EXCLUSIVE: NRA to fix blended training ‘mistake’

by Lee Williams

When the National Rifle Association decided to use computers, rather than people, to teach new students important topics such as gun safety and shooting fundamentals, I and thousands of other firearms instructors across the country didn’t know whether to laugh or cry.

NRA launched their controversial “blended training” program nearly a year ago.

The format requires beginner student to take the first portion of the Basic Pistol class online, and then complete the course with an actual instructor at a range. In many states, NRA’s Basic Pistol class is a pathway toward a concealed weapons permit.

The online component costs the student $60, and is paid directly to the NRA. It covers a host of deadly serious issues, including gun safety, types of firearms, selecting and safe storage of a handgun, clearing stoppages and the “fundamentals of pistol shooting.”

NRA’s 100,000-strong instructor cadre — the backbone of the organization — balked loudly at the move.

Many, including me, believe that you simply can’t learn gun safety from a computer — period. You need an actual instructor watching over the student and making sure they’re safe.

Some instructors flat-out refused to take students to the range if they’d only completed the online course. They said, and again I agree, that there was no way to prove that the student was the one who actually took the online course, or that they understood the material.

All of the instructors I spoke to said it was only a matter of time before someone got hurt, or worse.

I tried to squeeze some comments out of NRA about the practice, but was stymied by a gatekeeper in the organization’s media office, who forbade any interviews.

I wrote several columns about the blended training program, which provoked outrage from instructors, but only silence from NRA officials.

Then, on Thursday, I sent an email to each member of NRA’s board of directors, asking them to look into the online program and comment.

Note: There are 76 members of NRA’s board of directors.

Josh Powell, National Rifle Association's chief of staff. Photo courtesy NRA

Josh Powell, National Rifle Association’s chief of staff. Photo courtesy NRA

This morning, I received a call from Josh Powell, NRA’s chief of staff.

Powell is a former board member who now reports to Wayne LaPierre, NRA’s executive vice president.

“The simple truth is that we made a mistake,” Powell said. “We know we made a mistake, and we’re working very hard exploring a number of solutions to address it.”

Powell said NRA will announce the changes within the next 60 days. For now, the online course — the status quo — remains in effect.

“Plain and simple, the NRA made a mistake, but our members, our trainers and everyone in the country who is looking for this type of training will be very happy with what we are going to come up with,” Powell said. “It’s what they deserve.”

LaPierre’s reaction to the problem, he said, was “simple.”

“Wayne said we’ve got a problem and we need to find a solution,” Powell said. “That’s what he tasked me with. That’s what we’re working on.”

Nowadays, I find it refreshing when an organization admits they made a mistake and then takes steps to fix it.

I would like to thank those who read this series, the instructors who trusted me with their comments, and those very special behind-the-scenes folks who made it all possible.

Senior investigative reporter Lee Williams, The Gun Writer, can be reached at (941) 284-8553, by email at lee.williams@heraldtribune.com or lee@TheGunWriter.com, or by regular mail, 1741 Main St., Sarasota, FL 34236. You also can follow him on social media at facebook.com/TheGunWriter or Twitter.com/ht_gunwriter


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.


    • Doc I couldn’t agree with you more he ignored every instructor that spoke up never had the stones to reply to countless phone calls and emails totally disregarding the instructor base. In fact he sold us out. All he had to do was listen and respond. I’m a instructor in Illinois Where the State police wouldn’t allow online training forcing all of us teaching in Illinois to come up with a different program. What a shame they didn’t listen years ago. It cost me a lot of money worse yet I do not trust them anymore.

  1. Gary Rasmussen on

    While I mostly agree with you I partially disagree. The online portion is beneficial, If the person actually did take it. And its a good opportunity for someone to take their time to understand the info…again, if they were the one to complete it. I am a 17 year technical instructor who recently complete the NRA Basic Pistol Instructor course. I perform on line training, Instructor led virtual training, and classroom training. The online portion should not be considered a replacement for time with the instructor and any instructor should be ensuring the student is at least to the level of safety taught in the online portion before taking them on the range. Just my thoughts. There are a lot of tips that I picked up from the online portion that i had never learned in 20 years of shooting. The online portion has its place….it just should not be considered a replacement for instructor time. Maybe it would be better suited as a requirement that can be performed either before or after instructor time. That would be at the students discretion and force the instructor to always ensure a certain level of knowledge is present before the range time. As a student i dont want to waste range time with stuff I can learn from the book if I’m paying by the hour for a lane and as an instructor I feel the same way. My personal chosen methodology is to supplement my teaching with the online. Teach, online time to reinforce, then range, then followup.

    • >>Re-issue the old Basic Pistol Books…

      This. They were excellent books that a student, once finished with the class could take to the range and refer to. You may claim that “You can print out the book from the online portion of the class” but sorry, that doesn’t happen.


  2. I’ve been protesting this misstep since John Howard told us Obama style that they were shafting it’s instructors at the instructor update years ago! Year after year they refused to listen to the people that mattered most in the most arrogant way. John Howard not only sold us all out he implemented a program with all disregard of what experienced instructors were telling him. Every phone call Every Email I sent them went unaswererd and ignored. I spoke to a few board members about it on the bus over to the NRA convention this year and they seemed clueless? This is what happens when you put a bunch of pin heads in charge that are as arrogant as any libral activists out there. I gave up trying to pursuade them and switched to the USCCA program and never looked back. Anything less than reinstating the original program option with a apology would be unacceptable to me. They sold us out once and that speaks volumes of John Howard’s leadership and his inability to see past his pride. Remember that when they make they’re new proposals.

    • Couldn’t have said it better myself !!! As an NRA pistol instructor , NRA RSO , I stoped offering the blended basic pistol couse soon as it was offered , sent all my student packets back, got certified USCCA CCW instructor never looked back ! I will say the USCCA got it right ! I believe the NRA took notice , I would gladly teach the NRA Basic Pistol Course if the NRA returns to the old format

  3. While I agree this on line program may have its benefits, it places another burden on the student – financially. Since this took effect I’ve heard nothing but complaints from students about adding to the already expensive process of getting their permit in the people’s republic of Connecticut. I think the only way to fix this broken program is to offer the on line course as an option, not a requirement and return to the “way it was” .

  4. Online programs can never replace the value of a live instructor.

    I first learned to shoot a .22 cal rifle, at the age of 8 years, by training from a brother-in–law who was a Marine. At the age of 29 I became a city police officer and received additional training from qualified instructors. I was also one of the first 49 women to attend a Women’s Wilderness Escape at the NRA Ranch when the program was introduced in 2008. Today, I am a 70 year old, retired computer programmer and NO software will ever replace a live instructor for firearms’ training.

    While an online program can re-enforce things learned from a qualified instructor, it should NEVER be used as a substitute.

  5. Lee Williams: So, are you arrogant enough to think that the letters you sent to NRA board members last week effected this change? … If so, you are foolish. … The NRA met with some senior trainers recently at their headquarters to discuss the program, betcha ya didn’t know that, did ya? … Maybe because your “very special behind-the-scenes folks” are not in the know of what goes on in Fairfax. … So, what are your qualifications, you say you are a firearms instructor, are you an active trainer with contracts for training? … If so, what classes are you certified to teach? … Did you know that didn’t start until May of this year, not a year ago as you claim. … Back to these “very special behind-the-scenes folks” – did you have them place ads in the paper, then meet them in a parking garage like Woodward & Bernstein met Mark Felt while investigating Watergate? … Getting your information on the “down-low” give me a break. … You’re very irresponsible in using comments from blogs and other places and not getting direct quotes that can be attributed to a person who is credible. … Whats your goal here? … Is it to give a voice to a few whiners who are upset that their lack of a solid business plan was exposed to be a fraud? … My training counselor made sure I was trained properly and gave me the tools to teach other courses to, this was not the only option. … In-fact this class is not a cwp course, but many instructors used it that way. … Signed, K.M. Moore

    • KM MOORE sorry to tell you this but I’ve been fighting blended training since they announced it at the Instructors update class in 2013 even though it’s wasn’t implemented yet it was a fight with almost every instructor I know once they announced they were doing away with instructor taught classes. They could have avoided this by allowing us to go on teaching the BP course as we were and let the students choose what version they wanted. That’s the mistake they made! Give them a choice that’s all we were asking for but the NRA Knew better. Though I do not know you or Lee I see no harm in him being a brick in the wall that helps topple the arrogance of the NRA’s training department. The fact is they sold us up a river there’s no denying that. Who is anyone to call into question another mans credibility if you don’t like what your reading troll on!

      • Kevin, this is written like you are one of those who are only certified to teach one class. … There have always been other classes to teach, like PPItH, PPOtH and Defensive Pistol, but you are most likely not certified to teach those classes, are you? … Those who are fighting “blended training” as you call it, are the ones suffering because they had nothing to fall back on, no plan of action. … Is that the NRA’s fault or yours? … Here is a grammar lesson for you, the words your, you’re and you are all have different meanings, you might want to go back to elementary school and learn about them. … Troll on!

        • KM MOORE
          Blended training can have its place but as even the NRA now admits they should have given the students the option between choosing Blended training or in-person private Instructor training for the BP class.
          I was actually very prepared In the end Blended training was a gift to me, the void it created forced me to teach the USCCA classes this was a move I wasn’t willing to do earlier because I was loyal to the NRA. So as you see your theory (meaning you) that Lee or I aren’t qualified because we do not walk lock step with you and the NRA Is as flawed as the NRA’s decision to sell out their instructor base by putting all their eggs in the Blended Training basket.
          I find it very suspicious that you sit behind your keyboard
          attacking the credentials of everyone else yet you speak nothing of your own accomplishments. Could it be that your one of those Swat Bravado fools that I warn my students about?
          Another obvious point is though you haven’t mentioned him by name I’m certain you have your nose up John Howard’s ass the way your following the piper to the waters edge. Though Im certain I know who you are (wasn’t hard to figure out) how about letting others know who the keyboard warrior coward really is behind the curtain so I won’t have to out you myself? If your at the next NRA convention I’ll be introducing myself. You have to be a fool to attack others credentials that you do not know when your aren’t that polished yourself. Though I’m not in the habit of hanging with weak minded bloviators I will make the exception for you so that we can sit for a while, I’ll teach you about firearms and law and you can teach me about grammar.
          Your friend Kevin

  6. I sincerely hope that the matter is dealt with expediently! While there may be a few (very few) benefits to the blended learning format … IMO it is a colossal failure! Since the implementation of the blended format I have scheduled 3 NRA Basic pistol classes… I have had one, that’s right ONE person complete a course! The one person who completed the course struggled to answer questions and identify items! This individual said that they just watched the video and then clicked boxes… then repeated until they passed to the next lesson! I still am of the opinion that this change was mainly a business/financial decision, it had little to do with producing a better course/product…. it had everything to do with money. Instructors were not asking for this; students were not asking for this; this was a product of administrators…. not instructors!

  7. In IL, I used it as a great course for safety and basic technique. Many used it for half of their IL FCCL credit. When they changed it, I quit using it, as IL costs are already way too high to obtain an FCCL. I incorporated I.C.E. Training’s concepts into my curriculum (I am a Defensive Firearms Coach [DFC], a certification they designed), and it is all much better and more contextual for the students. Other than for folks just wanting marksmanship training, I may never use NRA Basic Pistol again. None of this had to happen, and I predicted it would be a disaster.

  8. Theodore Torres on

    I don’t know what the NRA course entitles but what if they sell, at a much less price, a online video of firearm guidelines and what an instructor should be teaching you when take a local course. Suggesting to people tos not be afraid to ask questions. This way the students get more involved in the course and makes the not-so-good instructors answer the questions. NRA can sell it as a “must get before you take a course” type campaign”. If I was an instructor I would think a video that get’s people asking questions would make me happy to answer them. What is a question in a gun course? It is when someone is not sure of what to do while in possession of a firearm. It’s up to that instructor to not only teach them but to be able to answer their questions correctly and please, instructors never say “We can “what if this to death all night” that just closed the door on all questions and any student that had another question won’t ask it now. It’s not hard to say “We covered this subject in detail and would like to move on to more questions. Please feel free to ask more on this later . This leaves the door open and gives the other questions a chance. Anyway just my opinion.

  9. As an NRA instructor I have not and will not work with anyone or recommend to anyone the NRA computer based training. I contacted the “man” in charge of us little instructors to be told “too bad, this is how things are done now”. I was told people prefer online training.

    If this is the way they treat the instructors (basically the same way I was treated as an NRA recruiter. How should I say this, I was asked to be an NRA recruiter at a gun show and found out at the end of the weekend show I had to pay the show prompter $5 for everyone that showed their membership sign up to get in. This cost me $500 out of my pocket that weekend.). I did not want anything to do with the NRA anymore. Which is a shame as I grew up with the NRA and great NRA instructors.

    As an instructor, I was never contacted and informed about this change, I found out when I was blocked from registering a class. And then told I should have known about the changes to training when I contacted the training department.

    All 10 people that were in that class never went through the training because they didn’t want anything to do with the computer based training.

  10. If my wife does something I don’t agree with I don’t divorce her. If my children behaved in a way I didn’t approve of I didn’t drop them off at the local orphanage. I tried to correct their behavior instead. Those who say they’re through with the NRA over this matter need to reconsider their stance. The NRA might not be perfect, but they’re the best we have and if they make a mistake we need to work to correct it, not throw in the towel. While I’ve taught many people to shoot I’m not an official instructor and even I can see the problem with computer based training. Nothing replaces actual range time with a knowledgeable teacher. Please stay in the NRA and work to correct any errors they make. Without the NRA pistol training methods wouldn’t matter because the hoplophobes would have long ago outlawed private possession of handguns. We all need to work together to restore the Second Amendment. Next to that everything else pales in comparison.

  11. I think computer based training has its place in the firearms arena. However, as an NRA Instructor who certified prior to the online course, I always make sure the students know and understand the online portion in a classroom environment, as the instructors outline for this course says. If the student cannot answer my questions or demonstrate their knowledge of safe gun handling, they don’t go to the range with me. I do charge for my time in Phase II and since I’d be putting both my signature and reputation on the line, I WILL make sure they know what they how to safely handle a firearm!

  12. Earl Dennis, NRA Instructor on

    Firearms training and safety CANNOT be taught safely and comprehensive online. Firearms training and safety are so very important to the student that they require on-hands type instruction. I read quite frequently about accidents/incidents at the “range” and my first question is where did this shooter receive his initial firearms and safety training.. I have not instructed one person in Basic Pistol since the NRA went to the online instruction because I do not believe in it. I am anxiously awaiting the announcement of what the NRA has come up with to change this problem.

  13. Darrell Golliher Sr. on

    If they go back to something like the old program I will likely start teaching basic pistol, rifle and muzzleloader and maybe shotgun again. I will not participate in the blended program because I think it is not a safe way to train firearms.

  14. The blended learning was fully and completely stupid. It is amazing to see how an organization like the NRA can waste so many resources. They didn’t care, and they didn’t listen. I really wonder who were the fools that believed in the propaganda about blended learning. The videos that gave a sales pitch for blended learning made me vomit. Anyone who believed in blended learning should not be an NRA instructor. There is one valid complaint about the NRA Basic Pistol Course; not all instructors teach the course adequately or properly. Either help those instructors teach more effectively or remove them from the list of instructors. The previous NRA Basic Pistol course was not perfect, but jamming the blended learning down our throats was horrible.

    Here is a great idea. If the blended learning method is so much better, give that as an option. Don’t jam it down our throats. There is no need to force someone to accept something that is better. The NRA only had to force blended learning on us, because the program was so poor. The NRA needs to listen a little more.

  15. Humans are too primitive to use firearms in life threatening emotional situations… only law enforcement professionals are trained properly to use lethal force…the NRA is responsible for the epidemic of gun violence in America… other countries have strict gun laws… and much lower gun deaths… the 2nd Amendment was for “a well trained militia” to serve as a standing army after the Revolutionary War… not for personal use… we have 8,000 law enforcement agencies, the National Guard and the Armed Forces to protect us. Statistics prove that guns are used more for domestic violence murders, accidental killings, and suicide than for self protection.

    • The 2d Amendment states “a well regulated Militia” and a militia is approximately the opposite of a standing army. The first American settlers had the right to keep and bear arms. The Constitution does not give us that right. It restricts the Government from infringing on the right that already existed. The 2d Amendment was adopted over ten years after the Surrender at Yorktown. It wasn’t a result of the Revolutionary War.
      The law enforcement agencies that you want to depend on to protect yourself are not law breaker prevention agencies. When seconds count they are only minutes away.
      When a Charlie Manson kicks in your door be sure to show him your statistics.

  16. Mr Lee Williams,

    Well-thought-out articles … to say the very least. I appreciate your taking the time to write them.

    For the past 8 years, I have been conducting the NRA’s FIRST Steps Pistol class (expanded to about 6 hours, including 1 hour on the range). Student throughput was about 700 total.

    In reviewing the ‘Blended Learning’ format, along with the associated significant procedural ‘disconnects’ … it appears obvious (at least to me) that the NRA and I will be parting ways on 31 December 2016.

    Truly unfortunate … for ALL concerned!

  17. This is all well and good, but what about those of us who have already paid for the online class? I just tried to log in and I cannot access the course. I paid for the class. I should be allowed to finish it. If not, the NRA better refund my $60 so I can reinvest in a live class. What a joke!

    • And, BTW, I have received NO official notification from the NRA. All I get is 3-4 emails per day asking for more money to line Wayne LaPierre’s pockets.

  18. It’s Feb 2. Does anyone know anything or will this take months of lost income for instructors for the NRA to get off their butt?

  19. NRA E&T has stated that they will be changing the program before the Annual Meeting in April. Currently, they are planning to allow the blended course to continue, but are reinstating the old format – complete with student books. The on-line will be an option, not a requirement.

  20. You said something very important – “Many, including me, believe that you simply can’t learn gun safety from a computer — period. You need an actual instructor watching over the student and making sure they’re safe.” Not only that, the NRA should be lobbying state legislators in states where gun courses are a requirement for concealed carry and other gun permits to rewrite their laws to require ONLY instructor administered courses and NOT online courses for their permits. I think you’ll agree with me when I say that online courses give the student a false sense of security which can be dangerous. Online courses should be for general knowledge only, not trusted by a local government as a means to issue permits. That gives these online courses too much credibility.

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  23. One issue not mentioned anywhere is that NRA slaughtered its own outreach.

    There were a number of charitable volunteer orgs who were teaching this course to previous victims for free. When NRA demanded each student pay them $60/head, that went out the window.

    Also, they raised the bar for student effort, discouraging entry. The introduction of blended training of necessity forced the discontinuation of the “First Steps” course, which taught the student only one selected model of handgun. Unfortunately, that was the course we used most often here for those looking to fulfill their CCW requirements with “their” gun, or as an introduction to shooting for the first-timer.

    I teach firearms courses at a vacation lodging facility, where it’s easy to schedule a student upon request for a 3-5 hour activity on a single day, but difficult to schedule them for 10+ hours (full old-school pistol course, takes at least two days if you don’t want to exhaust the student). When a new guest comes into the office asking, “I’d like to take your pistol class” and I have to say, “Come back and get scheduled after you’ve taken the online course and paid the NRA $60 for you, your wife, and anybody else in the family you wanted to have take the class with you,” that just represents prospective shooters who end up not becoming shooters.

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