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7 investments worth every penny for firearms instructors

Firearms instructors aren’t just carrying supplies for themselves; they’re carrying supplies for their students too

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My range bag used to be packed. After becoming a firearms instructor, I had to buy a bigger bag. Firearms instructors aren’t just carrying supplies for themselves, they’re carrying supplies for their students as well.

For the first few years of my teaching career, I added one or two elements to my kit every few classes. These are the investments I consider worth every penny for the firearms instructor:

1. Small cleaning kit

You will likely have students who don’t take care of their equipment or bring low-quality ammunition that gums up their pistol. You will also have students who don’t know how to clean their gun or what items are needed to do so. You’ll also have students will show up to class with filthy guns that will barely function at the beginning of classes. At a bare minimum, have some good quality oil, a cleaning rod, some solvent and some patches.

  • Gun cleaning rods made from stainless steel
  • Includes 4 brass tips, 13 brass jags, 12ga spiral brush, 9 mops, 14 wire brushes, 223 chamber brush; clear caliber markings on tools
  • 200 gun cleaning patches + 100 gun cleaning swabs
  • One-step solution: All-inclusive gun cleaner, lubricant and protectant
  • Gun oil and cleaner is gentle, safeguarding wood, polymers and more without compromising a firearm’s finish or function
  • Includes pump sprayer for broad coverage and a needle oiler for targeted gun lube precision
  • Gun lube won’t freeze or run — protection from -65°F to 400°F
Your lifesaving emergency equipment won’t work properly if you don’t maintain it

2. Shot timer

“Smooth is fast and fast is slow.”

That’s rubbish. The intent of that saying is that the more you minimize frenetic motion, the faster you will be. The phrase has been bastardized into an excuse for some shooters to be slow and “speed will come.”

Shot timers are a must for firearms training. If you can’t measure where you are in your speed to the first shot and between shots, you have no idea where you are and where you need to go. Today, I would never teach a class without a shot timer. There are so many drills that must be timed but not run on a par time where the turning targets won’t work such as the Casino drill or the FAST drill.

  • Bluetooth capability with a free mobile app for Apple, Android and Kindle devices to catalog data
  • Bright LED indicator to signal the start
  • Built-in shot string memory of up to 50 strings for later review on screen
  • Built-in “hit factor” scoring calculator for USPSA shooters
  • Rugged and water-resistant with Bluetooth and companion app
  • Detects dry fire sound, CO2, lr22 + suppressed, 9mm and any larger firearm caliber
  • Large high-res screen with magnetic holder
  • Battery life is up to a month of regular use on single charge
  • 2-year warranty with lifetime support
Think you have what it takes? Even seasoned shooters will find this drill tests their limits

3. Tools and parts

Every year, we see guns break or need adjustments of some kind. The tools I’ve found useful are punches, small screwdrivers, hex drivers and sight tools. If you have no way to fix an officer’s gun on the range, training must stop unless you have a spare firearm for them.

  • Modular multi-tool system featuring a variety of specialty gun tools and torque limiters, along with standard 1/4" bits
  • Contains numerous bits and accessories
  • Features soft carrying case that has a bit holder designed to hold any bit/accessory with a standard 1/4" base and any 8-32 threaded component
Download this Police1 firearms training equipment buying guide to learn key steps for product selection, purchasing and implementation

4. Spare gun

Speaking of which: It’s a good idea to know what your students are bringing to class and bring a spare or two from the armory. Bring a few extra magazines and corresponding holsters as well. I’ve seen a lot of training time wasted from firearms breakages.

  • 15 oz, 7+1, polymer-framed, 9mm
  • Premium barrel with polygonal rifling
  • EDC gun with a Trigger Cocking DAO system
Comes packed with features such as:
  • 1/2” - 28 threaded barrel
  • Blacked-out suppressor height sights
  • Red dot optic-ready
  • Three 21 rd. extended magazines
The Beretta APX A1 Full Size Tactical and Compact Tactical bring additional options to the table for officers looking for a duty gun or a rock-solid, off-duty carry pistol

5. Spare other stuff

We are seeing more and more cops who are not shooters come into the business. They are unaccustomed to firearms and the equipment necessary for a range session. I try to keep some spare ball caps, eye protection and hearing protection; especially electronic hearing protection to allow the student to hear range commands.

  • Anti-fog, anti-scratch polycarbonate UV400 Lens blocks 99.9% of harmful UV rays
  • Wrap-around lens gives full side vision and protection
  • Lightweight, semi-rimless black frame
  • Comes with a zipper hard case
  • Built-in directional microphones amplify range commands and other ambient sounds to a safe 82 dB
  • Actively listens and automatically shuts off amplification when ambient sound reaches 82 dB
  • Features low profile earcups for firearm stock clearance; adjustable headband for secure fit; compact folding design for convenient storage
  • Includes AUX input and 3.5 mm connection cord for MP3 players and scanners; integrated power/volume knob
  • Includes 2 AAA batteries; automatic shut-off feature after 4 hours increases battery life; approximately 350 hours of battery life
The courts have said that our firearms training needs to be relevant and realistic — however, it must also be conducted regularly

6. Regular other stuff

Over the years, I’ve come across some non-traditional items I’ve found valuable for firearms training. One such item is magazine follower blocks. These nifty little gadgets keep the slide on a pistol or the bolt on an AR from locking back with an empty magazine. That allows the student to safely practice slide manipulations during dry fire practice.

  • TRT loads into an empty pistol magazine; perfect for use during dry fire training
  • Designed so the slide of the pistol can pass over the TRT without stripping it from the magazine
  • 10 pack of 9MM/.40 cal
  • Made in the USA
If you commit to improvement, you can be a high-performance shooter

7. Education

When the term “institutional inertia” is used, they’re talking about law enforcement. We rarely step outside of law enforcement for training, concepts or tactics. That keeps the profession behind as techniques evolve around us. The money I’ve spent on training outside of law enforcement classes has been worth every penny.

When an officer gets paid to go to training, they don’t have the same motivation to learn. When I pay for my own training and use vacation time to attend, I make certain to get every penny’s worth out of it.

In my home state – from start to finish – the firearms instructor program is 266 hours in length when you include basic instructor development and AR-15 carbine instructor to the total. It’s a longer and more arduous course than any other I’m aware of. To be accepted into the program, one must shoot a 480/600 on the PPC (Practical Police Pistol) course.

That test is considered phase one of the six phases. The second phase is to score a 540/600 (90%) on the same course. The instructor candidate has seven chances during the three-day class to make the score. About 50% consistently wash out. We believe it’s among the most difficult and arduous law enforcement firearms instructor programs in the country.

That said, I’ve still attended hundreds of hours of training since then on the topic of defensive firearms use including two other firearms instructor certifications. I’ve learned a tremendous amount from those classes. You see, it’s impossible to learn everything you need to know about being a firearms instructor from one course — no matter its quality. There is always more to learn. Education through books, classes or articles is truly worth every penny.

This book will prepare you to run your range facility safely and effectively, and advance your agency’s firearms program to the leading edge of national standards. It will be the key in elevating you to be a true Rangemaster.
The shooting skills taught in this book carry broad application in civilian, law enforcement and military contexts.
Follow these steps to calm your mind and increase your shooting confidence

That’s my list. What’s on yours?

Police1 reader suggestions

  • training aids, shot timer, extra stapler/staples, Uplula Mag loader(s), colored markers, wearable IFAK.
  • Going to civilian competitions like IDPA or USPSA, is well worth the time. Both the skill levels and equipment used are likely to be advanced compared to what you are used to. The level of speed accuracy that is displayed will likely put you on your heels. Ask questions and don’t be proud. Those civilians will do everything they can to help you improve so you can shoot better and instruct better.
  • Water: We had Gatorade jugs of water and cups to make sure students are properly hydrated to avoid medical issues, especially on hot days.
  • Medical kit: Every instructor we have has purchased their own portable medical kit in addition to what we have already for the range. I have a shooting-specific trauma kit on my gun belt.
  • Portable speaker: I am testing a portable battery-powered speaker that clips on my vest for the range so the students without electronic hearing protection can still hear my range commands, especially during live-fire drills where I might need to give instructions to cease fire or address other emergent safety issues.
  • NextLevel Training laser training pistols. I use them to teach sight alignment and trigger control. Working from the holster the student experiences everything but the blast and recoil before stepping onto the live-fire range. They are great for diagnosing student eye/gun sight issues and trigger manipulation.
  • You need quality subordinate instructors to assist you. I was a senior firearms instructor from 1991 to 2020 for two different departments. Many officers want to be instructors to just get off the street. You need candidates who have the willingness to want to do it because they love it. I also caution about replacing parts if you are not an armorer.
  • I believe the instructor must bring the proper attitude to teach their students. We’ve all seen the instructor who spends more time telling war stories than observing, teaching, coaching and mentoring the students with patience, humility and a sense of humor. If you haven’t sent the class to lunch/dinner/break/home while you break out another case of ammo and load magazines for those who need extra help, in my opinion, you are not an instructor ... yet.
  • Training outside of officially offered and scheduled training. Armorer’s tool kit including springs and pins. Small digital camera. Rain poncho. Good first aid kit with tourniquet. Staple gun and staples. Paracord, extra flashlights and batteries. Bottled water, hand sanitizer and basic cleaning kit. Sometimes extra ear muffs and range glasses. Small powerful binoculars. Phone charging kit. I usually can get these in a large duffle bag.

This article, originally posted on July 9, 2021, has been updated.

Warren Wilson is a captain, training commander and rangemaster with an Oklahoma metropolitan police department. He is a former SWAT team leader, current firearms instructor and writer. He is certified as a De-Escalation Instructor and Force Science Analyst by the Force Science Institute. Warren has over 3,100 hours of documented training including multiple instructor certifications on firearms, active shooter and OC. He has been a full-time law enforcement officer since 1996.