First, this is not a bash the NRA piece. I’m proud to be an Endowment level member, and before that was a life member for nearly 20 years.
The NRA First Steps was a great introduction to safety and the basics of shooting. Hands on time with an instructor followed 3-4 hours of classroom instruction. It was easy, not intimidating and covered a lot of material at a high level. Students were encouraged to seek more advance training. This was a “dip your toes in” kind of class. When the NRA decided to abandon this popular option in favor of a blended learning Basic Pistol which, if taught as written, requires a student to complete an on –line portion, then find an instructor and complete class room and range sections. The “as written” has the class and range alternating to accomplish skills that add on to one another. If you don’t have your own range, it is kind of tough to do.
I have multiple instructor credentials, but rarely taught the more advanced classes. My preference was the new shooter. Mostly women, but not all. Some nervous or scared. My preferred venue was in their home. Yes, I went to them. My classes were limited to 4 people. They all knew each other, were comfortable asking questions. We made it like a Tupperware party, except with guns. I gave away pens, keychains, gift certificates for an hour of range instruction, etc. When the inevitable discussion of safe direction came up, we were in a home, we could talk real world. For gun handling, I had a Kevlar vest I could hang over a chair if I needed to create a safe direction. I gave significant discounts to military and law enforcement spouses, trained women in danger for free…the goal wasn’t to make money, although I did try hard to break even on materials and insurance. My costs were lower since I didn’t have to rent a classroom, just cover range time and ammunition for those borrowing my firearms.
I loved it! My students loved it. Many used that class to get a Concealed Carry Permit, and then went on to get private coaching and or take more advanced classes.
That is no longer an option, and I, like many of my fellow instructors, have given up the teaching business. It is sad, and I hate it. But I’m not ready to take on the Basic Pistol model, which would mean classrooms, more instructors, new materials…or to teach the more advanced courses, for the same reason. That isn’t where my passion lay.
One sad aspect of this decision is that, in Virginia at least, students can take a 1.5 hour on-line course, and use that to get a permit. No live instructor, no questions, and no practical application at a range. I find that terrifying. I’ve had students who didn’t get their certificate the first time out because they weren’t safe, and we spent more time together, at no cost to the student, to ensure they were at lease minimally competent.
I am slowly dismantling my business, and it hurts. I have lots of equipment; projector, holsters, blue guns, SIRTS, etc., that I need to do something with. I also have quite a few First Steps packets left that when the NRA made the switch they offered a turn in of Basic Pistol packets but I never saw the same for the First Steps packets, so I still have a dozen or so.
I will still write, still take friends to the range, but my formal instruction is done. I don’t agree with the decision the NRA Training Department made, but they didn’t ask my opinion. I’m sure they have a “good” reason, but I don’t know what it is, and I know a lot of instructors were impacted. But more than that, a lot of students are impacted. People who would come to a 4 hour class to “try it out”, an entry level starting point. Not all of these people will commit to a couple days, or the extra expense. I think we are doing them a disservice.
Be safe! No matter what your skill level, never stop practicing and never stop training.