Gun Handling: Then, Now, and Tomorrow

Women shooting handguns at Gunsite.

When you look at training today, the face of training has changed since the majority of us began carrying a handgun. At one time, most NRA instructors were Korean War or Vietnam War veterans. Some were drafted and later became peace officers after military service because retirement crossed over and they enjoyed the camaraderie. Civilian instruction was limited to basic handgun and safety classes conducted by the NRA.

Women shooting handguns at Gunsite.
These students are completing a course at Gunsite.

There would have been little to no police training if not for the NRA, beginning with programs in the 1920s to train an increasingly urban and inexperienced police recruit. Beginning with the grassroots movement for concealed carry handgun permits, freedom rang, and these advocates needed training for the CWP. Young readers need to understand that prior to this movement, very few individuals were able to obtain a concealed carry permit.

The “shall issue” permit cannot be denied to a citizen with a clean background and required training. In the old days, a real need had to be shown. The reality was, in most parts of the country, only the well heeled and connected obtained a permit. This meant the politically or financially connected. It was usually New York and Chicago mobsters who obtained gun permits.

This was particularly true in areas in which judges issued or signed off on permits. The current system is not only a result of a great movement for our rights, it is also rooted out of a corrupt system. The new age ushered in a new new mindset that demanded a new type of training.

Instructor and student discussing shooting technique while examining the target.
An instructor must be patient and listen to student’s concerns.

Today, there are thousands of certified instructors across the country. All NRA instructors receive the same training. Their backgrounds, however, differ. You want to find an instructor that sweats pearls for his students. Others work in mysterious ways; they are wonders to behold and must be avoided. The trainer offers a service to the public that has asked for it. When it comes to training, remember, the unglamorous reality is much better than a braggart and saves much heartache.

I interviewed several trainers during the initial research. I have used the best answers—some, even after the extenuation of a factor for age—should have known better. I also learned that genius has no permanent address. There are many good trainers.

Where is training headed?

I asked a trainer in my state who is active in the field about modern training. He replied, “Most students are looking for CWP training. They want to obtain a concealed weapons permit. A smaller number of students realize the need for more advanced training once they receive their CWP. I have seen more interest in training for churches that want to make their facilities and worship centers more secure. I believe there will be an increased interest from churches in security training. I believe that future training will integrate armed and unarmed self defense at the basic and advanced levels.”

Man shooting a 1911 pistol in a concealed weapon permit class.
Make the most of every course. This U.S. Marine shows everyone how to shoot safely, well and fast. The CWP course might have been below his level of competence, but the legal requirement was important and he did his best and finished with a perfect score.

This mirrors my experience. Most, simply wish to get the basics for the CWP. They tend to practice but little on their own. Others wish to be all they can be. This instructor pointed out increasing demands for institutional training. This brings us to the instructor and looking hard at the instructor’s requirements.

You must choose an instructor you feel comfortable with on a personal and professional basis. If you are simply going to get the paper, you have made a mistake. The paper doesn’t really mean a lot except as a symbol of personal development. It isn’t like a degree or state mandated certificate.

The certificate you receive for advanced training simply means you have attended the class and, hopefully, passed. It is your hard work and a good instructor that make the training certificate worth something. If you have been swayed by headlines such as ‘Guns Blazed Again in the Badlands of Anderson County,’ then you may wish to get good training that will save your hide.

Man kneeling in 12 inches of water holding an AR-15 rifle.
How deep do you wish to train?

A training facility that has been in operation for some time is often the best bet. When an instructor with 20 years behind him in either police or military service signs the certificate, it is worth something. I would also ask to see the instructor’s credentials and certificates. Hopefully, he has kept up with the latest developments and attended schools himself.

If you need the CWP and that’s all, another matter, but for a serious learning experience, check the instructors papers. Most instructors—such as my friend Captain Ayoob—offer a tier of courses, beginning at ground level and proceeding to instructor’s courses. Once you begin to climb the ladder, every rung makes you stronger. You need to choose a good instructor to set the proper foundation based on firsthand experience.

Some, like Captain Ayoob, have walked the walk in a police uniform. Chuck Taylor, a respected instructor, commanded a rifle company in Vietnam. Ask whether the instructor well versed in defensive shooting with a great deal of experience? Is his class colored by reality TV? Don’t laugh; many are.

Two men shooting AR-15 rifles while moving through a tactical course.
Increasingly, team tactics are important. Consider attending class with your police or military comrades.

Is the instructor’s background primarily competition shooting or training officers and soldiers? He may be able to teach you how to shoot but not when to shoot. It takes a lot of training, schools, and experience to fill in the blanks for a lack of institutional experience. Frankly, I am not certain it can be done. For a basic safety shooting class perhaps, but not for life and death training. Remember, it is your hard earned money and you can afford to be selective.

Not every state even requires an instructor to obtain liability insurance. You should ask. If they have not invested in this insurance and other training, do not walk away—run.


When considering a firearms course, safety is most important. We have heard of a firearms course in which safety was thrown to the winds—it is documented, not hearsay. An instructor stood in front of students as they practiced trigger control with unloaded firearms. This violated one of the immutable rules of safety—all guns are always loaded.

Another course actually placed students near the berm on the range while his instructors fired into the berm to familiarize the students with incoming fire. I do not think the gentle folk were Navy SEALS, so this was highly uncalled for and dangerous. Never buy into anyone that thinks the safety rules do not apply to them. There is a proper time to walk out of the class.

Bob Campbell demonstrating a two-handed shooting grip.
Training can be enjoyable. We all want to be all we can be.

If the instructor does not know how to wear a gun or wears a cheap, plastic holster that sags on his dress belt, well, he has little experience in personal defense and probably doesn’t carry on a regular basis. Then there are tactical hypochondriacs that carry a high capacity handgun, four spare magazines and two backup handguns. A middle ground is preferred.

If the instructor doesn’t listen to your concerns and questions, it is time to forge ahead and find another instructor. If you end up in the wrong class with the wrong instructor, you are not the Lone Ranger. Many of us have wasted good money. It is part of the game. However, doing your research reduces the chances of a misstep.

The teacher should be well spoken. Some folks have good skills and try to impart these upon their students. However, that does not mean the instructor can articulate the technical elements necessary. If an instructor isn’t patient with students, or monopolizes the class time with war stories—some tales are beneficial, some are not—then you are listening to a legend in his own mind.

Anyone—like me—who has 20 years of service (or more) has a story to illustrate every type of mistake. However, if in each case he made the crooks and the fellow cops look like morons, well, he may be less than truthful. If these war stories do not contain instances of his own mistakes, or when he had his butt kicked at least a little, he and I went to a different church or walked a different beat. His may have been fictional. I have been around long enough to know, when someone seeks to deceive, well, I am not clinical material.

What was the best training you  have received? What made the training great? Share your tips or lessons learned in the comment section.


About the Author:

Bob Campbell

Bob Campbell’s primary qualification is a lifelong love of firearms, writing, and scholarship. He holds a degree in Criminal Justice but is an autodidact in matters important to his readers. Campbell considers unarmed skills the first line of defense and the handgun the last resort. (He gets it honest- his uncle Jerry Campbell is in the Boxer’s Hall of Fame.)

Campbell has authored well over 6,000 articles columns and reviews and fourteen books for major publishers including Gun Digest, Skyhorse and Paladin Press. Campbell served as a peace officer and security professional and has made hundreds of arrests and been injured on the job more than once.

He has written curriculum on the university level, served as a lead missionary, and is desperately in love with Joyce. He is training his grandchildren not to be snowflakes. At an age when many are thinking of retirement, Bob is working a 60-hour week and awaits being taken up in a whirlwind many years in the future.

Published in
Black Belt Magazine
Combat Handguns
Rifle Magazine
Gun Digest
Gun World
Tactical World
SWAT Magazine
American Gunsmith
Gun Tests Magazine
Women and Guns
The Journal Voice of American Law Enforcement
Police Magazine
Law Enforcement Technology
The Firearms Instructor
Tactical World
Concealed Carry Magazine
Concealed Carry Handguns

Books published

Holsters for Combat and Concealed Carry
The 1911 Automatic Pistol
The Handgun in Personal Defense
The Illustrated Guide to Handgun Skills
The Hunter and the Hunted
The Gun Digest Book of Personal Defense
The Gun Digest Book of the 1911
The Gun Digest Book of the 1911 second edition
Dealing with the Great Ammunition Shortage
Commando Gunsmithing
The Ultimate Book of Gunfighting
Preppers Guide to Rifles
Preppers Guide to Shotguns
The Accurate Handgun
The Mission of Cheaper Than Dirt!'s blog, The Shooter's Log, is to provide information—not opinions—to our customers and the shooting community. We want you, our readers, to be able to make informed decisions. The information provided here does not represent the views of Cheaper Than Dirt!

Comments (7)

  1. Well said. I received my first CCW training from several San Bernardino County (Calif.) Sheriff’s Deputies — that was the only training accepted for a CCW permit. It was good, but focused on legal aspects of defensive shooting (very important) and very little on actual shooting and defensive tactics.
    I also took and passed John and Vicki Farnam’s basic combat pistol course — twice. I learned a lot from them. Their teaching methods were (and I presume still are)thorough but relaxed. Theirs is a “hot” range and it was the students’ responsibility to have their pistol loaded and ready at all times. That is not to say that safety rules were not observed — they most certainly were! John and Vicki probably still tell stories about that silly guy with the compact 10mm pistol!

    1. A heavy emphasis on the laws surrounding carrying and using a firearm is a good requirement for any mandated training course. After safety (always #1), the #2 priority for anyone carrying a firearm is understanding when you can (and can’t) use it.

      At this point many would spout the old platitude “better to be tried by twelve than carried by six”, and in an absolute sense they’re right. However, avoiding both of those outcomes is better still.

    2. Adam,

      Good observations. And true. Those that spout such comments have never spent time in a cell with Studs McDick.

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