Credentialism and the Do-It-Yourself Approach to the Firearms Training Industry

Two days ago, I used a post by Kathy Jackson as a point of departure for considering apprenticeship as a path to becoming a firearms instructor and a potential way – like professionalization, licensing, and certification – to ensure quality in training services offered to the private sector.

At the end of that older post, “How to Become a Firearms Instructor,” and in a post published just last week, Jackson highlights one more path to consider. From the perspective of the person becoming a firearms instructor, it is what she calls the “DO-IT-YOURSELF ROAD.” She lists 11 steps from getting the NRA Basic Pistol certificate (#1) to taking at least 40 hours of additional training (#4) to joining a Toastmasters club (#7) to shooting regularly (#8) to the final step: “Keep learning” (#11).

Screen cap of

Jackson’s recent post deals with this same issue from the perspective of the consumer of firearms training. The approach she suggests is what I call CREDENTIALISM.

To quote from her recent post:

From my email box:

“Ms. Jackson,

In selecting a qualified firearms instructor, what certifications, etc. should one look for?”

My answer:

The short answer is, if you’re looking for a good teacher you can trust, don’t look for specific certificates as go/no-go gauges.

Instead, look for an ongoing pattern to the person’s resume. What you want is someone who is a good shooter and life-long learner who prides himself or herself on meeting the needs of the student. Certifications and award medals matter only in the sense that they document a person’s activity toward that end.

Essentially Jackson is suggesting that the student look at the instructor’s CREDENTIALS, among which can be certain professional affiliations, licenses, certifications, and apprenticeships. But as at the University of Phoenix, instructors should also be given credit for prior learning in the school of life, something a certification alone doesn’t account for.

Diploma from

Of course, not all prior learning is necessarily applicable to private citizen firearms training. A good number of private citizen firearms trainers today come from military backgrounds. Their own training and experience may have included tactical breaching, room clearing, “weapon manipulation,” running (with) carbines, rifle-to-pistol transitions, and of course, shooting from and jumping out of helicopters.

As such, they are sometimes looked upon by more established trainers with curiosity or disdain, not to mention some jealousy at the popularity of their classes. For example, decorated combat service veteran and special operator Kyle Defoor already has courses sold out for 2018 from California to Maine.

Screen cap of Defoor Performance Shooting product page, July 2017

How those coming from these military backgrounds adapt their knowledge, experience, and skills to private sector training is something I hope to explore more as I go along. In addition to Defoor Performance Shooting, other ex-military names that pop up on my radar regularly are Chris Costa (Costa Ludus), Jeff Gonzalez (Trident Concepts), Travis Haley (Haley Strategic Partners), Paul Howe (CSAT), Kyle Lamb (Viking Tactics), Patrick McNamara (TMACS), and John “Shrek” McPhee a.k.a., “the Sheriff of Baghdad” (Gunfighter U.). Surely there are others I am missing.

Here Jackson’s credentialism would suggest looking not just at one aspect of the person’s background – e.g., military operator status – but at multiple dimensions. And not only multiple dimensions, but at the trajectory a person is on. As the old saying goes, it is a journey not a destination.

In the age of the internet, this becomes easier in some ways (the information is out there somewhere) and harder in others (too much unvetted information is out there).

“information overload” by SparkCBC, licensed by CC BY-SA 2.0

I have covered a lot of ground in this review of the civilian/private citizen firearms training industry/community. I have looked at the rise of civilian firearms training industry, as well as various means of ensuring quality in training services offered, including professionalization, licensing, certification, and apprenticeship. All of my posts on the issue are collected on a single landing page.

My last post in this series will consider one final approach to quality assurance in the gun training industry: branding.


  1. Reblogged this on and commented:
    I am a former NRA IPA/IRA/ISA instructor. I was, a Life Member until some woman became NRA president and suddenly the Coach Bulletins, went from firearms, to eating and weight management. Only thing missing was crochet and flower arrangements, so I resigned from the NRA.
    I was a street cop. Qualified twice a year. Practiced every day, seven days a week, 400 rounds per day. Three range memberships, a fourth range, and at times a fifth range. I have been in three on-duty shootings. What I see, is more of the certification stuff is to (a) get money, and (b) cover their own asses. Why? Because there are so many who can teach people, and the students would then know exactly how to shoot, like a cop (forget the 12# trigger stuff), and what is likely to happen in actual street combat.
    I started training someone but along the way saw that he made up his mind that he was not going to invest in studying (NYS) Penal Law, Article-35, Justification For The Use of Deadly Physical Force, and wanted to do instead, some Rambo nonsense, but nobody on the street shouts, “Cut!”, and we go to a word from our sponsor. Dealing with potential students, and trying to invest time and effort while also being watchful of any quirks the students might have, regarding maturity, responsibility, and obligation, is like juggling a watermelon, an egg, and an open straight razor.

    Liked by 3 people

  2. Brittius I thank you for your service. I would consider it a honor to study from you sir. My father was in both military and civilian law enforcement for over 30 years and I was trained by him in Gun Culture 1.0. My own training as a armed contract security officer included relevant NC General Statute.

    The ‘Rambo’ tendency is exactly why I favor certification in concealed carry.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I was USMC (MOS-0331) Machine Gunner (Infantry). I have one combat tour in Southeast Asia. Long story, and I enlisted while still a senior in high school. I wanted to avoid the draft, so I enlisted with my father’s disbelief of what I was doing. He was WW2 82d Airborne, D-Day to 1946. I alway thought he was telling “Big Stories”. He was telling me the Gospel truth. I was a troubled kid growing up, and was always finishing, not starting, street fights. An uncle, a tugboat captain in NY Harbor, would take me to work, to get me away from a street element. At age 15, I knocked down two longshoremen to the pavement. So off I go, and what happens? All around me, I see suffering. There is only so much anyone can do within authorization, and NVA hurt civilians for no other reason than, they can do it. It affected me. When I rotated back home, nobody would give me a job, so I worked in a slaughterhouse for one year. They laughed that I was perfect for the job, but I simply stopped talking to people. Unpleasant work but necessary. On the streets, I saw people suffering, and it was the same suffering that I witnessed. That remained on my mind, and I wanted to help people, and maybe do more to help ease suffering. I took a written exam for the police, and the rest became a career. I retired in the 20th century. It took me six months to turn human again. Aside from the keyboard, I rarely speak seven words a week. I am Asocial, not anti-social. I cherish my solitude. I do not fight people on the streets anymore, or kick in doors. At times, I still growl, and people say my eyes have a certain look. Guess I fall back on my training when that happens. I have been around guns since a youth. My father had a Savage .30-06 bolt rifle and a 1911A1. He made certain to teach me safety, as I was the oldest of five boys. Once I poked in the closet and he caught me, but I was only looking. He put the 1911 in my waistband and made me hold out my arms and the rifle was placed in my hands. My punishment was to keep my arms extended and keep the rifle in my hands. Painful. At age 12, I accompanied him and my uncles on deer hunts and helped field dress bucks. I was taught by one uncle how to shoot and I was good. Later on in life, it was taught to me that, “ONLY THE HITS COUNT”, and I never forgot that. In three on-duty shootings, I fired a total of eight rounds of ammunition, got eight hits, and killed seven gunmen. I was branded as a psycho mad dog killer and punished. I was also passed over three times for promotion to lieutenant. Today, I blog, as I have little to do. I mow the lawn. Help with gardening and planting. My grandchildren are a big part of my life, and they know nothing about my past, because I don’t want them to know. After I am dead, maybe they will discover the hidden paperwork and the hidden newspaper clippings. I am a tiger (?) who has not changed its stripes and know how to fight. But all I want to be known as, is Grandpa.

      Thank you, for your kind words.

      PS: My wife wanted to write a book about me, but I told her that nobody would believe it, so hold off until I am dead and buried at least ten years, so nobody will dig me up and annoy me with questions. (LOL!)


    • Don’t get your hopes up. I was actually going to send to you for feedback before posting but thoughts were too incoherent to waste your time on. In fact, in the end I don’t even know if I talked about branding in training industry. But wanted to get idea out there to take advantage of internet hive mind

      Liked by 2 people

  3. A good thing about the shooting community, at least for someone moderately immersed in it, is that it is still small enough that you can identify trusted “gatekeepers” who, if they recommend a product or trainer, are doing so based on personal experience.

    Though, thinking about it, at this point I’ve been in the “fully submerged” category for a long time, so I may not have the right perspective on what information is actually available to people new to the Culture.


  4. I took the New Mexico CHL class with a retired security director (who is a friend of mine), several Federal security officers from the national lab, and a jewelry store owner with a shop in Santa Fe. All were pretty serious shooters with good reason to want to carry, and there was no Rambo in the bunch. It was refreshing.

    As far as what is a good perspective, Brittius nails it. I think there was a David blog post about Mas Ayoob teaching his students the dead seriousness and moral responsibility of being armed in public. I would start there and then go on to the technical stuff. But my first pedagogical questions to prospective students would be:
    1. Why are you here?
    2. What are your moral responsibilities as an armed citizen?

    I would follow up with the idea that any Rambos in the room need to change their thinking or find another class. Then on to the technical details of firearms training for GC 2.0


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