Top 10 Things You Should Look For in a Firearms Instructor

Top 10 Things You Should Look For in a Firearms Instructor

If you do an Internet search or read any gun magazine, you no doubt know that there are a lot of firearms instructors out there. And if I had to guess, I’d say that 98% of them are good honest folks who know what they’re doing. However, since the training we are getting from these instructors can literally mean the difference between life and death, we need to avoid the 2% who don’t know what in the heck they’re doing and could put your life in jeopardy. So, here’s what to look for when you want a quality firearms instructor.

1. What’s their employment background?

What did the instructor use to do for a living (or still does for a living)? Is he a former cop, ex-FBI, ex-Secret Service Agent, former military? Obviously, folks with this type of background have gone through far superior training than the average person, and they’ll be able to share real-life experiences when it comes to defending yourself. In other words, you want someone who doesn’t just spout “theory,” but knows from firsthand experience what they are talking about.

2. What’s their training background?

The groups that I mentioned above have had the opportunity to train at some of the best facilities in the world by some of the best instructors in the world. However, even if a particular instructor has no government or military background, they should still have received plenty of firearms training. There are private firearms schools all over the country that anyone can attend. In fact, a true instructor never stops learning. If I were you, I would avoid any instructor who doesn’t train often and can’t rattle off the schools and trainings they’ve attended.

3. Are they NRA certified?

If so, you know they at least went through the NRA instructor class and have been taught proper instruction and safety techniques. This will ensure you don’t run across someone who doesn’t know the first thing about firearms.

4. Do they guarantee their training?

This is a topic which I’m sure will make more than one instructor a little squeamish. So what. If they really believe in their training and believe they are offering the best to their students, then there is absolutely no reason at all why they shouldn’t have a 100% money-back guarantee. Why would you want to train with someone who doesn’t stand by their “product?”

5. Are they friendly, open-minded, and non-militaristic?

If you’re like me, I know you’ve come across this type of instructor: The one who says, “this is my way, and there’s no other way to do it.” Or the instructor who finds it necessary to intimidate people to stroke his own ego. If you haven’t come across these folks, just visit your local gun shop, as many of these types work there. When looking for an instructor, you want someone humble and willing to learn from others and take their advice, as well as share their wisdom.

6. Do they emphasize safety?

A firearms instructor must make safety paramount. If the instructor doesn’t cover the four safety rules (among others) or in any manner, makes light of safety, walk the other way. There’s a video floating around of an instructor who had a cameraman downrange, taking pictures of his students as they were shooting at targets (which the cameraman was next to.) I’m not going to waste your time discussing the stupidity of this, but I don’t care if the instructor is a former SEAL or Rambo himself. If he violates safety, he should be avoided.

7. Speaking of Rambo…

You want an instructor who lives in reality and trains his students for the practical scenarios they will encounter. The instructor who is melodramatic and tells students that they shouldn’t leave their house without wearing their bulletproof vest, carrying 27 items on them, in addition to their gun, and having a bazooka in the trunk, just in case, should also be avoided. You might laugh, but I’m sure you know some of these overdramatic trainers.

8. Do they listen to you and genuinely care about you?

If you’re talking to an instructor about the first gun you should purchase, do they actually listen to you and to the reason you want to buy a gun? Or do they just spout off “everybody should own a Glock, just buy a Glock, and you’ll be fine.” Each of us is different, and our firearms needs vary greatly. Look for an instructor that understands this.

9. Do they walk the walk?

I admit this one is difficult to find out. However, it’s important to know whether an instructor believes in their training. If you run into this person in the store, would they be carrying a concealed firearm? Or do they just teach the classes, yet never carry themselves? Obviously, I’d like to learn from someone who lives by what he teaches.

10. Can they teach?

Pretty obvious, right? I know many people who are great marksmen and have incredible self-defense knowledge, yet are terrible teachers. You need someone articulate and able to explain why we do the things we do. If an instructor loses patience with someone for asking a few innocent questions, then they probably shouldn’t be teaching classes.

Like I mentioned earlier, most instructors will fit this bill, but use this list to help you avoid the 2% who don’t. Plus, this list will give you a good laugh when you come across those knucklehead instructors who think they’re training Special Forces teams, instead of the average American who needs to learn how to protect themselves in everyday suburbia, not the mountains of Afghanistan.

To help you get started, you can browse the list of instructors in your state in the USA Carry Directory.

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Jason Hanson is a former CIA Officer and author of The Covert Guide to Concealed Carry. He is also the creator of the Ultimate Concealed Carry Experience, which allows you to take your concealed carry training without leaving home. For full details about this training, please visit Concealed Carry Academy. You can also follow him on Google+ and Twitter.
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Many good points, thank you. I very much appreciated #2 because I find that many Instructors are former cops or military and while government’s spend a lot on training, there are also many self-employed folks that work hard and train hard. I did the cop/swat/sniper TL thing, but I have a lot of respect for “civilians’ that practice with ammo THEY have paid for. I am always humble at the range when the old man plumber shows up with his well-worn 1911… 🙂


I agree with most of the points, but you got to remember that LE trains to qualify every year, on the training frequency it depends on the budget of the department, so I do not agree that all LEO train, most come to my classes and it is interesting to know how much training they do not get. I was LE for a few years and I’m also ex military… I got my firearms training in basic, but the best training is in the private sector.

so military background or LE background does not constitute a good instructor.

it is the person that know how to teach and continues to train offten will be a better instructor…because firearms training and safety are both skills that you loose if you do not use them….Not bashing my fellow officers and military friends, but lets be real. If you do not continue to practice and learn…you will get rusty and sloppy… and that will get you in a world of hurt when you most need it.

So be humble, a good teacher and example to your students. So keep your skills sharp…

Calico Jack Defense

Outstanding Article! There are several Instructors here in teh area with no actual firearms backgroud that are all about the money. It is nice to see that instructors other than myself believe that it is about the people and not the lining of their pockets. Kudos Sir!


Great article that I would recomend to anyone lookinf for an Instructor. There were a couple of things in my opinion that were geared specificaly toward LE that would not apply to everyone however. Continued education is key as for Instructors. I know many great shooters that have become Instructors but are teaching fundamentals from the revolver era when they became certified. Many of those fundamentals such as grip and stance have evolved to meet the needs of the modern combat and self defense shooter. The NRA for one seems to be on top of teaching everyone accross the board the most up to date info and require continued education to maintain your certifications.

[…] Instructor for your first Firearms Class there is a great article on the USA Carry web site about how to pick an Instructor. There are some good points to concider for anyone interested in getting started or trying to […]


I have to agree with the poster who said “not all LEO/Military Personal” are necessarily the best trained.

Many LEO especially only fire their “weapon” (yes I used the W word for all you NRA Instructors out there:) once a year when qualifying.

The basic training they received that was 20+ years ago for either LEO/Mil was great but the old adage “you lose what you don’t lose” does apply even to them.

I would love to see more LEO/Mil retired or otherwise becoming instructors but truth be told private sector training is often very high if not higher because they are not having to follow “decades old” training philosophies.

A good instructor is one who has good background in firearms training AND teaches within their experience/certification levels!!!

#4 I do not agree with. Whether your a personal trainer, martial arts teacher or firearms instructor your ability to teach an effective course/session should not be based on whether a specific person can perform.

ALL students have different abilities and learning curves and quite frankly some people are just not very good “at LEARNING” something and there are several factors that can apply on why a specific student may have wasted their time.

Was the students attitude positive towards learning? or where they the ” i know everything” type

Was the student willing to practice sufficiently to acquire the expected proficiency level? or did they expect to be snipers after a 4hr class?

I stopped guaranteeing results for my students when I finally realized a few things: 1. I did not ever have someone not reach a proficient level of achievement in comparison to their training efforts. 2. If I can not guarantee that they are willing to put in the time and proper attitude while I teach them (anything) how can ANYONE guarantee a particular SERVICE?

A product I can understand as its an actual purchase of something that can perform a desired function and has quality controls in place to ensure each product meets the standards.

A service especially one where the end user is “learning” is not something that ANY instructor has control over in regards to proficiency because each person has a different set of learning abilities and attributes.

Should some improvement be gained…absolutely but to guarantee that “you will be amazing taking my course” is not something that makes for a “better instructor”.

In fact many trainer/instructors like myself will even dismiss a student or client from the course or further sessions if they VALUE their teaching ability when/if a student is clearly not following instructions or practicing with the right attitude for success.

A good trainer should not ever have to guarantee a client that they will be 100% satisfied as how easy is it for me to be 99% satisfied?

You could literally have students say that and now they are clearly “100x better” then when they arrived and yet they were only 99% satisfied and your having to give them there money back.

You want a 100% guarantee from a instructor sure…give the trainer a 100% guarantee that you will be :

– positive in your mindset to learning
– will do whatever it takes to practice regardless of time availability

…this way if the instructor is not a 100% satisfied with the effort put in they can charge you double.

Not trying to be rude etc. but lets be real…we offer a service not a product.

A product is an inanimate object that you sell and as a human being I sell a service to my clients.

Part of that service is to offer the best of my ability to train them to be proficient in whatever it is that they are learning…after that its up to THEM to ensure they are satisfied with THEIR performance.

If not…more practice is needed.

*I’m not saying that there are not “shady” instructors out there but a 100% guarantee on something you have ZERO control over (that being the mind of another human being) is not my thought of sound business.

Be honest in your abilities and what you are able to offer in training a client.

Be able to say “I’m sorry that is beyond my scope of practice but I can refer you to so and so” is a good quality.

Be willing to guage your client and not just take ANYONE with money on as a client. Value your time and realize that GOOD clients are just as important as GOOD instructors

Be confident in your ability to offer a good quality service as we ALL know that sometimes the GUARANTEE is just a “marketing” strategy to sucker people in!

Most people (even with buyers remorse) will not take on a guarantee clause for fear of being ridiculed or embarrassed because they failed to see wolf in sheep’s clothing with a GUARANTEE.



I also have to agree with the commentor who said “not all LEO/Military Personal” are necessarily the best trained.  And, I’m not just saying that because I’m a firearms trainer who has never served or worked in law enforcement.  I say it because the majority of civilian shooters are all out gun guys.  Civilian shooters are into guns big time.  They have gun magazines stacked on the coffee table, they receive catalogs from all kinds of distributors, they reload, they spend ridiculous amounts of time at the range and they actually dryfire practice when at home.  Gun guys try new grips, tweak their stance and practice drawing from concealment.Police, on the other hand, aren’t always that into it and aren’t necessarily gun guys.  Some of them are, obviously.  And, some receive much more specialized training than is available to most civilians.  But, not all of them can demonstrate a high level of expertise with their duty weapons.  How many police officers join the force because they’re into shooting?  And, I’ll bet a good number of them rarely shoot when they’re not qualifying.  I have a few LEO friends who can attest to that.  And, I’ve been at the range while police were qualifying.  To be fair, some of them were really good and I’m glad to have such proficient shooters on the force.  On the flipside, some of them make me very happy to have the ability to defend myself.That said, LEOs and former service members have a much higher probability of knowing first hand, what happens to a shooter’s psychology and physiology when the adrenaline dumps.  But, that doesn’t mean a civilian can’t have a clear picture of it.  Some of us have lived in rough neighborhoods where going to the door for a pizza delivery is much less worrisome with the flat side of a gun pressed against the inside of the door and out of view.  In those days, I’d woken up suddenly more than one night by a thud in the living room and had to shake off sleep to investigate with tunnel vision and lack of fine motor skills.  Good times…And, I too question the guarantee…  Sort of.  I’d only guarantee my own ability to supply students (who have the correct attitude) with the tools for success as a shooter.  I can push a student to their own point of failure and give them a starting point for improvement but it’s up to them to do what it takes to achieve that improvement.  A guitar teacher wouldn’t tell his student that practicing isn’t important.  Firearms are no different.  And, the more dryfire/livefire a student performs the higher their degree of improvement will be.  So I would certainly not guarantee their success.All said and done, this is a great article.  You bring up some really interesting points.  Safety is a given emphasis that has to be practiced and mentioned.  But, I’m particularly intrigued by #5 and #8.  Egos, know-it-alls and braggarts don’t make the best instructors.  An instructors expertise isn’t rubbing off on students if he spends all of his time talking about the extent of it.And, in terms of listening – There are many aspects of shooting that is akin to the everlasting chocolate vs. vanilla debate.  Which one is better?Better for who?  Better with what?  Pineapple or marshmallow?An instructor can give the facts, give both sides, weigh advantages/disadvantages and then give their own opinion (which should not be taken as gospel).  Hopefully that will allow the student to make a more educated choice when they are at a cross roads. (eg. Revolver vs Semi-auto).Cheers!


I dont think I could have a instructor teach me anything about combat who have never actually been in combat.. thats like getting trained by a football player who has never actually played in a game


With modern tech why run the risk? If there is no person in front of the muzzle then there is less chance of someone getting shot. Insurance cost on ranges already costly. I am a retired Marine M1 Mastergunner. Civilian instructor a long time. This and the other instructor that walked along the targets while students are shooting. It seems foolish and un necessary. Not to mention violates every range rules I have ever been on.