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Are you a law-abiding everyday person who wants to get the most practical value for your hard-earned money? Are you a busy professional or parent and do not have time to waste on training that is not relevant to your needs? As an instructor who spends valuable time and money on 40 hours of continuing education each year, I am sensitive to your need to wisely choose a defensive firearms instructor. In this article, I share my instructor selection criteria.

Many people sign up for whatever class their local gun range offers without having any criteria to vet the credibility of the instructor. Worse yet is the referral from the family member, neighbor, colleague, or the local Billy Badass who learned some cool John Wick gun trick from a guy dressed in camo wearing a drop leg holster.

The problem is there are too many “instructors” out there that may look like they just stepped off the set of Zero Dark Thirty, but could not articulate the difference between kit and cabooble. Regardless of accolades and appearances, the only metrics that matter are student safety and instructor professionalism.


To vet the instructor that is right for you, start with self-reflection. The questions I ask any student candidate that contacts me for private lessons begin with the end game.

What skill or knowledge do you expect to leave the lesson or class with? In other words, you first need to articulate the purpose or focus what the desired outcome is.

If you want to learn how to wear a chest rig and move and communicate in a team environment with carbines to solve a problem, then the right instructor for you is someone with Special Forces military experience.

If you seek to experience felony arrests, mediate disputes among strangers, or how to approach vehicles with potential threats then engage from cover with a pistol in one hand and radio or flashlight in the other, then train with a law enforcement professional.

But, if you are simply wanting to know how to responsibly carry a concealed handgun or use a pistol to defend yourself and family at home, then a professionally trained armed citizen who actually carries all day everyday is a better choice for your instructor in a sea of options in the market. Choose one who is certified to teach and trains and shoots to maintain proficiency.

What is the reason you are seeking handgun instruction? When I ask this question of prospective students, the response choices I give are curiosity, recreational, competition, home defense, and concealed carry.

There must be a reconciliation of the purpose and reason for both the student and the instructor. Generally, the curious and recreational categories translates into basic firearms safety and introductory handgun operation. You do not need a veteran operator to deliver the content an online NRA class can provide.

Competition-minded shooters – assuming the purpose is to become more competitive – need an accomplished competitive shooter that is an experienced instructor. Competition shooting is not defensive shooting.

Home defense and concealed carry fits squarely with a purpose like “I need to learn how to defend myself and do not know where to begin”. This student needs an instructor with not only a blend of defensive handgun expertise and use of force, but also someone certified to articulate legal requirements to keep the use of force justified.

What is your experience level? This is my last, but most important question. The categories the student chooses from are first time, novice (1,000 rounds), experienced (10,000 rounds), and expert (100,000 rounds). Your experience will drive the pace and the depth of the instructor.

My advice is begin the instructor vetting process with a mission statement that puts the three questions together into something like “I am an experienced shooter that wants to learn how to draw from holster and shoot to a defensive marksmanship standard for concealed carry.”

The only metrics that matter are student safety and instructor professionalism


For me, the over-riding priority of any instructor whose class I attend is their attention to student safety. I want an instructor who obsesses about safety inside the classroom and on the range.

They also need to be prepared to deal with a medical emergency. Professional instructors carry a tourniquet on-body and have an Individual First Aid Kit (IFAK) within arm’s reach to treat gunshot wounds until medical services arrive.

It goes without saying, that the instructor needs to have a medical emergency response plan that includes a script for the 9-1-1 call and support staff that can guide first responders to the scene in the highly unlikely event there is an issue.

If the instructor is not prepared for an unlikely emergency while teaching defensive skills and tactics to students who are there to prepare for an unlikely emergency, then the training organization credibility is questionable.

Once your concerns about student safety are addressed, and after introductory interview questions are answered, you will have a solid understanding of who you want to spend hard earned money and well-deserved time off with to train … and who is not a good fit to suit your unique, individual needs.

Instructor professionalism is also key. You may get a sense of how they teach from testimonials and reviews from verified students. Otherwise, instructor conduct is revealed during the class.

  1. How many safety incidents that required medical attention occurred in your classes?
  2. How many negligent discharges have you or a student committed during class?
  3. Are you trained to perform first aid on gunshot wounds?
  4. Are you prepared to treat gunshot wounds by carrying a tourniquet and IFAK on the range?
  5. Do you personally live fire on demand to demonstrate the shooting technique taught?
  6. Do you teach tasks, conditions, and standards for each block of instruction?
  7. Are you insured?
  8. What relevant credentials and / or experience that qualifies you to teach the course content?
  9. What is your teaching method?
  10. Do you have published instructor professionalism standards?
  11. Will I receive a verifiable certificate of completion for the class?
  12. Will you testify on my behalf as an expert witness should the skills and tactics you taught me come into question in a legal dispute?
  13. Do you have testimonials or reviews from verified students available for my reference?


The one thing I do not tolerate with instructors I pay good money to attend classes with is war stories. Unless directly relevant to the context of the training objective, bravado and machismo have no place in the classroom for armed citizens. Period. It is a waste of preciously limited time, and everyday people simply do not care. Besides, it is a character issue given the fact that if they did what they said they did, they legitimately cannot say it due to having signed a Standard Form 312 per DoD Directive 5200.2-R.

Likewise, theatrics, gimmicks, or fads have no practical utility to the armed citizen. Gunfighting principles and practices have fundamentally not changed much since the advent of repeatable

arms. I don’t want to have to explain to the six people on a jury that I did not select on why some gimmick or gadget is more effective at stopping threats and ending fights.

The instructor should be dressed like a professional instructor for armed citizens. This means some form of khaki-style trouser and a collared button-up or polo shirt. Camo colors are fine, but camo patterns are not if the target audience is the everyday person. Be one tier of attire above the student, who is likely dressed in jeans and a t-shirt. Also, the military, law enforcement, and political or patriotic patches do nothing to further the student experience, so leave them out of the classroom and off the range.

As a student, I consistently demand and reliably expect any instructor – myself included – to operate at the highest professional conduct standards because a true professional will:

  1. ALWAYS instruct the student to leave firearms in cases or holsters and NOT touch firearms until the instructor safely clears all firearms and all live ammunition must be in a secured safe area away from students.
  2. ALWAYS be professional in appearance, hygiene, language, firearms handling, and demonstrating shooting technique.
  3. ALWAYS clearly point to and verbally communicate the safe direction for muzzles, then visually clear, mechanically triple clear, and show clear on all firearms used for demonstration.
  4. ALWAYS mechanically triple clear the firearm before a trigger press during dry fire demonstrations.
  5. ALWAYS state the 5 Rules of Firearm Safety for Armed Citizens and provide the medical and evacuation plan in the Safety Brief at the start of class.
  6. ALWAYS state and define the range commands to be used during class, with demonstrated emphasis on make ready, shooter ready, fire, cease fire, and standby.
  7. ALWAYS politely inform any student not present for the Safety Brief they will NOT participate in the live fire portion of the class for their safety and safety of others.
  8. ALWAYS state the learning objective in terms of purpose and utility so the student knows both how and why for the task, conditions, and standards for each action they are asked to perform, then slowly and correctly demonstrate the action in class and on the range.
  9. ALWAYS require each student to demonstrate proficiency for all safety-critical actions dry fire in the classroom, otherwise the student is a live fire spectator on the range.
  10. ALWAYS have the student begin new actions on the range with step-by-step verbal commands dry fire until they can demonstrate safe proficiency before live fire, otherwise the student is a spectator that will NOT participate in live fire.
  11. ALWAYS load ONE round only with step-by-step verbal command live fire to demonstrate student safe actions with proficiency before multiple round strings of fire from a fire command only.
  12. ALWAYS remove any student from the firing line if they are unable to maintain safe gun handling practices, follow instructions, or complete actions safely.
  13. ALWAYS keep the student working, and on breaks they should be hydrating, loading magazines, repairing or replacing targets, and policing spent casings.
  14. ALWAYS ask each student the one thing they learned that was the most impactful.
  15. ALWAYS ask each student what they need to improve (if the instruction was good, they will already know their weaknesses).


Every bona fide, professional instructor I ever took a class with had one more thing in common: they each referred their students to other instructors they respected. Again, this is a character trait that true professionals share.

The instructors in Texas that I have direct experience with that have my highest recommendation to any law-abiding armed citizen seeking to improve their defensive skills and tactics include Coy Harry, Paul Howe, Karl Rehn, and Joe Swann.


The goal of this article is to help you choose the right defensive firearms instructor for you by attempting to provide a framework to vet the instructor based on objective questions and articulated expectations for professionalism.

The criteria listed herein is not failsafe, but anything is better than sight unseen. When in class or on the range, if it does not look right, sound right, or feel right, then trust your instincts: it ain’t right. Choose to not participate, or leave. Learning how to save lives should not be at the expense of life and limb.

Consider training with us here at Force Justified. We are a Professional Training Organization (PTO) that teaches everyday people defensive skills and tactics to become confident, capable, and committed armed citizens.

This blog post is for educational purposes and does not constitute legal or medical advice. Seek professional instruction or competent supervision before attempting any live fire methods or tactics described herein. References to any company or product does not constitute an endorsement or review. Trademarks are the intellectual property of its owner.
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