Beyond the Mandatory: Becoming a True Defensive Shooting Instructor

It’s easy to become state certified and meet mandatory training requirements to become a defensive shooting instructor, but it requires extra dedication and effort to become a true defensive shooting instructor. Here are some tips for giving your students high-quality training.

Beyond the Mandatory Training - Concealed Handgun Laws

State curriculum mandates that instructors cover 1. Use of Force, 2. Safe Storage, 3. Non-Violent Dispute Resolution, and 4. Handgun Use. Neglecting the Handgun Use portion, especially for new shooters, is irresponsible.

I have been teaching the Texas Concealed Handgun License curriculum for a little over two years. This was not a difficult certification to acquire, as it only required five days of training, a written test, and a very simple display of proficiency. With instructor certification as easy as it is in most states, the average concealed carry instructor finds him or herself in a bit of a conundrum. We are often the first block of instruction that students receive on defensive firearms, and too often we are the last. This conundrum provides an opportunity for a high level of success or abject failure when it comes to quality of instruction.

The Texas state curriculum mandates covering what the instructor community has come to refer to as the “four food groups”: use of force, non-violent dispute resolution, safe storage, and handgun use. These topics are very similar to what other states with training requirements mandate. I have found that the first three topics are usually covered quite well within most courses, while the handgun use portion is often covered ineffectively, to the detriment of the students. This is one of the reasons I became an instructor myself. Some of this can be blamed on the structure of the course as mandated, but I believe that much of it has to do with a lack of desire or ability on the part of the individual instructor to impart knowledge in a hands-on fashion at the range. This issue must be remedied, especially given the current market, which is filled with a majority of brand-new shooters seeking to carry defensive firearms concealed.

Beyond the Mandatory Training - Concealed Handgun Laws

The mandatory lecture portions of the class are essential, but proper time management will allow you to maximize training value without missing any required material.

Flood of New Students

With the “panic” after the Sandy Hook massacre, there has been a large increase in the number of new applicants for concealed carry permits. I went from teaching an average of 10 students per month to receiving calls to host classes for 25+ almost overnight at the beginning of 2013. The majority of these new applicants are picking up defensive handguns for the first time in their lives and are often showing up to the qualification range with a gun that is still in its original container. With this being the case, it becomes extremely important for the instructor to realize that simply showing up, pointing at some NRA posters, talking about dogmatic safety rules, and then running a quick qualification on the range are not going to benefit the students at all. Far too often I see instructors running students through the qualification range like cattle so that they can maximize their profits while providing the students with minimal training value.

The sad reality is that a majority of these new licensees are not going to seek out additional training after they leave the state-mandated class and will thus be left without the basic knowledge that can be imparted with just a small amount of extra effort on the part of the instructor. This becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy when the training provided at the initial certification class is so boring and largely irrelevant that the student has no appetite for follow-on training. A few things I do with my class have worked well and I recommend them to other concealed carry instructors.

Instructor-to-Student Ratio

Hold smaller classes or add more instructors on the range. I generally cap my classes at 15 people because I don’t feel that I can manage a range with more students from a safety or quality aspect without an extra instructor. If I do end up hosting a class that exceeds that benchmark, I have found that my fellow instructors are more than willing to lend a hand on the range portion of the class. Making the instructor-to-student ratio smaller helps with risk mitigation and gives the individual student higher quality instruction. This of course requires you to maintain a good relationship with your fellow instructors or to develop your own internal staff. Both options are doable, depending on your business structure. You can still make a solid profit without shortchanging your students on range time. You can also advertise your class as such, which can help from a marketing standpoint.

Beyond the Mandatory Training - Concealed Handgun Laws

Make your range time count by taking the time to teach basic defensive shooting skills instead of just running the qualification.

Range Time

Make range time as big of a priority as the legal portions of the class. Right now in Texas, the class mandates 10 hours of training. The four mandatory training topics cannot possibly fill those 10 hours. Instead of filling in the time with war stories and the like, maximize your trigger time. Your students will gain more essential knowledge and will have more fun at the same time. This will in turn create an appetite for follow-on training. Even when the classroom time is shortened to four to six hours with new legislation in Texas this fall, it leaves the range portion of the class wide open. You are cheating your students if you don’t spend at least a couple of hours teaching basic defensive shooting techniques like the balance of speed and precision.

Rob Pincus and others have demonstrated that these simple disciplines can be learned in less than 10 minutes with a novice shooter. That extra time spent on the range can do amazing things for the new shooter’s confidence and mindset. Your students likely won’t train on their own if you don’t show them how to do it. With 10 to 15 students, I am able to accomplish a quality hands-on class incorporating very basic drills without taking away from the other mandated topics or the qualification. Time management is the key. Take advantage of every minute and every round. With just 50 extra rounds on top of a student’s qualification ammo, you can accomplish a ton. If nothing else, it will give a basic framework for the student to build upon and will usually motivate them to at least get out and practice on their own.

Beyond the Mandatory Training - Concealed Handgun Laws

The state proficiency qualification is merely a baseline assessment and shouldn’t be the sole focus of the hands-on portion of the class.

Keep Learning

Remain an avid student yourself! You can’t provide quality instruction if all you have done is taken a couple of NRA safety classes and the state-mandated training. There is a plethora of valuable information on the internet alone that can help improve your classes. Make it your goal to evolve as an instructor by always looking at better ways to train and impart knowledge. There are a ton of instructors who can recite chapter and verse of the penal code, but very few who know how the body reacts to threats under stress. Remedying this condition means you’ll spend some of your profits attending classes from other, more seasoned instructors. There is no way you can motivate your students to continue to train if you aren’t willing to do the same.

Organizations like the Association of Defensive Shooting Instructors are developing programs to allow those of us who have full-time jobs and teach concealed carry on the side to develop through distance learning some skills that full-time instructors possess. I encourage you to take advantage of these resources. Just make sure you fully understand each skill you are teaching before you add it to your range time. It does no good to teach a specific drill or training technique if you have no idea why you are teaching it. Read articles and books, watch training videos, and take classes.


It is easy to become state certified and meet mandatory training requirements, but it requires extra dedication and effort to become a true defensive shooting instructor. The concealed carry class that you teach may well be the only training your students ever receive in the use of a defensive firearm. Don’t let your lack of effort when it comes to hands-on instruction leave your students with no desire or ability to continue training. State-mandated concealed carry classes are the “first line of defense” when it comes to the firearms training industry.

It’s time for us to rise above state-mandated standards and provide students with solid defensive shooting fundamentals. A few NRA posters and a PowerPoint presentation aren’t going to cut it. The very fact that you are reading this article on this website indicates that you care about refining your craft. I hope you will continue to develop the quality of your class while still meeting the state-mandated requirements. The goals are not mutually exclusive. Your students will thank you for it, and it might even help to save their lives in their critical incident if and when it comes.

  • (will not be published)

8 Responses to “Beyond the Mandatory: Becoming a True Defensive Shooting Instructor”

  1. TAC01

    As a Texas CHL Instructor I agree completely with this article. I spend so much time teaching new gun owners the basics and I stress constantly doing some sort of “continuation training.” Spot on!

  2. Kyle Kutach
    Kyle Kutach

    Excellent article, and I echo many of your sentiments, as I am also a Texas CHL instructor. I try to maximize the impact and benefit of instruction to my CHL students within the context of the course by presenting extra content and detail on shooting fundamentals, however it is important to remember that the CHL class is not a fundamental marksmanship or weapons handling course – it is primarily a legal course, designed to fulfill the state requirements as there is time for little else. I have found the vast majority of my CHL students have no interest in additional training – they are there to ‘check the boxes’, do what they need to do to get their CHL and move on. Not surprisingly, most of them are not “gun folks” – many have purchased their first handgun only weeks or even days before the class. I encourage them to seek extra training, whether it’s from our school or someone else’s, but I estimate that less than 10% ever do so.

  3. hipshootchl

    I understand that the primary purpose of the course is to teach the state law and I agree with your sentiment that a lot of non- “gun people” aren’t interested in learning new things. However, a part of the curriculum is “handgun use” and that to me means more than proficiency qualification. I have found that many of my students after being intrigued by what are new techniques and mindsets to them that I present on the range are at least interested in visiting sites like this and learning how to train on their own. I follow up and facilitate this with tips and techniques on my social media page and it has generated enough interest to cause me to pursue more instructor development to be able to offer some follow on training myself in the future. Think about why you train. Someone somewhere or of some website or in some book or class sparked your interest. I try to do that with my students, as you apparently do as well. This probably has better results than you know and will continue to get better as you evolve as an instructor. Thanks for the feedback and thank you for doing more than 90% of CHL instructors are willing to.

  4. Instructor

    I completely agree with Aaron’s observations and assertions. I cannot figure out why instructors who have been trained and represent the organizations that trained them. Not to mention, they represent the greater community of gun owners across the Nation.
    I used to think that some of the instructors in my locale were just “cash grabbers” who wanted to pump as many student through as possible in order to make money, and I couldn’t figure out why they wouldn’t offer more and charge accordingly in order to satisfy their need for money.
    I have sine realized that it’s not a matter of money and trying to pump the students through, but the fact that they just haven’t taken the time to advance their education and training and therefore are not able to teach any more to their students.
    We have an 8 hour minimum in Michigan and we have many instructors who are not able to fill that time with pertinent information. Of that 8 hour minimum, we have a 3 hour firing range requirement. These instructors who are not able to fulfill the 8 hour requirement are also spending as little as a half of an hour on the range with their students.
    These inadequacies are disturbing, in and of themselves. This is one extreme. Less extreme, are those instructors who fulfill the time requirements, but do not focus on the progress of their students.
    At West Michigan Firearms Education, we pride ourselves on the success of our students and we spend 11 hours for this same course. Four of those eleven are on the firing range and we find ourselves looking at spending even more range time than that.
    I’ll step off my soap box now and just say that I find it a little frustrating that we have instructors who feel it is OK to certify folks for their CPL training with less than basic understandings of what it means to use a firearm in their personal protection plan.
    All of that aside, Aaron hit the nail on the head with this article, nice job!

  5. Rich Yount
    Rich Yount

    As a Certified Pistol Instructor we teach our students the importance of not only the Legal Requirments of ownership but also the physical aspects of the Firearm Handling. Body Carry concealed and open. Defense inside the home versus outside and the vast differences between those situations. Just the Basics doesn’t cut it anymore. This article is spot on and drives the importance of proficiency, continued training and variations, & constant drill to increase skill mindset. This prepares you for that “critical incident” should it arise.

  6. Carl

    Spot on. Great article.

    In NM, the state requirement is a 15-hour course – more than enough time to cover required topics plus other important concepts and still have lots of range time. My class runs 16-18 hours. While many of my peers do an excellent job, I still see instructors spending little of this large time block on the range giving students practical handgun skills practice and too much time in the classroom on filler material.

  7. Todd

    Good Article, I see so many “Instructors” who become certified and teach people, in the same methodology. It is a shame that so few stop at the point of certification. To me it is a lifestyle choice, and one that I take with grave responsibility as the material I teach, could make the difference between someone’s life/death and/or where they spend the next 20 years. Becoming “certified” to instruct others, is just the door, of education that one should be learning and perfecting each time. My experience is that each student is unique, as well as, each class. I have had the pleasure of being able to mentor a few certified instructors, and they find that it does take time and self interest to be a truly good instructor.