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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 as well

Firearms tools

The author has found that some tools are worth every penny at the range.

Photo/Warren Wilson

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.

Police1 resource: 5 important lessons about firearms maintenance

2. Shot timer

“Smooth is fast and fast is slow. That’s rubbish. The intent of that saying is that the more you minimize phrenetic 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 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.

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.

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.

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.

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 from TRT Tap Rack. 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.

7. Education

Police books

Continuing, regular education is imperative for the firearms instructor.

Photo/Warren Wilson

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.

Police1 resource: How to buy firearms training equipment

That’s my list. What’s on yours? Complete the form below to list the investment you think is worth every penny for firearms instructors.

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.

Warren Wilson is a captain, training commander and rangemaster with the Enid Police Department in Oklahoma. He is a former SWAT team leader, current firearms instructor and writer. He has been a full-time law enforcement officer since 1996.