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.”
“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.”
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.
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.