Magazine 10/2/2018

Back To Its Roots

by Jeff Johnston

On July 27, 2014, psychiatrist Dr. Lee Silverman sat in his office in Mercy Fitzgerald Hospital completing paperwork between appointments.

A few moments later, his next patient arrived an hour early. The patient was convicted felon Richard Plotts, a severely disturbed man with a history of paranoia and violence who was prohibited by state and federal law from possessing a firearm. Plotts yelled sharp words at Silverman before pulling a handgun from his waistband and leveling it at his doctor’s chest. Plotts did not fire on Silverman at that time, but instead turned the handgun toward the main focus of his rage, caseworker Theresa Hunt. Without hesitation, he opened fire at point blank range, killing her. That’s when Silverman drew his own handgun, took cover behind a desk and exchanged fire with the madman, hitting Plotts twice in the chest and once in the arm, demobilizing him. One of Plotts’ bullets grazed Silverman’s head and struck his hand. Police arrived minutes later and both men survived. Silverman made a full recovery.

District Attorney Jack Whelan said it was his belief that Plotts, who had 39 additional rounds on his person, would have almost surely killed more people in that office had it not been for Silverman, who carried a concealed handgun to work with him that day, as he did every day, despite hospital policy to the contrary.

What saved innocent lives, however, was not Silverman’s gun alone, but rather his swift thinking, courage and tactical movements under pressure. He had trained and mentally rehearsed for that day, a day that he’d hoped would never come. When it did come, he survived. Without that mindset and training, Dr. Silverman and his coworkers may not have been so fortunate.

A RISE IN DEMAND

Despite the truth that gun ownership in America is increasing while overall crime is decreasing, the threat of monstrous individuals hell-bent on destroying as many lives as possible remains real, just as the threats of home invasions, car-jackings and armed robbery persist. The unfortunate fact is that danger lurks in the world just as it always has but, due to evolving threats and a fractured society, Americans feel more vulnerable now than ever. Today, more Americans than ever are taking responsibility for their own safety and security.

At the time of this writing, more than 16 million civilians are permitted to carry a concealed weapon in the United States, and that number is increasing monthly at a rate higher than ever previously recorded. Between July 2016 and May 2017—10 months—the number of concealed-carry permits granted increased by 1.2 million.

Although there is no official data on how frequently these permit holders choose to carry their arms, nor what type of supplemental training they’ve undergone after meeting their state’s basic requirements, many of us know how it usually goes—because we’ve been there.

Typically, we’ll research vigorously before buying a handgun, then we’ll seek out a basic gun safety class to satisfy the law. After submitting fingerprints, paperwork and fees we’ll eventually receive our license to carry. Although most of us aspire to undergo additional training, we tuck the license and gun in a pocket, purse or console and go on about our busy daily lives.

Armed, we’re better off than we were, but we’re not as prepared as we could be. That’s because finding quality advanced training is often difficult for the uninitiated. New CCW holders are often left with more questions than answers when considering supplemental training, questions such as:

WOULD I ACTUALLY BENEFIT FROM ADDITIONAL TRAINING?
WHERE CAN I GO FOR TOP-LEVEL INSTRUCTION?
HOW DO I KNOW IF I'M PAYING SOMEONE TO TEACH ME OUTDATED OR INCORRECT TACTICS?
IS ADVANCED TRAINING TOO PHYSICALLY RIGOROUS FOR ME?
WHAT DOES IT COST?

These are all legitimate questions. There has never been a single “clearing house” for advanced-level firearms courses. That was, until the NRA—the world’s authority on firearm training—stepped up in a way no other entity possibly could. You see, NRA Carry Guard is the natural evolution of a century-and-a-half of NRA-developed firearm training. Years in the making, it was unveiled precisely when Americans needed it most.

For NRA members, gun enthusiasts and historians, it comes as no surprise that the NRA is, by every measurable metric, the world’s foremost authority on firearm safety and training. In fact, NRA began as a firearm training organization. It quickly became the gold standard, and has remained so throughout its rich history.

As our nation has grown and developed, NRA’s training services and curricula have expanded and evolved with the ever-changing times and technology.

The NRA Carry Guard program is simply the Association’s latest extension. It’s also the most advanced concealed-carry curriculum the NRA has ever developed. What follows is the story of how it came to be.

A STORIED HISTORY OF TRAINING

With the ink from Appomattox barely dry and the country still reeling from war that nearly destroyed it, savvy American military leaders reflected on lessons learned so they could be applied to future conflicts. One disparity noted was that, during many battles, Union soldiers’ marksmanship skills were inferior to those of the Confederates. Broadly speaking, rural southerners, most of whom cut their teeth on hunting and shooting, were noticeably better shots. In these battles before mechanized cavalry dominated, a company of sharpshooters could mean the difference between victory or defeat. Sometimes armed with their own Kentucky long rifles or the mighty English Whitworth, they were often able to kill Blue Coats at extreme ranges.

While most officers knew of this shortcoming, Colonel William Conant Church set out to do something about it. Born in 1836 in Rochester, N.Y., he was a journalist and newspaper publisher by trade before (and after) enlisting in the Union Army. He had personally witnessed men alongside him whom had never held a musket, much less fired one accurately, before joining the effort, so it was no surprise when his troops were frequently outshot by their enemy.

Realizing that marksmanship was a fundamentally cultural issue, he reasoned that a shooting club designed to encourage firearm training and marksmanship for civilians in peacetime would greatly benefit America if it ever again entered into combat. His desire was to successfully weave riflery into the fabric of urban culture. Fellow Union officer General George Wood Wingate heartily agreed, and the two set out to seek funding, land and directives for such a shooting club. This decision would prove fortuitous to the U.S., for two great wars were on the horizon.

On Nov. 17, 1871, the National Rifle Association was formed to “promote and encourage rifle shooting on a scientific basis.” It was modeled after England’s Wimbledon club that regularly held shooting tournaments during which it crowned world champions. Competition incentivized the evolution of the sport while fostering fun with a purpose. In 1872, with the help of funding provided by the state of New York, the NRA’s range and official headquarters were established on the Creed farm in Long Island, N.Y. Nicknamed “Creedmoor,” due to the farm’s resemblance of an English moor, it featured various ranges for rifle and pistol shooting practice. It held regular matches, the most famous of which occurred in 1874 when the legendary Irish rifle team challenged the Americans on their own newly formed turf. With a reported 10,000 spectators watching, America bested Ireland by 3 points out of a possible 1080. A week later, the Irish Team earned its revenge when it defeated the Americans by 6 points. The rivalry lives on to this day in the form of the Creedmoor Cup, held every four years alternating between America and Ireland. America usually wins.

The range on Long Island didn’t last. Believe it or not, the newly formed National Rifle Association wasn’t without the challenges it faces now; some New Yorkers didn’t like the idea of guns and therefore were outspoken in their political criticism of the NRA. Others, who lived near Creedmoor, didn’t appreciate the noise. In 1890 the range was moved to Sea Girt, N.J., but the matches, thanks in part to the participation of over 200 youth shooters, quickly outgrew that facility. One reason for the increase in young shooters was that, as early as 1903, the NRA began urging colleges, military academies and universities to establish rifle clubs to pique youth interest in the shooting sports.

In 1907 the matches were moved to a National Guard shooting facility on the banks of Lake Erie. Located near Port Clinton, Ohio, this facility is still known today as Camp Perry. For over 100 years, Camp Perry has hosted the NRA’s National Matches and the U.S. government-sponsored Civilian Marksmanship Program. The NRA remains the governing body of the National Matches at Camp Perry, which bring in approximately 6,000 competitors in what is one of the nation’s largest annual sporting events. Today, in addition to the National Matches, the NRA sanctions, hosts or sponsors thousands of local shooting matches annually. 

NRA ventured into the publishing world in 1906, and by 1923 the organization’s official journal, The American Rifleman, was being mailed to all its members. Within, readers learned valuable firearm information and ballistic data, as well as tips and techniques for more successful shooting, reloading and hunting. Today, American Rifleman, American Hunter, America’s 1st Freedom, Shooting Illustrated, NRA Family and Shooting Sports USA are delivered to more than 5 million NRA members monthly via printed magazines or the internet. All play a role in educating the public about guns and their many positive uses.

During WWII, the NRA provided the U.S. military with training manuals, instructors, ranges and programs that became a part of the Basic Training for each and every member of its 16 million soldier force. Meanwhile, the NRA continued to produce training materials and train civilians in marksmanship and security techniques via the Home Guard in an effort to protect its domestic interests.

At the conclusion of the war, it was observed that the NRA’s original mission had materialized, for its fruits were witnessed firsthand on European and Japanese battlefields. Stories of individual feats of marksmanship by U.S. soldiers are countless. History books will forever show that U.S. troops, even early in the war, were generally regarded as excellent marksmen to be feared with their Springfield 1903s, M1 Garands and Colt 1911 pistols.

Just as in WWI, this trait was no fluke, but rather, it was Church and Wingate’s long-term investment paying dividends. Unlike the Civil War, most American boys, regardless of geographical origin, now had at least some shooting experience thanks to NRA’s sponsored ranges, university-sanctioned clubs and its broadly disseminated training materials. This didn’t go unnoticed. 

President Truman, U.S. Chief of Staff George Marshall and U.S. Navy Fleet Admiral Ernest King each sent letters to the NRA attesting that the organization was a valued member of the victory machine and commending it for its patriotic efforts.

At the war’s end, armed with the confidence that its programs were making a real difference in protecting America’s sovereignty, the NRA not only continued its mission of firearm training, but it expanded it to hunting realms. Before the 1950s there was no official entity producing safety protocols for America’s vast legion of hunters, so the organization set out to do just that. In 1949 the NRA, working with the state of New York, established the first hunter education program. Today, the NRA’s influence on hunting policy and hunter safety curriculum can be seen in all 50 states.

With civilian, youth and hunter training programs established and humming, in the late 1950s NRA focused on another key area of instruction: Law Enforcement. Although a school for police has been established at Camp Perry years before, NRA officially launched its Police Firearms Instructor Certification course in 1960. Today it continues to train and produce training materials for law enforcement agencies across the nation via the NRA’s Law Enforcement Division that coordinates over 13,000 NRA-certified police and security firearms instructors.

In 1988 the NRA established its lifesaving Eddie Eagle GunSafe Program. Since then more than 30 million pre-K to fourth grade students have been taught not to touch firearms if one is found, but to seek an adult. And as kids morph into young adults, NRA never abandons them. Rather, it teaches those who are interested the basics of marksmanship and prepares them for responsible gun ownership. Indeed, over the years the NRA has given millions of dollars in shooting-sport scholarships to young adults. Nearly 7,000 certified coaches are specially trained to work with a veritable army of young competitive shooters. 

Today the NRA trains over 1 million youths annually via affiliated clubs including 4H, Boy Scouts of America, American Legion, Royal Rangers, National High School Rodeo Association, and its own programs like Youth Hunter Education Challenge, National Junior Shooting Camps, Home Airgun Program, NRA Marksmanship Qualification Program and many others. 

Concurrently, the NRA-developed “Refuse To Be A Victim” seminars have helped over 100,000 men and women develop their own personal safety plan using common sense strategies. Even in areas where guns cannot be carried or used effectively, the NRA helps develop alternate solutions that can save lives.

As for its bread and butter mission, the organization has worked tirelessly to establish and continually improve its network of NRA Certified Instructors that perform the bulk of the nation’s firearm training. Over 125,000 certified instructors train nearly 1 million civilian gun owners per year in basic firearm safety. As such, NRA has literally written the book on safety and shooting techniques for each discipline of fire, including handguns, rifles, shotguns and airguns. Over the last few years the NRA has trained approximately 200,000 people in the basics of concealed carry, and that number is sharply rising.

All told, a person must either be woefully uninformed or intellectually dishonest if he or she doesn’t acknowledge the NRA as the world’s foremost gun safety and instructional organization. But that doesn’t mean the NRA can rest on its laurels.

Rather, if it is to remain the gold standard, the National Rifle Association must continually update its training and education programs and curriculum to reflect superior training methods, evolving weapons systems and more sinister threats as they are discovered. When Americans began seeking licenses to carry concealed handguns at unprecedented levels, who was there to answer the call? Once again, it was the NRA.

Called NRA Carry Guard, this new cutting-edge training program specifically tailored for concealed-carry permit holders is simply a continuation of NRA’s legacy.

Josh Powell grew up in Michigan where he hunted ducks with his mother after she bought him a shotgun and took him outdoors. He’s been an avid shooter and hunter ever since. Currently he carries a H&K VP9 handgun for personal defense. In 2017, Powell was named by NRA’s Wayne LaPierre as its Executive Director of General Operations.

“When I was hired I had one main directive,” said Powell, “and that was to create the best and most advanced concealed-carry training program ever offered by the NRA. I had no boundaries, but to build it, test it, and re-tool it before delivering it to law-abiding Americans.”

To build the program from scratch using the best minds available for the task, Powell brought in Jack Carr, Eric Frohardt, Jeff Houston and James Jarrett to develop the tactical details of the NRA Carry Guard program. All are combat-proven warriors who excel in the ability to teach others their unique skills—these leaders were vetted and hand-picked among thousands of capable professionals.

Eric Frohardt serves as NRA’s Director of Education and Training. A retired Navy SEAL with a humble demeanor, there isn’t an elite team in the U.S. military that he hasn’t trained or trained with. He knows how to win gunfights because he’s won them repeatedly. During numerous combat tours in Iraq, Afghanistan and many other hostile lands, he has employed, combined, tested, discarded, tweaked and forged myriad new gun-fighting techniques amid the crucible that is combat. Frohardt isn’t just a warrior though, he’s also a world-class instructor who has developed elite training curricula for civilians based on his combat experience. And, just like Colonel Church many years ago, Frohardt understands that to survive, we must study our shortcomings and evolve.

“The best gun-fighting courses regularly modify their curriculum,” said Frohardt. “They don’t change it for the sake of change, but rather, make important adjustments based on the lessons learned from actual battle. We are incorporating this element into the NRA Carry Guard training. The conflict space is always changing. It’s important to adapt,” he said.

And that is one reason why NRA Carry Guard is superior to many firearm courses that are rigid in their all-knowing dogma. The new generation of NRA Carry Guard instructors realize this, and therefore they strive to continually update the program as needed to stay ahead of new threats. Even so, several levels of NRA Carry Guard courses will be offered so that dedicated civilians can continually improve their knowledge and skills, allowing them to gain advantage over the Richard Plotts of the world if that time ever comes.

“We teach you the same techniques that we’ve repeatedly used and seen used to save lives on the battlefield,” said Frohardt. “Then we’ll teach you how to practice it on your own.”

With Powell, his veteran team of instructors and NRA’s Education & Training division lending its years of experience, the NRA Carry Guard team created an experience-based, down-and-dirty curriculum that’s light years ahead of any basic firearm safety class. Rather, it’s the most cutting-edge, combat-proven gun tactics course ever offered en masse to civilians. Any shooter, regardless of expertise, will benefit from NRA Carry Guard. For the vast majority of concealed-carry practitioners, it will be a life changer. For a few others, it could be a life saver.

Dr. Lee Silverman had no idea he’d be forced to use his gun to save his life and the lives of his co-workers on that fateful day in 2014. Yet he was armed with more than just a hidden gun—he had the skills, knowledge and preparedness necessary to actually win the fight. If you carry a gun for protection, you should as well. 

“To be great at any craft, advanced training is paramount,” said Powell. “NRA Carry Guard is the program that delivers it. After all, it’s what NRA was founded on,” he said. “It’s what we do.”

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