Training 2/7/2018

Forging Safer Citizens

by Jeff Johnston

“As a 50-year student and teacher of the science of applying lethal force, I’ve seen, touched and smelled the results of criminal aggression; I’ve also witnessed the destruction of good folks’ lives by a malignant state for an imperfect decision made under the most difficult of circumstances. By and large, I do not give a damn about the life of a criminal aggressor, but I do give a damn about the lives and futures of law-abiding American citizens. It is why I do what I do and why I believe in NRA Carry Guard.” – James Jarrett, NRA Carry Guard Curriculum Director

I was standing at the ATM when a shadowy man entered the foyer, shoved a pistol toward my midsection and simultaneously blocked the door. His movements were swift and decisive, but his voice contained enough desperation to scare me when he demanded the cash in my right hand. 

As a 15-year concealed-carry permit holder, I’d thought a great deal about what I’d do in this situation. Now I know. 

As my surprise morphed to realization, I went for the handgun concealed inside the waistband behind my right hip, but it became entangled momentarily in my jacket. I barely remember hearing the pop, pop, pop of my assailant’s handgun or feeling the projectiles stitch my abdomen and torso like a Singer sewing machine. 

A moment later, NRA Carry Guard Lead Instructor Jeff Houston signaled the end of the scenario and removed his protective face mask. As the class gathered around to learn from my experience, he asked me what happened.

“I’m pretty sure I died in a hail of bullets!” I said. The class chuckled. Laughing is allowed. 

Though it had occurred mere seconds prior, I couldn’t recall many details. The plastic Airsoft training gun in the hand of my “assailant” had obviously spurred my adrenal glands and clouded my thinking. That’s why the culminating “force-on-force” portion of NRA’s new NRA Carry Guard class is so effective; it not only tests the skills you’ve learned, but lends lifelike experience so you’ll be more apt to use your best weapon against any foe under pressure: your mind. “Sure, you’ve trained with your handgun for the last three days and you’re good with it,” said Houston, “but it doesn’t mean using it is always the best tactic.” He didn’t bark at me like I was a private at Camp Lejeune, but matter-of-factly explained that in my particular scenario, when an obviously seasoned criminal has gained the upper hand, it likely would’ve been better to try another tactic. Considering the outcome, I was not about to argue.

“That said,” Houston continued, “after you decided your best option was to fight, if your car keys had been in your right-hand jacket pocket they could’ve provided the momentum needed to swing it out of the way so you could’ve drawn cleanly with one hand.” 

And that’s when the reality of it all hit me like a hollow point. Merely thinking about protecting oneself from violent attack, which is in essence hoping it ends well, doesn’t cut it. When your life is on the line, more than a gun and self-envisioned heroics are needed. For me, it was a stark reminder that attacks happen fast, criminals are often armed and I could be better prepared. Fact is, people who carry guns for protection still need the knowledge, situational awareness, experience, skill, tactics and muscle memory gleaned via training to maximize their odds of survival.

The NRA Carry Guard Mission 

Concealed-carry permit holders number 16 million nationwide, and that number is climbing faster each year. Yet most only have basic firearm safety training. Meanwhile, crime is rising in many areas as the number of frivolous lawsuits against law-abiding gun owners skyrockets. NRA Carry Guard provides peace of mind—and more importantly, actual protection—to its members.

“This is a program based upon the lessons learned, tactics and techniques developed in modern war zones around the world and adjusted for implementation within a democratic society,” said Jarrett. “It’s the first step in preparing citizens to deal with the changing conflict space in contemporary America.” 

Like many NRA members, I’ve shot firearms most of my life, I’ve legally carried for years, and I’ve instructed NRA Basic Firearm Safety courses occasionally. But I don’t do this stuff for a living. Like the glass-counter quarterbacks and internet warriors in many gun stores and on blogs, I’m not short on theories concerning what concealed-carry tactics might work. But, as I learned over three fun-but-intense days of NRA Carry Guard training, my theories are only that. When it comes to advanced carry methods, my advice is to heed the professionals—the folks who’ve forged standout reputations developing tactics, proved them on city streets and battlefields, and then taught them to our nation’s peacekeepers. While it’s proven every day that citizens mustn’t necessarily be U.S. Navy SEALs to thwart an attack with a firearm, continuing education is never a bad thing. And if there is an organization that knows gun training, it’s the NRA. 

You see, the National Rifle Association was originally founded as (and still remains) a marksmanship training organization.

After the Civil War, two Union Army officers knew that America would be safer in peacetime and better prepared for war if its citizens were more proficient shooters. The NRA was founded in 1871, and for over 145 years it’s been the gold standard in firearm safety training. Its vast network of 125,000 NRA Certified Instructors train nearly 1 million people on average each year in basic firearm safety. With its new and carefully developed NRA Carry Guard curriculum designed to combat the growing threats of a frightening new era, the NRA has moved its firearm training into the 21st century.

I asked NRA Carry Guard’s national director, recently retired 20-year U.S. Navy SEAL officer Jack Carr, how he thinks its courses stack up against others. After all, he’s been to all of them, and then some.

“We believe NRA Carry Guard will be competitive with the most highly regarded firearm schools in the nation,” said Carr. “We’ll keep the courses’ quality up by carefully selecting elite instructors as its rosters grow, and surveying participants upon exit to make sure the instructors are doing their jobs at the highest level. The curriculum is challenging and cutting-edge; no doubt it’s a top-tier course.” 

Certainly, there are already top-level gun training courses across this great land, and many of them, like Gunsite, I know to be fantastic. But when it comes to firearm training, there is one name that stands above all others in terms of credibility, standardization and the vast data management capability and information distribution needed to reach the masses: the NRA. Its NRA Carry Guard program could be the tool that places violent criminals around this country on notice. 

Who Is NRA Carry Guard Designed For?

“We built our courses for the average citizen/concealed-carry permit holder,” said Carr, “and not for the person who wants to dress up and play Rambo.”

Jarrett also chimed in: “It’s a very rigorous and physically demanding course not particularly well-suited to the elderly or infirm. Any student coming to this course should be well versed in basic weapons mechanics and particularly in safety issues.” 

After attending the course (by the way, I wore jeans and brought a stock Glock 19, and was perfectly prepared) I can say this: how many people do you know who have a concealed-carry permit but rarely carry their firearm anywhere but perhaps in the console of their vehicle because they’re not as comfortable carrying it as they’d like? NRA Carry Guard is for them. How many of your friends would like advanced training but are overwhelmed by the varying “advice” they get? NRA Carry Guard is the course for them. I know many fairly accomplished shooters who are afraid an NRA class will be too basic. I assure you, even Chuck Norris would gain something from it. Rambo himself might learn a valuable lesson on how to be more discreet. 

“I never stop learning,” said Houston, who used the advanced carry tactics he teaches as a Green Beret, often serving in plain-clothed executive protection details, until he retired in 2009. Since then he’s continued his training and honed his instructional prowess by running a security consulting firm in Texas and a tactical shooting range in Colorado. If Houston benefits from ongoing firearm training, you can bet everyone else can as well. He’s one of the best handgun tacticians I’ve ever seen, and he has a very effective, encouraging style for teaching civilians.

“I never teach a class wherein I don’t pick up a new tip or tweak a technique if it proves superior for some people,” he said.

And that’s another reason why I liked the course so much: I’ve found that many instructors are so dogmatic in their approach that they seldom consider that another technique might also work. Not these guys. They get it. The vast majority of CCW permit holders don’t dress in combat boots, but that doesn’t mean they can’t receive the best training for when they blaze the concrete jungle. 

For example, in the classroom on the morning of Day 1, I spoke out when Houston demonstrated a press check (a method of quickly verifying whether your handgun is loaded) in a manner different from how I do it. 

“You’re safe, so if your way works for you, do it,” he said after watching my technique.

“But if you want to try my way on the range later, I’ll show you.”

NRA Carry Guard is designed to be flexible in its instruction to meet the needs of the general gun-carrying public, who differ greatly from the average soldier. Unsurprisingly, however, I tried Houston’s press check method on the range, and I’ve since adopted it.

“Appendix carry is very effective in many situations,” he explained in the classroom before showing us a few scenarios where this way of carrying a handgun really shines, like when driving. “But it’s not for everyone. We’ll find one that fits your style while on the range.” 

What's In The Course?

The first day of training began in the classroom. Houston welcomed us in, introduced himself and his assistant trainer, fellow veteran Spec Ops soldier Erik McCaffrey, and then got down to business. While the three-day class is primarily conducted on the range, where students consume up to 1000 rounds of ammo in live-fire drills, the classroom portion is necessary for reiterating basic firearm safety and explaining and understanding the finer concepts of concealed carry.

The afternoon of Day 1 was spent conducting basic shooting drills on the range, such as learning range commands, fighting stances, grip and trigger control, tactical and combat reloading, firing from the low-ready position and engaging multiple targets. I focused on unlearning a few bad habits that had come to light. By 5 p.m., with my Glock 19’s barrel still smoking, I had the satisfying feeling of blisters forming on my palms. 

Day 2 delved into more advanced stuff. The classroom portion featured a discussion on carry techniques, equipment such as guns, calibers, bullets, flashlights and holsters, the proper mindset, legalities and citizens’ rights, situational awareness and conversation about alternate means of protection such as pepper spray. A good deal of time was spent demonstrating several techniques for shooting in low light. After all, explained Houston, “Many violent crimes are committed at night.” I found all of it to be enthralling, especially knowing that I was taking advice from a guy who spoke from real-world experience, not internet theory.

The second day at the range covers a ton of ground. It’s the stuff that most of us have always wanted to learn but that few of us actually have—techniques like firing on the move, one-handed shooting, drawing from concealed with one hand and other advanced tactics. We shot while being timed to purposely increase pressure. We did this because the reality is, if you’re ever attacked, you likely won’t see it coming, and your stress level will be through the roof. Typically you’ll be fighting and so both hands won’t be free to shoot as if you were on a nice square gun range. NRA Carry Guard takes all of this into account. 

We spent the evening of the second day shooting with our flashlights after dark, using the three techniques we’d just learned. They are invaluable because they can also be used for home defense. “When moving, pick up your feet rather than sliding them,” advised Houston. “Your focus will be on the attacker, and if you slide your feet, you’re more likely to trip over any little thing on the ground, when you could step over it.” 

It’s the little details like that that can mean the difference between living or dying.

Day 3 was pure pistol shooting joy. Each student put his or her newfound skills to the test via timed challenges designed to set your personal performance bar and to let you find your capabilities and your limitations with the handgun you intend to carry. Trust, me, the course of fire is not designed to stroke your ego. Rather, it tends to let you know that you’re probably not the Doc Holliday you thought you were. Finally, we engaged in the force-on-force (Airsoft) scenarios that test your mettle and your mind. 

Remember my ATM scenario? Turns out, my cash was in my right hand—my gun hand. I should have grabbed it from the machine with my left so I could reach my gun. But my cell phone was in my left hand; it should have been in my pocket, along with my keys. Before taking the course, I’d never considered those potentially life-saving details. I’d have probably died near that ATM had it been a real-life attack. And while it’s impossible to be certain I’d survive it today, I know I’m better prepared now. And I’m also better equipped to handle the legal and financial aftermath if I ever must use deadly force to defend myself or my family. That’s why I had no problem paying $850, plus ammo, to attend the course. Indeed, I thought it a bargain. Three days has made me a stronger armed citizen. Well done, NRA. It’s about time.

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