So, you want to be a firearms instructor?

It’s a good question and the subject of a great article at Women and Guns, a Second Amendment Foundation publication.

I’m going to share much of the article with you here, and urge you to go read the whole thing – even if you’re an instructor. Especially if you’re a newer instructor (as defined as practicing for less than five years).  Older instructors will probably read it because they recognize the value of a voracious appetite for learning from fellow instructors.

Lastly, a hat tip to ISRA’s Executive Director Richard Pearson for mentioning this in his Thursday email update to members.


So you want to be a firearms instructor?

Contributing Editor

(Women and Guns) – …First and foremost, the decision to become an instructor must be a serious, well-considered one. It involves a great deal of commitment, both of time and money, and comes with a large burden of responsibility. Firearms are dangerous tools and great care must be taken to model safe handling at all times, no exceptions, ever. It needs to be kept in mind that teaching people to use firearms for self defense means you are teaching deadly force techniques. People are literally trusting you to show them how to save their lives and the lives of those they love in a dire emergency.   This goes for instruction on hunting and competition as well because, even though you may not be directly addressing self defense, your students will use what they learned about guns should the need arise. A thorough grounding in self-defense law and the statutes regulating firearms in general is a necessary component of any instructor’s background.

Photo via Women and Guns
The author in a class taught by Ken Hackathorn.


I recently spoke with Marty Hayes, owner of the Firearms Academy of Seattle, to get his perspective on the firearms training industry and what it takes to be a good firearms instructor.

W&G: We’ve noticed the uptick in student enrollment at FAS recently. Are more women coming for training and why do you suppose that is?

Hayes: “Yes. We’ve noticed about 40 to 50% of students coming in for our basic courses are women and double the number of women are continuing on to more advanced courses than before. And not just women, there are more students in general. There are three reasons for this. The first is the political climate. When it gets acrimonious with one side touting gun control and the other side touting Second Amendment rights, people get uneasy. Secondly, there is a perceived uptick in crime due to news media coverage, especially of shootings with any political or racial involvement, and people become aware of the violent nature of our culture. I’ve noticed a lot more people over the age of 60 and people who never grew up around guns turning to the gun to protect themselves. Lastly, the proliferation of active shooter situations, both the domestic terrorism and the foreign jihadists, have made people in general and more women seek out training.”

…W&G: Have you noticed more schools and more instructors coming into the field?”Hayes: “I think the number of schools is increasing and the number of people deciding to hang out their shingle as instructors definitely increasing. I don’t know if other schools are adding instructors.”


Marty’s from Seattle, and his company, the Firearms Academy of Seattle, is one of the top schools nationwide.

Here in Illinois, we went from something like 42 firearms instructors who taught ten or more people in the previous calendar year in 2012 to something like 3400 people becoming Illinois State Police-approved concealed carry instructors with the passage of our torturous concealed carry law and its 16-hour training requirement.  And roughly one hundred of those have had their credentials revoked for an assortment of reasons (including a few of those whose revocations had nothing to do with the training they provided, but other issues).

Today, very few of the 3300ish listed instructors are actually practicing when everyone found out it wasn’t going to be a gold mine and to do it right, the costs of putting on a good class are high.  Incorporation legal and registration fees for liability protection, accounting fees, liability insurance, range rental, class facilities rental, training materials, advertising, promotional materials, continuing education expenses, food catering and staff costs just to name a few.

…W&G: What is it you look for in a potential instructor and what are your requirements to instruct at your school?Hayes: “First of all, I don’t differentiate between male and female in what I look for in a potential instructor. Typically, I don’t start looking until I perceive a need for more instructors. Then, I look at the students working through the classes and see if any stand out as people with a real interest in bettering their skills. It’s sort of a self-screening process as they go through the whole handgun curriculum which is about 60 hours of training. When I see them doing that and becoming very serious about it, I decide whether I want to spend a lot of time with this person. Are they the kind of person I would want to go to dinner with, go motorcycling, spend time in a golf cart? They gotta be nice people or we don’t bother. At the staff meeting in December, one of the questions was “Who among the students might you recommend as someone you would like to bring on staff and work with?” The staff spends more time with the students than I do these days. A couple of names came out as people we might approach.”

W&G: What do you require from your apprentice instructors before they become official staff instructors?

Hayes: “We have an instructor development program like most schools that do a good volume of business but we don’t teach instructor development classes that someone could come into and leave with a certificate certifying them as an FAS instructor. It’s much more extensive than that. When the person has developed their skills, they have to pass a skills test, called our Handgun Master’s Test. I’m told it’s a difficult test and from the number of people taking it and not passing, I’d have to concur with that. I once administered it to a group of 17 law enforcement firearms instructors and only 7 were able to pass and they had multiple chances at it. That kind of validated it as a good measure of shooting skills. Once they pass that and the staff concurs that they have an acceptable level of skill, we approach them about teaching. This is a casual process, as we usually know who would be interested in joining the staff by then. After the 60 hours of training through our handgun curriculum and passing the master’s test, they come to classes and learn from the other instructors and myself how to become a good shooting coach, probably another 60 to 100 hours of volunteer work. In addition to that, as if that wasn’t enough, I require another 100 hours of advanced training from other instructors outside FAS. I don’t want people dedicated to FAS and nothing else. I want them to have a broad understanding of the industry through training with other top instructors in the field. Fortunately, I bring most of them to FAS. One of those instructors that is an absolute requirement is Massad Ayoob. My instructors must be certified graduates of his MAG-40 class so they understand the legal ramifications of deadly force. In addition to all this, they must bring instructor credentials in from NRA, SAF, Law Enforcement Instructors or something equivalent, such as our own instructor development course, which we offer every 5 years or so, to become certified instructors at FAS.”

…W&G: In addition to being the director of the Firearms Academy of Seattle, you are also the founder and director of the Armed Citizen’s Legal Defense Network. Your curriculum is heavily weighted with the legalities around the use of deadly force. Do you feel this is being addressed enough by trainers in general and why?Hayes: “Absolutely not. When I trained in law enforcement, I learned about ability, opportunity and jeopardy and I brought that into my program. I made myself a vow that I would not teach someone to use a gun in self defense, in other words to kill, without making a good faith effort to make sure they understand when they could justifiably kill another person. I brought ability, opportunity and jeopardy as well as state laws into my programs in 1988 and have continued to this day. I know a lot of instructors that don’t address this and that’s not necessarily bad if the students aren’t expecting to learn that when they sign up for the course. But if you take a raw new beginner and start to teach them how to use a gun in self defense, you absolutely owe it to them to teach them the rules of the road. That come’s heavily from the teaching of Massad Ayoob.

There are other ways to help train the next group of American citizens wanting to propagate our right to defend ourselves with firearms. For an excellent take on the do it yourself method of becoming a firearms instructor, I turn to Kathy Jackson, a friend that has many of my shared experiences as a fellow instructor at FAS and now head of her own training company, Cornered Cat Training. What follows is excerpted (with the author’s permission) from an upcoming book she is working on, as yet untitled, that will go in depth into her journey as a trainer and what she feels is important to the development of instructors:The Do It Yourself Road

First of all, get certification from a reputable school or organization. Instructors credentialed from the NRA are a good place to start. No one certification is the sum total of what an instructor needs to be a good instructor.

Find someone with experience that is willing to mentor you. This can mean helping out with competitive matches or events in your area or helping with classes at the local range. Most instructors are eager to have volunteers to help out. You can learn a lot from watching others teach and coach.

Things to learn immediately:

  1. Get medical skills.
  2. Build a strong legal understanding of lethal force.
  3. Live with your gun.
  4. Develop your speaking skills.
  5. Shoot regularly.
  6. Read—a lot.
  7. Build a strong understanding of what self defense is and what it is not.
  8. Learn basic armorer’s skills.
  9. Document your training.
  10. Start an instructor’s journal.

Within a year:

  1. Buy liability insurance.
  2. Get the NRA Basic Pistol, Personal Protection in the Home and Personal Protection Outside the Home Instructors certifications.
  3. Take at least 60 hours of formal non-NRA firearms training (more is better) from quality professional schools.
  4. Regularly volunteer to coach and assist with events in your area.
  5. Assist with safety in classes taught by professional instructors at every opportunity.
  6. Practice enforcing safety protocols.
  7. When you are ready, meet the licensing requirements to offer concealed carry permit training to students in your state.

Within 3 years:

  1. Take a MAG-40 class from Massad Ayoob.
  2. Reach a total of at least 120 hours of formal training from non-NRA sources.
  3. Keep learning.

…Becoming a firearms instructor is much like any other teaching profession, with the added responsibilities of keeping students safe while learning an inherently dangerous skill. This adds a medical component that I feel is vital as well. First aid knowledge for anything from cuts and scrapes to gunshot wounds is important. There is a psychological component as well. People often come to you afraid of the tool they seek to learn about or scarred by bad experiences with violence or crime. The loud noises and physical sensations of having the gun recoil in your hand during firing and the nearby explosions and flying brass of a firing line can be upsetting at first. It’s necessary to cultivate a calm, reassuring presence while balancing that with the need to keep safety protocols strictly enforced.You have to be able to engage your students with your material and inspire them to seek more training. You must be willing to kindly mentor others along the path to knowledge while keeping your mind and heart open to the lessons your students can impart to you. It’s less about gratifying your own ego and more about strengthening and empowering others.

Over most of a lifetime in the martial arts, I’ve met very few people that have accrued much wealth training others. Most professional instructors get by and earn enough to continue their path. For many, such as myself, teaching firearms safety is a side job and a labor of love. I’ve found it to be a journey toward personal empowerment made better by the great people I’ve met along the way.


Emphasis added.

One thought on “Interested in becoming a firearms instructor? Women & Guns has a great story on how to do just that…”
  1. I’ve been to both handgun and rifle classes at FAS. Wonderful, knowledgeable staff, lots of one on one (at most it was one on three) with an emphasis on safety, and making sure to teach you not only how to shoot, but how to take care of the firearm and a broad view of when it is or is not legally acceptable to use a firearm for defense (hard to go too far into detailed specifics as EVERY encounter is different)
    I’m planning on taking many more of their classes as time and finances permit, and maybe one day get to the trainer level. Until then I can’t recommend them enough.

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