So you want to become a firearms instructor...
2020 has been one of the most unprecedented years of recent history. Our country has endured many challenges this year, a number of which have impacted the Second Amendment community and firearms culture. We have seen, by some estimates, an increase in gun ownership exceeding three hundred percent in the last six months alone! Ammunition is flying off the shelves. In fact, most vendors can’t keep it on the shelves. People are reacting to this environment by revisiting their rights to gun ownership.
As a result of this growth in firearms interest, the number of instructors has also grown exponentially throughout the year. As a firearms instructor, I’m obviously excited to see the interest, especially when new instructors are coming from underrepresented communities in the 2A world – women, young adults, ethnic minorities. With all the growth, we certainly have a reason to celebrate. On the other hand, we need to remain vigilant and cautious.
From my own personal experience, I have witnessed numbers of new shooters “fast track” to instructor status in less than six months. While I certainly applaud enthusiasm, there are some very real risks to consider as a business owner, particularly one who chooses to engage in the world of firearms training. If I could share a few tips for success in this arena, these would be my main points of advice.
Dedicate time to your personal growth and training first. When I first started delving into firearms, I invested in the BEST. I trained with world-class people – those who have been in “the game” for a long time. I spent about eight months in continuous training with the Academy of Personal Defense and Security in Wendell, NC, just soaking up all the information I could. Not only did I take classes, but I attended various shooting events. I joined shooting clubs that allowed me access to real-life skills and the use of many platforms. My goal was to get very comfortable with my own firearms while gaining a high-level comprehension of firearms history and culture and the mechanics of the tools. I kept an open mind and tried everything possible involving firearms before I event decided to share with others.
Find a mentor and take time to co-teach. I became a staff trainer for the Academy of Personal Defense and Safety and served in that capacity for about a year and a half. I supported NRA Women on Target clinics, which I continue to do today. For me, this time was invaluable. It allowed me to fine-tune my instruction skills while learning new information with every opportunity. In parallel, I worked through a number of marksmanship development courses and shooting challenges geared at enhancing my own skills, and continued to coach others through the same. Even more, I learned the business side of running a firearms business through this exposure. The administrative, back-end requirements became evident, and this experience allowed me access without full exposure. Believe me, running the business is a lot harder than teaching a class!
Stay humble. Once I finally decided to begin my business, I informed my mentors. They supported me, and I started out slowly. I developed a business plan and worked with partners to put my best foot forward. This is NOT the time to get cocky. Humility dictates that we start small and teach only the classes and skills where we can be a value add.
Remain teachable. One of the biggest challenges after becoming a trainer is that you can quickly find yourself lacking practice time unless it’s proactively managed. Challenge yourself to take at least one course per month. Get connected within the firearms community. Read, study and observe to ensure your own knowledge base continues to expand. Attend events. Network. Join organizations and get active within the community.
Invest in yourself. If you don’t, no one else will. Ask yourself honestly, would you trust your life with you as an instructor? Do you have the resources, tools, finances, and business acumen to drive a long-term business venture? Are you willing to invest in quality before you begin paying yourself? Would others be willing to invest in you and your business? And when the world calms down, will you still be relevant? These are the hard questions that separate those with a business from those with a dream.
Be legitimate. Depending on your perspective, it can be deemed fortunate or unfortunate that it really doesn’t take much to become a firearms instructor. In many cases, if you have just two to three days of free time and a small savings of cash, you’re in. Yet so much more is required to be a good instructor. Follow the rules. Don’t seek loopholes or otherwise shortchange your potential. Keep your credentials up to date and stay alert to industry updates. Your business should be one of integrity, legally sound and legitimate. I recommend taking a business course at a local community college to understand what it takes to create a successful back office. Keep good records. Pay taxes and bills on time. Develop a solid infrastructure for good customer service. Take time to develop quality materials. And understand, you will need insurance coverage. After all, just one accident, mishap, or negative review could cost you everything – including anything you had before beginning your endeavor.
Be a team player. This arena is still fairly small from a community perspective. You won't do yourself any favors by putting down other instructors and established training organizations. Instead, work with others. Collaborate, and be willing to take a back seat from time to time. Share ideas. Give credit where due. Most trainers discover very quickly that trying to do this alone is a fast track to failure. Don't try to emulate others. Stay in your lane, and do you!
Being a firearms instructor is certainly something I love and enjoy. Even more, I absolutely love coaching and supporting others to build the same. We are all needed. We just need to do things right. The anti-gun community is the only entity that wins when the firearms “professionals” are subpar. Don’t be “that one.”