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?

The Internet is good for some things, but not for telling you what firearm is best for you!

Recently on a Facebook group I read and follow, a well-meaning person asked the group in general what type of handgun she should buy. She gave a little bit of info in that she was a shorter-in-stature female but that was it.

And of course the responses were many and varied as greatly as the types of firearms recommended. And some of the responses are just plain bad advice.

And while some of those are great suggestions, firearms are not a one-size-fits-a-certain-sized-person application. Also, some handguns are not made for concealed carry or for personal defense, although almost all will do that if you have it in your hand at the time.

If you are looking at getting a handgun, what are you getting it for? Learning to shoot a handgun? Self-defense at home or to conceal-carry? There are many factors that go into what you look for in a handgun and, to be honest, the Internet and complete strangers is not the place to look for help.

If you are looking for a handgun or wanting to learn to shoot a handgun, go to a reputable gun range or gun store. Or find a reputable firearms instructor that you check the references or reviews on, and get them to show you different firearms. DO NOT buy a firearm you’ve not shot on a range! Handguns can look and feel very different. But until you actually shoot it on the range, you cannot know how it feels in your hand and how you like or dislike the way it functions. Not all handguns are created equal.

So, if you are new to firearms or handguns, do not take advice from the Internet. Find a real person who is a professional and knows what they are doing when it comes to handguns or training.

Once you do decide on a handgun, make sure to get training in how to use it properly and how to shoot it. Remember why you were getting it in the first place. Isn’t your life (or the life of your loved ones) worth the time, effort and money to do it right?

You Just Bought a Firearm for the First Time, Now What?

With all the craziness going on right now I bought a firearm for self-defense, now what?

OK, you have decided to take that big step and buy a self-defense firearm for home or carry. Or you may have gotten one for Christmas or went out and bought one for yourself as a present to yourself. No matter if you already have one, or are thinking of getting one, you need to be a responsible firearm owner. What does that entail? Well, take it from someone that has owned and used firearms for more than 40 years and as part of my daily life, both as a police officer and firearms instructor, GET TRAINED!

The very first thing you should learn if you are thinking of or have a firearm are the four cardinal rules of gun safety. These rules apply anywhere in the world and recognized as being the basis for all gun safety and gun training. Memorize them, follow them and make others who are near you follow them also and you will never be harmed or harm anyone else with a firearm unintentionally. Here they are, they are simple and easy to remember and to understand:

  1. Treat all firearms as they are loaded, regardless if they are or not!
  2. Never point a firearm at anything unless you are willing to kill or destroy it!
  3. Always identify your target, and what is beyond it!
  4. Keep your finger off of the trigger until you are on target and ready to shoot!

I make my police recruits memorize and repeat these rules before they ever are allowed to touch a real firearm in the police academy. And then we enforce these rules with no exceptions! That is why we have never had anyone injured in the 20+ years I have been teaching firearms at my academy. If a police recruit violates one of these rules, they can, and we have, remove them from the academy. Firearm safety is that important. So as a citizen learning to handle and use firearms for the first time, or even some that have been handling them but never bothered to know these rules, you MUST FOLLOW THEM!

Every case of unintentional discharge of a firearm, except mechanical failure which is exceptionally rare, can be traced back to someone violating one or more of these simple rules. SO as a new firearms owner you MUST know these and follow them all of the time. Even when you are alone or are sure a firearm is unloaded and safe, treat it like it’s loaded, never point it at anything that you don’t want to destroy, and you will never harm anyone you do not intend too!

The next important act you take as a responsible firearm owner is to secure your firearms and ammunition when it’s not in use. Especially when you have kids around the house. If you have kids in the house, you need to teach them the four rules above. If you teach those rules at a young age and they follow them, you will never be in the news as a tragedy of a child shooting themselves or a friend with a firearm. Securing them can be done one of several ways. A gun safe is probably the best (and most expensive), but not everyone can afford them. If you bought a firearm for home defense, it’s kind of defeats the purpose of locking it in a large slow to open safe. You can have a firearm secured and yet quickly available if you buy a rapid access safe. I have a Hornady Rapid Safe myself on my nightstand that has my home defense firearm in it. It opens with a RFI wristband I wear or a quick finger combination. Either way its fast and yet secures the firearm from prying eyes. I also carry a firearm on me at home most of the time. Some people wonder why and think this is over the top. Well as a former police officer and having gone to more than my share of home invasions, home invasions do not happen elsewhere. They happen in the home and carrying a firearm while in the home is one way to help protect against that. No, I am not paranoid, I am a realist. No place is completely safe these days. No neighborhood is immune to crime. So being armed while home is something that is an individual decision, but imagine if you do become the victim of a home invasion and you could have protected yourself and your family, but choose not too. You have to live with that decision; I choose to be ready even if it is a little inconvenient. I would not be able to live with myself if something happened to my family and I would have been able to prevent it but decided not to bother.

So you have memorized the rules and follow them. You have secured your firearm when not using it or carrying it. And now you are thinking of carrying it one you when you leave your home. Becoming one of the millions of citizens that have decided to carry a firearm on them while out away from home. Either openly or concealed (depending on what state you live in) is a personal choice and sometimes is decided by what activity you are doing, but regardless you have decided to take that next step and protect yourself and your family from becoming just another victim of the criminal element that is out there these days and has no regard for your life or the life of those you love. You should try to remember that it is much more tactically sound to try and fight an armed criminal with a firearm than it is with harsh words, or worse, on your knees begging for your life and that of your family!

Take a firearms course from a reliable instructor in your area. Check around and ask others that you know have been trained who they recommend. Make sure you do not take one of those hour long, gun show courses that are nothing more than a way for them to make money. You need to remember that your life and the life of your family may rely on the training you get. And are they not worth a few more hours of your time and a bit more money if needed? Check out the instructors. Google them, ask around or ask for references. Make sure you are completely satisfied with your instructor’s credentials and what they teach. There is a huge difference between a good firearms course and one that is put on by instructors looking just to make a buck. Remember just because an instructor has this or that certification does not make them a great instructor. So check them out, do your due diligence and be satisfied you have checked them out. There are outstanding instructors out there. I still take courses from other instructors when I can. You are never too old to learn, and never will learn everything there is. Training is a lifelong endeavor.

So now you have learned the rules of firearm safety. You have gotten a firearm and taken some good instruction on how to use it and do so legally and safely. Now you need to know, study and follow your state’s laws on carrying firearms. You do not want to be arrested for something you did not know about.

If you follow those simple steps to responsible firearm ownership, you are one of the citizens that can truthfully say they are ready to defend themselves and their family.  Good for you! I know full well that cops cannot be everywhere and sometimes take minutes to respond to life and death situation, and more often than not arrive after it’s over. Let’s hope that when they arrive you are the one still standing and you have protected your life or the life of your loved ones legally and successfully!

What can we Learn From the Texas Church Shooting?

A lot of social media buzz has been created by this terrible murder of Texas church members. Some major media covered it, but most only for a brief mention. The reason for the brief mention of course is because one, there was not a mass murder (he was stopped before he could kill more people), the victim count was not high enough. Two, the murderer was stopped in literally six seconds by a legally armed citizen. Those two things make this against the mainstream media playbook for a mass murder they can use to push the agenda of “gun-control”.

The attack on the church was caught on live stream video unlike any others we know of, so while a true tragedy, it is a great opportunity to learn from it and maybe make a few changes that could help prevent or lessen attacks in the future. So let’s break down the attack as seen on the video.

The murderer was sitting buy himself in the back row of the sanctuary. He gets up and moves to the rear where he appears to engage one of the ushers in a very brief conversation. That is when you can see him pull a short shotgun from under his jacket/ coat. He initially points it at the usher he was speaking to.

Just before subject stands and moves to back of sanctuary.

At the same time several things are happening. There is an armed member of the church security team sitting just a few feet away along the back wall. He sees the subject pull out the shotgun and stands and begins to draw his concealed handgun. Also a few more feet away a group of men also along the back and already standing seem to notice the commotion and one drops out of sight, and one moves off camera and the third draws a handgun. From the video it’s hard to tell if it was concealed or openly carried.

8 seconds into incident.

The subject seeing the security member reaching and attempting to draw his concealed firearm turns the shotgun on him and fires one shot, striking him. The security member is seen to fall to the floor. The subject then turns back to the usher and fires one shot at him. This takes just a couple of seconds.

The other church security member, identified as Jack Wilson later, had during this time drawn his firearm and according to Mr. Wilson’s own statement he could not fire for a second or two because of church members between the subject and him in his line of fire. On the video you can see someone standing what looks like half crouched over and possible in Mr. Wilson’s line of fire.

The subject turns and begins to move forward in the direction of the stage in the church and takes one or two steps. Mr. Wilson appears to illuminate the suspect probably with a weapon mounted light. A second later the light goes off, and Mr. Wilson fires one well aimed shot at about 40- 50 feet striking the subject in the head. The subject falls to the ground.

At this point Mr. Wilson begins to move in the direction of the subject. At this point several other armed members of the church appear.

The entire situation from the time the suspect stood up and moves to the back of the church until he was shot by Mr. Wilson was 18 seconds. After the situation was deemed safe and over, people began to exit the sanctuary.

So what lessons can we learn from the video and the information shared by Mr. Wilson and other members of the church?

1. The subject was already acting suspicious and has been identified by the security team members. People acting suspiciously or dressed inappropriately (fake beard, hair and over coat in this case) bear watching and maybe even making contact with them.

2. Reaction is always going to be slower than action. Once the subject had his shotgun out drawing from concealment puts you at a serous disadvantage. Especially for those that do not practice it.

3. Distance is good and bad. Good in that you are not the sole point of attention, and may give you more of a chance to bring your firearm to bear. Bad in the the greater the distance, the more skilled a shot you will have to be. Practice is key here.

4. Move!! Standing still and trying to draw on an already aimed firearm is impossible. Move and draw! A moving target is much harder to hit. This is NOT a negative critique of the security team member who was shot while drawing from concealment, but a training lesson to learn from the tragedy.

Practice shooting at distances other than close range only. I see many people at the range I teach at and I never see the target go past the 7 or 10 yard distance (21-30 feet.) While yes the vast majority of defensive shootings happen under 21 feet, that does not mean you should not practice and be able to hit targets accurately at greater distances. I regularly work at distances up to 50 yards with handguns. There is a great feeling of accomplishment at hitting a target at those distances.

There are few other things that I noticed that might make good training topics from this incident, but those could be completely separate topics on their own.

So whats the final overall take away form this? That armed, trained, and ready lawful firearm carrying Americans CAN and HAVE stopped mass murderers. And that if these citizens had been prevented by laws from carrying in the church (aka gun free zones) more people would have died.

I am thankful that Mr. Jack Wilson and the other members of that church were there and ready and trained for this incident. We must learn from these incidents if we are to be ready for the next, and sadly there will be more.