Training Thoughts

Firearms Training

It seems that every time I turn around, I get an e-mail or Facebook message from some new training company that claims to be the next, best thing. If I may, I wish to briefly pontificate on firearms training.

First, I think that a lot of the training in the industry is more akin to a working dude ranch than it is about teaching life saving skills for the average citizen. While it might be neat to spend the weekend with a former Tier A-Number-One Boom-Boom Operator™ and kick in plywood doors on a shoot house, recognize it for what it is: a fun time.

The probability of the average citizen ever “kitting up” and “stacking bodies” is about as high as getting hit by a meteor. That kind of training can be fun, but don’t think it is the most efficient way of gaining life saving skills unless you are going to far away lands and doing things you can’t talk about. As my friend Grant Cunningham recently wrote about training: context is everything.

Secondly, just because an instructor was an Army Ranger/Navy SEAL/SWAT cop doesn’t mean he or she can (1) teach or (2) understand the dynamics of a civilian self defense shooting. A few do, but in my experience, many do not. They are good at what they did, but they may not be good at teaching you the skills you need.

Firearms Training

Something else to keep in mind: the legal issues around carrying and using a gun should be your primary concern. Too many gun owners rely on internet forums, some guy at a gun shop or “muh daddy always sed” as their source of legal advice. This is a good strategy for winding up on the wrong side of the law.

#ProTip: Most “get your CCW permit” instruction is not adequate training when it comes to lethal force.

There are a few good instructors out there on legal topics – but far too few when compared to the number of people teaching you how to shoot. If you don’t know when to shoot, you really don’t need to worry about how to shoot.

As far as prioritizing your life saving skills, why not spend some time working on your first aid knowledge? You are far more likely to need to know CPR, the Heimlich or how to apply a tourniquet than how to shoot another human being. All of the high speed, low drag classes in the world won’t help you when your daughter is choking on a hotdog or your spouse goes into cardiac arrest.

Lastly, training is an ongoing process. Showing up to one class and never following up with realistic practice and additional courses is not a winning strategy. Target shooting at the range is ok for keeping basic handling skills fresh, but nothing replaces time with an instructor in an environment where movement, drawing from concealment and other skills can be honed.

A lot of people are quick to point out the inadequate training cops get and the resulting dismal results – but police officers likely get more training than most gun owners. (Readers here may be different, but you represent a very small slice of the gun owning community.)

Every department is different, but unless you go through a minimum of two range qualifications, a refresher on use of force law, and some type of force on force and/or judgement training every year, you are behind what the average cop gets. You’ve read the hit stats for police officers – where do you think yours would be? Better or worse?

Your opinions may differ from mine, and that is fine. I’m not going to tell you who you should train with, that’s only a decision you can make. But, I do recommend you spend a little time researching the person or company you want to train with and make sure they are teaching realistic skills for your lifestyle. You are investing your cash and time – make sure you are getting the skills you need.

(Note: Thanks to Paul Carlson of the Safety Solutions Academy for allowing me to photograph several of his classes.)

Richard Johnson

An advocate of gun proliferation zones, Richard is a long time shooter, former cop and internet entrepreneur. Among the many places he calls home is


  • DanGoodShot

    I’ve always wanted to go to one of those high speed kickin’ as training courses. I still do. But I do recognize it for what it is. Fun. It’s like summer camp for an adult gun owner. I’m in!
    As far as “training” for a self defense situation. Imo, its more about being able to read the situation. Knowing when its appropriate to use lethal force and being able to draw and put shots on target before the “bad guy”.
    For that, I stay current on all local and federal laws. I practice drawing from a concealed holster and putting shots on target. I think thats the best you can really do. Who knows what your situation will actually be if the moment ever happens. Which brings me to my number one rule. Try to avoid the situation in the first place if you can.

    • nadnerbus

      Yeah, I’ve never done one of those Costa/Haley type classes, but if I ever did, it would just be for the fun of playing an over-the-hill action hero for the day.

    • Joseph Goins

      That is all it is: playing soldier. (And yes, many people go because they are involved in prepper, patriot, militia-type movements.)

    • Roy G Bunting

      For this sort of fun I think airsoft and paintball really have an advantage. The ammunition is significantly cheaper, you can “operate tactically” with other people and not have to worry about getting shot.

      Be safe with firearms, have fun with airguns.*

      NB, I know there are dangerous airguns, obviously don’t be unsafe with those.

  • John “jmac” McClelland

    I agree that training is the key. I’ve been training for 6 years….been through at least 18 classes, of which at least 6 were force on force. It’s also a good idea to get some training in trauma skills, as you never know when you have to save the life of a spouse, friend, or render aid to yourself. Knowing how to address bleeding, apply a bandage, or tourniquet….may well save the life of someone you love.

    • Joseph Goins

      Who taught your classes?

      • John “jmac” McClelland

        Suarez International was the training company. They employ people who have done their time in law enforcement, military, and medical services.
        Many of the people I’ve trained with are currently in law enforcement, or medical….but, many are regular civilians just like I am.

        • Joseph Goins

          Suarez? I didn’t know he did training any more. I thought he faded into obscurity after his convictions for fraud, money laundering, and theft.

          The reason why I asked is because sometimes places will hire popular alumni who really only attend their classes (a la Tactical Response). That leads to a lot of group-think which isn’t good for anyone’s learning.

          • Harold

            Joseph you could not be more inaccurate on your assumptions re Gabe Suarez. I assume you are a Gun Culture White Dude based on your excellent posts above. Surf on over to Warrior Talk dot com, One Source Tactical dot com, or Suarez International dot com to see if Gabe recovered from his California past.

            There’s some stuff in my past that I’ve overcome. Anyone else here?

            Suarez probably is a jerk to everyone outside his tribe, and perhaps to some inside, but he knows how to teach the stuff we crave as Gun Culture White Dudes.

            One should have the emotional intelligence to see past the personality and take in the knowledge to gain wisdom. Jeff Cooper was the same. Yes I’ve dealt with both schools.

          • Joseph Goins

            I stated a fact (he was convicted for multiple felonies) which was the basis of my belief (I didn’t know he did training any more) since I haven’t heard anything new about them in the last ten years. I didn’t pass a value judgement on Gabe Suarez or Suarez International. (I trained with him before he went to prison.) I didn’t say he doesn’t deserve to move past his criminal history. I didn’t say anything stupid like “felons shouldn’t have guns.” Please try to critically read before you criticize.

          • Harold

            Wow quite a reaction. New to the internet?

          • Joseph Goins

            No. Just retarded fuçks like you.

  • Black Dots

    Solid post.

  • Edeco

    I have an entire hour of paid, 1-on-1 instruction to my name, with a trainer who I totally think was certified.

    • Swarf

      Certified what?

  • BrandonAKsALot

    I give this post a thumbs up. I’d like to take some quality training, but right now it’s not in the cards for me budget or time wise. I can barely get out to the range, so for now, it’s dry fire and reload practice at home.

    • JumpIf NotZero

      If you own guns and “can’t afford training” sell some guns.

      2x more hours of training over the number of guns you own, imo.


    The congregation I attend wants me to teach a CCW class. Most are older people (age 55 and up) looking to get their CCW permit; the majority want home defense info. In all classes I tell students taking one class does not make you proficient – that takes lots of dedicated practice. Anyway here is my outline…

    1. Intro, Need for firearms training/CCW permits
    2. Safety rules (duh)
    3. Semi auto pistol & Revolver operation
    4. Ammunition & Firearm storage
    5. The Draw sequence
    6. CCW carry options
    7. Point shooting
    8. Awareness, Obstacles and Exits
    9. Basic marksmanship
    10. Reloads & malfunctions
    11. Ninja moves, flaming cartwheels & the Dim-mak death touch (just kidding)
    12. 911, first aid and you
    13. Local gun laws & reality
    14. Shooting Aftermath
    15. Hardening your home
    16. Hands on exam 70% passing; target #1 at 5 feet & target #2 at 15 feet.
    17. Q&A

    Will also include some force on force training with SIRT pistols/laser training devices, the Tueller drill and friend or threat identification stuff. We also might shoot out of vehicle depending the class. No special stuff other than the ninja stuff 😉

    If anyone can think of something else, feel free to chime in.


    • Bob

      If I understand correctly, I disagree with the order as pertains to Point Shooting. I think you should teach sights first. Why? Because I said so…

  • Joseph Goins

    I completely share the author’s opinion, and I’ll add in my two cents:

    Instructors almost always teach from the perspective of what they were taught: military, law enforcement, contracting, competition, and NRA-type classes. There is nothing wrong with that per se as long as the person paying good money for the instruction knows the difference. People don’t need a pistol that can fire a thousand rounds in one sitting without malfunctioning (looking at you, James Yeager), they should worry about cover (looking at you, competitors), and they need to learn more than the basic fundamentals (looking at you, NRA instructors).

    Moreover, when selecting someone to competently teach you, learn what the course is about. You don’t need to learn like how to use buddy cover fire as you assault an objective (which is being taught at many “schools”). While that is needed for soldiers and police, civilians don’t need to learn that stuff. All that is #1 is playing soldier and/or #2 is the prepper (or patriot, militia, and/or antigovernment) movement taking over the gun community. You don’t need a course focusing on “mindset” as that is self-correcting in a gun fight, it can’t be learned in a class, and plenty of people successfully defend themselves without it (and training in general)

    Finally, don’t select a place because of their social media presence. Social media is going to be the death of the tactical instruction community. The goal is to get the most views on YouTube and to, essentially, make you jealous of the person in charge while getting a few students out of the deal. It has nothing to do with perfecting tactics. It has everything to do with flash but has no real substance.

    Rant over.

    • JumpIf NotZero

      You don’t need a course focusing on “mindset” as that is self-correcting in a gun fight, it can’t be learned in a class,

      Yea I don’t know. I can’t agree to either of those things.

      The best gun classes I’ve been to only peripherally dealt with guns. For example, force on force with UTM rounds, never felt the grip angle, or really saw the sights once during scenarios. You know what I do remember? Not breathing right. Missing situation indicators. Fighting a guy to the ground and then basically watching him get back up and come back at me because I was out of my head a bit…

      Short story… There are LOTS AND LOTS of things that aren’t “self correcting” that you can learn and practice.

      • Joseph Goins

        I’ll chalk this disagreement up to my writing style.

        I wasn’t talking about FTF training which is exceptionally important (and also isn’t mindset training). I was talking about rifle and pistol classes that focus on mindset. I don’t need a briefing tell me “some day, you may need to step over the dead body of your loved one” for me to get the concept of fight or flight (Thank you, Chris Costa). I read an excellent article by Mike Pannone on Soldier Systems a while back. TFB won’t let me link it, so I pasted it below.


        On New Year’s Eve 2011, alone except for her infant son and scared for her life and the life of her child, 18 year old Sarah McKinley still had the composure to give her infant a bottle to keep him quiet and ask a dispatcher if it was okay to shoot an intruder if he entered her home before she did in fact shoot and kill him. She never had a mindset brief; she got it done just the same.

        Mindset (noun): The ideas and attitudes with which a person approaches a situation, especially when these are seen as being difficult to alter.

        I’m often asked why I don’t put greater emphasis on mindset in the form of “mindset briefings” or what I like to call “popcorn pep-talks”. I call them that because in the end, they’re really mostly hot-air. The concept of having a proper mindset is crucial in not only a combative environment but literally anywhere that an individual wants to compete, excel and succeed. The desire to persevere, endure, survive and win is a requirement for success in all but the rarest of events that just by sheer chance end positively. That said, here is something to keep in mind with all these flamboyant diatribes about how “you need to be the guy that’s going to get it done” and save the day.

        I’ve been a couple of places and done a couple of things and have served amongst the best our nation, two different services, and three different special units could produce. I have seen what a good mindset can do in a bad situation and how it sometimes is all that saves lives even when the odds are not in your favor. In those dark times of consequence it has never been a briefing that got a guy through. It has never been someone yelling over their shoulder that has gotten them through. It is simple and pretty easy to explain how they got the mindset needed to persevere and win. It was the culmination of decisions and actions long before the event.

        Understand that nobody can convince you to do something that you can’t convince yourself to do first. Mindset is not a brief you get; it’s not a condition of thought that just “happens” to you over time. Mindset comes from the life you lead. Be candidly honest with yourself. Be under no illusions as to who you are and what you are willing to do. Sarah McKinley never got the briefing, but she had the mindset to fight, win and survive.

        Mindset – stop talking about it and start living it.

        Written by Mike Pannone

  • datimes

    I did a week at Gunsite in Paulden 3 years ago. I was extremely impressed with the training and spike in my skills. Unfortunately, these skills require constant practice as they deteriorate quickly.

  • Swarf

    Yay, I’m a slice!

    Seriously though, good post. Training how to shoot from a squatting position behind a bed while trying to whisper to a 911 operator is probably a lot more practical than training how to kick in doors. Who makes their door out of plywood anyway? Are you doing raids in shanty towns?

    Frankly, for most of the guys I see being trained by the supposed tier one space shuttle door gunners, learning how to treat a self-inflicted gun shot wound in the field probably have a lot more value than learning to shoot upside down, using your thick noggin as a stand.

    • stephen

      “shoot from a squatting position behind a bed while trying to whisper to a 911 operator…”

      If your shooting there is no need to whisper – matter of fact it might be good to yell and inform the threat/s that the police are on their way and you have gun.

    • Joseph Goins

      Ass-up prone? I remember that from an Asymmetric Warfare Group class in ’06.

  • The_Champ

    Good realistic article on the state modern firearms training.

    It is so very easy to overlook stuff like first aid, or the legalities of self defense; just toss out a badass phrase like “better to be judged by 12 than carried by 6!” and don’t bother reading the applicable laws.

    While you are seeking out some good first aid training, and brushing up on some case law around self defense shooting, why not spend some time on a good defensive driving course because you are far more likely to die horribly in a wreck on the freeway than catch a bullet.

    Or you could just spend your money on some more sweet multi-cam gear and another AR rifle for when the zombies attack ?, whatever floats your boat.

  • I like to separate training into three broad categories

    1. Shooting Proficiency – This ranges from NRA First Steps, to advanced firearms proficiency like long range shooting. Basically any gun handling skill that isn’t specific to tactical or competition.
    2. Tactical – This is probably the widest category, as it ranges from stuff applicable to CCW, general infantry, CQB/SWAT, et al
    3. Competition – Competition training, from USPSA to Bullseye
    4. General Purpose skills – Another broad category, but I would include things like medical training, basic rigging, et al. Pretty much anything not shooting specific, but can be applicable to wide variety of people. Knowing basic first aid, including trauma stuff, and the ability to safely climb down a small embankment using ropes can be used day to day in some areas. As we see a lot more traffic accidents than gun shots around me.

    I think most people could use a lot from group 1, and 4. And a little from group 2.

  • Bill

    A lot of training courses are the firearms equivalent of Fantasy Baseball Camp. Fortunately, I think the field is culling itself, from a pre-9/11 environment when there were maybe a half-dozen known, quality programs. to a post-9/11 saturation where every operator who finished doing operations in their operational theater came home and opened a school, to now, where the quality programs will survive and the fly-by-night, ahem, operations are disappearing.

    What you don’t see on the civilian side are realistic training needs assessments. Fortunately the average CCWer doesn’t need to learn the fun stuff, like shooting from a helicopter or on a moving target from a moving vehicle. Unfortunately, most don’t want to earn the mundane day to day stuff, like properly loading and unloading a pistol or immediate action drills that they will need. Heck, teaching and learning a proper draw, and reholster, can be mind-numbing and grueling repetition that is nowhere near fun, but is a critical skill, as opposed to having a light-speed reload, which is nice, but non-essential in the real world.

  • Badwolf

    If you want real training, I recommend Paul Blart. He’s the best.

  • Uniform223

    Here is some food for thought.

  • SpartacusKhan

    I was unaware anyone saw civilian tactical training as anything but fun. I’m not sure how useful any of that would be, especially without regular skill maintenance. Self-defense and advanced CCW classes seem more prudent and applicable. I feel lucky that I have been repeatedly required to be certified in CPR and first-aid/trauma, and I also have training in rigging/rappelling and am certified in open-water rescue. I shoot as often as I can, and draw drill/dry fire every day. My dream training would be long-distance shooting, I’d rather avoid CQB if I can.

  • Bob

    Hmmmm… Well, I guess I will chime in about my training. I had a CCW class taught by a couple of cops who do and did the training for other cops. Also attended their “Advanced Handling Class”, which since I bought books and did some online searching, didn’t hold any surprises for me but served mainly as a test of things I had already tried to learn on my own.

    Also and perhaps more importantly, I have attended numerous Red Cross First Aid and CPR classes. Of course, that was years ago and I should attend some refreshers. Should also take a defensive driving course and such, etc etc.

  • Uniform223

    As a responsible gun owner and user, you should know or at the very least be familiar with the local laws. You should know what your rights are and the possible punishments are. The man was NOT offering legal advice but rather pointing out the abstract. Laws rarely if ever truly black and white no matter what people say or think. You will be judged by your fellow citizens who most likely know as much about the law as you do or less or perhaps more. They don’t know you. They don’t know the situation. Everything that they know is what the lawyers say. Everything that they know is based on their experiences.

    A perfect example of the abstract of people’s interpretations is the 2nd Amendment. For most if not all responsible and legal gun owners, IT IS BLACK AN WHITE.

    +A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed+

    Yet for others it is not. There for, there is a constant argument and debate about it. Every state has its own interpretation of it and there for have their own laws pertaining to the 2nd Amendment. I can go to 10 different lawyers and most likely get 8 different interpretations of the 2nd Amendment.

    Your mindset and the mindset of another person leads to an action/event that will be judged by the mindset of others.

    • Harold

      Precisely. It’s basically a legal crap shoot for anyone involved in a “self defense” shooting because the person shot has his/her story. Don’t forget ever present security cameras and bystander videos. Heck even sworn law enforcement is in the crap shoot now days.

  • Ol’LawDog

    I agree with this article 100%. I have carried a firearm my entire adult life (I’m 52) and have been a multidisciplinary firearms instructor for 20 years. All that “High Speed, Low Drag” stuff goes right out the window if you don’t constantly train with it. And you’re normal person can’t do that and still have a career and a family. Work on the basics, be knowledgeable, know when to fight and when to back away, and KNOW YOUR LIMITATIONS.