Rights vs. Responsibilities: Should We Require Better Training for Gun Owners?

I spent a recent weekend at the Wake County Firearms Education and Training Center, taking the NRA's Personal Protection Outside the Home (PPOH) course. It is a handgun shooting course that focuses, strangely enough, on defensive shooting outside the home, out in the "real world." Roughly one-third of the students in the class were NRA instructors of one kind or another. All of us had concealed carry permits.

After a Saturday morning in the classroom, we spent Saturday afternoon and all of Sunday morning on the firing line.

We shot from contact distance (so close the targets were singed by burning powder), out to a maximum range of ten yards. We engaged most targets between 3-5 yards, as would be typical in most scenarios one might encounter. Drills were fired using single shots and double taps, to the rarer "empty the gun" drills. Targets at the indoor range were engaged under normal lighting conditions to nearly complete darkness, where all we could make out was the rough silhouette of the target three yards away.

It was mentally and physically exhausting, but well worth it. We walked away from the experience with solid training under our belts and a wide range of new training exercises to employ. Several members of the class were back again the following weekend to receive their instructor ratings for this course, the most advanced defensive pistol course the NRA offers.

While we were completing our second day course of fire, there was a concealed carry class (like the one I wrote about for PJM two years ago) taking place in the other classroom at the range. When we came off the firing line and came back into the lobby between the classrooms, they were taking a break from the lecture portion of the course. Many students seemed to be suffering from lesson-inspired shell shock. The amount of practical carry information and legalese being thrust upon them in one day's time was intense, and several looked like they had simply had enough. Within an hour, it would be their turn to exit the classroom and set foot upon the range for the rather minimal shooting qualifications our state requires.

They would spend roughly 1-2 hours on the range completing a prescribed course of fire under the watchful eyes of their instructors. They would not be graded upon how quickly or accurately they placed their shots on target, but upon a far more basic criteria: did they employ their handgun safely, without sweeping other students with the barrel of their gun?

A shooter who peppers five shots all over the target over the course of 20 seconds -- abysmally slow by most any measure -- would pass the course just as well as the shooter who put all of his shots in the ten-ring in a quarter of that time. The on-range portion of the concealed carry course was designed to make certain the student has basic safety skills ... and that was all. But was that bare minimum of competence a student needs to pass the carry course range qualifications "enough" training?

After all, performing simple, measured tasks in highly restricted, heavily coached conditions is hardly the same thing as mastery of the skills a carry permit holder may be called upon to employ in the real world. People don't stand still and wait for you to shoot at them, and you won't be able to raise your hand and have an instructor clear your weapon if you have a failure to fire.

Collectively, our PPOH class had fired hundreds of thousands of rounds of ammunition, and more than 1,600 over the weekend's training alone. We knew from our our experiences that the students completing the carry course would not likely finish a single box of shells that day and that many would probably not fire their guns again in the weeks, months, and years ahead, even if they attained their permits and even if they decided to carry a handgun frequently.

As shooters, students, and instructors, this concerned us.