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Think Ahead: The Expert Question


When you are looking to hire a concealed carry instructor — and you should look at it that way, as a hiring process — you need to investigate his or her training background. From where and with whom did he or she receive certification? What curriculum does he or she teach? Does it meet your standards and requirements?

These are important questions because he or she not only will be preparing you for a possible fight for your life but also may need to be called as a material witness should you ever find yourself on trial in the wake of a self-defense incident.

Real Talk

Is the curriculum designed explicitly as a concealed carry course, or is it merely a gun-safety course? A course that meets the state’s minimum requirements doesn’t necessarily teach anyone to win a physical fight, let alone the later legal battle. Going back through the 21 years and dozens of classes I’ve attended that were advertised as “concealed carry,” only two required any type of test, either written or in demonstrated firearms proficiency.

I’ve also attended several classes not advertised as “concealed carry” classes but rather “permit certification” courses. This highlights an important distinction: Such a course will likely only meet the state requirements. Depending on where you live, think about how low a bar that is.

A course that meets the state’s minimum requirements doesn’t necessarily teach anyone to win a physical fight, let alone the later legal battle.

A course that meets the state’s minimum requirements doesn’t necessarily teach anyone to win a physical fight, let alone the later legal battle.

Also, “not a requirement” does not mean “not needed.” My home state of Montana’s statute specifies that a permit candidate should “demonstrate familiarity with a firearm by…” and goes on to specify the five different ways this requirement may be met, one of which is the completion of a hunter’s safety course (no matter how long ago such a course was completed). Additionally, the fact that the student was able to “demonstrate familiarity” does not necessarily mean the student excelled but rather performed just well enough to complete the course. After all, what do you call the guy who graduated last in his class from the least reputable medical school? You call him “doctor,” and the same applies here.

Keeping Up

The difference between someone who is simply a state-qualified permit instructor and someone who can effectively teach you concealed carry and defensive firearms skills is the number of hours he or she spends in continuing education. Unfortunately, this is where too many “firearms instructors” fail their students and, in my professional opinion, do our community a severe disservice. We are teaching others to defend innocent life with deadly force. As such, we owe it to our students to provide relevant training across the entire scope of what they may be called upon to know in a life-threatening situation. The only way we can accomplish this is through our own continuing education.

Many states have no additional education requirements after the initial concealed carry training or instructor certification. This may be why more than 99 percent of students never attend additional training: They are not forced to. Unfortunately, no small number of people forget that their right to bear arms comes with the responsibility to seek further training.

Your instructors should understand this as well, and if they don’t, you may want to shop for different instructors. As oil-well-firefighting pioneer “Red” Adair is famously credited with stating, “If you think it’s expensive to hire a professional to do the job, wait until you hire an amateur.”

Speaking of Money…

If you’re ever unlucky enough to have to employ deadly force against an attacker, it will likely be one of the two most expensive experiences of your lifetime; only buying a house comes close. So when you’re selecting an instructor, look at the process as a job interview. You may have to literally trust your life to his or her knowledge, skills and abilities. Is he or she teaching you the information you need to make the correct split-second decisions before using deadly force? Will you learn what to look for and how to avoid being selected as a victim of violent crime?

The instruction should cover all of the legal requirements of using deadly force along with the physiological and psychological changes you can expect your body to go through during a violent encounter. It’s essential you know how to interact with 911 dispatchers and responding law enforcement in a way that would make your attorney proud. Remember, your attorney can only work with what you give him or her, which is the sum of all the decisions and actions leading up to whenever he or she shows up and tells you to stop talking.

Who Trained Your Trainer?

Massad Ayoob, the man who wrote the literal book on modern law enforcement use-of-force and who fundamentally influenced modern concealed carry theory, is fond of asking, “What would a reasonable and prudent person do in the same circumstance given what the defendant knew at the time?” Concerning your actions in a deadly force encounter, he often circles back to the same set of points: “Can you articulate it (explain it) and can you authenticate it (is it reasonable)?”

These statements apply not only to you but also to your instructor. Will he or she be able to articulate and authenticate the training you received? Do you have confidence your instructor can do so in a credible, professional manner and be taken seriously by a judge and jury? I once attended a class led by an instructor who’d taught for decades but never attended any additional training after his initial certification. This same instructor violated safety rules over and over in the classroom yet claimed to offer “expert instruction.” Unfortunately, any number of his errors could easily land one of his students in prison or the morgue were he or she to follow his advice and example.

Every great trainer I’ve met has completed an extensive amount of continuing education. I’ve found that an instructor usually cloaks not continuing his or her education with statements such as, “I’ve been teaching for 20 years” or “I’ve taught thousands of students.” These assertions are bunk if they aren’t backed up with how, exactly, that instructor is continuing to up his or her own game.

Reviews can provide insight of a course’s value, but beware of reviews such as, “I learned so much!” Well … what did the reviewer know before attending the training? If he or she knew nothing or very little before attending the class, I would hope he or she learned a great deal, but that still doesn’t mean the reviewer learned what he or she needs to know. If you can’t get specifics regarding what the instructor taught, dig deeper or move on.

I’ve been fortunate enough to take several annual classes led by one of my mentors, Andrew Branca. I’ve learned the legal requirements and realities surrounding the use of deadly force and so much more. Additionally, he tells his students the requirements for having an expert witness who can testify on your behalf to the reasonableness of your actions.

Unfortunately, just because you want to introduce the testimony of an expert witness doesn’t mean the judge will allow it. The prosecution certainly doesn’t want you to produce an expert and will fight for disapproval. You must be able to demonstrate you possessed knowledge above and beyond common knowledge. If you cannot demonstrate this proficiency, the judge is not likely to approve an expert witness. Your decisions and actions cannot therefore be articulated and authenticated to a jury as reasonable and prudent.

Having expert witnesses testify on your behalf reduces your chances of even having to go to trial, which further reduces your financial expenditures. A preliminary or pre-trial hearing will likely cost $30,000 to $75,000. When it comes time for the trial, you can expect to spend an additional $100,000. Location, quality of attorney, co-counsel, paralegal, investigator and expert witness fees significantly affect these numbers.

For example, attorney Mike Piccaretta and expert witness Emanuel Kapelsohn spent thousands of dollars addressing provocative engraving on the dust cover of Mesa Police Officer Mitch Brailsford’s AR-15 rifle in order to keep it out of his murder trial. The men argued the evidence would be more prejudicial than probative.1 Expert witnesses can show the jury the reasonableness and necessity of your actions based on the quality of training you received and followed.

It’s in Their Hands

You’re selecting your instructor to sit on the stand as a material witness and testify about the techniques he or she taught you. That’s not what you’re hoping happens, but it’s a possibility for which you should prepare. We arm ourselves with weapons and knowledge and the ability to rapidly employ them. Together, they form a complete weapons system.

But remember to select your instructor/student relationship very carefully because it goes beyond preparing you for a physical fight. When chosen properly, your instructor will be an ally in any moral, legal and financial struggles as well. You must continue to train and to learn new information and skills. Then you must practice those skills to maintain proficiency. Concealed carry is about not just the gun but also all of your gear and training combined.



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