5 Mistakes Firearms Instructors Should Avoid

Try these tips for what not to do if you are trying to put your best foot forward as a firearm instructor.

by posted on August 9, 2023
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It should go without saying that firearms instructors must put their students first when conducting shooting classes. Toward this goal, there are five common mistakes instructors should avoid: failing to learn the common makes, models, and calibers of current firearms; failing to continue their firearms training and education; failing to recognize their business as a small business: failing to be professional: and failing to make their class all about the student.

Failing To Learn the Common Makes, Models and Calibers
Students do not attend classes to hear an instructor talk about his or her favorite gun that was popular 50, 40 or even 10 years ago. Students are also not there to listen to you make the argument about why they should carry the firearm of your choice and preference. This may hurt some feelings among many younger gun owners, but Glocks are not the only guns out there. Additionally, to all the older gun owners: 1911s are not the only real gun on the market. Yes, Glocks and 1911s are great guns, but there are also many other great guns.

Students each have different needs, experiences and goals. They also have different physical traits. This means that when a student settles on a firearm, it is a unique and individual decision. It must not only fit their hands, but it must meet their needs. As an instructor, it is your job to guide the students, not persuade them. For example, I have been at the range and watched an “instructor” and “student” take the lane next to me. Before the lesson even started, I heard the instructor tell their student, “The first thing you need to do is get a real gun” and proceed to give a sales pitch about their own choice of firearms.

A good instructor needs to periodically make a visit to your local gun store to see and handle the newest makes and models. This includes even the makes and models you don’t necessarily like. After all, some people must like them, or they would not be in the showcase. It is alright to suggest a firearm different from the one that you prefer.

Failing To Continue Firearm Training and Education 
Many instructors who have been teaching for a long time oftentimes teach the same way as they have for years. Even though proper shooting fundamentals remain the same, there have been advances in firearms, ammunition and techniques. If you are an NRA Firearms Instructor, make sure you are using an up-to-date PowerPoint presentation and current lesson plan.   

Just like any other profession, continued education keeps instructors effective, relevant and fresh. There is always a better way of doing things, including improved teaching techniques, and newer and more accurate information. For example, a doctor who graduated from medical school 25 years ago, but never attended another class, seminar or kept current by reading latest research and published reports in a medical journal would not be considered very professional or effective.

A firearms instructor, especially an NRA Firearms Instructor, should participate in continuing education every two years. There are several ways to continue your education. One way is to obtain a new NRA Firearms Instructor credential or take an NRA Basic Course, just for the information. You can also ask another instructor if they can sit in on one of their classes to learn different teaching styles. There are also formal non-NRA classes being taught by ex-military or ex-law enforcement. These classes might be long-range shooting, tactical or self-defense courses. Whichever class piques your interest, the idea is to keep learning and keep training.

Failing To Invest in Their Small Business 
Many instructors fail to recognize their firearms training business as a small business. This means that you need invest money back into your business. Ideally, slowly add firearms to your inventory to use in your classes. I have found that most of the individuals seeking training, regardless whether it is rifle, pistol or shotgun lessons, have firearms that do not “fit” them or may have more recoil than they can handle. I always bring several firearms of different sizes, weights and calibers to allow students to handle and shoot on the range, in case he or she is having trouble with the guns they brought. After all, you cannot teach an individual to shoot if the firearm does not fit them or is difficult to manage.

Instructors should advertise just as any other business advertises their services. Advertising does not have to be very expensive. Instead of major newspapers or other media outlets, look at neighborhood circulars, church bulletins, and even signage at little league fields. Get creative when looking at ways of advertising. Try putting flyers on pin-up boards at the gyms and supermarkets and handing them out to local businesses.

Do not forget insurance for your firearms training business. Most gun ranges require insurance before you are allowed to teach on the property.

Failing To Be Professional
An instructor’s operation must look professional. Oftentimes firearms instructors refuse to put money back into their business, with the belief it will cut into their profit margin. If you have been teaching for years and you are still using the same training aids, firearms, and teaching method, you might fall into this category. For example, if you are using an old shooting table held together by duct tape or sandbags that have holes in them, this may reflect poorly on you. Remember, it is usually the first impression that sets the tone for the instruction. If you look shabby and your equipment is old and in disrepair, your student may not trust your instruction.

Maintain a professional appearance. Invest in the right attire and dress like you are proud of the services you are offering. Personalized silkscreened or embroidered shirts with an instructor’s logo are reasonably priced. Avoid showing up for a private student lesson on the range wearing a tank top, shorts and flipflops. A respectable “instructor” shirt, together with a good pair of shooting or tactical pants and closed toe shoes go a long way to giving you that professional look.  

The best way to look professional to a student is the success you build within them. Your student should become a better shooter by the time your lesson is over. If your students are not leaving your lesson shooting better than before your session started, then you are not providing them with the most professional service. That does not mean your student must leave your lesson shooting out the bullseye, it means they improved from where they started. You should be able to point to at least one of the five fundamentals of shooting (aiming, breath control, hold control, trigger control, and follow through), upon which he or she has improved.

Failing To Make Their Class All About the Student 
Many firearms instructors use their classes as a platform to highlight their own skills. If the instructor is shooting, they are denying their student the range time for which they paid. It is alright to model the desired way to hold a firearm, and it is even alright to take a shot or two to model the correct way to demonstrate the correct form. The problem comes when the instructor shoots a magazine or two, intentional or not, to show off his or her shooting skills. Remember, your student is not coming to you to see you shoot, they are there to improve their own shooting skills.

A firearms instructor should avoid shooting in front of their students for several reasons. First, if you are having a great day and you are shooting better than ever before, it could intimidate your student. The second reason is if you are having an “off” day, your student may question your ability to teach if you are having trouble grouping your shots or even hitting the target. The exception is if you are teaching a defensive course, drawing from a holster, moving, or one where you are engaging multiple targets such as the NRA Personal Protection In the Home or NRA Personal Protection Outside the Home course. In these cases, having the instructor shoot demonstrates the proper course of fire to students on the range.

As a firearms instructor, always put your students first. Word travels fast if you are a good instructor and present yourself professionally. If you do not properly conduct your training class, you may be discouraging someone from pursuing shooting and the shooting sports. It is every shooter’s responsibility to recruit as many people as possible into the 2nd Amendment mindset. Remember, you are not only representing your own business, but you are also representing other instructors and the entire shooting community.


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