Monday, January 22, 2018

Firearms Safety Classes: Teaching "Beginners"

It surprises me to learn that some people dismiss the challenge of teaching "Beginning Shooter" classes.

Rodney Dangerfield must’ve taught beginners | Cornered Cat:
 ... teaching beginners is the most dangerous and difficult task any shooting instructor ever faces. And yet we tend to look down on people who teach such classes. Even instructors sometimes look down on themselves for not teaching ‘real’ classes.
I've been teaching "advanced" classes for eight years, and I have never volunteered to teach "Beginners" because I'm a big coward.

Sometimes, though, it's impossible to avoid that challenge; this is especially true when beginners over-value their gun-handling skills because of ignorance, or bad habits which can be developed because they have become accustomed to handling guns without proper supervision.
Because  they over-rate their gun-handling skills, they often sign up for "advanced" courses ... and they show up at one of my "Introduction to USPSA" classes because they expect me to teach them the advanced techniques of skills they haven't already developed for themselves.

Ultimately, though, no matter how "experienced" the student population may seem to be ... we are all "beginners" when it comes to learning new techniques ... such as drawing from a holster, and competing under the pressure-cooker of a limited amount of time to competitively complete a course of fire.
This is the purpose of the first hour of an "Introduction to USPSA" class which I teach monthly; it is designed to identify and correct "bad" gun-handling practices.

Even though I'm careful to confirm that my students are experienced ...(and during the first hour ... the "Lecture" hour ... of a class, I ask each student to describe his/her experience with his pistol,, with competitive shooting and simply "Drawing From The Holster") ... I am still surprised by the occasional student who seems "Unclear On The Concept".

This class was originally envisioned as an "Advanced Course"; designed to hone skills which have already been learned and practiced, but not to the level of achievement needed to compete successfully.  Over the six or seven years I've been teaching it, the course has been modified to teach competent, experienced pistol shooters to compete in a narrow range of gun-handling skills specifically tailored for competition.

Unfortunately, it has been interpreted by prospective students as a class which would teach only 'advanced' (slightly) 'gun-handling skills' for people who have never learned to draw from the holster and engage a myriad of targets.

Well .. that's okay by me.  I can do that.  In fact, I think it's a better use of my time, because the people who already compete in USPSA classes probably already think they know everything they need to know, and this class may serve to introduce new competitors to the sport.

But I don't willingly teach "beginner" students; still, from time to time I find myself confronted by students who are unfamiliar with the controls of his/her firearm ("oh, this gun doesn't have a safety") or who do not know how to safely draw and re-holster a firearm, or whose grip is unsafe.

Even so, the class still serves several useful purposes.
Every year I have to correct the grip of at least one unsafe  student who practices the "Left Thumb Over The Right Wrist" grip, because he/she is unaware that the slide on a semi-automatic pistol WILL recoil and chew their support-hand thumb!

There are several indications that The Student is not  competent to undertake an Advanced Pistol Course:

  • The Student cannot holster his/ pistol using one hand, without using the other hand to find where his holster is. We can teach this, even though it may not be the most 'important' lesson;
  • The Student cannot find his safety without looking, or does not automatically "safe" his pistol when holstering.  This should not be part of an advanced course, but it is still important.
  • The Student is unaware that his pistol, if so equipped, has a thumb safety which must be engaged before holstering; and which must be dis-engaged up on the draw; I'm not sure that this student is ready for a competition course, but perhaps he/she missed the "Introduction" course.  Better that they learn it here than not know it at all;
  • The student, when responding to commands or instruction when holding his/her pistol, pivots his/her body in such a manner as to point his/her pistol at the instructor when receiving instructions.  I'd rather this student learn from a different instructor; I get nervous when people point guns at me!

One of the most difficult of "Bad Habits which a "new competitor must overcome is the nonchalant gun-handling skills which one develops when he goes to the range in a casual environment of "shooting at the range with friends", 

This encourages them to leave handguns on the counter, to casually be picked up and otherwise handled without supervision,

Even though I invariably announce that the ("New Shooter") class will be taught using USPSA rules of gun handling, I still see students wandering around the shooting bay with a pistol in their hand, usually with the purpose of asking me a question about some semi-obscure nuance of gun-handling practices.

Perhaps I need to loudly announce: "STARTING NOW! to emphasize the onset of strict firearm safety practices on the range.  One would expect that intelligent firearms owners would understand immediately, but they have been desensitized by years of casual firearms-handling practices.

(That's what you get when you go to the range with "friends", who excuse your execrable gun\-handling habits.  They are not your friends, if they let you get away with being unsafe.Still, the course advances the purpose of training pistol-shooters in "best practices" of safely handling a pistol.)

They do not realize that the rules of safe gun-handling are in effect ANY time you are shooting.  Even in the company of close friends (who are willing to forgive you if you are an unsafe dork).

If you are in my class, and you break tis basic rule of Firearms Safety ... I won't forgive you.
In fact, I'll yell at you.  With any luck, I'll embarrass you in front of your friends; perhaps I'll convince you that you should never carry a gun.

Then you need to convince me (and yourself) that you are Competent.
That's the best possible outcome of a training session.

Here's the thing about teaching beginner gun-handlers;

They need to know the rules, before they know the guns.

I don't care if you know how to reload the gun; or how to determine the difference between sight-alignment and sight-adjustment; or whether you can hit the target.
All *_I_* care about is that you don't shoot anybody!
You can miss the target all day, and I'll just work on helping you fix your grip, and teaching you the difference between sight picture and sight alignment.

You may not be a good shot, but I'll teach you to keep your finger off the trigger until you have acquired your target;  On a good day, we'll talk about hitting your target; but I don't really care as long as your shots hit "downrange", which is the direction in which I and my friends are not standing.

Yes, I would LIKE you to have your finger off the trigger when you are holstering your pistol, but, if you don't care about negligently firing a round into your fibia, your tibia or your patella .... I don't mind watching you walk with a crutch for the rest of your life.

However, if you turn around after shooting a truly exemplary string and point your pistol at me with your finger on the trigger, I hope you don't mind that I use strong language when I correct you.  It's "a personal thing"; I don't want to get shot just because you get excited.  That's another sign that you're not ready to shoot guns.  (Note: shooting your firearms instructor is always A Bad Thing!)

(Hopefully, you will be offended, and decide to never touch a gun again.  That's okay by me.)

I've  taught hundreds of "new shooters" to shoot safely, over the years, and I haven't been shot at yet.

Better; I've never (yet) been hit!

If it's all the same to you, I'd like to keep my 100% record.
It's not a matter of pride.  It's a matter of survival

I've been teaching New Shooters for over 10 years now,.  So far, so good.  I'd appreciate your cooperation in helping me to maintain my 10o% survival rate.  Either that, or you might consider taking up a new hobby; may I suggest "Quilting"?


No comments: