How to Become a Firearms Instructor

How to Become a Firearms Instructor

How to Become a Firearms Instructor

I get a lot of folks asking me how they can become a firearms instructor, so today I’m going to tell you exactly what I’d do if I were you. Obviously, it helps if you have prior experience such a police or military, but I know plenty of instructors who don’t have either. However, they have what all instructors need, which is a willingness to learn and study their new chosen “profession.”

The very first thing I’d do if I were you would be to become an NRA certified instructor. It’s very easy to do and you simply take a weekend class. The class will give you a good basic foundation of all things firearms related. Even if you’ve been around guns your entire life, taking the NRA course is a solid refresher and all of us need to be reminded of the basics.

Once you’ve become an NRA instructor then you need to go find yourself a mentor. This is without a doubt the smartest and fastest way to become a quality firearms instructor. In fact, it’s the best way to become good at whatever profession you choose. Find someone who is good at what they do and learn from them.

So how can you find a mentor?

Get on your computer and Google “concealed carry” or “firearms training” plus the state you live in. Or check out the USA Carry Firearm Instructor Directory. There will be lots of local companies that pop up. Check out their websites and find 2 or 3 people that you think are quality and then give them a call and tell them that you would like to learn from them.

Remember, you are going to them to gain knowledge so you need to be honest and show them how it will benefit them. For instance, you could say, “Mr. Smith, I checked out your website. You seem very knowledgeable and I would really love to learn from you. I’ll do whatever you need me to do and I will of course work for free.”

Yes, you read that correctly, offer to work for free. If you are going to learn from a top pro and get all his knowledge that he probably spent a fortune (monetary and in time) learning, you should not expect to get paid. Plus, offering to work for free makes it a lot easier for him to say yes to your request.

While you’re interviewing mentors make sure they know what they’re doing and that they are active in the business. The dirty little secret of most firearms instructors is that they’re not really instructors at all. They call themselves “instructors” but haven’t ever taught a class or done anything since they took the NRA class over 20 years ago.

So, if the fellow you’re talking to isn’t putting on concealed carry classes, or pistol courses, or any number of firearms classes, then choose someone else, because you won’t learn a thing from this person.

Once you find the right person…

Be very courteous and respectful and thank them for allowing you to learn from them. For instance, I have had apprentices in my business and a surefire way to have me get rid of you is to not show up on time for an event or not act professional. In other words, remember, once you are getting mentored by someone and are at one of their pistol courses you are now a reflection of their company.

Another extremely important thing to consider is if you are looking to become a firearms instructor as a hobby or as a full-time business. I can tell you from personal experience that running a firearms business is just like any other business. You have to do your marketing, your accounting, etc. etc. etc.

But also, if you do become a full-time instructor, it’s one of the most rewarding jobs out there. And that brings me to perhaps my most important point of all. You’ve really got to care about personal protection and helping people be safe. If you’re looking to become an instructor to “get rich quick” I wouldn’t quit your day job.

One final thing. If you do decide to become a full-time firearms instructor, have a mentor as long as you need to. However, there will come a day when you must get the courage to go out on your own and start teaching your own classes. But if you’re smart, you’ll ask your mentor for help and you’ll figure out a way to partner with them.

, ,

  • Another great article Jason.   Some very practical tips for breaking the ice and getting into the game.  Serving as an apprentice to someone more knowledgeable by offering ones own labor and time in fair exchange for valuable knowledge is excellent advice.

  • Arc Angel

    When it comes to choosing a mentor, I don’t know about following any sort of pat formula.  I know, and have known, very active instructors who aren’t anywhere near as good teachers as other instructors who might, in fact, be identified as, ‘irregularly active’.  (Who a person is, as well as who he knows, is important, too!) 
    On the one hand, years of experience and knowing how to shoot are simply not the same thing as being able to, ‘read’ other people, gauge their strengths and weaknesses, and being able to offer them whatever they really need to know in such a way that they are comfortable and open to learning from you. 
    In fact, I’ve trained with some very talented instructors who couldn’t teach at all.  Sure, they knew their craft; but, they failed to understand, ‘How’ to put the relevant subject matter across.  True, if I were starting out all over again, today, the first thing I’d look for is a very active gun range; but, quite frankly, I’d be damned before I’d give my:  intelligence, integrity, and cooperation away for free. 
    I’m one of those people who believes in himself; I know I’m going to do a good job at whatever I decide to attempt.  If I work, I work; and I don’t work for free.  (Just the opposite, actually.)  Neither did I find the NRA’s instructor courses to be, ‘easy’.  I went through college with straight A’s.  Nevertheless, in order for me to get a perfect score on 5 of the NRA’s course exams I had to study for almost 3 months before I felt comfortable enough to take the first class. 
    Sure, lots of people get through their NRA courses with only a percentage of right answers; but, I suspect these guys are, probably, some of the bozos you’re talking about.  My own best advice?  Go ahead and look for an active gun range; the more active, the better.  Then, look for someone who, both, excells at his craft as well as someone you honestly believe you can learn from.  (Watch him teach; a picture is, after all, worth a thousand words.) 
    The same behavioral rules I used in business for many years I, also, used when it became time for me to more actively pursue an avocation with firearms.  (I guess that’s, ‘Why’ my training councilor was one of the most highly respected lawmen and firearms instructors in Pennsylvania.  You should have seen how Lanier (‘Lenny’) smiled at me when he gave me the final test results!) 
    Whatever you do, whatever you want, go after it with your, ‘whole heart’; and you’ll be fine!  (Other people will see your attitude and commitment; they’ll respect you for it, and be willing to help you, too.) 

  • Anonymous

    Good advice… but there are some very practical aspects of this… I researched this quite thoroughly and ended up putting the idea on “hold.” I would start by pointing out that I’ve been teaching adults for nearly forty years (different topics). I would also say upfront that I’m a card-carrying member of the NRA. I’ve actually had requests to teach NRA courses from students in other disciplines.

    One of the points alluded to here is there is a wide spread of “quality” among NRA instructors. When I took the required course for my concealed carry some years ago, the instructor was, in a word, horrible. We spent a couple of hours listening to him tell war stories… then he us to a gravel pit where there was no weapons control (at one point I objected to the way one woman was handling her revolver while it was pointed at the rest of us), no safety training while we took turns shooting holes in a cardboard box.

    I am looking at the NRA certificate that hangs on my wall saying I completed the NRA Personal Protection Course as I type this. It enabled me to get my concealed carry permit but I do not value it much.

    What comes out of that is a second practical aspect–instructors like him are very often your “competition” as an instructor. So while I feel (as does the NRA based on their official courses) you need more than a few hours of classroom and some range time before qualifying for concealed carry permit, your competitors (at least in this area) will be offering a dirt cheap three hour class with no range time.

    I’ll concede that some of this is encouraged by state law here in Maine–basically any course of instruction will qualify a future permit holder. Yes, there are some folks who recognize that it’s an awesome responsibility and they would like more training, but far too many will sign up for that three hour class because of the price.

    In short, I didn’t become an NRA certified instructor because the value of that certification is not recognized in my area and my conscience would not allow me to offer a competitive course–partly because of the cost of being certified. I found someone who would “mentor” me, but I’d have had to travel several states away and pay to take any course (multiple trips if I wanted to teach more than one course) I was interested in teaching plus the weekend course. This creates a huge investment with very little hope of return. Financially, it didn’t make sense.

    I did – at the time – suggest that NRA should have a more active and agressive program of insuring that certified instructors are using NRA material and following NRA guidelines, but couldn’t generate much interest. Personally, I judge NRA instructor certification as perhaps the weakest component of the NRA program.

  • NRA Counselor

    Sir, you may want to rewrite a part of your article: informing people that all they would have to do is attend a “class” on a weekend to become an NRA Instructor is incorrect. The prospective candidate would have to fill out an application, be accepted into the workshop, qualify on the firearm specialty that they are wanting to become certified with and then attend the Basic Instructor workshop and  the following day or weekend attend the specialty workshop.

    It is not as easy as just attending a class and then attaching yourself to an instructor. The NRA Candidate should already have knowledge on their specialty and confidence to get that information out effectively. Not everyone is accepted into the workshop and not everyone graduates a workshop. Some people should not be instructors and some become very good instructors.

    Please review the NRA rules and regulations regarding the requisites to becoming an Instructor to effectively disseminate that information. As an NRA instructor yourself, I would think you would have expounded on the steps needed and possible “good to knows”.

    • jeff austin

      Well put. I just endured the process- it was fun, but it wasn’t easy. Extremely professional NRA Counselors made sure that not just anyone could take on this important responsibility. If you are there just for the cert you wont pass. You can pass everything, but The counselor has the final say if you can teach the subject matter…… and his signature is the law.

  • Anonymous

    Very good commentary by Arc Angel. Pretty much echoes my experience with the NRA instructor course.
    Also his comment about not working for free – there are enough schools that need assistant instructors that they should have the capacity to pay (something). You aren’t going to get top dollar – but money is a sign of commitment – no money, no commitment on their part (to you.)
    By all means – observe any instructor in action before you make any decisions or commitments. Technical expertise alone does not an good instructor make – attitude and understanding the student are far more important.
    One way to do this (notwithstanding the above comment about money) is to offer to assist them (on a one-time basis.) That way, there is no commitment either way. There have been a few firearms course or activities I’ve sat in on and never went back once I experienced the instructor or activity leader. Attitude and lack of professionalism were the big determinates – sometimes even the lack of safety.
    One caveat – an issue that is never formally mentioned in the NRA course is making the determination of which students should not be in the course. In other words – someone you can tell right away you would not be comfortable with when they have a loaded gun. Perhaps rare – but ask any ‘mentor’ how they deal with that. At the NRA instructor’s course I took – the issue came up and the course instructors admitted there were a few people (in the basic courses) who they simply gave their checks back to at the break and told them they didn’t want them in the course (or “the course wasn’t for them”.)
    By the way – I’m not keen on the downrange photos (like the one with this article) – perhaps dramatic, but gives the wrong impression that its OK to be down range when someone has a gun at a shooting station – even for a photo op. Same thing can be accomplished by an over-the-shoulder (point of view of an observer) photo.

  • AZSS

    I just finished taking an NRA Basic Pistol and Protection in the home course this weekend.  Let me tell you it was NOT easy.
    10 hours in class and go home with a test to do, then build a lesson plan.  Went to bed at 10:30 that night.  Sunday was another full 10 hour day. 
    Both exams were definitely not “just doing the paperwork”.  You had to research and still it was difficult.
    That was on tuff weekend!!!  Glad I’m done.

  • Jwheatley

    You didn’t mention liability issues and cost/availability of insurance. That issue has been a big
    obstacle to my teaching firearms class.
    Jo Ann

  • Excellent advice!  I wish I had sought a good mentor when I started.  There are a lot of things that I learned through the school of hard knocks that could have saved me 10’s of thousands of dollars if I had had a mentor that could have advised …

    I would emphasis that you might want to select an instructor in a different region.  I am a nice guy, but I do not want to train a local competitor.  🙂  If you select someone with business experience, expect to sign a non-compete. 

    Also, consider the type of business you are going into… if you want to provide high-end luxury entertainment shooting; ask me or Andrew Massimilian, if you want to do long range rifle and urban combat, ask Douglas Pechtel or Gabe Suarez, if you want handgun ask Masad Ayoob or Clint Smith.  We are all in the shooting instruction business, but we all have different focuses.

    • Arc Angel

      Long range rifle?  I’ll go with Douglas Pechtel.  Urban combat?  I’ll give that one to Gabe Suarez.  Handgun?  OK which kind?  I’d definitely choose Massad Ayoob for revolver training; I don’t think there’s any better.  For semi-auto pistol?  I’m going to have to give this one to a name you haven’t mentioned – D.R. Middlebrooks.  (I hear that Humphries fellow is pretty good, too!)  😉 

      • Shepard

        Amen! 🙂

  • The state of  Illinois  doesn’t  allow conceal for their own reasons, A short while ago we in  Milwaukee’s northwest side had an armed hold-up by two young men. there was a shotgun                  pointed at the clerk as well as a customer. The customer had just received his carry permit,              two shots were fired, one in the arm,one in the leg. the customer admitted he did better on                       paper! The shooter was released, His firearm was not  released; Why is pending. While it,s               scarey it was necessary. THE STORE CALLED ALDI,S BASED IN THAT STATE  WHERE                WEAPONS OF ALL KINDS  ARE FORBIDDEN. WHY  ARE THEY IN OUR STATE.               

  • ocbizlaw

    I’ve just been through an interesting experience with this. I was an NRA certified pistol and personal defense instructor 6 years ago. I held not only the NRA cert. but have P.O.S.T. (Cal. Peace Officer Standards and Training) Basic and Intermediate Certs. and am an active IDPA shooter. I taught dozens and dozens of classes and individuals, all for free. I went through a divorce and let my NRA certificate lapse. I contacted the NRA about re-validation today because I believe getting more people comfortable around weapons is the best way to respond to new gun control measures. But the NRA doesn’t have a re-cert. program anymore, you must go through the entire course again. So I started looking in my area for an NRA counsellor. The nearest one is 25 miles from me and he charges over $200. I looked in a larger radius and found a few more but they charged even more, anywhere from $250 to $400. So much for my plan. Honestly, I was shocked and disappointed. Can’t judge the NRA by this, exactly, and I remain a member, but not as avid as I once was.

  • Nikolai

    This article had great advice, but on a side note I was curious about lawsuits. At first I was thinking this would be a great way to spend more time in a hobby that I love but I was thinking about things that could go wrong. So my question is should I make a waiver saying that “If accidental discharge or a firearm, harming yourself or others will by no means result in reflect the training done by the instructor.” or is there any other option I have to protect myself from their lack of knowledge.