Where to Start?

by TCinVA

Recently, I went to renew my concealed carry permit in Virginia and I arrived at the local courthouse to find a line of people almost out the door to apply for a permit. Because I had all of my paperwork in proper order I was moved to the front of the line. I walked into the office to find that they had four people working full time just to process permits. This stood in stark contrast to my previous renewal when most of the employees I dealt with hadn’t ever dealt with an application or a renewal before. I was encouraged to see more people availing themselves of the opportunity to carry a reasonable means of personal defense. While the clerk was processing my paperwork, someone going through the process at another station asked me if I was renewing or applying for my first time. After I explained I was there to renew, he asked me if I had ever attended any formal training with firearms. I responded in the affirmative and gave a very brief list of some of the training I’ve had.

“Wow, you’ve done quite a bit…” he said. “ …so can you tell me where to go? Where to start? I haven’t really done anything with handguns since I left The Corps ten years ago. I don’t know much about concealed carry and I’d really like to learn.”

I’ve found that lately I’m answering that sort of question a lot. There seems, at least in my observation, to be a significant number of people from a number of different backgrounds who have figured out that they really would like to be more competent with firearms but they aren’t sure where they should start or how to go about obtaining the kind of training that is most applicable to their situation. Since I’ve done a little bit of training I’ll try and share a bit of what I’ve figured out during my training journey.

Where do I start?

The key to answering this question is to ask yourself another question: What are you trying to accomplish? Where you should start depends a great deal on what your ultimate goal is in seeking out training. Some deliberate thought about exactly what you are trying to get out of the experience can provide significant guidance in developing a training plan that, if followed, will allow you to accomplish the goals you have in mind. The training plan for someone considering daily concealed carry will look considerably different than for the individual who wishes to advance in IPSC or USPSA, and probably considerably different than the SWAT officer looking to learn more about low light team-based CQB. There may be some overlap for those three individuals, but there will also be some significant differences.

Self Evaluation

Once you have a good idea of your learning objectives  it is critical to realistically assess where you are in relation to your end objective. This means taking a long look in the mirror and asking yourself some hard questions. Let’s use the example of the Marine I spoke to at the courthouse. During his time in The Corps he served as an infantryman, which means he had significant training on a number of small arms and in infantry and small unit tactics on the battlefield.

Our Marine concluded, however, that his expert marksmanship with an M-16 and his knowledge of how to effectively employ a squad automatic weapon in an engagement didn’t give him a lot of useful insight into carrying a concealed handgun for personal defense as a civilian on the streets of Virginia. The same would be true for many others who are similarly situated. The military in general doesn’t really spend much time training personnel with handguns, and the training they do receive is usually very basic. It doesn’t really deal with concealed carry unless that Soldier/Sailor/Airman/Marine/Coastie went through specialized training courses like the USMC’s High Risk Personnel course. Even if they were fortunate enough to go through that type of training, odds are it was probably a while ago and they more than likely haven’t had the time to really practice a lot of what they learned.

Performing that kind of honest inventory of knowledge, skills, and abilities is really the only way to achieve any real progress in your stated goals. It is extremely easy to overestimate KSA’s, especially if someone has a significant background in the military, law enforcement, or even in competition. Someone who is a master or grand master in shooting disciplines like USPSA or IPSC has tremendous skill with a handgun, but skill with a handgun even at that level doesn’t make someone competent at concealed carry or personal defense. Their skill with a handgun will definitely be a significant asset just as the Marine’s training in warrior mindset and perseverance will be significant assets, but each has some deficits in the realm of daily concealed carry that quality training and careful research can eliminate.

By realistically assessing your current state and honestly identifying your deficiencies you are also identifying the kind of courses that you’ll need to take. If time and money are limited resources for you, it would be unwise to take just any course you see advertised. There are a number of reasons why you want to be picky.

Relevance

If a course does not address your identified deficiencies, then it is of limited utility to you. There are a number of fantastic trainers these days offering great courses that teach a wide array of skills and applications ranging from basic personal defense all the way up to low light/no light team-based CQB using NVG’s and IR lasers. Some courses focus primarily on weapons skill, some focus on close range personal defense, some focus on street survival tips and tactics, and some focus on the legal guidelines and ramifications of using force up to and including lethal force. Some courses touch on multiple topics.

While the team-based CQB course may be an excellent course taught by an outstanding instructor, it’s probably going to be of very little relevance to a person whose ultimate goal is competence in concealed carry and personal defense. Our hypothetical concealed carry holder can certainly learn some things in that kind of course, but overall the applicability of it for his daily life is going to be minimal. Knowing how to handle an M4 and an IR laser used in concert with a PVS-14 isn’t going to be terribly useful when facing a mugger at the ATM.

Quality

All training is not created equal. Some of the training available today is superb…and some of it is really, really goofy. The difference between the good and the goofy can be hard to discern, especially for the person who is a brand new training consumer. So how does a fellow figure out whether something is good or goofy? Here are some hints:

  1. Instructor’s background – Take a long hard look at the background of the instructor for clues about what he/she is capable of teaching. If, for instance, someone is offering a course on improving your performance on IDPA stages and that person doesn’t actually have any discernable accomplishment in IDPA, that would certainly be a legitimate cause for concern. Similarly, if a dude is putting on a team-based CQB course without ever having done it at a professional level it would be ample cause for concern. Additionally, keep in mind that sometimes resumes are…um…artificially enhanced…which makes it incredibly important to:
  2. Check reviews and AAR’s from classes – Course reviews are a potential goldmine for the prospective student. A well-written review or AAR (After Action Report) can give an excellent idea of the course’s content, the demeanor of the instructor, as well as gear tips for the potential student. There is, however, a catch: Whenever you are reading an AAR, be aware that trainers and companies understand the potential marketing value of AAR’s, so don’t necessarily take the AAR at face value. Beware the guy who seems to have trained primarily with one particular trainer or school, as he might be more of a groupie than a customer. The most useful reviews are generally produced by individuals who have a significant training background with a number of different instructors, especially armed professionals who have been at it a while.
  3. Find some knowledgeable people and ask questions – The difficulty here can be finding knowledgeable people. Web forums can be good sources of information, but they can also be filled to overflowing with stupidity. Find a good forum (some are better than others), take note of the screen names that seem to make sense, and then ask some questions. I’ll also point out that if you are reading this, you’ve already stumbled across a site that has a lot of good information. Take a look around and ask Todd some questions. If nothing else, responding to your e-mail will keep Todd out of trouble.

If you get enough input from enough sensible people, combine that with a sane look at what an instructor brings to the table, and you do your homework in reviewing and sanity checking AARs, you’ll likely form a good idea of whether or not a particular course/trainer/school/etc is worth the investment of your hard earned training dollar. Keep in mind that the ability to teach is a skill unto itself, one that everybody doesn’t have. When you are looking through the reviews and you’re asking questions, determine whether or not the instructor is capable of effectively communicating material to his/her students as well as whether or not the material itself is worthwhile and germane to your particular learning goals.

Concealed Carry

Because there are a lot of folks who are obtaining concealed carry permits these days I think it warrants some extra attention. I certainly don’t claim to be an expert on the topic, but I have figured a few things out over the years that the person new to concealed carry might find helpful.

The first is to understand exactly what concealed carry is about: You are presumably carrying a firearm concealed on your person to defend yourself and/or your family from the violent predators that for whatever reason elude the grasp of our justice system and find their way into your life. Most people who are obtaining permits these days don’t have much experience dealing with genuine sociopaths and don’t really know how they function. It would be good, then, for the person interested in concealed carry to find out how to spot bad guys, to understand how they operate, and to learn to avoid that horrible moment when some third striker is waving a gun in their face. Again I’ll say that I’m not an expert, but I can tell you with absolute certainty that being on the wrong end of a gun really sucks. While I encourage everyone who carries concealed to do all they can to develop the weapon skills that will help them prevail in a gunfight, I strongly encourage people to learn how to avoid the gunfight in the first place.  Now that may not seem like the advice John Wayne would give, but think about it for a minute:

You’ve been dragged to some movie about some effeminate looking “vampires” battling similarly effeminate looking “werewolves” by the lady of the house and possibly also the young ladies of the house. So after suffering through over two hours of sheer torture without suck-starting your concealed handgun to end the pain, you’re on your way back to the car while the ladies are busy discussing which foppish yahoo from the movie was dreamiest…and you notice that there are some shady looking dudes with a special interest to your car.

There are two of them and only one of you…and you have a wife and kids in tow. Wouldn’t it be good to see the problem early and avoid it rather than to try and shoot your way out of the middle of it?

Terms like “situational awareness” and “defensive mindset” are thrown around in discussions about self defense, but understanding what they really mean and why they are important should be a priority for the individual looking to carry for self defense.

It’s also extremely important to understand the laws and jurisprudence that govern the use of force and self defense in your area. If you use force against somebody…lethal force, a punch in the nose, or even just hurting their feelings…you will probably have to answer for it at some point. In the movies when the bad guy has been felled by gunfire the music swells, the credit rolls, and the good guy rides off into the sunset. Suffice it to say that in real life it can be a bit more complicated than that. Understanding the laws governing the use of force before you are facing some felon who wants to hurt you, and how to handle the moment where the police ask you to explain why your hollowpoints are in that dude’s chest ahead of time would be wise.

If self defense is your core motivation for seeking out training I’d strongly encourage you to make sure these things appear as high priorities on your training plan.