NRA – Safety First… or maybe second?

I’m almost fearful to write this post, mainly because I don’t want a letter in the mail stating the NRA has revoked my instructor license for disagreeing with them. As many of you know, I am the owner and head-trainer for a S.A.F.T. Academy, where we teach a full mantle of NRA firearms courses. I am also a longtime member of the NRA, but as a member and an instructor I often find myself at peace with their mission, but at odds with the way they go about achieving it.

What we instructors do:

As instructors we have spent THOUSANDS of dollars educating ourselves on how to educate students. To put it in perspective, a student typically pays $50-$75 for a class, plus maybe 1 box of ammunition. At our instructor courses, we usually have to pay $300-450 per course, take up two full very long days, and sometimes shoot hundreds of rounds to qualify ourselves as instructors. We can easily take up to about  15 NRA instructor courses, plus refreshers, just to be certified to teach the basic stuff. To get your concealed carry permit costs you around $125 including your CCH course. To get our license as instructors and remain on top of our own shooting fundamentals and education takes most of us around 2,000-4,000 a year. That’s because we (some of us) focus on our own continued education, focus on improving our classroom experience, and want to maintain the best overall instructor training available. Personally, my goal has been to become and NRA counselor, which is the NRA term for an instructor that teaches other instructors. If I can educate students in safety and responsibility, then the next step is to ingrain that sense of safety and responsibility in the next series of instructors that will be teaching students themselves.

I won’t presume to speak for other instructors, but I encourage those of you that ARE instructors to comment below on the blog (not in the Facebook comment area, but in the actual blog comment area below it.) I’d like for you to share your thoughts on this as well. Maybe Miss Beverly or Andy at the NRA will see it and reconsider their stance.

Gutting the NRA Basic Pistol Course

NRA Basic Pistol is the single most important course the NRA offers. In fact I often tell my students to ignore the name of the course. Pistol Safety is so very NOT-accurate for all the information this course delivers – a fact that I think is the driving reason why many students choose to forego the class altogether. You’d think gun safety would be paramount, but potential students invariably say things like “Well, I know what end the bullet comes out of, I don’t need a safety course.” Even more common is “I’ve had a gun for ____ years. I just need my concealed carry.”

As a person, I want to pistol-stroke most of them in the head.

As an instructor, I simply say “Ok, well we’d be glad to have you in the concealed carry course. We cover most of the pistol safety there anyway,” then I sigh and shake my head. Another person that has no idea what that course is all about.

My opinion has always been that if they changed it to “NRA Shooting Fundamentals” or “NRA Pistol Marksman” course, they’d get a lot more signups because people would think the course is more informative than the label “Basic Pistol Safety” implies.

Regardless, this is one of the most important courses a student can take, and it’s one of the hardest to get them to sign up for.

This course teaches fundamentals about revolvers and semiautomatics, selecting which might be right for given circumstances or certain types of carry (something they can’t do one on one with the new online). We go over the details between standard, +P, and +P+ ammunition so students know what they’re getting when they walk into Walmart and ask for “bullets.” (Yes, there are a ton of different options for a 50 year old lady that only knows she needs 9mm. We teach her what to get, how to recognize it, etc.)

Courses that involve firearms, especially firearms basics are ONLY effective when you can look the students in the eye and gauge if they understand what you’re telling them. If they’re not, you dumb it down some more, teach it again, and then bring it back up to a higher level through repetition or analogy. Any instructor can put material on a slide and have a person remember it for the next five minutes until test time, but it takes a human to know if they’ve really “got it” or if they’re just searching their notes to find the right answer.

Why we teach:

Let’s be rational about this. We teach, or I personally teach, for two reasons:

  1. I support the second amendment and think there should be more well-trained, safety-oriented, shooters out there in the world and I want to be sure I have a chance to give them a REAL education on firearm safety and fundamentals before sending them out with a hand-cannon tucked in their belt.
  2. We get paid for it.

Really? Did you think there was some glorious second reason there that was going to be incredibly altruistic? Anyone that knows the history of our firearms academy knows is was founded solely to combat the onslaught of back-yard instructors trading certificates for cash. The long and short of it is that maintaining a professional classroom, firearm insurance, instructor insurance, building insurance, range insurance, instructor accreditation, heating and cooling and supplies, and a million other things we have to do are expensive to provide. We personally charge $75 for the NRA pistol course.

  1. The NRA packet costs about $12 plus shipping.
  2. The range costs $5 per student.
  3. The food and drinks costs about $3 per student on average.
  4. The prep time for a course is about 4 hours.
  5. Cleanup after a course is about 1 hour.
  6. Paperwork for the NRA is another 2 hours.
  7. Filing our own paperwork is another 2 hours or so.
  8. We pay our Range Safety Officers per class.
  9. We pay our administrative personnel per class.

All in all after that cost and time is calculated, we might rake in about $35 per student in what you could call profit. The course is 8 hours, plus the 9 hours mentioned above that go before and after it. Let’s say that’s about 16 hours of work per class. That means we make around $2.50 per hour per student, and we cap out our classroom at 16 students for the sake of maintaining a good instructor-student ratio. I tell you all that to say this: We ain’t getting rich. I’d make MUCH more money just working part time on a Saturday doing what I do all week long anyway.  Dealing with 16 people with loaded firearms that might or might not know how to use them and sweating in July heat in a bullet-proof vest, isn’t exactly a millionaire’s dream at 2.50 per hour per person, but it’s a decent secondary income when you compare it with the valuable education we’re giving to future gun owners.

The New Deal

Here is the body of the email we instructors received on  12/19/2015.

“The new blended NRA Basic Pistol course will be available to the public in the first quarter of 2016. This means a portion of the course is conducted online in an e-learning environment that can be completed on the students’ own time. The e-learning portion teaches gun safety rules, types of pistols, proper operation of revolvers and semi-automatic pistols, ammunition knowledge and selection, selecting and storing a pistol, the fundamentals of pistol shooting, clearing stoppages, zeroing, pistol shooting errors, and pistol inspection and maintenance.Once students complete the e-learning portion, they will be able to enroll in the instructor-led portion of the course. You will notice that the lesson plan for the instructor-led portion of the course, or Phase II, has been placed on your home page for all pistol instructors to download and/or print. Please become familiar with the course content so you are prepared to greet a new batch of students. NRA Instructors will continue to provide review sessions with sufficient time to assess students’ level of understanding and retention of the course material, explain what will be expected during live-fire practice sessions on the range, and interact sufficiently to detect attitudes, personalities, intentions, and so on. The students will demonstrate comprehension and application of gun safety rules, range protocol, proper handling, loading and unloading procedures, application of pistol shooting fundamentals, stable shooting positions, live fire, and shooting a final qualification.
As we prepare to launch the new NRA Basic Pistol course to the public, you will notice changes to Students will still find your courses as they always have, but they will be required to have a Personal Identification Number (PIN) to register. They will create a PIN when they register for the online e-learning portion (Phase I) of the Basic Pistol course. After completion, when they register for your instructor-led (Phase II) portion of the course using their PIN, their contact information and test score will appear in the course report. Once the instructor completes the instructor-led portion of the course (Phase II), and the student passes the course, the instructor prints the certificate right from”

What does that mean?

It means that no longer are we teaching a Pistol Safety course. No longer do we get to sit in the classroom and get a full hands-on study of each of our student’s capabilities, memory retention, or comfort level with the course. Now students get to pay the NRA a whopping $60.00 for a course they have to take online. No, I didn’t say they COULD take it online. I said they HAVE to take it online. They are REQUIRED to take it online.

They take the online course, bring a certificate to us, and we basically teach a “do you all remember what you learned online?” seminar, then we go shoot.

I’m sorry.. THAT’s safe! (insert an incredible amount of sarcasm here)

We’re teaching PISTOL SAFETY and up until the time they come to sit with us to go to the range and actually go shoot, they might have never held a firearm yet. This is just about as bad an idea as Virginia’s online concealed carry courses. We’ve had NO time to work with them with training pistols to work on their grip, sight picture, loading and unloading fundamentals, or half a dozen other fundamentals we used to teach them in the class room. Instead they got to watch an online video, take a test, answer some questions, and they’re sent to us, ready to take them shooting.


The reality is:

Most NRA instructors shouldn’t be teaching. Yeah, OK, I know, it’s not nice to say, but it’s true. Most concealed carry instructors shouldn’t be teaching either. But I challenge anyone out there to sit through one of OUR courses and tell me it’s not a great course. We focus on EVERY student, EVERY fundamental, and we’re 100% sure we feel our students are safe before we let them out the door with a certificate. VERY FEW instructors can claim that.

We’ve had 100% positive reviews on Groupon. 100% positive reviews on our student surveys (which I’ll be glad to share with anyone that wants to see them), 100% positive reviews with the Better Business Bureau. In fact there doesn’t exist a single negative review about our firearms training anywhere on the ENTIRE internet. ANYWHERE.. no forum, no review site, nowhere. It doesn’t exist. So yes, maybe some of you reading this think I’m approaching this with a little too much arrogance, but it’s not arrogance speaking. Its frustration at spending the incredible amount of time to create a great program and teach to a high standard and then having the NRA basically rip the course from you when they’re really trying to punish the failures instead. In the interest of full disclosure, I did receive one negative email in the history of our organization regarding the choice of language one of our instructors used in a classroom. That instructor has never taught for me again.

So on one hand, the NRA might be using this new online program to ramp up the quality of their student education by compensating for poor instructors in the field. If that’s the case, they need to strip those instructors of their license to teach, send the students to ACTUAL instructors (the rest of us) that DO have shining reputations for safety and professionalism, and continue with real-life in-person training.  If the caliber of instructors sucks so bad this needs to be done, fire your instructors.

You do NOT punish the instructors that have dedicated hundreds and thousands of hours to teaching by cutting out the fundamental course that is the basis for all other handgun courses. And you certainly do not do it by charging students a ridiculous amount of money to take the online course. They charge more for the online video course than some of us charge for the ENTIRE course to be taught in person.

As an instructor, this isn’t appropriate treatment by the NRA and it’s a disservice to your future students.

The New Phase II Course

How many of you, as adults, really enjoy going to school? Chances are you don’t. The idea now with the new course is that you take an online self-paced course, then you bring us your certificate from the online course and we teach Phase II of the course.  I’ve read the new course material. From a student perspective, the only thing I see that stands out to me is that “Great, I’m going to have to go through all this again?”

To properly teach this course we as instructors have to basically go over most everything a second time anyway. Well, if we are teaching the cocking, uncocking, loading, unloading, safety rules, and other criteria, what’s the point in taking the online class?

Students now have to pay us for a second course to complete the class – which means VERY FEW PEOPLE are going to pay for this class. You have to pay $60 the first time, and probably $50-$60 the second time. Now you have to pay 1.5 times the amount you would have had to pay last year and you still don’t have a concealed carry permit. We have to brow-beat people into handgun safety as it is already.

This new course outline makes the NRA a lot of money. It takes money AWAY from the instructors that are the boots on the ground of gun safety. It makes it more difficult for students to take the course.

How is it more difficult?

One of the rationalizations given to us instructors in the online FAQ for us is that this bring the course more inline with the Hunter Education class by making it available online and going to an instructor for the field day portion (the shooting portion).

You know what, the Department of Wildlife (the department that oversees Hunter Education) HATES when students take the online course. It’s a LAST resort. They publicly and privately endorse ALWAYS going to an instructor-led course first and ONLY using the online course if you can’t find a course in your area. And yes, I teach that course too, so I have to hear first-hand from our district reps about it. Firearms courses should ALWAYS be hands-on with as small an instructor-student ratio as possible.

Why do they dislike online education so much?  Because you’re putting a hunting rifle that can hurl a projectile at mach 2 for over a mile in the hands of someone that took an online class rather than a person that spend significant time with an instructor to prove their knowledge in-person and qualify for that certificate. It’s not safe. It’s a last-ditch offering for students that can’t get a class any other way.

The largest difficulty to overcome is age. A large percentage of people taking NRA Basic Pistol Safety are women over 50, with a decent sampling of men over 65 added into the mix. This age group traditionally can usually ONLY do an instructor-led course. How many gun owners over 60 do you see taking online college courses? I bet the demographic is so small as to not be worth mentioning. That’s because either the technology is too daunting for them to want to attempt, or because they lack the requisite hardware and internet skills to take advantage of it.

We have a great opportunity to educate the older generation, who by all accounts WANTS to learn gun safety before they carry in public, and then we make the process to obtain such training too much for them to want to deal with. The result will be: they simply don’t take the course.

How the NRA can Fix it:

It’s simple. Update the program and offer BOTH options. I can’t honestly sit here and argue that the younger demographic wouldn’t be capable, and even eager, to take the course online. I CAN say that the adult generation is much less likely to and would suffer more difficulties doing so. Even the registration process is complicated now. Sign up and get a userid and password, then use that to get a PIN code, then use that to register, then take that information to an instructor, then we have to go online and find your information and process you as “passed.” It’s overly complicated. The online NRA paperwork is complicated even for us instructors and we’ve been doing the same repeated tasks for years now.

I can also say with 100% confidence that the in-person course is safer and offers more quality of education. It’s not physically possible to shoe-horn everyone into one teaching style no matter how well the virtual-instructors perform and ANY online course does just that. It teaches 65 year old Miss Jones the same way it teaches 18 year old Johnny and that’ not effective. In the classroom we can relate to each student individually, adjust our spoken instruction to their retention level and level of understanding, and work to be absolutely sure these students have the skills and knowledge necessary to carry a firearm out there in the dangerous world we live it and have an understanding of the innate responsibility that comes with such a decision.

How you can help fix it:

The single best thing you can do as students to help keep the world safe for gun owners is to report bad instructors to the NRA and to your state’s DOJ. I can’t tell you how many times I hear people grill me on our course material before even signing up. I happily inform them how we teach, what we teach, and how we proceed with insuring the students have a grasp of the material. Then I hear something like “Good ,thank god. I’ll send my wife to you, because that asshole that gave me my certificate was a joke!”


I always follow up with “Did you report him?” The answer is 100% of the time a resounding NO! Either it was a friend, or it was someone they were referred to because the class was “easy.” Let me tell you something; this class isn’t designed to be EASY! It’s meant to be taken seriously.

Just last week my mother asked me if I’d seen the local guy on Facebook advertising his concealed carry course. I said I hadn’t. “Well, isn’t the class supposed to be a certain length of time?”

“Yes ma’am” I replied. “It’s required to be eight hours of classroom instruction plus range time.”

“That’s what I thought,” she said. “This guy was advertising you’d be in and out in six hours total.

That’s against the law. It’s illegal. It’s also grounds for every student he’s ever had to have their permit revoked and for him to have his license revoked.

If you, as responsible gun owners, or just as readers that want to be sure the person next to you has some idea what end of the bang stick makes the noise, then start reporting these instructors and FOLLOW UP to see if they’re still teaching. This is a serious industry and it’s an industry that’s already under-fire (literally and metaphorically) in this nation. Do your part to insure a quality of education! All it takes is an email or a phone call.

To the members of the NRA board in charge of training standards

I hope you’ll take this criticism for what it is; a genuine expression of dissatisfaction and a feeling that we as instructors are being mistreated by your new programs. Putting money into the NRA’s pocket by directly taking it out of our pockets as instructors is shameful. I am an NRA recruiter, so I send the organization new signups. I’m an NRA instructor, so I purchase your student materials, your instructor materials, and your gear and supplies. My students purchase your supplies and materials, and often continue on in your NRA-sponsored programs. I’m also an annual member, rather than a lifetime member, not because I can’t afford the fee, but because I know the annual recurring contribution adds up to a whole lot more than the single lifetime payment, regardless of the savings to the user.

If you need the money, stop sending me and everyone else free hats and garment bags and use our  money for what it was intended for. The sheer amount of junk you offer to people to sign up costs millions of dollars a year.

As always I support the purpose and the mission statement of the NRA, but I severely disapprove of this action that does nothing positive for anyone involved. It hurts students. It hurts instructors. It hurts gun-safety overall.

Best Regards,

Tommy Jordan,

NRA Chief Range Safety Officer
NRA Range Safety Officer Instructor
NRA Basic Pistol Instructor
NRA Rifle Instructor
NRA Shotgun Instructor
NRA Refuse to be a Victim Instructor
NRA Personal Protection Inside the Home Instructor
NRA Personal Protection Outside the Home Instructor
North Carolina Hunter Education Instructor
North Carolina Carry Concealed Instructor




3 thoughts on “NRA – Safety First… or maybe second?

  1. Not to mention I find it incredibly annoying that the NRA can teach online, but we instructor’s can’t put ANY of our materials online, in any form of advanced e-learning. I’ve been advocating for other e-learning aspects for years, but certainly NOT for Basic Pistol Safety!

  2. Very well written Tommy, I like that you included an action plan for MAYBE getting this NRA Blended course changed or allow both face to face and blended learning. I’m doing my first Blended Pistol Instructors course and my candidates are having a lot of technical issues with the online portion. I think I will have to refund their Phase 2 fees before this is all done.

    Just believe that he money hungry NRA Training department has written its own demise with this course.

    Jim Herndon
    NRA Training Counselor

    • Thanks Jim,
      I hate when someone complains without offering a solution. The solution in this case is fairly simple I think – or at least one possible solution. I’ve already had a few students contact me from other states trying to figure out how to simply take the course. It’s not a simple matter anymore. It’s a two-step pain in the rear for all parties involved. So far, I’m not teaching it. I’m just going to continue to hold off a bit until they pull their head out of their butts and make some changes to put things back right.

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