This is a big topic and I must start with disclosing that I’m a concealed carry instructor. I’ve been a concealed carry instructor in two states, carried in five (not including several overseas locations) over the course of 35 years. So I do have a well formed professional opinion and it’s this that I want to share. I should also disclose that I have no first-hand knowledge of how other instructors teach or run their classes.
I will also disclose that I’m a staunch supporter of the 2nd Amendment. Our Bill of Rights among other factors is what makes America great. There is a profound difference between a privilege and right. I’m not here to argue if we should be made to take classes to enjoy our rights, but I will say this and then I’m done on the subject: I’ve taught and been around guns personally and professionally going on four decades. Everyone needs training to be safe and I feel much better knowing the people carrying loaded firearms in public around my wife and children have had basic gun safety & gun handling classes. The effectiveness of these classes is only as good as the instructors who have taught them. There is a huge difference between being taught professionally by standards and just being raised around guns.
Illinois Firearms Concealed Carry Act 430 ILCS 66/1-999 (HBO0183) In Illinois where I’m currently an instructor the State requires a 16 hour class to obtain a concealed carry license (CCL, some states call it a concealed carry weapon (CCW) license). Illinois does give 8 hours of prior credit to veterans and active duty, prior out of state law enforcement, correction officers, and those who have taken certain NRA courses. They give 4 hours of credit for a hunter safety course, and having previously had a CCL/CCW in a few others states. I’m not going to list them all, just now 16 hours is the requirement and this must include 8 hours in an Illinois instructors classroom and up to 8 hours of previous credit.
Of the 16 hours, 6 hours are mandated. 1 hour of firearms safety, 1 hour of marksmanship, 1 hour of the care, cleaning, loading, unloading of a concealable firearm, 2 hours of State and Federal Laws, 1 hour of weapons handling on a range to include a 30 round live fire test.
The other 10 hours are what sets instructors apart. Each instructor gets to choose what they include in these ten hours. This is where their personal experience enforcing laws, testifying in courtrooms, knowledge of firearms, concealed carry techniques, different types of draws, pros and cons of different types of holsters, retention techniques, how to best avoid confrontations, how to protect yourself legally, and so much more.
I’m of the opinion that concealed carry is more of a lifestyle, not unlike an art you practice most of your life as you become more and more skilled. Throughout your life, as your physical abilities diminish, your tactical skills and judgement increase to compensate. Concealed carry IS NOT something you learn once and you’re set. Concealed carry physical skills are perishable and diminish without regular practice, and concealed carry laws as well as those who enforce them change as well. You don’t learn to play a piano in 16 hours, but you can learn a basic history of the piano, how many keys it has, different piano types, playing styles, and perhaps how to play chopsticks in those 16 hours. 16 hour of concealed carry instruction is barely anything at all so the instructor must be able to make the most of your time together.
Practice is nothing more than repeating over and over again, that which you already know. Mistakes and all. Training means you’re either learning new material or you’re being professionally coached to correct and make better that which you already know.
So now with the ground work out of the way, what should you look for in a concealed carry instructor and why?
In Illinois it’s common practice for the defense, prosecution, or both to recognize the licensee’s concealed carry instructor as an expert witness. We could be asked basic questions such as: Did you pay attention in class, were you awake or falling asleep, did you ask good questions, were you argumentative, did you demonstrate a knowledge of the law in question, whatever the defense or prosecution thinks may benefit their case may surface and be asked. Your instructor might be asked how they taught a certain area, say the 21 foot rule. Your instructor should be able to step in front of a judge and jury, present a professional look and demeanor, and basically teach the jury the 21 foot rule so they understand it as you the student understood it, so they can see why you did what you ultimately did.
Your instructor must be credible. Does he/she have experience testifying? Do they present themselves in a way you would want to stake your freedom on? How do they speak? Did they capture your attention in the classroom or did they monotone you into boredom. What did you think of your instructor? Will the judge and jury feel the same? If your concealed carry instructor was a cardiologist, would you want him/her to do your quadruple bypass?
Experience counts. Yet, and I’m speaking for myself, if the instructor has been in a shooting, especially a shooting that took a life, they will not want to talk about it much less get in front of a class of people they don’t know and share this deeply personal experience. Imagine the worse emotional experience of your life, you lost someone very dear to you, god forbid a spouse or a child. You will not want to get in front of a class of students each week or each month and bring it up, discuss, and basically re-live the experience over and over again. And you won’t want your students asking either. A fellow veteran I know once shared that having doctors, family, and even people who moments ago found out they served, ask if you’ve ever taken a life in combat. He emphatically stated this is worse than discussing your most private sexual experiences, worse than being sexually abused, worse than.. well. what’s worse than taking a life? So don’t ask. Instead do this:
Listen to your instructor. Are they more amped up on some topics than others? Do they talk a lot about keeping guns from kids? Perhaps there’s a reason. Do they really stress how your life will change if you’ve been in a shoot? Over and over again? Perhaps there’s a reason. You’ll easily be able to tell if your instructor is speaking from experience vs. having learned something in a NRA class. Passion has roots. Look for the passion and you won’t feel a need to dig for the roots. And learn. An instructor who’s been there and done that.. is a valuable resource.
It’s not necessary to have been in law enforcement to be a good instructor. Yet, I can’t help but feel it adds greatly to an instructors experience set. Where else is someone going to spend 10-12 hours a day answering dangerous life threatening call after call? Where else is someone going to have to physically handle those who wish to do them harm? Where else is someone going to spend their days with the small percentage of society who preys on citizens like you and me? Where else does someone get hundreds of hours of training in how to do the above? And where else does a person gain hands on experience with the laws and courts? You won’t get these things in a 16 hour NRA course, but a person could self-educate and dedicate their life to learning such skills. You should ask pointed questions to determine if they have, presuming you decide these skills are important to you.
I look at a concealed carry deadly force encounter as a three part deal. The first part is about guns and carry techniques and skills which all lead up to saving your life on a very bad day when some bad guy becomes a deadly threat. The second part is the “after-shoot” where you deal with law enforcement, detectives, and possibly prosecutors and the court system. Hopefully these skills will result in you bypassing the corrections system. And third, there is the mental anguish, conflicts in personal morality, religious questions, the aftermath of facing the demons that visit you after the taking of a human life. I know, there are those who don’t believe this part is real or that they’re somehow different. These are those who have never taken a human life.
Can your concealed carry instructor help you understand these three areas, and how much of these three areas can they help you understand in your 16 hours together? And will how they help you be based on actual credible experience. There are two basic areas an instructor must have. The experience and knowledge to be useful to you, and the speaking and instructor skills to keep you firmly rooted in your chair for the full 16 hours without glancing at your watch every five minutes.
What are the safety policies of your instructor? Is the range set up with a solid backstop? Are there tables set up for your weapon, ammo, and equipment or must you work off the ground? Is ear and eye protection offered in the event you forgot yours? What is the instructor/RSO (range safety officer) ratio? When you stop and consider that no one knows the skills of every student, there should be 4:1 coverage imo at a minimum. Instructors and RSO’s should be competent, confident, and must take charge when necessary and often that’s on a half second notice. Does your instructor go over the range rules? Do they walk you through the test/exercise step by step? You should feel very confident every step of the way and that means you should know what’s happening at every step. Is your instructor ready for an emergency? Is there a proper medical bag with all the items necessary for a worst case scenario? Are they trained and qualified? Every student should be instructed on how to call a “cease – fire” and encouraged to do so when a major safety violation is observed. This is an area where there can be no compromises or shortcuts.
Call and chat with your potential instructor. Will they take the time to answer your questions and discuss the class? How big are their classes? Large classes typically means word of mouth recommendation, good customer service skills, and solid instruction. Are the classes in a comfortable environment? Is the classroom professional, climate controlled, and comfortable? Will there be more than one instructor so they can relieve each other and stay fresh? Will the range time be at a safe range? Will enough Range Safety Officers be present to not only watch and make sure you’re being safe, but that the other shooters you don’t know stay safe as well? Ask for references or reviews. One or the other should be available.
You are different and every instructor is different. Take the time to read the reviews and match yourself to an instructor you feel will meet your needs and not make your 16 hours feel like 60 hours.
Price and convenience are important and are probably the most common areas people choose when selecting a concealed carry class. But by now you should realize there is so much more to consider. If you ever find yourself in a courtroom on trial, how important will saving that $50 really feel like then?
Until next time…