Where once military and law enforcement dominated the firearms training scene, we now have a vast diversity of backgrounds and experiences represented in the world of firearms instruction. I believe it would be beneficial for training counselors, instructors and students alike to get a deeper understanding of some of the methods from military and law enforcement (LE) training that may successfully crossover into the firearms world … as well as the methods that may need to be altered or abandoned.

Thankfully, Dan Pierson, director of training at Davenport Guns, agreed to ponder and address some of my questions. We began with: “What are some benefits and limitations of military and law enforcement teaching methods?” Following are Dan’s thoughts, experiences and suggestions regarding this topic.

The Benefit of Experience

“The benefit of LE/military experience when it comes to teaching basic firearms courses for the general public is just that: These instructors have at least some experience when it comes to being in a professional setting where guns are involved. This experience, properly applied, can lead to safer and more efficient classes and range sessions for basic students. Outside of this, it becomes a little complicated to capture the benefits and limitations of law enforcement and military training styles because there is huge variety in the amount, type and quality of training and experience for those types of professionals.”

The Limitations of the Minimum

“Outside of special-purpose, direct-action units that train at very high levels (SOF, full-time SWAT in high crime jurisdictions), LE/military training is about one thing: checking the box and achieving the minimum standard. Training to a minimum standard primarily yields mediocrity — mediocrity that goes unchallenged due to the fact that students of .gov firearms training are generally required to be there, when formal training happens at all. A significant amount of training is done in-house with whoever is present and on-shift during training days, usually with little prep time and with the main goal of finishing in time for lunch. This is true for almost any kind of training of rank-and-file LE/military personnel, but firearms training really seems to fall victim to institutional laziness.

Speaking from direct experience, in the regular military, pistol training is almost non-existent and is extremely rudimentary when it does take place. Qualifications allow for missing an entire man-sized target multiple times (the exact number is branch-dependent) and still earning an ‘Expert’ qualification rating.”

The Differences in Civilian Defense

“LE/military instructors often teach from experience or worse, the regurgitated experience of others. There is nothing wrong with using lived experience to reinforce or flesh out any particular lesson. The issue lies in the attempt to copy and paste the mindset, training goals, gear requirements, and tactics, techniques and procedures (TTPs) that one used in their unit or on their SWAT team and then shoehorn them into courses meant for regular people just trying to fit armed self-defense training into the fabric of their already hectic lives.

Some of the best LE/military instructors that teach amazing classes for civilians spend a lot of time thinking about the contextual relevance of the information they are passing along to non-LE/military people. Most of them will readily admit that most of their lived experiences simply don’t apply. John Murphy of FPF Training, Brian Hill of the Complete Combatant, Chris Cypert of Citizens Defense Research, and Matt Landfair of Primary and Secondary are just a few deeply respected thought leaders with LE/military experience. [They] are really taking deep dives into mission analysis and contextual relevance of skills for civilian shooters.”

The Methods that Work

“It becomes easier to simply focus on what works for training the general public than what doesn’t. Get to know your students. Understand to the best of your ability their capabilities and limitations. Never compromise safety, but find an enjoyable way to ease clients into an activity that is, for them, often an extremely stressful activity. Know what you are talking about to a far deeper level than you are teaching it. That means being able to deliver shooting skill that is well within the time/distance/accuracy standards you expect your clients to achieve. That means delivering any kind of instruction on legal concepts with absolute accuracy based on up-to-date knowledge. If you don’t know what you are talking about, either cite the work of someone who does, or don’t discuss that topic.

An instructor’s law enforcement or military career may or may not help them achieve these goals. If it does, great. But if not, it is the responsibility of every individual instructor to make sure they are responsibly teaching these life-safety skills to their clients. These people are betting their lives and futures on the words that are coming out of your mouth.”