How To

Instructors: The Good, Bad, and Downright Dangerous

Bob Campbell demonstrating weapon retention

Over the past few months, threads and discussion have often become a lively debate on choosing instructors and the merits of training in anti-terror tactics. This article addresses many of these discussions. Not surprisingly, an honest appraisal of the current situation finds the author coming up short in certain areas, and willing to admit it.

Woman shooting a carbine
At close range practice and the proper technique carries the contest.

As a writer, instructor, and part-time professor, when it comes to crime, ballistics, criminal psychology, and firearms instruction, I have many years of study and experience. I cannot afford a mistake. I know my limitations. As an example, a relative recently asked for my take on the psychology behind a certain form of aberrant behavior, and the likely outcome of an individual’s actions. I explained that any reply I had would be based on secondhand experience, as I had neither study nor experience to back up any statement.

My minor course of study in psychology, while earning a degree in criminal justice, and my continuing study was based on criminal psychology. My relative was surprised. Normally, ‘experts’ are ready with an opinion—whether they have experience or not. As another example, a friend recently retired from 30 years of service with the Defense Security Service (DSS).

Vivian holds a masters degree in psychology. We often discussed our common experience and agreed that people who are mentally ill today are more profoundly ill (and evil) than 30 years ago. After all, did you ever hear of the many people killing their children or leaving them to die in a hot car so long ago? No. And, as always, the government replies with ridiculous ineffective measures such as car alarms that will be coming into general use in several years.

INstrustor demonstrating how to disarm a suspect
Hands on with a student builds skills. Be certain to use fake guns!

The type of thing that makes people happy—who have never had a real problem—isn’t very effective. The criminal population deemed active has remained the same, or we would be in utter chaos. However, their modus operandi has changed. It was common in my time for burglars to pee or poop in the victim’s home during a burglary. They almost never do this anymore because while criminals range from cretins to morons, even they realize that DNA testing will get them nailed to the wall.

Another rule I was taught was that criminals are only comfortable attacking and burglarizing one social step above their own status, and the poor suffered the most from predators. This isn’t true any longer. Burglars do not case homes in the same manner either. Today, the gang includes utility workers, door-to-door salesmen, cable employees, and others to case the house. The real crew then enters your home or business with good information. Therefore, they know what they are coming for. Be careful with your associations.

This look at my outdated knowledge in criminal justice brings me to firearms instruction. Was my opinion and instruction also dated? We have many good NRA-trained instructors. To some of us, it seems a good thing to have an instructor with police or military experience. There is a finality in lethal encounters that should be imparted to the student. Those who have been in the action, or close to it, are best at communicating this knowledge to the student.

I have an answer to most questions and can make a good argument for my conclusions. The best gunfight is always the one avoided. Peace officers are close to the action; they see, and they are aware of the permanent damage to a life after such a battle. This is often true. As is often stressed, the consequence of a gunfight—for the winner—isn’t pretty.

Bob Campbell wearing a red sweatshirt shooting a pistol one handed
Choose an instructor that isn’t afraid to demonstrate the more difficult drills.

At the same time, I have to call upon personal experience and that of my colleagues. We agree, a person who knows right from wrong, and has a positive mindset, often survives a lethal encounter without lingering psychological effects. A good moral compass certainly is an advantage.

Most police veterans in my circle of friends and associates are free from mental stress as regards the necessary actions they have endured, and at least outwardly, carry their scars well. They are prepared, mentally and physically, for the worst. Most of the police veterans are in good mental shape and enjoying retirement. We must be prepared both mentally and physically for the worst case and for potentially lethal encounters.

My observations do not change the fact that gunfights are best avoided. Some fare well after the fight. The risk to the mental health of a combatant may be overstated. In fact, it may cause the shooter to hesitate at the worst possible moment.

I think inquiring about the instructor’s experience is worthwhile. I consider my own experience in critical incidents. The last fight for my life was 15 years ago. As far as investigating and interviewing the aftermath of such incidents, most are even older. The majority of the times in which I was injured—I have two knife scars, a number of scarred knuckles, and defensive wounds on both arms—are 30 years in the past.

Woman demonstrating shooting drills
Instructor Brittany Caton demonstrates firing drills.

Perhaps, I was able to learn from the incidents and did not repeat them. I knew a fraction of what I know now. However, I was in good physical condition, and a good shot who fired as many as 500 hundred rounds a month.

I also knew right from wrong, and the people I dealt with reinforced this. When they are wrong and you are right, it makes things much easier. Today, I am in the best condition of any 60-year old man in the office—or so my doctor tells me. However, I have to work much harder for the same goals, and I am not as strong as I once was. My present goals are to climb the 780 steps at Notre Dame and walk the beach at Freeport. So, is it my life experience or education that is the greatest value?

We have joked about the Pope giving advice on sex—a matter in which a celibate man has no experience. There are many competent driving instructors who have not raced nor experienced a major accident. So, why do I demand instructors to have police or military experience? Because, police and military instructors have an institutional integrity of purpose that is demanded for critical training.

I am serious concerning training. I was trained, not for personal defense, but public safety. That means I wish to limit stray bullets. Many students wish to earn their paper with the least effort possible. Too many instructors accommodate. Most students just want to counter a bad guy at close range or a bad dog. I think a higher standard is advisable.

Student on the firing line Gunsite academt
These folks are getting excellent instruction from GunSite.

If that higher standard is desirable to you, then it is important to have the best instructor. I think the best possible instructor is important even at the beginner level. I believe that an all-around shooter cannot rely upon a single teacher, but should absorb instruction from a number of schools. Many of my skills were learned from distance education reading Jeff Cooper, Bill Jordan, and others.

One instructor was particularly hard on me—difficult and profane. I learned a great deal from him, although I would never treat a student in this manner. So, my advice stands. Choose an instructor with police or military experience, one with a bit of gray hair, capable of shooting, and who has maintained his physical stamina to the best of his ability.

When to Walk Away

  • When the instructor is wearing a thin dress belt and hangs the cheapest plastic holster on it. (Saw this)
  • When the instructor brags about his choice of holster gun—a Colt .32 Auto. (Saw this and all the others.)
  • When the instructor chooses a female 50 pounds his lighter to demonstrate hands on drills and takedowns.
  • When the instructor is too obese to demonstrate drills.

Run Away

  • When any firearm used in demonstration, or tactics, is pointed at a student. Morons such as these have killed students. Sure, you can say it is dedicated to training, you are a professional, and it is loaded with blanks—you are an idiot.
  • When the class requires the students to stand at the target line while instructors fire at the targets, so you will become used to incoming fire. Unless you are wearing a badge that says Ranger, SEAL, Force Recon, or perhaps IDF, you are in the wrong place.
  • If there is alcohol on the range.

What do you look for in an instructor? What is the best tip or worst idea you heard during a firearms training course. Share your answers in the comment section.

The Mission of Cheaper Than Dirt!'s blog. "The Shooter's Log", is to provide information - not opinions - to our customers and the shooting community. We want you, our readers, to be able to make informed decicions. The information provided here does not represent the views of Cheaper Than Dirt!

Comments (45)

  1. Bob:

    Very well written. As a current instructor I tell students to ask a lot of question of any instructor prior to signing up for a course. It is much easier to stop prior to enrollment than walk away the day of the course. Many civilian trainees are simply too embarrassed to call out dangerous behavior and needlessly put themselves at risk by staying on the premises at such classes.

    I also encourage any former military or LE trainer to spend time researching what civilians want from their training. The former military or LE professional must often reorient their training methods for the growing number of inexperienced civilian trainees to serve them well.

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