Learning to Shoot: How Much Training Is Enough?

I get a lot of emails and messages on Facebook asking me which shooting instructor I recommend for this or that area in Florida. Many are realizing that the best way to protect oneself and one’s family is to become a hard target. You don’t have to be in super-great shape, don’t have to be really coordinated, and you don’t even have to become “highly” trained. But you DO need to know the laws of firearms use, as well as the safety rules, and be physically fit enough to hold the firearm safely.

There is a lot of back and forth on what is considered “enough” training in the firearms discussion forums and pages, and on gun control and gun rights pages. How much training should a person have in order to be licensed to carry a firearm on their person? How much training should they have to own and have a firearm in their home? Should they be required to have any training at all for those and other situations? As a person who has taught firearms to both law enforcement/corrections officers and civilians for more than 25 years, I have found there are really three separate groups of people that want or need training.

The first group wants a firearm for protection but will not go through extensive training or practice with the firearm they buy, if at all. Individuals from this group probably own one or two firearms for self-defense at home or to carry on their person. They don’t carry all the time. They may attend a gun show concealed carry class that last all of 45 minutes and requires no range time.

Let me make this clear, I do not recommend or suggest that anyone take that type of class. If you are new to firearms ownership, and have not had any formal training at all, that is not the place to learn! Those classes are a bad example of firearms training and give attendees just enough information to make them dangerous to themselves and others. A more robust class, say one that lasts four or eight hours and includes some range time is much better, and what I recommend for the new firearm owner/carrier.

If you want to own and carry a firearm, realize that it is a huge responsibility and you must consider everything that it brings with it. Why are you carrying it? Why did you choose to own it? If the answer is to protect yourself and your family it means you are thinking about the possibility of having to shoot a fellow human being, and that is not something to take lightly. You have to learn how to safely handle your firearm, maintain, and shoot it. If you have not shot a firearm before you need to learn the basics of marksmanship and this cannot all be done in a 45 minutes session.

The second group is the firearm owner who seeks out a reputable training program. Maybe the NRA Basic Home Defense Course, or a course run by a United States Concealed Carry Association (USCCA) Certified Instructor. Maybe even one at a local gun store that is taught by responsible instructors like myself. (I teach at www.shootgtr.com) These are the people that want to be well prepared to use their firearm. They realize the importance of being able to operate the firearm properly and that they want to be good shots, as they know you can’t stop what you can’t hit.

These are the type of people that take owning a firearm seriously and want to know the laws and seek out those that can help them learn. They like to practice shooting and turn it into a hobby or pastime. They take the fact that they may have to use the firearm they carry to defend themselves seriously and they make sure to learn the laws surrounding defensive gun use. They practice a few times a month or at least every couple of months. They know that practice is important and do it as much as they can.

The last group is the job related carry folks. Men and women from Law Enforcement, Corrections, Probation and Parole, and other professions that carry a firearm as part of their job daily. I teach these types of people on a regular basis. I have found that they come from many different backgrounds, from those that have never held a firearm before (the easiest to teach because they have no bad habits to break), to former military members who are crack shots.

Once they get on the job, members of this group fall into the two groups mentioned above, they either take the responsibility seriously and train regularly, or they don’t. You might be surprised to find out, that not all cops are gun nuts. Some only carry on duty, and never off duty, even though they can. Additionally, many states either have no requirement for officers to qualify with their duty firearms, or only require yearly qualifications. Some states like Florida, my state, only require officers to qualify every two years! That’s right, a police officer in Florida is only required to qualify every two years. Now of course there are departments that qualify more than that however, it is not required by law. I know many officers that take the responsibility seriously and do practice on their own and often, but for many it’s limited by the matter of money. Shooting is not cheap.

One of the things that people do not think about before buying and owning firearms is the cost. First, firearms are not cheap. A good quality handgun can cost between $350 and $1000. That’s a big spread, but remember that you are possibly trusting your life to this piece of equipment and like anything else that you buy, most of the time you get what you pay for. Would you trust your life to a cheap, poorly made firearm or spend the extra bit of money and buy one that is of higher quality and made by a reputable manufacturer? Ask your instructor or trusted friend who knows firearms for advice on this, and if they are not firearms owners, look at what your local police and the military use. What do they carry and why? But that is a whole separate article…

So if you are thinking of becoming a firearm owner and possibly carrying one, just like anything else, make sure you research first. After that take that knowledge and test different firearms. Find one that fits your needs (read my article on Top Ten Carry Firearms), and then seek out professional, comprehensive training in how to use, carry, and care for your firearm. Make sure that your instructor is qualified and certified by a national or state wide organization. Ask for references!

A good instructor should not be afraid to let you talk to former students. The best tell of an instructor’s ability are the students they have turned out and what they think of the instructor. Ask the instructor how many classes they have taught. Do not take a course that does not include range time or training on how to care for your firearm! And make sure you learn the laws of your state on when you can and cannot use a firearm to defend yourself. Join a firearms group and ask questions, learn from those that have been there and teach the subject. Check and see if you can find a statewide organization like Florida Carry Inc. in Florida that will answer your questions and has experts from the field online to help. (https://goo.gl/p8vHb6)

If you have questions, all you have to do is either email me at chris@chriswagoner.us. Whatever you do, learn, train, and then train some more! Your life or the life of your family members may depend on it.

Isn’t that worth it?

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