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Safety- The Instructor’s Responsibility

Safety: The Instructor’s Responsibility and the Student’s Requirement

I recently came across an article written for defensive firearms instructors enumerating a list of seven items or seven tenets, if you will, describing what many professional instructors believed should be the ideals of a professional defensive shooting instructor. As an NRA Training Counselor (meaning I train instructors) and professional firearms instructor myself I was pleased to find that the number one item on this list was concerning safety; an item so important for so many reasons. I determined to share my thoughts on this belief or idea with my Personal Protection instructors that I have trained for certification in the past via an email and for instructor candidates that will take my training classes in the future I would put a special hand-out in their instructor certification materials. Then I got to thinking that this is important information for the defensive firearms student as well so I put it in article form. In my professional opinion, as a student, if your instructor doesn’t seem to measure everything he or she does by this belief or tenant then perhaps you should ask yourself whether you are taking instruction from the right individual or school. So, here are my thoughts-

This first tenet of the seven read as follows:

“I am committed to the safety of my students, and hold that the expected benefit of any training activity must significantly outweigh any known or perceived risk of that activity.”

Safety is understandably paramount in our activities as instructors. One misstep can literally be life altering for all involved; the student(s), their family or families as well as you and your family, and career ending for you as an instructor. As an instructor, safety, for both your students and yourselves, is always your first priority. Prior to handling firearms, each and every intermediate and advanced level class should begin with a good, thorough recap of the rules for gun safety and any other special rules that may apply to the activities in that class. Though it should go without saying (but I’ll say it anyway), basic firearms classes should thoroughly cover fundamental gun safety as soon as the basic understanding of the parts of the handgun or long gun are made known to the student. When we put the frame, action and barrel or the stock action and barrel of the together we have a firearm and now proper safety must be discussed, taught and reinforced.

As instructors we should all understand that shooting guns in a training environment involves some level of risk to not only the individual student, but to other students and the instructor or instructors as well. We minimize our exposure to that risk or level of danger by taking good sound safety precautions beginning with the cardinal or primary rules of gun safety espoused by the National Rifle Association:

1)                  Always keep the gun pointed in a safe direction

2)                  Always keep your finger off the trigger until ready to shoot.

3)                  Always keep the gun unloaded until ready to use it

Depending upon the type of training activity and the techniques being taught there will of course be other rules that are particular to those activities but the cardinal rules always remain the same.

As personal protection or defensive pistol instructors it’s our job to not only understand but to train and demand safety at the highest level from ourselves and our students. As instructors it’s our job to understand and teach safety as a concept that must be kept at the forefront of the mind every time we or one of our students picks up a firearm in our training classes or ever after. We need to know how to apply the concept in ways that keep our students and everyone else safe, and one way we can do that is by having rules and procedures that are relevant to the activities within the class and the student’s needs and abilities within that class.

As instructors it is our job to teach knowledge, skills and attitudes in order to affect a change in the student’s understanding and abilities. That is what they are paying you for. The transfer of knowledge is fairly easy if you understand and have a good grasp of the principals of teaching and requirements for learning. Skills are easy to demonstrate and transfer to our students if you are proficient with the particular skill you are attempting to teach and the student has the need and desire to learn. It’s the attitudes that are the most difficult. Those are more in the mind. Not so much in the physical activities or techniques that we are attempting to teach. They are more mental than practical, as it were. As this pertains to safety, every time we pick up a gun we need to point it in a safe direction and check it’s condition to determine if it is hot or not. If our students see us exhibiting a good safe attitude they will begin to emulate those safe attitudes as long as we continue to guide them, urge them, remind them and demand that they do so. If, as an instructor you are cavalier with your own attitude toward safety then the student sees that and begins to take on the same type of cavalier attitude regarding safety with a firearm.

As instructors we need to look at all of the activities and drills we use to train our students and ask ourselves some really hard questions such as: what is the real benefit of this training or drill and is that benefit relevant to the lives of our students, and finally, does that benefit outweigh any and all of the risks being taken?

There are some that say that the student only needs to focus on what to do, while the teacher needs to focus on why they’re doing it and that understanding of not only the what but the why is the difference between the teacher – the professional teacher – and the student. It is my contention that both the student and the instructor must know the what AND the why in order to fully affect the change in the student’s knowledge, skills and attitudes that indicate that learning has taken place. When it comes to firearms, chain saws, automobiles, heavy equipment or any other tool, and a firearm is after all simply a tool, understanding the what and why of safety is as they say, “Job One”.

As an instructor, if you don’t measure everything you do by this belief then your students are on the road to disaster and you are driving that train. As a student, if your instructor doesn’t seem to measure everything he or she does by this belief or tenet then perhaps you should ask yourself whether you are in the right place or not.