Why are Gun People Nice, but Instructors so Mean?

20131118-093607.jpgI recently received an email from a woman who had been put off by her first shooting lesson. She had been visiting the range for a while and enjoyed a little plinking with her girl friends, but had decided it was time to get more serious. A local female instructor had been recommended and seemed nice when they met prior to the lesson.

However, once they were in the class room and even more-so in the range, the instructor turned from the friendly girl next door to a strict, almost scary teacher. The emailer said that the instructor created analogies and images that were too graphic and barely smiled or showed any warmth as she taught. This was her question to me: you always say gun people are so nice, and I agree, but from my experience, the nice ends as soon as the instruction begins. Is there a reason why?

This idea puzzled me momenterilly as I thought back to all the beginner classes and instructors I’ve met and watched. Each had a different style. Some used a military/law enforcement approached, using the same terminology and definitions, some balanced the civilian mindset with the seriousness of the topics better than others. I remember once peeking in on a long time instructor who rattled off the safety rules in a highly humorous way, while demonstrating what NOT to do. I watched his class giggle and then repeat the behavior in the range. There was something that hadn’t sunk in.

Therefore my response to this dissatisfied beginner was two fold. I repeated to her the fun I have at the range and all the nice people to meet in the shooting sports, but then I changed gears. “I think the reason you saw a 180 in your instructor, is because guns can’t be taken too seriously.” I’m sure this wasn’t exactly what she wanted to hear but I think it is a solid explanation for what she observed. Instructors want you to enjoy their classes and retain as much of the information as possible, but they must stress some of the most important details, even if they sound harsh or frightening. Some instructors do a better job of balancing the technical information with the soft fuzzy, but most become stone faced when they begin talking about the safety rules.

Maybe this was not the right instructor for this emailer, or maybe she was being overly sensitive and didn’t realize why certain things in the class were structured thusly. No matter the reason, I hope she can respect that teachers face a very difficult balancing, with their list of tasks. Maybe good instructors should offer their insights to one another, in order to make all of them better.


  1. There’s a good clue here:


    Short version: a couple of people negligently fired a round a couple of feet in front of my friend Todd and giggled about it. Narrowly missing shooting another human being out of inexcusable negligence isn’t funny.

    It takes a split second to completely alter or end someone’s life with a firearm. The more time someone spends instructing the more close calls they see…or, tragically, perhaps they’ve actually seen someone injured, maimed, or killed on the range.

    This is life and death stuff, folks. The students who get offended at a safety presentation are the ones who aren’t taking it seriously enough and they’ll end up hurting someone.

    That’s unsat.

  2. I could not agree more with the fact that there are no second chances once the gun has been fired. I have taught a lot of youngsters how to shoot skeet and one of my most difficult challenges was my grandson who is very smart and has little or no common sense at times. When he was 15 I took him to the gun range after several outings. This time I explained in no uncertain terms that one warning would be the end of the session, if I had to remind him about muzzle control or anything else one time we would unload and leave without any further discussion.

    With those ground rules he paid attention and did a very good job and by the second round he shot a decent scott. With my grandson it took a hardline, no second warning stance to get him to take safety as seriously as he needed to. Some people do not like to be spoken to with hard uncompromising words and they don’t want to barked at like our drill sargeants did to us in the old days.

    I agree with Gabby about the matching up of personalities and my wife was fortunate enough to have Jeannie Almond who runs Elm Fork in Dallas as an instructor and Jeannie knows how to concert an teach women shooters. Most of us men don’t exactly know how to do that.

    I do know that starting slow and easy with safety as the main concern will help develop good lifelong gun handling habits and with time confidence. It takes a lot of time and bullets/shells to make a competent shooter. That’s about all I have to say about that.

  3. Or the instructor was indeed a bunghole. I have seen no shortage of those and the cause is not firearms safety, it’s lack of social skills. Teaching isn’t for everyone, no matter how much you know (or don’t know).

    1. So true. I’ve had some bad (non-gun) teachers and some great ones. Even though you can do something well, doesn’t mean you can break it down and explain it to a student.

  4. Its so nice to hear other firearms instructors discuss the challenges of teaching, as i deal with on a daily basis. Please keep it up, and let us work together to become better teachers.

  5. Shooting is a deadly serious business. Friendship and social niceties have no place in a profession which involves the safe handling of deadly weapons. I’m sorry the author got her feelings hurt, but she would have been sorrier if a negligent-but-friendly instructor had let her put a bullet into her friend or another student. As far as the horrific scenarios of what might happen if she were attacked, she should wade over the top of her shoes in human blood, like I’ve done. I repeat: This is a deadly serious business.

      1. I have to agree with both of you. Shooting is one of those activities that can end with somebody dead and so it needs to be taken very seriously. At the same time, I attempted to explain the rules in a highly serious manner and felt as if I could hear beginners brains snap shut as they stopped listening. There must be a happy medium where one can stress the seriousness, but not bore or scare a beginner to tears.

  6. I have to agree, being on the range with experienced shooters is one thing, teaching newbies something different. The seriousness of handling firearms can never be stressed enough. I have had people mention similar observances when I am teaching. Generally I am a pretty laid back easy going fellow, but when I am on the range teaching… my military training comes out. 36 years of shooting, 12 of teaching and not one mishap. It’s a record I aim to keep. So if I hurt your feelings by being stern, strict and demanding 100% attention to detail at all times, imagine how bad you will feel if you maim or kill someone while training.

  7. Being and NRA Instructor and NRA Training Counselor as well as a competitive shooter on ranges for more than 40 years I have seen a lot of things from a life being taken to simple road rash. When teaching I trust no one and will be aware of everyone’s actions on the range, not just my students. If they or if I feel they are unsafe or can be unsafe they are asked to step off the firing line. I have refused to teach some based on a conversations prior to teaching them, instructors need to get to know the student and what they are looking to get out of the lesson(s) before hand as well as the student needs to get to know the instructor before class. Older shooter can get complacent and overlook important safety issues and need to be reminded these are real and can be dangerous, sometime in a nice way but others need to be done in a more direct method.

  8. option 1: The instructor is trying to get everyone home without any new and unwanted orifices!
    option 2: the instructor is a giant orifice!

    Take your pick but frankly I do tend to lean more towards option 1. Here’s why: look if they seem like a nice person outside of class they probably are… BUT we’re playing with tools that can (and regularly do) kill/maim people for life in less time than it takes to blink! This has to be taken very seriously, and if it takes a hard line for a student to get home… I’ve got no issue with that.

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