Yes, you read that right. Here are a few of the questions I’ve seen posted on social media sites in just the past week:
- “My mom wants to get her CCW permit for Christmas. Who offers the lowest priced course?”
- “Can anyone tell me more about the online Virginia CCW course? I like the idea of being able to just pass an online test and get a non-resident permit, and it looks like I can get it real cheap.”
- “Where can I get a fast, cheap CCW class in the St. Louis area?”
- “Who has the best price on a concealed carry permit class?”
I think you get the idea. You could probably look through gun forums and gun pages on social media sites and find hundreds of similar questions from just the last couple weeks alone.
Folks, I get it. Money is tight for everyone. There are a hundred different things we have to spend our money on each month: car payments, rent, mortgage, insurance, food, clothing, gas, utilities, entertainment, etc. Add in the fact that Christmas is nearly here and money gets even tighter due to the fact that we want to buy all of our friends and loved ones such nice gifts.
Still, I think when it comes time to seek out training that, potentially, can help keep you out of (or land you in) jail, we should probably place a little more emphasis on other factors and a little less emphasis on “quick and cheap”. And this is where I believe a lot of people that are new to firearms, new to shooting, new to training, and new to the idea of carrying a firearm on their person for personal defense, go wrong. They simply have no prior experience upon which to base their decision making process, so they revert back to the same criteria they use to make many other choices in their lives – “quick and cheap”.
First, I think it’s important to have some understanding of what a “CCW class” typically consists of. While most states have some slightly different requirements, most I am familiar with mandate a very basic firearms safety class with some variety of legal presentation thrown into the mix. These classes usually involve instruction in the mechanical aspects and operation of firearms and ammunition, safe gun handling practices, basic shooting fundamentals, and in the case of the Missouri-compliant class, a pretty in-depth look at our Use of Force and Weapons laws. Oftentimes, the state will mandate the class take a certain amount of time (8 hours minimum here in Missouri) to complete, and that they include some type of live-fire qualification. The state will also generally specify what kind of credentials the instructor must have before being approved to teach the curriculum – and these credentialing requirements are often minimal.
So we’re not talking about rocket science or brain surgery here. These classes are generally designed to help ensure that the student has obtained enough competency to not shoot him/herself or another innocent party with the gun because of unsafe handling, and has a good enough understanding of the legal considerations involved with owning, operating, and using a firearm so that he or she doesn’t end up doing something negligent or unlawful with it. And while we can certainly argue the finer details of each state’s requirements, for the most part, these are exactly the kind of classes a new gun owner should avail him or herself of. It’s important for them to have at least a basic understanding of how the firearm operates, how ammunition functions, how to handle a firearm safely, and a basic understanding of legal considerations.
Next, I think we need to try to define exactly what it is that constitutes competent instruction. As we just talked about, the curriculum itself isn’t really too complex. It focuses on BASIC nomenclature, BASIC skills, and BASIC legal concepts. It doesn’t require 4 years of college and a degree to be able to properly teach this stuff. What it does take, however, is dedication, determination, desire, professionalism, and the ability to be able to truly help new shooters develop solid basic shooting skills. And this is more difficult than you may think. I’ve trained over a hundred new instructors over the past several years. Based on my observations and experience, I can unequivocally tell you that people aren’t just born with an innate ability to recognize and diagnose major flaws in execution that new shooters often exhibit – much less the ability to recognize and diagnose subtle, minor flaws in execution. And even when a trainer does recognize or diagnose a problem, that doesn’t mean he or she will understand what is needed to correct the problem, much less be able to convey what needs to be done to make the correction in a competent, easy-to-understand manner. It takes a lot of effort and a lot of experience to truly get good at working with new shooters – and you can be damn sure that it takes a lot of dedication on the part of the trainer to actually put forth the time and effort that each student in the class needs and deserves.
The same thing applies to the informational instruction that takes place in the classroom. Sure, anyone can read from a book and explain to you how to operate a firearm, but quality training involves multiple delivery methods including logical, easy-to-understand explanations, competent and accurate demonstrations, and then ample opportunities for the student to actually put the instruction into practice under the watchful eye of the trainer in order to enable the skill development process to take place. And when we start talking about the legal aspects of the class, the ability of the instructor to convey accurate, legitimate information in an easy-to-understand format is even more important. The fact is that most instructors have a fairly poor understanding of how statutory law works. They simply haven’t dedicated enough time and resources into developing a true understanding of the sections of law they are required to teach. Again, anyone can read statutes from a piece of paper, but that doesn’t equate to a practical understanding, especially when you consider the “legalese” that most statutory law is written in. It takes a lot of time and study, and typically a lot of consultation with attorneys and other legal professionals, to truly develop a good understanding of any given section of statutory law. Now some instructors avoid this trap by hiring an attorney to teach the legal portion of the class, but at the typical $150 – $200 per hour rate for a competent attorney, you’re not likely to find that in a “quick and cheap” class. Likewise, if you are dealing with an instructor who has invested the time and money that it takes to develop a good understanding of the law, you’re going to find that they place more value on their time than what “quick and cheap” allows for.
So I think it’s safe to say that competent instruction can only be provided by the dedicated professional that has obtained high-quality instructor development training, who is well practiced in the accurate delivery of the curriculum, who has enough experience under his or her belt to have developed the ability to recognize, diagnose, and subsequently correct typical problems new shooters encounter, who has invested enough time and money to develop a solid understanding of statutory law, and who continues to further his or her education so as to continue to improve and grow as an instructor. These, I believe, are the bare minimum attributes you should demand from an instructor, even when we are talking about “just a CCW class”. And they should be tangible. Your instructor should be happy to answer questions, provide references, discuss his or her qualifications, and provide you with information about his or her class PRIOR to you laying down any of your hard earned money.
So how does “quick and cheap” fit in here? In reality, it doesn’t. We’ve already concluded that, while the curriculum is fairly basic, it is still very important. Additionally, we’ve discussed what it takes to deliver this very important curriculum in a competent manner. The truth is, a high-quality instructor is going to insist on delivering a high-quality class. That means this instructor likely has thousands of dollars of his or her own money, and hundreds of hours of his or her time, invested into everything it takes to bring you that high-quality class. This instructor has high-quality firearms available to use for demonstrations and for his or her students to use on the range. This instructor provides high-quality, reliable ammunition for his or her students to use. This instructor uses the proper targets as specified by the statutory requirements. This instructor has quality eye and ear protection on hand for every student in attendance. This instructor has obtained and maintains professional liability insurance. This instructor has a legitimate, proper trauma kit on hand and has at least obtained basic first aid and CPR training. This instructor provides some variety of student manual or handbook, usually one that he or she has written and published on his or her own, to every student in the class. This instructor keeps his or her class size down to a safe, manageable size and considers that it takes additional time to provide each student with the one-on-one interaction that the student needs and deserves.
With all of that said, this is the hierarchy of considerations I recommend when trying to decide on a class to attend:
- What credentials does the instructor have? Do they meet the minimum the state requires? Do they exceed the minimum? In what way? Are they relevant to the type of instruction this person is providing? When do they expire? What does it take to maintain them? Remember, minimum credentials don’t arbitrarily mean you won’t get quality training. Likewise, credentials that exceed the minimum don’t arbitrarily mean you will receive high-quality training. But it might tell you something about the emphasis this instructor places on continuing education. It might also be a good idea to check with whatever entity in your state (perhaps the local sheriff, state police, or some type of public safety administration) that is responsible for approving instructors, to make sure he or she is on that approved list.
- How long has the instructor been providing this kind of instruction? Just because the instructor is “new” doesn’t mean he or she is bad. Likewise, just because an instructor has “been doing this for years”, doesn’t mean he or she is good. Still, you want to get some idea as to how long this person has been providing instruction. If it’s been “years”, then it might be good to know approximately how many of these classes this person has taught and to how many students. If it’s been “only a few months”, then it might be a good idea to know who they took their instructor training from and look into that entity to try to get an idea as to what kind of quality this entity demands from it’s trainers.
- What relevant experience does this instructor have? Was he or she a competitive shooter? Did he or she work with a group like BSA? Was this person ever in law enforcement or the military? Do they have some other relevant experiences? Keep in mind that experience in ANY of these fields does not guarantee competent instruction, but it could tell you something about the integrity of this person.
- Request at least two student references and two professional references. A professional trainer should have no problem with providing a few legitimate references you can check on. In fact, a true professional likely has dozens of former students and professional colleagues that are more than happy to speak on his or her behalf and vouch for the quality of instruction that he or she provides. Do your homework and actually check these references! And if your instructor refuses to provide them or gives you the run around, that may be a good reason to start looking elsewhere.
- Ask about the class he or she provides. Will the curriculum meet all of the legal requirements for your state? Is the instructor qualified to teach the legal portion of the class, or does he or she hire an attorney to conduct the legal presentation? How many students does he or she normally have in these classes? Is there plenty of time for hands-on instruction in the classroom before the students are expected to begin any live-fire instruction? Does the instructor make it a point to work with each student one-on-one during the live-fire portion of the class? If the answer to any of these questions is “no”, or if it seems as though the instructor is trying to cram too many people into the class, once again, it may be time to start looking elsewhere.
- Does the instructor have a current professional liability insurance policy? Does he or she keep a proper trauma kit nearby during the class and does he or she, or someone else who will be present for the instruction, have basic first aid and/or BLS skills, and CPR skills? If not, why? Again, perhaps it’s time to start looking elsewhere.
- Lastly, how much does the class cost? Expect high quality to cost more than “quick and cheap”, and not only be willing to pay it, but demand that you get it in exchange for your payment! Keep in mind that the amount of overhead varies for each instructor. An instructor that owns his or her own classroom and range facility might well be able to offer high quality instruction at a lower price than the instructor that has to pay a local gun club for classroom and range rental. That doesn’t mean you should avoid the higher priced class necessarily, but it is definitely a factor to consider. If the class seems like it is priced substantially below most of the others in the market, there is usually a reason for it, and you may want to approach it with skepticism. Likewise, if the class is priced unusually high, it might be good to ask why. If the instructor replies, “…because in my class we go way beyond the basics…”, it may be time to back up and start your search over again. Yes, you will eventually need to go “beyond the basics”, but you need to start with a solid foundation. Additionally, if the curriculum is being taught correctly, there simply isn’t enough time in a day to properly cover all of the state mandated curriculum and still go “way beyond the basics”, so you can be pretty sure this instructor is cutting some corners somewhere along the way.
Yes, I know a lot of you are probably thinking that this is an awful lot of trouble to go through just for a CCW class. And I get it. The easy thing to do is take the first “quick and cheap” class that you find, and say “to hell” with the quality of the instruction. But you are setting yourself up for potentially catastrophic future problems if you do. Additionally, you can use these same basic criteria to help you select training classes and instructors as you continue your training journey – and this can save you THOUSANDS of wasted dollars and HUNDREDS of wasted hours! Remember that a CCW class is the first baby step in what should be a life-long journey. Developing good habits of due diligence now, will provide you with big rewards as time goes on.
As always, stay safe!
Chris, Thank you! Not 30 minutes before I read this I had a conversation with my adult daughter about how much training my wife and I went through before purchasing a handgun, and then more training before and after the Texas CHL class. I told her that the minimum required training was not enough, and that untrained or under-trained concealed carry individuals frighten me more than most of the possible “bad guy encounter” scenarios I envision. I would tell individuals who are legally qualified to certainly arm themselves and get the CCW license, but FIRST get extensive training in safe handling of hardware and all the other aspects of the possible use of deadly force (legal, psychological, and so on). It’s what a truly responsible individual would do.
Thanks for taking the time to reply, John. Indeed, training and preparedness is a lifelong journey. We have a responsibility to be safe, proficient, and competent with our firearms. It’s good to see folks like you who take that responsibility seriously!