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Lead by Example: As a Firearms Instructor, You Are Always on Stage


In this and in future issues of Concealed Carry Magazine, as a contributor to “Instructor’s Corner,” my intent is to share many of my successful (and some of my not-so-successful) ventures in initiating human behavioral changes with regard to the use of firearms. There will be tips for firearms instructors to help them achieve the best results from their students, but there will also be plenty for the individual seeking to improve his personal knowledge and skill. Although much of the information could apply to military and law enforcement duty, the focus will largely remain on the everyday responsible citizen, with particular attention paid to marksmanship, sport shooting and personal defense.

From The Top

The term “firearms instructor” is nebulous at best. Almost any adult person with a modicum of firearms knowledge can be certified as a “firearms instructor” within a few days (or less) with little-to-no-proof of performance at the conclusion of the course. Moreover, there often isn’t any requirement for continuing education to maintain a level of proficiency adequate to cultivate safety and success in those they instruct. There really is no standard from state to state or within recognized firearms-related organizations as to what qualifications constitute a “firearms instructor.” This is not intended to be critical of anybody, but rather to expose the potential issues with calling yourself a “firearms instructor.”

Ground Rules

At a minimum, a firearms instructor never compromises safety for any reason. Safety rules can be long and involved or as succinct as management of a firearm’s muzzle and trigger by the user as appropriate for the conditions.

Leading by example is of paramount importance when it comes to instructional safety. Students can usually be relied upon to mimic the actions of the person instructing them when they have limited knowledge of the subject matter — usually, but not always.


Command of the information is crucial to being a credible firearms instructor. This isn’t an all-encompassing feat of mastering every type of firearm in existence but simply being able to demonstrate a good working knowledge of the subject matter to be provided to the students.

For instance, being grounded in a particular area of instruction, such as concealed carry and personal defense, would lead one to pursue an instructor certification from one of the many United States Concealed Carry Association classes held throughout the country. If your area of interest is hunting, the International Hunter Education Association conducts classes on firearms and other subjects related to hunting. For the competitive shooter and a host of other general shooting-related instructor programs, the National Rifle Association is another source.

While it is rare to have identical levels of interest in all aspects of firearms use and application, it is better to have a broad base of knowledge that will help to support your chosen area of focus.

Pressure’s On

The title “firearms instructor” suggests that an individual with such a rating should know and be able to do anything and everything in the lesson plan or course materials from which she’s working. In short, she must be the “example-setter” for the students in the time available.

Three key words are important in the firearms instructor’s presentation to ensure understanding, performance and information retention. These three key concepts should be thoroughly ingrained in any class where specific learning objectives culminating in a certification is expected to take place; those words are “What,” “Why” and “How.”

The “What” is ensuring the students understand exactly what they will be expected to know and what they will be expected to accomplish at the conclusion of the lesson.

Be prepared to explain why you’re instructing the subject matter as you are, the history behind the concept and the relevance to the course material.

Most important for some is the “Why.” The students will need to know what the immediate benefit is to learning the information or technique in question. Be prepared to explain why you’re instructing the subject matter as you are, the history behind the concept and the relevance to the course material. Remember, what you’re saying has to make perfect sense and leave little room for doubt.

The “How” explains the physical application of the technique; the mechanics necessary for a positive outcome. Included will be instructor demonstrations at half speed — or less — to show, in detail, what the student will be expected to perform, followed by a real-time demonstration as an example of what successful performance should look like. As is often said, a picture is worth a thousand words; I am of the opinion a firearms instructor should not only be able to communicate what is required of students but should be able to show them what is expected as well.

Never Stop Learning

To maintain a degree of knowledge and proficiency, continuing education is encouraged for both student and instructor. Even with the advent of online training (which leaves something to be desired in the arena of physical skill development), it isn’t always possible to attend classes or to stay up-to-date on all of the latest information and equipment, but do what you can.

Firearms instructors should impart, and students should learn, methods of detecting and correcting deficiencies in physical skill performance. These self-diagnosis tools can be simple methods done dry in the privacy of a safe area in the home or during live-fire exercises at the range. By practicing these diagnostic techniques, all levels of shooters can maintain and improve their skills as a part of their continuing education.

Mentoring instructors with less experience so they might someday equal or surpass our own personal accomplishments is essential for setting an example for the next generation of instructors to follow.

The evolution of a firearms instructor begins with that first class to be certified as such and should continue as long as there is a passion for and interest in sharing skills and knowledge with others.

The most successful instructors maintain a mindset of always remaining a student, striving for self-improvement and working to simplify a message to the point that it cannot be misunderstood. Most importantly, mentoring instructors with less experience so they might someday equal or surpass our own personal accomplishments is essential for setting an example for the next generation of instructors to follow.

No Days Off

Along with the title “firearms instructor” comes a tremendous responsibility that far surpasses that common in ordinary training and education: The tools and techniques used and taught can be dangerous and have the potential to be deadly. One cavalier comment or careless action could easily be taken as a good example of how a responsibly armed American ought to act. Disaster and death can be the result of one little tidbit of incorrect or irresponsible information received, intentionally or otherwise, from someone with a title indicating he is knowledgeable and credible.

Take being a firearms instructor seriously, as most assuredly, there is someone looking to you when you least expect it. Act the part and lead by example because, as a firearms instructor, you are always on stage.

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