I have been so caught up trying to understand the overall structure of the gun training industry and its central individuals and organizations that I have neglected the proverbial elephant in the room: the National Rifle Association Education and Training Department.
At some point this past summer I realized I had never taken the NRA’s Basics of Pistol Shooting Course. So, both for research purposes and personal edification, my wife Sandy and I took the course in August.
The course was taught by Tim, a former military firearms trainer now retired to a small mountain town in North Carolina. Sandy and I paid $85/each for the course and were the only students.
Given the instructor’s credentials – 23 year Navy veteran who worked as a small arms instructor with SEAL Teams, Naval Special Warfare Units, and Special Operations Command South – we were a bit concerned that we were going to be taking a basic pistol course with a super high-speed/low-drag tactical operator. But Tim could not have been more down to earth, approachable, and helpful. He covered the entire NRA Basic Pistol curriculum faithfully as required, but also encouraged us to ask as many questions as possible and to get what we needed out of the course.
NRA Basic Pistol courses, and those who teach them, are often looked down upon by more advanced gun trainers. But we do well to recall the goal of the course: How to safely use a handgun.
The course we took succeeds in accomplishing this goal. The course stresses the responsibilities of gun ownership throughout, explains the basic parts and operation of firearms and ammunition, reviews the fundamentals of shooting, and puts the student on the range with a (hopefully – more on this later) qualified instructor to teach and coach correct shooting technique.
On the range, the course prescribes both benchrest and standing shooting positions, with different levels of qualification from 10 feet (Red, Level 1), 15 feet (White, Level 2), and 20 feet (Blue, Level 3). Because we are both somewhat experienced shooters, we shot benchrest and standing from 10 feet then moved back to standing from 20 feet.
From both the benchrest and standing positions I was shooting high. Even though from past experience I knew not to blame the sights for being off, Tim still took a few shots with my Glock 17 to confirm that it was a user not a hardware error. He helped me to get a proper sight alignment and the problem was corrected.
As is frequently the case, my shots (taken left-handed) also tended to group to the right of center. A small adjustment Tim made to get more of my finger on the trigger corrected that.
Here the benefit of having someone who was a (Navy SEAL!!!!) small arms instructor really showed. Tim was able to look at my results, immediately diagnose the problem, and suggest a solution. This is something that I observed across all of the instructors at Gunsite in June, and I saw stressed in Tom Givens’ Rangemaster Instructor Development Course in May.
And I doubt it is something all NRA Basic Pistol instructors can do. In addition to the Red, White, and Blue qualifications, there is also an Instructor level qualification shot from 45 feet. To qualify the candidate needs to put 16 of 20 rounds in a 6-inch group. Both Sandy and I met this qualification (barely), she with her Beretta 92FS and me with my Glock 17. This raises the possibility of becoming NRA Certified Basic Pistol Instructors ourselves. (I understand the shooting qualification is the hardest part of the certification to achieve.)
We are both interested in becoming certified instructors, not to teach for money but to have a qualification and curriculum to teach to our many friends and acquaintances who are interested in learning about guns and shooting. I am not at all concerned about teaching the classroom material; teaching is my primary vocation. I am, however, more than a little reluctant to instruct and coach shooting on the range. I know I cannot identify, diagnose, and solve shooting problems as well as Tim or many other more experienced shooters-qua-instructors I have observed or worked with over the years.
If I go ahead with the instructor certification – which I think I will once I can find the time – I will do my best to take the advice some more advanced firearms trainers give to NRA Basic Pistol instructors: “Stay in your lane.”
One final thought: The NRA is often criticized for its political activities, which critics suggest is a departure from its historic founding as a marksmanship organization. But not only does politics have deep roots in the NRA as an organization (also, this here), today gun safety and gun training are still a major part of what the NRA does. And the NRA Basics of Pistol Shooting course is foundational to that.
For reference, the NRA Basics of Pistol Shooting course description is as follows:
Short Description: The NRA Basics of Pistol Shooting is intended for all individuals regardless of previous shooting experience or NRA-affiliation and is available for delivery in two ways. One option is the traditional, instructor-led course where you will receive direct instruction from an NRA-certified instructor from beginning to end. The other option has two components: a self-study or “eLearning module” which is completed online in your own timeframe and a hands-on practical portion conducted in a classroom and shooting range with an Instructor.
More Details: Instructor Led Only Training: The Instructor Led Only takes place in a traditional classroom and range environment. This course may be completed in a single day format or over several days with smaller blocks of instruction. To sign up for the Instructor Led Only click on the “Find A Course” icon. This opens the Course Listing page where you will select the Basics of Pistol Shooting-Instructor Led and scroll to the bottom of the page to enter details that refine the search criteria to generate a list of available courses. After selecting a course you will enter your information in the registration fields. The course Instructor will contact you shortly thereafter. Blended Training: The Blended training format provides students the flexibility to complete a significant portion of the course in an eLearning environment, prior to arriving for the classroom and range session with an NRA Certified Instructor. You can find the NRA Basics of Pistol Shooting Blended course in the same manner as above. When you register for the blended course, you’ll create a unique username and password. The instructor will provide you with a Course Control Code and directions to complete the self-study portion of the course prior to class date. More Details: Course topics include: gun safety rules, proper operation of revolvers and semi-automatic pistols, ammunition knowledge and selection, pistol selection and storage, shooting fundamentals, pistol inspection and maintenance, marksmanship, and shooting range safety. Additionally, students will complete live fire training and a nationally standardized shooting qualification while on the range with an NRA Certified Instructor. Students will receive the NRA Guide: Basics of Pistol Shooting handbook, take a Basics of Pistol Shooting Student Examination and receive a course completion certificate bearing the signature of the NRA Secretary and your NRA Certified Instructor.