You can learn all sorts of interesting tidbits in concealed carry classes. Like, for instance, that hollow-point bullets are like “whirling fan blades of death.” Hold that thought for a hot second.

When I moved to South Carolina, I needed to get a South Carolina resident Concealed Weapons Permit. Even though I had taken classes in Florida, I had to take the state-mandated concealed carry course for South Carolina. At the time, there was a legal requirement that the class had to be at least eight hours in duration. At least the state certified the instructors, so I figured that the quality of instruction would be reasonable. Well … not exactly.

My first carry instructor spent six of the eight hours telling us how good a gunfighter he was. In between claims he could beat any of us in a gunfight because he “wasn’t afraid of incoming fire” and would, therefore, take his time to aim and take us out with one shot, he spoke of how hollow-point bullets “expanded in midair to an inch or two across, like whirling fan blades of death.” Yes, this is a true story. When I had to retake the class four years later because I missed my renewal date, one of the “instructors” offered to take toe prints of the ladies because he had a foot fetish.

The moral of this story is simple: Finding a concealed carry class is easy. Finding a good one? Not so much.

The internet is full of concealed carry training nightmares. You’ll hear about schools where the instructors have knowledge but no teaching skills. Others claim to have knowledge and experience but don’t. Still others are outright dangerous. Ever hear the stories where students are placed downrange to “get used to” incoming fire? So, how do you go about finding a reputable class? Here are some suggestions to get you started.

Go National

There are good instructors in most cities, but it takes a bit more research to sort out the great ones. If you want top-notch instruction, you can always go to a name-brand school. Consider locations such as Shootrite Firearms Academy, Rangemaster Firearms Training Services or Thunder Ranch. Some programs, such as the Lethal Force Institute, take their classes on the road to gun clubs across the country.

Three men standing on an outdoor shooting range, all with eye and ear protection. The man in the red polo is the range safety officer (RSO). He is supervising an instructor in a black polo shirt and khaki tactical pants work with a student wearing a navy blue polo shirt who is aiming a stainless-steel semi-automatic pistol downrange at a cardboard silhouette target, behind which is an earthen berm and bright blue sky.

Local Gun Stores and Clubs

Try talking to staff at a retail store that doesn’t operate its own range. They’re likely to know of good training programs and instructors and won’t be motivated to sell their own services. Members of local gun clubs can also provide quality referrals.

Some ranges will offer training of their own, but that’s precisely what subjected me to the two horror stories mentioned previously. There are plenty of ranges that offer excellent instruction … just be sure to ask around first.

Ask Your Local Police

In most places, the local officers on the street aren’t hostile to concealed carry and generally welcome a citizen’s commitment to obtaining quality training. Here, I’ve found that some local officers teach classes of their own. Even if they don’t, they generally hear which classes and instructors are solid and which aren’t.

If you don’t know any local officers directly, ask your friends to see if they do. If that doesn’t get you a connection, you can always walk into a local station and ask if anyone has knowledge in that area. Just explain that you want to find safe and reputable training. Perhaps you might ask them where they would send their family members. It bears mentioning, though: Never carry a firearm into the police station.

Look for a USCCA Certified Instructor

The USCCA operates a certified instructor network. A teacher with USCCA certifications has to attend and pass an instructor class to get those credentials, so you know that experts have vetted the person. You can search for USCCA Certified Instructors in your area.

References – With a Catch

No matter which method you choose to research a concealed carry class, always, always, always check references from previous students. If none of your friends or acquaintances have taken the course, ask the instructor to provide references to you. He or she can’t give up students’ names without permission, but the good ones will have a list of prior students who have agreed to serve as references.

Here’s the catch: When you talk to someone about the quality of the class, be sure to ask him or her what other training he or she has had. Someone who has only ever taken that one course may have had an enjoyable experience but has no frame of reference to compare the legitimacy. Talk to multiple official or unofficial references before making your decision. It’s your life on the line, after all, so you have every right to vet your instructor and the class content carefully.