NRA wrong, and mum, about online firearm training requirements

It’s been almost a year since the National Rifle Association launched its mandatory online training program — something they call “blended training” — for students taking the Basic Pistol class.

The format requires beginner students to take the first portion of the Basic Pistol class online, and then complete their certification with an actual live instructor.

The online component, which costs the student $60 and is paid directly to the NRA, covers a host of important issues: safety, types of firearms, ammunition, selecting and safe storage of a handgun, the “fundamentals of pistol shooting,” clearing stoppages and much more.

To say that the new online prerequisite hasn’t been well received by NRA-certified instructors would be a massive understatement.

A post on the NRA Blog titled “The Truth About NRA Blended Learning” received nearly 150 comments, almost all from instructors. Most hate the idea.

The instructors I’ve spoken to aren’t pleased with the online training requirement either. Nor did they want their names used in this story. Since they rely on their NRA credentials to make a living, none wanted their livelihood jeopardized.

Suffice it to say, most view it as nothing more than a “money grab” by NRA.

“I think it’s BS,” said one instructor. “The NRA always had a relationship with the instructor and the student. Now, it’s a computer and the student. It’s not right. They taking money away from people who are trying to earn a living teaching their programs. Besides, how do I know that when a student comes to me with a piece of paper saying they took this online class, that they’re the one that actually took it, and that their friend didn’t. It opens the door to fraud. There’s no practicality to the online course. There’s no hands-on. I’ve watched people take the course. A supposed eight-hour course took them 11 hours, and then it turned into an ad to join the NRA. They have to sit through that too. They can’t fast-forward until they get ‘assimilated.’ It’s all about getting people to join NRA.”

Others agree.

“It’s a joke,” said another instructor. “First, you can’t verify who took the online class. A friend could sit in there and take it. As an instructor, you can tell if your students are getting it, or not getting it. Can a computer do that? It’s like the movie “Karate Kid.” You can’t learn karate from a book. And it’s all about money. The NRA is making money directly, so they don’t have to pay any of the instructors. I’ve talked to (NRA training) counselors about it. None of them understand it. They think it’s gonna be a big failure. When a student passes the class they need to find an instructor to watch them fire a gun. Good luck with that. I’ll do it, but they’ve got to sit in my classroom for a few hours.”

A third trainer saw it as a way to “screw over the instructors.”

“It’s a betrayal. We’ve got people coming up to us with this piece of paper who now expect us to train them on the range for free,” he said. “They say they already ‘paid’ for the course, so we have to train them for free. It doesn’t work like that. If someone wants me to train them, especially if they want me to certify them for a concealed weapons license, they have to take my class — all of my class.”

No interview

I tried to talk to someone from NRA’s Education and Training department about the problems and concerns raised by the organizations’s instructor cadre.

Jason Brown, a media relations specialist at NRA headquarters in Fairfax, Virginia, wrote in an email that he’d be “happy to help” with my story.

“Best way ahead is to send over some questions you want answered, and we can get you the best subject matter expert or information on the Blended Learning Basics of Pistol Shooting,” Brown wrote in an email Dec. 5.

For me, that’s a red flag.

“Is there any way I could actually talk to one of your subject matter experts?” I wrote. “I hate submitting questions.”

Brown responded that no one in Education and Training was available to be interviewed, but that he’d “source” the questions to them.

“The Education and Training department has asked us (the media team) to handle all inquiries regarding Blended Learning/Basics of Pistol Shooting, and will be unavailable directly,” Brown wrote. “However, I could source answers or info from them to get you what you need. Sorry for any inconvenience – let me know how else I can help.”

Now the red flag is waving.

“Ethically, I cannot submit written questions — period,” I wrote in my reply. “Besides, even if I could, an email exchange is not conducive to a good interview. If you can’t arrange for a phone interview, I shall have to point out in the story that NRA was not willing to be interviewed. Honestly, this is not the response I envisioned from America’s oldest civil rights organization.”

As an investigative reporter, when someone tells me they will only respond to written questions, it is tantamount to admitting that the organization has something pretty significant to hide.

Besides, ethically, I’m barred from submitting written questions — even if I wanted to — for several reasons.

First, the questions usually aren’t answered by the subject matter expert. More often than not, they’re researched and answered by a gaggle of lawyers and spokespersons. This isn’t fair to readers.

Second, conducting an “interview” via email hardly qualifies as an interview. It prohibits follow-up questions and, without a live person at the other end, it’s hard to gauge the veracity of the source — their truthfulness and accuracy. Again, it’s unfair to readers.

Finally, most seasoned journalists realize that when one reporter complies with a source’s written-question demand, all reporters will be forced to do likewise. At that point the lawyers and spokespersons control the message and, again, the readers lose.

As I told Mr. Brown, I expected much, much more from America’s oldest civil rights organization.

If either he or one of his colleagues in NRA’s media relations department want to comment on this story, I can be contacted easiest via email or on my cell: (941) 284-8553.

I am standing by for the call.

Best practices

In my humble opinion, teaching topics as deadly serious as firearm safety or “the fundamentals of pistol shooting” through an online class is an extremely dangerous practice.

It needs to cease immediately.

Online training is fine for mundane topics such as disassembly or cleaning, but things as serious as firearm safety, shooting fundamentals or malfunction clearing should only be taught with a live instructor. The NRA knows this, or at least they should know this.

There are 76 members on NRA’s board of directors. Since this site was launched nearly four years ago, I’ve gotten to know a few — good folks all. They’re the leaders of our gun community.

The best way to change an organization is from within, and I hope the board is up to the task.

I doubt any directors knew about the online requirements, and I’m sure none would condone them. So, it’s high time for the board to do something about the problem.


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. Furthermore, the requirements for obtaining a CHP is a states’ rights issue. Every state is different. E.G.: Virginia has nine sub statutes dictating how one may obtain a CHP. Under four of those sub statutes (that I can think of immediately), one can obtain a CHP without any field training or live fire exercise.

    This is the last straw for me. The NRA is gettin’ too damn big for their britches. I’m done with ’em.

  2. Just got an email with a rumor from a training counselor that the NRA is going to can blended learning. Let’s hope it’s true.

    Things are a mess here in Colorado due to the state’s training requirement — it requires a signed certificate which you don’t get from completion of the blended learning class (completion defined as doing both the online and face to face portions). So instructions are having to “roll their own” certificates. At which point they realize that the law requires a class [simplified version] from an NRA instructor, but it doesn’t have to be an NRA class.

    So many instructors are just creating their own non-NRA classes, completely throwing any kind of standardization out the window. In other words in Colorado the blended learning absolutely and completey backfired, leading to less standard courses!

    I can see online courses for something like fly tying, but not shooting, for heaven’s sake!


  3. The initial news of the NRA blended training didn’t bother me at first, I figured it would be priced similar to the Training packets we used to purchase from the NRA, if not less. Instead they are twice the cost of the physical material, and to be competitive in the market I can’t charge over $100.00 per student,for the basic handgun course. So $60.00 to the NRA leaves a whopping $40.00 per student, Minus student range fees of $25.00, I clear $15.00 per student. hardly covers my personal expenses, let alone my time.

    It’s no wonder that organizations such as SAF have started training divisions.

  4. As a life member and a Basic Pistol Instructor, I am appalled. I was willing to accept La Pierre’s seven figure paycheck, his rock star lifestyle, the personal security detail, First Class plane rides and 5-Star hotels because they held the line against the forces of evil. But, to replace personal interaction with a computer program and an online test is an affront to Common Sense. How is one supposed to learn safety and competence without a real person to guide and correct them?

    The NRA is dead wrong on this and people are going to seek training from different educators with more up-to-date curriculae.

  5. All of these instructor certification programs are a fail if they don’t enforce reasonably challenging minimum shooting skill tests. NRA instructor candidates should also be required to have a minimum Classification in a relevant discipline before even applying. That would greatly reduce the glut of low skill people currently infesting instructor slots. Some will protest, because they are likely the low skill people I’m talking about.

  6. The NRA killed their own training here in Arizona. And likely, it will never return.

    Arizona is a SHALL issue state. That means, ANY kind of training satisfies the AZDPS requirement to issue a CCW permit. Most “trainees” now buy a $29 Groupon to watch a two hour video and never even see a shooting range to get their certificate to mail in to AZDPS. Watching a video is no substitute for adequate classroom safety training along with competent range experience. But, as more states become “SHALL ISSUE,” the NRA will continue to lose influence and new members. We used to sign up 5 or 6 of our students each class as new NRA members! That is over.

    I worked with a group of 5 instructors who we so popular in our area that we had to limit class size to keep our instructor-student ratio under 4. The advent of Groupon training cut the class sizes considerably. The NRA training for those who wanted the best firearms training possible was killed by the impossible cost associated with becoming and maintaining NRA certification. Just my insurance to instruct on our state operated range was $535 a year. The basic certification to instruct BASIC PISTOL was $350 with range safety instruction running another $250. All that ended with the advent of online training as the new program requires all new certification. And on top of those considerable costs, the NRA wanted the instructors to provide firearms for the students as well!!! Our group did provide a limited number of firearms but the cost of maintaining those became prohibitive even at the $125 per student we used to charge.

    All five of of our former cadre of instructors has stopped doing NRA training. Its simply unaffordable as an instructor to continue doing it. By the time you add $15 per student for range fees to $5 per student to cover insurance and then add targets, firearms purchases and maintenance, its impossible to break even.

    As for skill levels, our main instructor had 45+ years of professional military and civilian firearms training experience. I had five with a background of ten years as a armed Federal officer. The other instructors had years of instructional experience and had taken multiple classes from FrontSight and GunSite to further their own instructional capabilities. Now, thanks to the new NRA program, this level of experience cannot afford to provide NRA training.

    The NRA needs a drug test. Their program is a complete disaster.

    • Thanks, Ray.

      I’m hoping they can get their programs back on track, but I’m hearing a lot of tales similar to yours. Unfortunately, it may already be too late.

      We’re going to keep up the coverage and the pressure.


    • LOL, well I’m one of those been there done that type of guys.
      NRA life member
      NRA RTTA
      Training Counselor
      Former USMC
      Former Deputy
      Retired Correctional Officer (home on tax free income, after bad night at work)
      Been shot at a couple times
      Had to pull my gun a couple time
      BLENDED TRAINING IS NOT ONE OF MY FAVORITE SUBJECTS. I agree with your writings, wish I had your talent for writing.

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