Your First Class (Written For Someone New to Gun Ownership)

Let us assume for a moment that you have followed John’s advice in selecting a concealed carry handgun. In the near future I will be posting articles on how to set training goals and how to prepare/what to bring to your first class. In this article, we are going to approach things for the truly BRAND new pistol owner.

Where to Begin?

To someone who is brand new to firearms ownership and wants to get some training accomplished, it’s hard to argue with a course like the NRA Basic Pistol class. I took this class a number of years ago and recall that it covered a wide range of topics. Areas covered included the 4 rules of firearms safety, types of handguns, handgun parts/nomenclature and function, some load/unload procedures, and SOME live fire. The instructors made sure we had some time shooting a revolver and a semi-automatic. In total, I think I fired 10 rounds from each gun (both .22lr caliber, the guns were provided for our use). The class was an all-day affair, about 8 hours as I recall, but was also cheap, at around $30-$40. To find an offering near you, you can visit a local range and ask the staff, or a search of the web will probably reveal one near you.

From my experience, the NRA Basic Pistol class is a good class for someone who knows nothing, or almost nothing, about handguns. Even as a relatively new gun owner at the time, I felt like MOST of the information was review—rather than new—to me. As much as anything, it was good to meet other gun owners in my area, pick the brain of the instructors a bit regarding things like concealed carry, and get my first class under my belt.

Concealed Carry Classes

Concealed carry permits are now available in every state as well as (and I never thought I would say this) the District of Columbia. Most states are what are known as “shall-issue,” others are “may-issue,” and a handful allow what is called “constitutional carry.” If you qualify for a concealed carry permit in your state, then state regulations will probably require you to take some sort of concealed carry class. Since the regulations and laws regarding concealed carry vary from state to state, the material covered in these classes also varies.

In general, these classes usually cover some combination of three different topics. Probably the most important of these subjects is the legal aspects of concealed carry and self-defense. Subtopics might include what “concealed” really means (if your shirt-tail flips back while standing in line at the grocery store, have you just brandished your pistol?) and under what circumstances you can legally shoot someone. A second topic covered might be some actual self-defense or firearm choice advice. Finally, there is usually some type of evaluation done. This could be a pen and paper test, live-fire where you have to hit a target X percentage of the time, or a combination of the two.

As noted, these courses vary quite a bit from one state to another. Thus, some provide more useful instruction than others (and in “constitutional carry” states, no course of any type may be needed). Also of note is that students are often at the mercy of the instructors. What this means is that some instructors just teach what is mandated, while others may include additional, useful information just because they feel that doing the minimum mandated is not enough. Finding offerings of these classes is not terribly difficult. They might advertise on local gun-related forums on the web, at local gun shops/ranges, or the issuing body for your concealed carry permit may be able to point you in the right direction.

Taking It To the Next Level

Realistically, no one should confuse the NRA Basic Pistol class or the various state-mandated concealed carry classes with a class that teaches you how to fight with a handgun. For that, you will need to expand your horizons and-most probably-your purse strings as well.

As gun owners, we live in a lucky time in the training world. Two things have come together in the last 15-20 years that have made this, in my opinion, a golden era in training. The first is, of course, the web. With access to YouTube, gun forums, and connections through social media, we can learn of instructors’ schedules, read reviews, watch video segments of their classes, etc., in order to try to make informed decisions on who to train with. The second element is the fact that the United States military has been involved in several large-scale conflicts, and many now-former soldiers have entered the training community, bringing with them their expertise and mind-set. One caveat of note: this second element, as helpful as it has been, has brought with it some trainers with fake or embellished resumes and others who teach outside their areas of expertise. This is where doing your homework is important.

My own suggestion in your training progression, particularly with the handgun, is to start with some local talent. Even in some of the most extreme anti-gun states, asking around in person at gun shops or ranges, or on web-based forums, can reveal, in short order, the quality people to teach you how to fight with a handgun. Because such instructors are locally-based and lack the “celebrity” of a big name, they will tend to charge you significantly less than the nationally recognized instructors.

If you choose to train with the more nationally recognized instructors, I would still suggest starting local first. Though the big name people tend to be excellent instructors, I have found it helpful to show up with more than a cursory knowledge of firearm use. This can allow you to focus more on the more subtle techniques that they might convey that take you from an average or below average shooter to above average.

Final Thoughts

As noted, in future posts I will talk about setting training goals for yourself. However, the new gun owner or the person just starting a training journey may use this article as a primer. Begin with NRA Basic Pistol, move on to your state’s concealed carry class (as applicable), and then start taking classes on how to FIGHT with a handgun. This should set you up well for your training journey.

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