredibly vague about his background. He was a cop (no idea for what department or for how long) in the ’70s, and claims to have been a “merc” (his term) in the 1970s and ’80s. He claims a lot of gunfights in South America and Africa. Other than that really dated experience he presented nothing that is relevant to teaching a concealed carry class. He didn’t provide a list of training he has attended or qualifications he has attained, and didn’t even hint that he had attended any training since being a mercenary, possibly as late as the 1980s. Basically, no one in the class has any idea what the instructor’s actual level of training is.
Side note: he also looked like a walking Paladin Press title with 5.11 pants tucked into jungle boots, an IDPA vest, CZ-75 carried at 5:30…
Bad Instructorship: Assistant Instructor Conduct
The second instructor walked in midway through the first hour. In the middle of a lecture he walked right up to the front of the class, sat down in a chair in front of the first row, and began talking over the first instructor.
Permit me a little sidebar on that: first, if you’re an assistant instructor, you don’t usually need to be at the front of the classroom. In fact, you probably want the class to completely forget you’re there and focus exclusively on the primary instructor, or whoever is currently teaching. By sitting in the front, you’re going to be more of a distraction than anything else. Every time you shift positions, pick your nose, cough, cross your legs, check your phone, etc. you’re going to catch someone’s attention and take it away from whoever is currently instructing. Additionally, every time you get up (to go to the bathroom, to get something for the instructor, because someone walked into the gun shop) you have to completely interrupt the class by standing up and walking back through the students. Find a seat in the back and stay there unless you’re demonstrating something, or helping the primary in some way. And keep your mouth shut unless the instructor asks for your input or grossly misses something.
Where was I? Oh yeah – the second instructor talking over the first. This bugs me to no end. The second instructor sat in the front, throwing out little tidbits here and there as the primary instructor when through the class. If the primary instructor paused for even a second, the secondary instructor was all over it:
“Now, a 1911 has a thumb safety and a, uh…”
“Grip safety,” they both say in unison.
I don’t know why this bugs me so much, but I think it’s because of what it hints at. As I mentioned earlier, the assistant instructor should basically be neither seen nor heard unless needed. This guy seemed to need students to see, hear, and know that he knows stuff, too. So, he butts in when not needed to say stuff the primary instructor is about to say in the process of saying.
The assistant instructor is a current law enforcement officer. I believe he is a county sheriff’s deputy, and I believe he is a member of the SWAT team. Again, this was never formally presented, I just picked up bits and pieces here and there. Like the primary instructor he failed to provide even a partial a list of training he has attended or qualifications he has attained.
Bad Instructorship: Incomplete Mastery of Material
Obviously, the instructors weren’t “masters” of their domains. There were a few areas where this was blatantly obvious, and I’ll give you one. The primary instructor claims to have been a cop in the 1970s and a mercenary in the ’70s and ’80s. He also claims to be have been in all sorts of gunfights as a “merc” and brings them up all too frequently throughout the class. When he got to the slide covering the body’s stress response, he totally choked.
“I guess they say you’ll experience some of this stuff. I can’t really understand what they’re talking about here…” The “stuff” he’s referring to will be familiar to any serious student of self-defense: increased heart rate, loss of fine motor control, tunnel vision, auditory exclusion, etc. Basically, the fight/flight/freeze response. At least some of these things will be familiar to any non-psychopath who has ever been at serious peril of death or dismemberment.
The instructor claims to have been in numerous gunfights, but also claims to not know what the slide is talking about. This indicates that he’s lying about his gunfight experience, he has been in gunfights and experienced the body’s stress response but is too macho to admit it, or he’s a psychopath who has been in gunfights but hasn’t experienced these phenomena. Either way, probably not the dude I want teaching entry-level students.
There was also a good deal of blatantly false information presented. There was a lot of stuff that runs counter to modern, informed ideas about self-defense, but that I can understand being somewhat debatable (like the suitability of bird shot for home defense). But there were some things presented that were dead wrong and demonstrably so. See my next article for more on this – I’ll cover a lot of the gun shop commando talk in that one.
Bad Instructorship: Lack of nuance around self-defense concepts
Now, there’s probably not a clear, right or wrong answer here, but I will relate one point that was hammered home pretty early in the class. It was the idea that you should provide medical care for the person you just shot in lawful self-defense. I don’t totally disagree for several reasons. First, I don’t want to kill anyone. I just want that person to stop doing whatever they are doing that poses a credible threat to my life. Secondly, if the dude doesn’t die, that immediately takes a couple of potential legal charges (against me) off the table. There are a few more things that are going to go into my decision, though.
First, I just shot a person. This means I had lawful justification for the use of deadly force – i.e. that person was doing something that posed a threat of death or grave bodily harm to me. Second, this person is not dead, as demonstrated by their need for first aid, which means this person may well continue to be a threat. At this point, it’s very difficult to say unequivocally that, “you should holster your gun and get hands-on with this person to provide first aid.” Again, in a perfect world I would absolutely provide first aid to that person, however does he or she still pose a threat? Does he or she still possess a weapon? Is he or she still acting aggressively toward me? What is my local EMS policy about approaching a dangerous subject without a police officer present? Who is watching my back against other threats as I apply first aid? Is my family there with me? If so, who is protecting them while I am providing first aid?
I’m not telling you to provide first aid and I’m not telling you NOT to provide first aid. I can’t even fully make that decision for myself without being presented with the totality of the circumstances. There is a lot more that should go into that decision than, “it would look good to a jury if you did.”
Bad Instructorship: Safety
Now we get to the really bad stuff: safety. I didn’t see a gun pointed at a student, but there were definitely moments where the instructor had my undivided attention and my pulse exceeded 100 BPM. Here are a couple of examples.
First, the assistant instructor had a holstered handgun and his badge clipped to his belt (in a Fobus holster – true story). Sometime after lunch he began teaching, and was demonstrating draw stroke with the Glock that had been on his belt all day. But here’s the thing: his handgun had a magazine in it, and he did not clear it before demonstrating. I decided that I had to say something, and fortunately, about that time be told the class to take a break. I waited until everyone filtered out, then approached him.
“Hey, I’m not trying to be a know-it-all, but if you’re going to demonstrate with your Glock, would you mind clearing it?”
“It’s clear. I cleared it this morning.”
“OK, it’s just that I see there’s a magazine in there and you haven’t shown me the gun is clear. Again, not trying to be a know-it-all, but I’m sure if I pulled my gun out and started showing you something you’d feel better if I cleared it first.”
“Sure, no problem.” At which point he cleared it, and it was, in fact, empty.
I guess I’m spoiled. I have never attended a class where an instructor would demonstrate with a firearm that he hadn’t just cleared immediately prior, in front of the class. In fact, almost every instructor I’ve trained under would have also asked someone in the class to verify that the firearm was indeed clear. “I cleared it this morning”??? What is that? If I had cleared my gun “this morning” and was demonstrating with it, I would have also cleared almost every time I handled it since.
I’m not just being semantic here – this presents a very real hazard. There is a massive potential that in some class, some day, the dude will have thought he cleared it “this morning.” For something truly tragic to happen a lot of things have to go wrong at the same time. Based on some of the other things I saw, they might.
The other big safety violation I saw was committed by the same instructor (the assistant instructor). Several times I observed him cupping the muzzle of a handgun with his left hand. For what reason I have no idea, he was just sort of mindlessly holding the handgun with both hands at chest level. The bigger violation of these was cupping his hand over the muzzle as he pulled the trigger on his Glock prior to disassembly.
This – behavior like this, bad safety practices – is the reason having to pull the trigger prior to disassembly is a problem. It’s not pulling the trigger itself that’s a problem. It’s people that don’t clear the firearm first, and don’t observe the other safety rules…like pointing the gun in a safe direction.
Bad Instructorship: Safety Anecdotes
Both of these instructors had at least one story about negligent discharges (NDs) that they had committed. Both of them, with great relish, told their ND stories, and both were told in a somewhat humorous fashion – not in the deadly serious tone I would have expected. I got the impression they viewed these events as “boys will be boys!”-type events rather than the deadly serious mistakes they were and are.
I admit that some of that is stylistic. There is more than one way to tell a story. What I am absolutely inflexible on is the point of stories like these: some sort of statement about how dangerous an ND is. In one story, the “moral” was that that shot, “must have been the best shot I ever took because it went right through the Husqvarna logo in the front of his lawn mower!” In another story (about someone else having an ND) the “moral” was “and he didn’t get to finish his pitcher of beer cause I beat his ass!”
Let me tell you guys something: if I ever have a negligent discharge, I guarantee you I won’t relate it as humorous in any way, shape, or form. It will be one of the biggest embarrassments of my personal and professional life, even if it sails safely and harmlessly into a berm on a shooting range. And if I do tell anyone about it, I will absolutely impress upon them the seriousness: a negligent discharge can be just deadly as an aimed, intentional shot. It isn’t something to joke around about, it’s something you should be ashamed of and determined never to do again.
What To Do?
I’ll be honest – this is kind of just a two-part bitch session. I’m incredibly frustrated and discouraged by this class. Students are walking into this classroom in good faith. They assume the instructor knows what he or she is talking about. To most students, that instructor is the closest thing to a firearms expert they have interacted with to this point in their lives. For the vast majority, it is also the last one.
The part I can live with is that this class makes us gun owners look like a bunch of idiots. Part of me wants to say the saving grace is that the students don’t know what they don’t know…but that’s also the biggest danger of this class. The students in this class were exposed to very shoddy gun handling by “experts”. Instructors committed blatant safety violations by flagging their own bodies, and demonstrating with guns that weren’t cleared in front of the students. Instructors even made light of negligent discharges they’d had. Students were also exposed to incorrect information. The lady in there with her old S&W Model 15 revolver (along with the rest of the class) was told that all revolvers with a hammer mounted firing pin are unsafe to carry fully loaded.
This is truly a shame. Instructors like these, classes like these, do a disservice to all of us. They spread disinformation. They potentially create dangerous situations. The arm students with incomplete, inaccurate, or dead-wrong information – and this information is used in defense of life and limb! I wish I was closing on a happier message, but there it is. If you know of something we can do to improve this, get at me – I’m all ears.
If you want the real, unvarnished, down-and-dirty B.S. that was passed in this class, be sure to check out Part II: Wives’ Tales, Sea Stories, and Gun-Shop Lore!