Instructors: The Good, Bad, and Downright Dangerous

By Bob Campbell published on in How To, Safety and Training

Over the past few months, threads and discussion have often become a lively debate on choosing instructors and the merits of training in anti-terror tactics. This article addresses many of these discussions. Not surprisingly, an honest appraisal of the current situation finds the author coming up short in certain areas, and willing to admit it.

Woman shooting a carbine

At close range practice and the proper technique carries the contest.

As a writer, instructor, and part-time professor, when it comes to crime, ballistics, criminal psychology, and firearms instruction, I have many years of study and experience. I cannot afford a mistake. I know my limitations. As an example, a relative recently asked for my take on the psychology behind a certain form of aberrant behavior, and the likely outcome of an individual’s actions. I explained that any reply I had would be based on secondhand experience, as I had neither study nor experience to back up any statement.

My minor course of study in psychology, while earning a degree in criminal justice, and my continuing study was based on criminal psychology. My relative was surprised. Normally, ‘experts’ are ready with an opinion—whether they have experience or not. As another example, a friend recently retired from 30 years of service with the Defense Security Service (DSS).

Vivian holds a masters degree in psychology. We often discussed our common experience and agreed that people who are mentally ill today are more profoundly ill (and evil) than 30 years ago. After all, did you ever hear of the many people killing their children or leaving them to die in a hot car so long ago? No. And, as always, the government replies with ridiculous ineffective measures such as car alarms that will be coming into general use in several years.

INstrustor demonstrating how to disarm a suspect

Hands on with a student builds skills. Be certain to use fake guns!

The type of thing that makes people happy—who have never had a real problem—isn’t very effective. The criminal population deemed active has remained the same, or we would be in utter chaos. However, their modus operandi has changed. It was common in my time for burglars to pee or poop in the victim’s home during a burglary. They almost never do this anymore because while criminals range from cretins to morons, even they realize that DNA testing will get them nailed to the wall.

Another rule I was taught was that criminals are only comfortable attacking and burglarizing one social step above their own status, and the poor suffered the most from predators. This isn’t true any longer. Burglars do not case homes in the same manner either. Today, the gang includes utility workers, door-to-door salesmen, cable employees, and others to case the house. The real crew then enters your home or business with good information. Therefore, they know what they are coming for. Be careful with your associations.

This look at my outdated knowledge in criminal justice brings me to firearms instruction. Was my opinion and instruction also dated? We have many good NRA-trained instructors. To some of us, it seems a good thing to have an instructor with police or military experience. There is a finality in lethal encounters that should be imparted to the student. Those who have been in the action, or close to it, are best at communicating this knowledge to the student.

I have an answer to most questions and can make a good argument for my conclusions. The best gunfight is always the one avoided. Peace officers are close to the action; they see, and they are aware of the permanent damage to a life after such a battle. This is often true. As is often stressed, the consequence of a gunfight—for the winner—isn’t pretty.

Bob Campbell wearing a red sweatshirt shooting a pistol one handed

Choose an instructor that isn’t afraid to demonstrate the more difficult drills.

At the same time, I have to call upon personal experience and that of my colleagues. We agree, a person who knows right from wrong, and has a positive mindset, often survives a lethal encounter without lingering psychological effects. A good moral compass certainly is an advantage.

Most police veterans in my circle of friends and associates are free from mental stress as regards the necessary actions they have endured, and at least outwardly, carry their scars well. They are prepared, mentally and physically, for the worst. Most of the police veterans are in good mental shape and enjoying retirement. We must be prepared both mentally and physically for the worst case and for potentially lethal encounters.

My observations do not change the fact that gunfights are best avoided. Some fare well after the fight. The risk to the mental health of a combatant may be overstated. In fact, it may cause the shooter to hesitate at the worst possible moment.

I think inquiring about the instructor’s experience is worthwhile. I consider my own experience in critical incidents. The last fight for my life was 15 years ago. As far as investigating and interviewing the aftermath of such incidents, most are even older. The majority of the times in which I was injured—I have two knife scars, a number of scarred knuckles, and defensive wounds on both arms—are 30 years in the past.

Woman demonstrating shooting drills

Instructor Brittany Caton demonstrates firing drills.

Perhaps, I was able to learn from the incidents and did not repeat them. I knew a fraction of what I know now. However, I was in good physical condition, and a good shot who fired as many as 500 hundred rounds a month.

I also knew right from wrong, and the people I dealt with reinforced this. When they are wrong and you are right, it makes things much easier. Today, I am in the best condition of any 60-year old man in the office—or so my doctor tells me. However, I have to work much harder for the same goals, and I am not as strong as I once was. My present goals are to climb the 780 steps at Notre Dame and walk the beach at Freeport. So, is it my life experience or education that is the greatest value?

We have joked about the Pope giving advice on sex—a matter in which a celibate man has no experience. There are many competent driving instructors who have not raced nor experienced a major accident. So, why do I demand instructors to have police or military experience? Because, police and military instructors have an institutional integrity of purpose that is demanded for critical training.

I am serious concerning training. I was trained, not for personal defense, but public safety. That means I wish to limit stray bullets. Many students wish to earn their paper with the least effort possible. Too many instructors accommodate. Most students just want to counter a bad guy at close range or a bad dog. I think a higher standard is advisable.

Student on the firing line Gunsite academt

These folks are getting excellent instruction from GunSite.

If that higher standard is desirable to you, then it is important to have the best instructor. I think the best possible instructor is important even at the beginner level. I believe that an all-around shooter cannot rely upon a single teacher, but should absorb instruction from a number of schools. Many of my skills were learned from distance education reading Jeff Cooper, Bill Jordan, and others.

One instructor was particularly hard on me—difficult and profane. I learned a great deal from him, although I would never treat a student in this manner. So, my advice stands. Choose an instructor with police or military experience, one with a bit of gray hair, capable of shooting, and who has maintained his physical stamina to the best of his ability.

When to Walk Away

  • When the instructor is wearing a thin dress belt and hangs the cheapest plastic holster on it. (Saw this)
  • When the instructor brags about his choice of holster gun—a Colt .32 Auto. (Saw this and all the others.)
  • When the instructor chooses a female 50 pounds his lighter to demonstrate hands on drills and takedowns.
  • When the instructor is too obese to demonstrate drills.

Run Away

  • When any firearm used in demonstration, or tactics, is pointed at a student. Morons such as these have killed students. Sure, you can say it is dedicated to training, you are a professional, and it is loaded with blanks—you are an idiot.
  • When the class requires the students to stand at the target line while instructors fire at the targets, so you will become used to incoming fire. Unless you are wearing a badge that says Ranger, SEAL, Force Recon, or perhaps IDF, you are in the wrong place.
  • If there is alcohol on the range.

What do you look for in an instructor? What is the best tip or worst idea you heard during a firearms training course. Share your answers in the comment section.

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Comments (45)

  • Patrick Soule

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    Not germane to the context of the original post, but could the respondents take an extra minute to actually read what they wrote? Then correct their spelling, punctuation and such? Am I perfect each and every time in my writing? No, but I at least use spell check.

    No, perfect spelling, grammar, and punctuation will not make the pertinent information in the post more relevant, but it will undoubtedly make it easier to read.

    Reply

    • PaulWVa

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      You shouldn’t have put a comma after “grammar” …..

      Reply

  • TacticalAnt

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    “Run away”. Back in the 90’s i worked a volinteer branch of Okaloosa Co. Sheriffs dept in Florida. Part of the training to get qualified to carry a sidearm was for all the students to stand in a circle and practice their dry fire training on the student oposite of themselves! This was the same training instructor and protocoll for the full time deputies. My point is, even if your instructor has LE/Mil experience, gray hair, the right belt, holster, and pistol, etc., be critical of them and don’t compromise on Coopers well established universal firearms safety laws.Still to this day I shake my head at myself for participating in this “sanctioned” nonsense. I should have “run away”!

    Reply

  • PaulWVa

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    I took my CC class, for my permit, from an old friend, high school crush from the 70s. A beautiful, personable, experienced (?) female NRA instructor. Her 3hr class taught little to nothing. She seemed to just be going through the motions to get it over with. But once she told a young lady to concentrate on her rear sight for close shots and front sight for long shots I had to cringe and walk away. After the painful class and range session my friend who attended with me said, ” You could have taught those people more in 30 minutes than she did in 3 hours.” Oh well … at least we got the paperwork done for our permits.

    Reply

  • JEFF ROSS

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    Great article. Character. Conditioning. Confidence. Prerequisites for best practices and deciding when the hammer falls. Conversely, there is no way of deciding how much you are willing to loose until you have lost it. The ultimate catch 22. You will never know until it’s over and then it’s too late. After that, the deed has cumulative not additive value. Maybe additional reaction time in another gunfight. But, life as its own reward is not any more kind in self defense than social media. The mind tends to snapshot the event and people do not let you forget. The reasons for the event are lost in the life created as something else altogether. I have no idea what I could loose again.

    Reply

  • Chuck McCormick

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    There are reasons any officer, after using deadly force, is required to attend counseling. As a retired state trooper, I know several top notch officers that have quit or request transfer after these incidents. Even experienced troopers were often troubled by taking a human life, even if justified.
    When the hammer falls all other options are gone. This thought alone has cost many their own lives. In my opinion practice, practice, practice is mandatory. As carry/conceal instructor many are disillusioned when I tell them, in my state deadly force is never justified to halt a property offense. If they are stealing your car battery, don’t shoot. If they are using that battery to beat your head in, shoot. I remind my students of this every class I teach. Know the law, know your ability, then decide.
    A jury has time to decide your fate. You have a split second to decide.

    Reply

  • TomC

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    Hmmm…. I hadn’t thought of that.

    I’ll have to start keeping a pair of flip flops in the car for those occasions when I am at a public range and want to get rid of the pompous windbag using the next firing point.

    Reply

  • TomC

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    One more point to add to the author’s list of “run away” indicators:
    Anyone who calls himself an “Operator”

    Reply

    • 70's Operator

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      Just the vernacular of the day my friend. Long shot specialist and sniper are much overused. Its just a handle that describes training and experiences without the need of a complete explanation. Such as Force Recon Marine. I already know where his comments come from and how they are tempered without having to have a long discussion about his life.
      Anyway….have a good one.

      Reply

  • Force Recon Marine

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    Indeed sound advice from a professional Great article Bob

    Reply

    • Bob Campbell

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      That means a lot.
      Thanks for reading.

      Reply

  • JJPrize

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    Very much agree with the intended message, however there are a couple of small items that may unintentionally confuse the issue greatly.

    The first regards “As is often stressed, the consequence of a gunfight—for the winner—isn’t pretty.” ..just from what I’ve seen over the years as a non-expert in this field I think it almost seems more appropriate to say there are no “winners” when it comes to any sort of physical confrontation (outside of intentional sporting events) — there are only those who survive.

    The second regards: “A good moral compass certainly is an advantage.” While I agree it probably helps deal with the psychological aftereffects, it’d seems more and more that’s about all it may be helpful for given that the letter of the law is all matters (assuming the letter itself doesn’t get corrupted in the aftermath) when it comes to dealing with the repercussions.

    So while I vastly appreciate the article, I tend to think that a mindset of “How much am I willing to lose by intervening vs. not intervening?” might just be an appropriate one for those learning personal defense as a civilian since it’s most likely any survivors of a gunfight will still lose something. (even in the most justified case they’re still likely to lose any personal uncertainty about whether or not they capable of killing another human being).

    Reply

  • JJPrize

    |

    Very agree with the intended message though there are a couple of small items that may unintentionally confuse the issue greatly.

    The first regards “As is often stressed, the consequence of a gunfight—for the winner—isn’t pretty.” ..just from what I’ve seen over the years as a non-expert in this field I think it almost seems more appropriate to say there are no “winners” when it comes to any sort of physical confrontation (outside of intentional sporting events) — there are only those who survive.

    The second regards: “A good moral compass certainly is an advantage.” While I agree it probably helps deal with the psychological aftereffects, it’d seems more and more that’s about all it may be helpful for as it seems that the letter of the law is all matters (assuming the letter itself doesn’t get corrupted in the aftermath).

    So while I vastly appreciate the article, I tend to think that a mindset of “How much am I willing to lose by intervening vs. not intervening?” might just be an appropriate one for those learning personal defense as a civilian since it’s most likely any survivors of a gunfight will still lose something. (even in the most justified case they’re still likely to lose any personal uncertainty about whether or not they capable of killing another human being).

    Reply

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