NRA Carry Guard’s Basic Course launched in the Summer of 2017 with a series of three–day classes across the U.S. Not only did these classes expose a cohort of students to some phenomenal training, they allowed the NRA Carry Guard Instructors to see how the curriculum worked in a real-world civilian training environment. We sat down with Jack Carr, retired Navy SEAL and NRA Carry Guard’s National Director, to discuss the successes and challenges of those initial classes.
CG How has the training course evolved over the last couple of months since it first launched?
JC History has shown that, as a country, we have a habit of training for the last war and being ill-prepared for emerging and future conflicts. We wanted to apply those lessons to NRA Carry Guard and build evolution and adaptation into the culture of the program. As the conflict space continues to evolve, it is important that NRA Carry Guard evolves as well. We want the course to incorporate the best tactics, techniques and procedures from citizens, from law enforcement and from the military. This will not be the same course 10 years from now as it is at inception—if that’s the case then we definitely have not done our job. It will be an evolving course and it will continue to evolve for the same reason that we constantly adapted to the enemy overseas. The enemy, as well as criminals in this country, know how to adapt to our tactics and technologies so it is imperative that we study theirs and take the appropriate steps to protect ourselves and our families.
CG One of the things we heard from early students was that the course was excellent but that the pace may have been a bit fast for the average person. How are you responding to that feedback?
JC Based on that student input we’re going to adapt as we move into 2018. We want to over-deliver but that has to be tempered with how much a student can realistically process. I’m really excited about how the program has evolved and for the new course offerings in 2018. There will be multiple entry points and options for varying skill levels.
CG What kind of things have you done to maximize the time that you do have with the students?
JC In order to make the best use of a student’s time, they do the online legal portion before they show up for the range portion of the course. We have the advantage of being able to deliver the classroom legal portion online, utilizing some of the most experienced legal minds available so students can pace themselves based on their schedules before showing up to the range. That said, the legal elements of the course are not just a copy and paste from criminal statutes and codes.
CG Tell us more about that.
JC It was important to us as we built the curriculum that we explain to students how the law is applied as opposed to just reading laws from the books that are oftentimes hard to decipher and interpret. Mindset and situational awareness are stressed throughout the course. Avoiding a potential threat and not putting oneself in a vulnerable situation in the first place is by far the best option. If a student can avoid a threat through increased awareness then they’ve prevailed before they had to engage. Once in what could become a defensive use-of-force encounter, we want students to de-escalate and retreat if they can. Though an armed citizen needs to always be ready to engage, that level of force is the last option. We are equipping our students with the skills to stop the threat as effectively as possible so they can protect themselves and their families.
CG One of the criticisms we’ve heard is questioning the use of special operators to train civilians for concealed carry. Some critics feel that you don’t need to be a Navy SEAL to defend yourself. How do you respond to that and why did you rely mainly on special operations veterans when you were going through your initial instructor selection?
JC No, you definitely don’t need to be a Navy SEAL or an Army Special Forces operator to defend yourself effectively. Initially, we looked to the military because we have a pool of veterans today with levels of training and experience that we have never had in our nation’s history. Tapping into that experience, while also connecting with the NRA’s history as a training organization going all the way back to the post-Civil War era, made sense. As part of their training, our instructors have been to schools in the military that actually teach them how to teach, as well as to numerous shooting schools, both military and civilian. They were able to apply that training in actual gunfights, evolving as shooters, warriors and citizens. This combination of both training and real-word application allowed them to evolve their training and teaching based on tangible experience; I think that’s a valuable resource and a great asset for NRA Carry Guard. Beyond just being skilled shooters, they all have a lot of experience in designing and implementing training programs. Three out of four of the initial group that helped develop the program were also NRA Instructors, which was important to me as well. In no way does any of that mean that only military veterans will be future NRA Carry Guard instructors—we have an instructor pipeline built that will launch in 2018. Quality instructors will always be instrumental to the success of NRA Carry Guard.
CG Sometimes we forget that these guys are human, they live normal civilian lives when they’re not overseas, right?
JC That’s right. When they come back to the states, they go to the park with their families, they use the ATM, they go to McDonalds, they do all of the things that normal Americans do. They also fall under the same use-of-force laws and concealed-carry laws just like every other citizen. SEALs, Special Forces, Rangers, everyone from the special operations community have all of that training and experience but they don’t have a badge. They need to be concerned on where and how they carry based on the law. They’re not going to have a union attorney there the moment they’re involved in a shooting the way a law enforcement officer would. They’re just like normal, everyday citizens that just happen to have a very high level of training. They have been living the concealed-carry lifestyle in the United States with the training and awareness that comes from over 15 years at war, so it made sense to me to involve them in this program, especially since they fall under the same legal obligations as everyone else.
CG That definitely gets missed in the discussion. There’s also a big misconception that military folks don’t carry concealed overseas. Can you talk a little bit about that?
JC Absolutely. Even before Sept. 11, 2001, almost every SEAL and special operator that I know of has carried a concealed handgun on every single deployment. It’s just a normal part of training and deployment life. The fact is, a lot of what we do overseas is in civilian clothing to keep a low profile; we’re not always walking around kitted-up with all of the high-speed gear. Just being caught carrying concealed in some of the environments in which we operate can blow the mission and have dire consequences for those involved. Because the stakes are so high, we’ve gotten fairly proficient in carrying concealed, both overseas and at home.
CG Let’s switch gears a bit and talk about guns and gear, what is the role of revolvers and 1911s in the NRA Carry Guard course?
JC As we sat down to develop the NRA Carry Guard curriculum, we wanted to have a specific course for those firearms since they require some very specific expertise and instruction. We wanted to have 1911- and revolver-specific courses because we wanted to make sure students were going to have an instructor who really knew those platforms. The plan was that only instructors who had a sign-off from NRA Carry Guard leadership certifying that they knew those weapons systems could teach them; we wanted to make sure that students were getting the best product possible.
The public reacted loud and clear, preferring that 1911s and revolvers be included in the initial offerings, so we adapted. Now, as part of our instructor course, every instructor is trained on both of those weapons and certified though stringent testing.
CG Are you going to make any provisions for those students when it comes to the drills?
JC The drills and scenarios are not built around specific weapons—the real world does not plan what it throws at you based on the weapon you choose to carry. Going through the NRA Carry Guard program will give students valuable insights into the advantages and disadvantages of the particular weapon they choose for defending themselves and their families. The decision is up to the student. Students with revolvers or 1911s will shoot the drills with everybody else—there are some courses of fire in the program that may require lower capacity firearms to reload where a different pistol might not, but the drill requirements won’t change. From time to time, 1911 and revolver shooters will have the advantage of getting more reps in on reloads.
CG From a training perspective, what was your biggest surprise as the initial courses took place? Did anything jump out at you?
JC I didn’t know what the most popular parts of the course would be. So far, students really like the night shooting and the scenario-based training, which was great to see since both of those are very realistic components of training that most citizens aren’t usually exposed to.
CG Did you notice any difference between students with a competitive shooting background versus more of a general shooting background in the way they approached the course?
JC Every student is different. Generally speaking, competition shooters have some really strong skills that we can build on. The downside can be that some competitors want to win against a clock or against another student shooting next to them. That’s totally fine. I am a big fan of competition. Some competitive shooters can be hesitant to change anything about their technique since they’re so focused on competition. They don’t want to do anything that’s going to slow them down. We’d like everyone to incorporate the mindset and situational awareness aspects of training and not just focus on a clock. The competitive shooters we’ve seen so far have really enjoyed the force-on-force scenario-based training.
CG What is your favorite type of student to teach?
JC I love working with the person who says, “Hey, I want to protect myself and my family,” which is the same mindset we have as instructors. Through the NRA Carry Guard Basic course, we can begin building sound fundamentals, mindset and awareness that hopefully start them on a lifelong journey of self-reliance. We want them to leave not just with confidence, but with competence, knowing their capabilities and limitations and those of their carry weapon.
CG Were you surprised at all by those who rushed out to criticize the course?
JC Coming from a team-centric environment it was interesting how many people jumped in on social media to criticize the program before we had even run a course. That’s just the world we live in today. Meeting some of those same people face to face, they were all very nice and inquisitive about the program. I just stay focused on building the highest quality CCW-specific program we can for our students. As I’ve said before, it’s all about them.
CG Any final thoughts?
JC We started NRA Carry Guard with the words of Archilochus. In 650 B.C. he wrote, “We don’t rise to the level of our expectations, we fall to the level of our training.” To that end, we want to train citizens in the mindset and skills necessary to responsibly carry a concealed handgun for self-defense. We want them to leave proficient in the use of that weapon while understanding their capabilities and limitations. We want them to be prepared with the skills and equipped with the knowledge to make sound, logical decisions under stress should the need to defend themselves or their families arise. I want to again preface that there are a lot of very experienced instructors out there and we encourage our students to do their research and train with various instructors and schools. We want NRA Carry Guard to be the start of, or a part of, their journey in personal protection and self-reliance. If NRA Carry Guard can help people along that path, then we’ve succeeded.
Trigger control—it’s one of the fundamentals of shooting we constantly strive to improve. Even the best shooters in the world continuously work on their trigger control to shoot smaller, tighter groups on targets at various distances. That’s target shooting, but what about real life?
Jeff Houston offers the first of five drills in NRA Carry Guard's second rendition of commuter drills.