The Truth About Handgun Training

After having been a professional firearms instructor for many years and training thousands of individuals, including current and former law enforcement, military, security, and civilians, I have gained some invaluable insights from my students and my instructor experience. This article will focus on handguns, primarily carrying or using them for self-defense purposes. While it is true that anyone can pick up a loaded gun, point it and squeeze the trigger, proper training is still important.

What is even more important, however, is the experience, knowledge, and flexibility the instructor possesses. Over the years, I have grown much less rigid in my teaching techniques and have come to learn through my students that there is more than one way to do almost everything when it comes to handgun training. Sure, the fundamentals are the fundamentals, but it’s their application that may differ and still accomplish the same positive result.

Teaching the fundamentals is always fun because some literature outline five, while others outline six or seven fundamentals. The truth is, there are only two: aiming and trigger control; however, it is the way in which the instructor teaches “aiming” and “trigger control” that matter most. Also, it matters what proficiency level the students are and what the goal of the class is. For example, teaching basic students, I would say that part of aiming is to focus on the front sight, but, teaching advanced students, I would say that the circumstances dictate what your focus is on. While teaching trigger control, some instructors tend to inundate students with examples of what it means to control to the trigger and “how” to do it. But the truth is simplicity works much better when it comes to teaching the fundamentals.

Those are some rudimentary example of how different teaching methods can affect the overall outcome and success of a handgun training class. Also, there are many instructors who will “force” students to do exactly as they say, that is to grip the pistol exactly as instructed to do so and/or to stand in a particular way, and that is not conducive to a great learning experience, especially for beginners. Handgun training needs to be serious enough to be safe, but it also should be laid back enough to be fun. I believe this to be true even at a law enforcement level.

We have also trained many current and former law enforcement who have bad habits, but, if they seem to be safe and hit the target, we don’t “force” them to change what works for them. Many cadets in the regional criminal justice academies have never shot a handgun before and are exposed for the first time by law enforcement instructors. This can be a double-edged sword because on one side you have a great deal of experience, but on the other you have a lack of flexibility in training application. Unfortunately, this inflexibility can lead to a lack of safety because the programs are so rigid.

For example, the number of officers I have seen with their baton touching the grip of their handgun or carrying horizontal magazine pouches is ridiculous. I would bet that when they qualify their baton and magazine pouches are not configured in the same manner as when they are on duty. This is due to the rigidness of their training programs coupled with budget constraints (in other words some officers need further training but it’s not “in the budget”). All of our security officers are required to have the same on-duty belt configuration as they do during their range qualifications, and I believe for safety reasons, that requirement should to be implemented for law enforcement as well.

When considering the three main types of firearms: handguns, shotguns, and rifles, it is my professional opinion that a handgun is inherently the safest, yet, we seem to hear about “accidental” shootings with handguns more than any other weapon type. Why is that? A lack of training.

Receiving professional training is extremely important for your safety and the safety of others. Sometimes having your buddy or a family member train you are not nearly as effective as training with a stranger. Above all though, is safety. Throughout the years, I’ve heard “Always treat every weapon as if it was loaded” touted as the cardinal rule of gun safety. Truth is, that is not a rule at all because it does not dictate any specific action and is only a mindset that cannot be applied by a beginner. For example, if I placed a handgun, baseball bat, and knife on a table then randomly asked ten people to pick the weapon, answers would differ. Also, if I asked a person who has never handled a firearm before to “treat it as if were loaded” they would likely not touch it at all; whereas, an experienced person would point it in a safe direction, clear it (if necessary), and place it down with the action open, breech up (if possible).

The truth is, many firearm training programs miss the mark (no pun intended) when it comes to teaching safety. And, if you’ve ever taken a firearms training class but cannot answer the following question without providing examples such as downrange or down, I suggest taking a class with us. I promise you won’t be disappointed!

What is a safe direction?