This summer I began collecting data for the chapter of my book that will cover the civilian or private citizen gun training industry. My first stop was a Rangemaster Firearms Training Services instructor development and certification course conducted by Tom Givens.
When Givens became a professional defensive firearms instructor in the mid-1970s, he could count his peers on one hand: Col. Jeff Cooper, John Farnham, Chuck Taylor, Masaad Ayoob.
A decade later, a curious little book by “James L. Winter” (a pseudonym) called Shooting Schools: A Second Look (Personal Defense Foundation, 1985) opened by declaring:
…today shooters cannot thumb through the pages of almost any hunting or gun publication without coming across an ad for one of the new public schools (academies or institutes) which offer weapons training [to the general public] – and which have become the fastest growing phenomenon in 1980s gun circles. (p. 1)
The author analyzed 21 shooting schools with open enrollment policies (i.e., not restricted to law enforcement and military personnel), that either had a national constituency or were regional/local but had strong reputations for quality.
Of those 21, the “big four” were judged to be: Jeff Cooper’s American Pistol Institute, Ray Chapman’s Chapman Academy, Massad Ayoob’s Lethal Force Institute, and John Farnham’s Defense Training Institute. In the second edition of the book, the author added two additional schools: Chuck Taylor’s American Small Arms Academy and Clint Smith’s International Training Consultants.
Of the “big six” of 1985, four still exist thirty-plus years later (2017): Cooper’s API (now Gunsite Academy), Ayoob’s LFI (now Massad Ayoob Group), John Farnham’s DTI, and Clint Smith’s ITC (now Thunder Ranch).
Significantly, only Gunsite Academy has outlived its founder. Most shooting schools, like Chapman’s and Taylor’s, pass on once their founders move on. (In 2012, Massad Ayoob announced the re-birth of Chapman Academy under one of Chapman’s proteges, but the link to the Academy’s website is dead and its Facebook page seems dormant, suggesting the difficulty of institutionalization after the passing of the charismatic founding figure.)
The dramatic growth of private citizen gun training observed in the mid-1980s in Shooting Schools has continued. A major driver of this growth, as in the 1970s and 80s, is the increasing importance of self-defense in gun culture – the shift from Gun Culture 1.0 to Gun Culture 2.0.
Consider that in 1985, the author of Shooting Schools maintained: “Dependable self-protection . . . usually requires carrying a weapon at all times” (emphasis in original, p. 16). Observing that open carrying a weapon, even where legal, is problematic, he adds, “you will usually end up carrying concealed – rarely ‘legal’ under most state and local laws – despite the fact that the legal risk is high and the punishment often severe” (emphasis in original, p. 16).
As Biggie put it, “Things Done Changed.” Today, shall-issue concealed carry predominates in state laws, followed by permitless carry laws, with may-issue laws remaining in just a few (albeit highly populous) states.
With the rise of Gun Culture 2.0 has come a massive influx of civilian firearms trainers who teach concealed carry courses or National Rifle Association basic pistol courses or both. Being an NRA-certified instructor is so often a prerequisite for teaching state-required concealed carry courses, and NRA basic pistol courses are so often accepted as fulfilling state-mandated concealed carry training requirements, that Jennifer Carlson has characterized the NRA as a “quasi-regulatory agency.”
So, forty years after Tom Givens got into the gun training business with a handful of his peers, gun training is an industry. Or, as Givens suggested when I mentioned the training industry to him, “maybe a cottage industry.”
Fair enough. A leading contemporary firearms trainer himself, Karl Rehn has observed that almost no civilian trainers make a living solely as trainers.
But lots of people are making some money as part of the private citizen firearms training (cottage) industry. Unfortunately, there is no overarching professional association covering this occupation, so it is impossible to know how many.
According to the NRA, their firearms training division certifies “a network of more than 125,000 instructors, 8,000 coaches and 2,200 training counselors.”
Other groups are more limited. A closed group on the professional networking site “LinkedIn” called “Instructors & Trainers – Firearms & Tactics Training” has 1,067 members, and an open group called “Firearms Instructors” has 10,286 (up from 6,000 in 2014). A Facebook group called “American Professional Firearms Instructors Association” has 2,448 members, while the Association of Defensive Shooting Instructors Facebook page has 1,839 likes.
Not only do we not know how many firearms instructors there are, we don’t know who they are, what they teach, or what qualifies them to teach – especially in the area of defensive firearms for private citizens.
Trying to answer these questions, if only in part, is a big part of what I will be doing this year and next. The comprehensive answer will be a chapter in my book, but partial answers and ongoing thinking will appear on this blog as I go along.
I began my field observations by attending Tom Given’s course (about which I will have more to say shortly), followed by my week at Gunsite Academy in June.
Either confirmed for this year or on my wish list are the following:
- Rob Pincus/ICE Training Combat Focus Shooting Instructor Conference
- John Farnham/DTI defensive pistol course
- Gabe Suarez/Suarez International Pistol Gunfighting School
- Mike Seeklander/Shooting Performance Firearms Instructor Development Course
- Massad Ayoob/Massad Ayoob Group Use of Deadly Force Instructor course
- USCCA training counselor course
- NRA Personal Protection Inside/Outside the Home instructor course
- NRA Carry Guard!
There are many others that I would love to observe – Karl Rehn’s KR Training, Clint Smith’s Thunder Ranch, and Paul Carlson’s Safety Solutions Academy come immediately to mind – but limited resources (time/money/energy) means I can only do so much.
That said, if you have other suggestions, I welcome them.