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Firearms Training: It’s Harder Than You Think (Part 2)

 

In Part 1 of Firearms Training: It’s Harder Than You Think some of the important challenges that firearms trainers and students face when training to carry a concealed firearm were discussed. Firearms trainers are preparing students to perform an unknown skill or series of skills under unknown conditions at some unknown place and time. These skills, conditions, and locations are unknown because at the time of training the trainers and the students do not know what they will need to survive a self-defense shooting.

 

As Dustin Salomon noted in his book titled “Building shooters: Applying neuroscience research to tactical training system design and training delivery” (2016, Innovative Services and Solutions, LLC), when that time arrives, “…will the deadly force encounter require close-contact shooting, one-handed shooting, two-handed shooting, ground fighting, shooting on the move, engaging a moving threat, engaging multiple threats, firing multiple rounds, support-handed shooting, close-quarters surgical shooting, positional shooting, distance shooting, shooting from cover, low-light shooting, malfunction clearance, or some unknown combination of skills.” Concealed carry training is significantly challenging because of these unknowns.

 

In Part 2 some ideas for addressing the above challenges are presented.

 

Recognize the Limitations of Short-Term, Single-Event Training

 

Civilian concealed carry trainers usually do not engage students in long-term training. Civilian firearms training is usually designed as short-term, “one and done” events; for example, in Maryland anyone applying for a concealed carry permit must complete 16 hours of instruction that includes a shooting qualification assessment at the end.

 

A significant percentage of the 16 instructional hours is in a classroom receiving information about Maryland gun laws, firearms operation and safety, among other required topics. Depending on the trainer, the range time may include participating in carefully designed live-fire training. At the end of the live-fire training students must shoot a course of fire from varying distances at a B-27 silhouette target with a minimum score of 70%.

 

Does anyone believe that one 16 hour concealed carry training course prepares people to defend themselves with their concealed handgun at some unknown location at some unknown time in the future under some unknown conditions? Some people may say that a little training is better than no training. Others may say that a little training creates over-confidence in one’s ability to defend themselves with a concealed handgun which can lead to terrible consequences.

 

We believe that some carefully designed training can help a person learn firearms basics, but to develop the mind-set, handgun manipulation skills, and marksmanship skills needed to survive a deadly encounter requires on-going training.

 

Recognize that the Responsibility for On-Going Training is With the Student

 

We believe that carrying a concealed handgun for self-defense requires adherence to moral obligations. One of those obligations is to train. This training mind-set should be hammered into students’ brains during their initial concealed carry training. They must leave the training knowing that it is their responsibility to develop the defensive mind-set needed to survive a deadly encounter and to expand and refine their handgun manipulation and marksmanship skills. 

 

Students must be encouraged to engage in repeated, long-term training. The training should include one-handed shooting (weak and strong hand), shooting from behind cover or concealment, low light shooting, moving while shooting, shooting at moving targets, force-on-force training with simunition, shooting from varying distances, and so on.

 

Recognize the Value of Assessing Students’ Level of Firearms Mastery

 

Assessing students’ mastery of firearms knowledge and skills is especially important when delivering one-on-one firearms training. In that situation an instructor can take time prior to live-fire exercises to assess a student’s level of firearms mastery. Mastery levels range from introductory-level, foundational-level, mastery-level, and maintenance-level.

 

Introductory-Level

 

Students at this level are interested in learning to use a handgun for self-defense but they have had no prior training. Their firearms handling skills are awkward, their grips are weak or just plain wrong, they have difficulty aligning the sights, and they struggle to understand the meaning of a correct sight picture. Their trigger press results in may stray hits on the target. They also have no idea about how to use a handgun for self-defense.

 

Foundational-Level

 

These students have had some prior training and they know some of the basics, but they are not proficient at using the basics to shoot accurately. Their gripping is still occasionally wrong. They need repeated reminders to keep their finger off the trigger.

 

Occasionally, instructors will find a foundational-level student who thinks he or she is the best shooter the world has ever seen. Dealing with this “I know what I’m doing” attitude can be an obstacle to moving to the mastery-level because these students resist instruction on correct handgun manipulation and marksmanship skills.

 

Mastery-Level

 

These students are experienced shooters who shoot quite accurately, know how to clear malfunctions, and can demonstrate effective reloading techniques. They know how to draw from a holster, bring the handgun into a firing position, gain sight alignment and sight picture and press the trigger to get an accurate hit. They have the proper mind-set for self-defense using a handgun; that is, if they ever face a deadly force situation they think “I knew this could happen some day and I know what to do about it” (a mind-set principle from Colonel Jeff Cooper, founder of Gunsite Academy).

 

Maintenance-Level

 

These students have been at the mastery-level for some time. They need opportunities to practice their superior skills and to learn new skill-sets for self-defense with a concealed handgun.

 

Benefits of Assessing Mastery Level

 

When an instructor assesses a student’s level of mastery then he or she can design a training experience that will begin where the student is at and then build from there. This kind of assessment can also motivate the student to engage with the instructor in on-going one-on-one training sessions with the ultimate goal of reaching the Maintenance-Level.

 

Top-level instructors will also design and deliver training events tailored for the different mastery-levels; for example,  training courses for beginners (Introductory-Level), intermediate firearms training (Foundational-Level), and advanced firearms training (Mastery and Maintenance Levels).

 

Recognize the Importance of Training on Firearms Basics

 

When students participate in firearms training to qualify for a concealed carry permit many of them will not have any prior firearms experience. Others will have that experience but they may have (and often have) bad habits. It is the trainers’ responsibility to ensure that the inexperienced students learn solid firearms basics and that the bad habits of the experienced shooters are identified and corrected (for example, one common bad habit is how a shooter grips the handgun).

 

Firearms basics are: stance, breathing, sight alignment, sight picture, trigger press, and follow-through. Of all those basics, the most important for shooting accuracy are sight alignment and trigger press; the others are important too but not as important as sight alignment and trigger press.

 

Although the shooting basics can be explained and discussed in a classroom setting the best time to teach the basics is on the live-fire range where students can actually experience each of the basics in real-time with feedback from a qualified instructor. Then, as the students incorporate the feedback they can begin to see important and effective changes in their accuracy.

 

Recognize the Importance of Handgun Manipulation and Marksmanship Training

 

Basic handgun manipulation skills can be taught in short-term training, but developing proficiency with those skills requires on-going training. Basic marksmanship principles (e.g., sight alignment and sight picture) can be introduced in short-term training, but developing and maintaining effective handgun manipulation skills and accurate marksmanship requires on-going training.

 

Students should engage in on-going training with skilled instructors until they have achieved a acceptable levels of proficiency. An acceptable level of proficiency means: 1) that for every shot taken there is a hit on the target…no misses; 2) that the hits on target are no more than 6 inches apart; that when experiencing a firearms malfunction they clear the malfunction and continue shooting at the target without hesitation; and 3) that they can demonstrate this level of proficiency in a competitive situation (which induces stress).

 

Recognize the Value of Scenario-Based Training

 

We have personally benefited from scenario-based training at the Academi training facility in Moyock, North Carolina (https://www.academi.com/) and at the Gunsite Academy’s 250 defensive handgun course (https://www.gunsite.com/classes/250-defensive-pistol-class/). Scenario-based training creates situations to which students must respond; for example, in a shoot-house environment (a shoot house is a mock-up of the interior of a building with multiple rooms) paper targets of “good guys,” “bad guys,” and “bad guys holding hostages” are placed in the rooms. The student negotiates the rooms with a handgun and live ammunition. An instructor follows. Students need to practice target discrimination (do I shoot or not shoot), take the appropriate action, and then move to the next room. The training is mildly stressful if it is being evaluated by the instructor.

 

Another form of scenario-based training is called “force-on-force” training. In these training events students use non-lethal ammunition called simunition inside a shoot house. The instructors create various scenarios using some students as “good guys” and others as “bad guys.” All students wear protective head gear, eye protection, chest protection, and gloves. The “good guy” students move through the shoot house and engage the bad guys as needed. This training is significantly more stressful than shoot house scenarios using paper targets.

 

Of course, the kind of scenario-based training described above is likely beyond the capability of most civilian instructors who conduct concealed carry training. Simpler forms of scenario-based training can be designed by skilled instructors who know the basic scenario design principles (e.g., on an outdoor range instructors can set up a course of fire using multiple targets and various forms of cover and concealment that students must negotiate effectively within a time limit).

 

Recognize the Importance of Doing No Harm

 

Not all firearms instructors are created equal. We believe that instructors must assess their personal firearms knowledge and skill to ensure that when they are training others to shoot that they do not make their students worse shooters than when they came into the training. An instructor should not be teaching students about something that he or she personally hasn’t mastered; in other words, an instructor needs credibility (for example, if an instructor is teaching a student how to shoot accurately the instructor should be able to shoot accurately).

 

We also believe that an instructor should not offer instruction on a skill-set if he or she has not mastered that skill-set. They should only teach what they are good at which will ensure that they are not teaching ineffective knowledge and skills.

 

We aim to walk our talk, to practice what we preach, and to do what we tell others to do. We trained every year for 9 years at the Academi training facility in Moyock, North Carolina. In the summer of 2018 we are training with TM Torn in Nevada (http://www.teamtorn.com/). Our vice president trains two to three times a week and shoots 800-1200 rounds a month.

 

We expect our students to design a training regimen for themselves after they complete our training but it doesn’t have to be as broad as ours; but their regimen should get them into occasional formal training delivered by experts and include shooting on their own at a local range where they can practice different skills (for example, practice sight alignment and acquiring a sight picture).

 

Our students leave our training more knowledgeable and more skilled than when they start our course.

 

Recognize That Range Safety Is Non-Negotiable

 

Running firearms training courses for all levels of mastery as described above is challenging, yet possible, and requires significant range safety rules and monitoring; for example, Academi firearms training facility in Moyock, North Carolina use an instructor to student ratio of 1 to 5 (1 instructor for every 5 students). This ratio ensures that instructors can supervise the firing line and call an immediate cease fire if required. We use the same ratio in our training events. Our lead instructor is a NRA certified Range Safety Officer.

 

One of the most serious range safety violations is something called a negligent discharge. A negligent discharge is when a student isn’t paying attention to safe gun handling skills (finger off the trigger, for example) and his or her firearm fires unintentionally. This kind of violation must be addressed immediately on the live-fire range. In some training venues, one negligent discharge that puts other students in jeopardy of harm can result in the immediate termination of that student’s training; for example, this policy is used by the Gunsite Academy’s 250 defensive shooting course.

 

Another range safety violation is what is known as muzzling or sometimes called flagging. This happens when a student inadvertently points his or her firearm in the direction of other students. If the muzzling occurs at the same time as a negligent discharge you can understand the seriousness of this lack of muzzle discipline.

 

Conclusion

 

Training others to defend themselves with a concealed handgun is challenging. For civilian trainers, there just isn’t enough training time to teach students to perform an unknown skill or series of skills under unknown conditions at some unknown place and time. These skills, conditions, and locations are unknown because at the time of training the trainers and the students do not know what they will need to survive a self-defense shooting.

 

The best civilian instructors can do, we believe, is to teach basic firearms knowledge in the classroom and firearms handling and marksmanship on a live-fire range. Students must leave the training events with the mind-set that it is their responsibility to develop their firearms proficiency. Skilled instructors can help students develop their proficiency by designing and offering on-going firearms instruction for each of the mastery levels described earlier in this blog.

 

Carrying Concealed: Eight Moral Obligations