Teaching Pistol in Philly

Posted on March 25, 2012


Prior to moving to New Hampshire in 2006, I knew that I would be teaching many of my classmates the basics of firearms, so I decided to formalize my instructing credentials. I became an NRA Certified Basic Pistol and Home Firearm Safety Instructor.

In a humorous turn of events, one of my classmates was Bruce Gray, a famous pistol instructor. Bruce was one of the true innovators in the early days of USPSA and a fantastic teacher. Since he was teaching many Police Departments, who required their instructors to be NRA-certified for insurance purposes, he had to sit in this elementary class with me, a C-class shooter. Quite encouragingly, he didn’t gripe or whine, but rather used the class to:

  • Work on the fundamentals
  • Improve his fellow students

One of the most fun portions of the class was where the students paired up, with one student serving as the instructor and one as the trainee. I got paired with Bruce. When it was his turn to teach, he helped me make small adjustments to my grip, stance, and trigger squeeze. When it was his turn to learn, rather than acting like a know-it-all and showing off, he intentionally “made mistakes” that I had to correct him on. I took quite a bit away from that class.

Since that class, I’ve probably taught somewhere between 200-300 students the basics of rifle and pistol, and to a far lessor extent shotgun.

So, flashing forward to today. I’m living in New York, a state in which non-pistol licensees are not legally allowed to handle a pistol, even on a range. (Yes, I’m aware of the special exemption for applicants, but that’s really irrelevant for 95% of novices).

I’ve shown my NYC friends YouTube videos I put up from 2009 in which I shoot USPSA matches in South Florida, but they had never actually seen me handle a live handgun.

So a few weeks ago, I organized a small road trip to We picked that club because we knew they rented firearms, and I’d shot there before. At first I thought we would have a car-full (5 people). Pretty soon, however, word of mouth spread, and ten people showed up. Logistically, this presented quite a challenge as Philly Gun wouldn’t give us more than two lanes, and after the first 30 minutes crammed us down to one lane. I don’t blame them, but next time, I’d strongly prefer going to an outdoor range where I’d be able to simultaneously teach a large group rather than having to teach and re-teach students two at a time.

I always start with the Four Rules of Gun Safety. I prefer the Jeff Cooper version, but I teach the NRA version during NRA classes. Then I go over basic weapon familiarization. I prefer to move students through a progression of firearm types, but at this range, we had a Ruger Mk.3 and a Glock 17 (both great guns).

After familiarization, I teach marksmanship: Grip, Stance, Sight Alignment, Target Picture, Trigger Control. I teach the standard USPSA stance demonstrated by Todd Jarrett:

If a student says, “I prefer Weaver,” I’ll explain why most folks have switched, but I’ll let them do their thing. Generally I prefer to take students through a logical progression: 22lr bolt action rifles, then move to 10/22’s, then centerfire rifles, then 22lr pistols, then centerfire pistols. That wasn’t an option, so the two pistols had to do.

We spent a good three hours on the line, then we retired to a gastropub, ate some food, drank some beer, and took the late Bolt back to the city. A productive day.

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Posted in: Training