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.
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 email@example.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.