Choosing the right instructor


As a card-carrying member of the mainstream media, I am bound by, and subject to, rigid ethical guidelines.

(I shall pause a bit for the laughter to subside…)

I cannot, for example, answer the one question I am most often asked: Can you recommend a good local firearms instructor?

I can, however, offer some tips to find the right trainer, and some warning signs – indicators that you may want to widen your search a bit.

We are blessed in Florida to have more highly-qualified firearms instructors per square inch than anywhere else on the planet – and I’m talking highly-qualified.

The skill-sets available among the state’s instructor cadre are truly remarkable – especially on the tactical end of the spectrum. Simply put, we’ve got world-class instruction here, at reasonable prices, and lots of it.

However, as with any subset of humanity, there are a very few – and I’m talking an extremely small minority here, like only one or two – who are… well… who are quite frankly … nuts ..less-professional than their peers.

Ask any legit instructor. They may share a horror story or two. This is something trainers talk about amongst themselves after the students have left the range.

‘Have you heard what so-and-so is doing? I’d never do anything like that…’

The first thing I look for in an instructor, when evaluating whether to invest my hard-earned dollars into their class, is paid trigger time: military, law enforcement or civilian contractor experience.

Simply put, there is no substitute for military experience. Having someone who’s been downrange and used their firearms skills is invaluable when it’s time to pass those skills on to another. While all military service is honorable, those who served in the combat arms and/or elite units were exposed to more high-level tactics and training than say those who worked in support roles.

It took me years to appreciate the quality of the marksmanship training I received as a young private. At the time, I was a little more preoccupied with pushing half of Ft. Benning closer to the center of the earth, one pushup at a time.

Law enforcement firearms training traditionally focuses on the pistol. If your potential instructor was a street cop, great. If they were a firearms trainer at their agency or a SWAT team member, even better. Also, a former cop is one of the best possible information sources you can find to explain the legal aspects of using deadly force.

Ask about your instructor’s background. Ask about their service. Look at their affiliations and memberships – especially their standing with the National Rifle Association. Most trainers won’t have any problem discussing their background or giving you a copy of their résumé. As a matter of fact, they’re probably proud of their skills, schools and special training and post them on their website.

Be very wary if you’re talking to someone who claims they served in a unit that’s so secret and highly-classified they can’t talk about it. As a matter of fact, run!

Even trainers who served in über-elite Tier 1 units – such, as Delta or DEVGRU – can talk about their service to some degree. These high-level trainers offer classes around the country. They’re constantly in high demand. Their classes fill up quickly, so a few have trained and certified other instructors to teach students using their training techniques and methods. Folks, this is as good as it gets. If one of these classes is offered near your AO, jump on it.

I’m not saying every firearms trainer had to have served in the military or law enforcement. There are great civilian instructors, but most have spent decades studying and teaching marksmanship. Be wary of anyone who began teaching around the time the economy tanked. I know of a few who started training after their other business failed. Training someone to defend themselves and their family is a noble calling. It’s not a get-rich-quick scheme.

You can put some stock in online student reviews. There are several websites that host discussions, forums and chats about different classes and trainers. However, I’m always a bit skeptical of the true identity of any anonymous reviewer.

Finally, look for someone who makes firearms training enjoyable and fun. There should never be any yelling or belittling. Find someone who’s comfortable teaching novices, but who’s not threatened by shooters with experience.

My favorite trainers learn from their students, admit when their wrong, have a great sense of humor, and most importantly, keep things simple.





About Author

Lee Williams can’t remember a time in his life when he wasn’t shooting. Before becoming a journalist, Lee served in the Army and worked as a police officer. He’s earned more than a dozen journalism awards as a reporter, and three medals of valor as a cop. He is an NRA-certified law enforcement firearms instructor, an avid tactical shooter and a training junkie. When he’s not busy as a senior investigative reporter, he is usually shooting his AKs, XDs and CZs. If you don’t run into him at a local gun range, you can reach him at 941.284.8553, by email, or by regular mail to 1777 Main St., Sarasota, FL 34236. You can follow him on Twitter: @HT_GunWriter and on Facebook @The Gun Writer.


  1. I’ve been wanting to find some concealed carry classes that I could take since I bought my first handgun, but I wanted to know what to look for in an instructor. I’m glad that you talked about being weary when you have an instructor for concealed carry classes that won’t talk about their unit. I’m going to have to keep an eye out for some sketchy instructors in concealed carry classes, and make sure that I get a good one!

  2. Your suggestion to look at online student review is very helpful. What better way to decide what concealed carry class to attend then to see how others liked the class. I recently purchased a gun and wanting to get a concealed carry permit. I’ll remember to look at reviews when deciding on a class to attend.

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