There is a quote attributed to the late Colonel John Dean “Jeff” Cooper (founder of Gunsite and creator of the Modern Technique of the Pistol) that should resonate with all citizens who choose to exercise their Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms: “Owning a handgun doesn’t make you armed any more than owning a guitar makes you a musician.”
Carrying a firearm is a tremendous responsibility along with being a right, and those who accept this responsibility without proper training may be setting themselves up as a liability to society instead of an asset. The National Rifle Association is a great resource for structured, formal firearms training.
In addition to NRA training, there are a number of independent instructors who travel the country teaching their own unique perspectives on marksmanship, gun handling, and tactics. Successfully hosting a firearms training class by one of these independent instructors is not difficult, but it requires good communications skills, persistence, a bit of organization, and the ability to responsibly handle thousands of dollars of someone else’s money.
Find a Venue
The first step in successfully hosting a firearms training class is to locate a suitable venue in your area. Normally this is a gun range, but even if the class is not a live-fire evolution, you still need to find an area that will accommodate Simunition or Airsoft training. Ideally you already have a relationship with a gun club that you have been a member of for some time, but you may need to go out there and break new ground.
Talk with the appropriate personnel at the facility and ensure that they understand what you are asking to accomplish. Be prepared to offer a general description of a firearms training class. Find out what range rental fees are, and if they are fixed or if there is a charge per student. Determine if the facility has target stands or if they will need to be provided. Ask if there are any restrictions on shooting steel targets. Establish if the club requires any special documentation of the trainer’s insurance information, and if they require students to sign any liability waivers. In some cases, the club actually requires the trainer to become a member of the club!
Find out if clubhouse or classroom facilities are available, along with restroom facilities. If the club has a board of directors or a voting membership, make sure you meet with them or attend a meeting, and get an unequivocal thumbs-up on the idea of hosting something that conforms to club expectations. Even if you don’t actually need to become a member of the club, joining is a good idea for any type of future working relationship.
Contact Your Trainer
Once you are confident that you’ve secured a venue, reach out to the instructor that you’d like to host. While text and email are legitimate ways to get a hold of someone, try your best to actually get them on the phone and talk with them. Be aware that some trainers may have an administrative assistant or business manager (or other third party) who you will deal with at this time in lieu of them personally.
When you contact them, express interest in hosting a course, explain the venue that you have in mind and any associated hassles and fees, and get the trainer’s opinion of the viability of this type of course in your area. Have several sets of dates already worked out in advance. Generally speaking, two-day classes over a weekend are the easiest for all involved. Three-day classes which cover a Friday or Monday (usually Monday) can be rewarding, depending upon the trainer and the course content.
Be mindful of holidays not just the regular holidays, but sporting events and other things that may interfere with enrollment. Take into account the time of the year and how much daylight you have and what the temperatures may be. If you are scheduling a low-light class, it makes a lot of sense to host it in the spring or fall, and also during a new moon if possible.
Ask the trainer if he has any special needs. Is he is bringing gear, shipping gear to you, or expecting you to buy gear and then be compensated for your efforts? Does he require barricades, vehicles, steel targets, or other props? Once you and the trainer agree upon a course description, a set of dates, and a facility, you need to come to an understanding about how the money will be handled and how the class will be advertised.
Determine whether the host is expected to advertise the class and collect monies, or if there is to be some kind of split in the duties. Determine if range fees will be built into the course cost or charged as a separate fee. Make sure the lines of communication are clear on the front end.
Plan Your Publicity
When the fees and host duties are all worked out, it’s time to let people know that the class is available! The trainer will probably have a canned course description that you can use, but if not then try and get a syllabus to base one off. If nothing else, you must include course name, cost, any prerequisites, location, dates, round count, and contact info.
Internet firearms forums are a good bet for generating interest; some even have dedicated sub forums specifically for advertising training classes. Facebook is another valuable resource, as is the trainer’s own website (if he has one). In this day and age, paper flyers are of very limited utility; however they should be posted at the host club and possibly at any gun stores affiliated with the host club.
You might have some luck handing out a few flyers at some local police departments, but this can be very hit-or-miss. Most people who are interested in hosting a training class also tend to have friends who might be interested, so hit them all up on your own personal email list. PayPal is a very good option in this day and age, not just for transferring funds to the trainer’s account, but also to set up an electronic enrollment system on the front end (definitely something to consider if you are even remotely web-savvy).
So now you wait … but don’t rest on your laurels. You don’t want to come across as crass, so limit thread bumping to once per week. Monitor threads for questions and be sure to keep tabs on all your media inputs. Keep the trainer appraised of enrollments, but don’t pester him. Make sure you get a handle on minimum enrollment, maximum class size, and refund policies of the trainer in case there are drops or cancellations.
Obviously the more lead time you have the better, up to a point. Posting a class with only a three week lead time will be a challenge to fill unless you have a very high-profile trainer who is in great demand. Posting a course a year in advance may not get much movement until three months before the course. Don’t panic. A third of the sign-ups usually happen within several weeks of the course.
Final Tasks Before Class Begins
As you get closer to the course date, send out an informational email to all enrolled shooters with recommendations for hotels and restaurants. Cover any local quirks and get everyone on board with directions and start times. I suggest BCC’ing the trainer on this email just to keep him directly (but discreetly) in the loop. If there are any weird laws in your state, this is a good time to remind people. Many times shooters will roll in Friday evening and essentially have nothing to do.
You can arrange to meet for dinner or a few beers to build camaraderie; just don’t be stupid and get drunk the night before the class. Try and pick somewhere mainstream and not esoteric. A BBQ joint or steakhouse is good, as long as it isn’t too pricey. Sports bars are a good choice as well. The trainer is probably going to roll in on Friday night and may want to meet up with some of the class. Just make sure that you ask him if he’d like to, and don’t pressure him or present a meeting as a fait accompli.
The trainer may want to survey the range the night before, so allow enough time for that. Do your utmost to get him his payment right up front, if you haven’t already electronically transferred the funds. Before the class starts on TD1, ensure that targets are there, along with spray adhesive or staples, pasters or tape, and target stands and sticks. If it’s not too much trouble, have a cooler full of ice and water bottles (even in temperate conditions).
Have lunch arrangements and dinner arrangements for any nights that students will be in town. Have a copy of the roster and do the head count. Make sure you know the location of the nearest emergency room and try to get an idea of EMS response time to the range, along with cellular phone reception and GPS coordinates. Having a trauma kit staged is always a bonus, in addition to taking a head count on those who have individual trauma kits.
Make yourself available to the trainer and take control of the class in his absences, but otherwise stand back and let him do his gig. If an issue arises where you can’t personally be at the range for some reason, have a trusted individual to act in your stead (or barring that, you ensure the trainer is 100 percent up on the facility and on any keys he might need). At the conclusion of the course, offer to facilitate student course reviews (commonly called After Action Reports or AARs) These AARs are very important to most trainers and their future enrollment prospects.
If any prospective host has only one takeaway from this article, it should be should be to keep the lines of communication open. Communicate with the host facility, communicate with the trainer, communicate with the students, and you should have a great training experience.
[ Jay Cunningham is a 39 year old resident of Western Pennsylvania. He began serious firearms training in 2006 and continues to be a voracious student. As part of his growth and development, he is actively instructing new shooters and coaching moderately experienced shooters. Jay founded Low Speed High Drag, LLC (www.lowspeed-highdrag.com) in the spring of 2010. ]
Low Speed High Drag, LLC