Firearms training: Instructors must choose shoot to thrill or shoot to teach the skill

Do firearms instructors have the right and privilege of discharging several hundred rounds during the course of instruction?

Article updated October 19, 2018

It’s a scene played out on firearms ranges across the country, week after week. Students begin moving bags of gear from their vehicles to the staging area, those that forgot to do so the previous evening rapidly load magazines, hold harmless agreements are completed, participants gravitate toward those others present who they know, and ‘that guy’ shows off his latest acquisition.

The moment that will set the tone for the remainder of the course plays out next; the lead instructor steps in front of the gathered clientele and calls the group to order. These are the quotes that resonate through my mind each and every time I step in front of a group of shooters and announce, “Good Morning, I’m Ken Hardesty, and I’ll be your lead instructor for the remainder of the day.”

  • “You never get a second chance to make a first impression”
  • “Show what good looks like”
  • "Appearances are everything”

Should the firearms instructor demonstrate shooting skills

I have yet to see this discussed other places, so I’ll throw myself to the wolves and ask the question. Do firearms instructors have the right and privilege of discharging several hundred rounds during the course of police firearms instruction?

As in any case, there are arguments for both sides. I’ve had this discussion with peers and students alike. Quite frankly, opinions vary. I’ve been to a plethora of courses over the years. I’ve had outstanding instruction from persons dressed in nothing more than a polo shirt and cargo pants, and I’ve been on the receiving end of downright atrocious instruction by personnel in plate carriers and a slung live rifle. Of course, this goes both ways. There are times when the man in the polo hasn’t a clue what he’s talking about, and the instructor with the 25-pound plate carrier showed me things I never knew existed. The purpose of this piece is not to discuss range fashion or dictate a dress code. My intent is to caution against crossing the line.

Personally, I run each and every course I teach with a holstered blue plastic pistol or its slung rifle equivalent. On two separate occasions, I have had students ask me during the debrief why I didn’t shoot the drills alongside the students, or demonstrate every drill in a live-fire fashion.

The points I typically make are:

  • Students didn’t pay money and/or sacrifice time to see me shoot or hear me tell ‘war stories.’
  • If I shoot drills alongside students, who is running the line, coaching participants, or taking immediate action in the event of a safety violation?
  • If I must shoot every drill prior to running it live, I need to brush up on my instructional skills.
  • Shooting multiple live-fire drills leads to a major pet peeve of mine: student downtime. The more time I spend behind the weapon, the less time the students spend on the line.

Having said all that, I will never refuse a student’s request that I demonstrate a drill. I always have a live firearm nearby, and if not, I can easily borrow one from a student. On multiple occasions, I’ve had students ask, “Can we see that done?”

My answer is always the same, “of course.”

After all, would you trust an instructor who could not demonstrate upon demand the skill set he or she is requesting of his students?

Depending upon the complexity of the drill, I will ask of the students, “Does anybody need to see this before we go live?”

I’ve heard my colleague Ed Flosi tell beginning Defensive Tactics Instructors, “teaching is not your opportunity to work out or hone your skills.”

I would argue the same applies to firearms training. Instructing any course is not about taking center stage, it is completely about those who have placed faith and trust in you as an instructor. Improving the skill set of those who have sought your knowledge and experience is the sole priority of those who teach.

When we cross the line and utilize precious training time for either personal gain or to prove to others what we can do, we have failed our students. They may walk away knowing what the instructor’s skill level is, however, what have we done to improve theirs?

Be a great instructor, not a superior showman.

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