When citizens know how to interact with law enforcement (for example, should they ever need to respond after a claimed “self-defense” shooting) it’s better for all involved. Photos courtesy Brian Buchanan
Our programs for citizen students include basic and advanced handgun, concealed carry techniques and hands-on women’s self-defense courses. Teaching these classes has become an excellent opportunity to interact with the citizens in our community.
“Welcome the United States of legally armed America”—a phrase frequently used during the monthly civilian concealed handgun course sponsored by the Ohio police agency I work for as a range master and training officer. Our programs for citizen students include basic and advanced handgun, concealed carry techniques and hands-on women’s self-defense courses. Teaching these classes has become an excellent opportunity to interact with the citizens in our community. Over the last seven years, the feedback has been overwhelmingly positive and has paid big dividends above and beyond what we could have ever achieved with typical public relations programs. This article will offer examples of how using LE firearms instructors to teach armed citizen training can benefit both your agency and community.
When we originally began our citizen training program, many officers couldn’t understand why we’d want to be giving away our “secrets.” They possessed an “us-vs.-them” mentality. I understood their concerns but didn’t agree. I see it as mutual education for both sides. When citizens know how to interact with law enforcement (for example, should they ever need to respond after a claimed “self-defense” shooting) it’s better for all involved. When an armed citizen has a better idea of what the officer is thinking (and trained to do) when responding to such situations, they’ll be better prepared to accept what will happen. Even though most officers had a wait-and-see attitude at first, now, seven years later, our track record has put their fears and concerns to rest.
We started hosting basic courses each month, teaching Ohio’s required course of concealed carry instruction as a way to fund our Honor Guard unit’s attendance at the annual Police Memorial Week in Washington, D.C. However, the course became so popular we were able to supplement our departmental in-service training program—something that was going to be cut in the dwindling economy. To date, our citizen training program has produced over 4,500 graduates. The class rosters have included judges, attorneys, politicians, soccer moms, blue collar workers and white collar employees—just about every profession in our region. Being able to interact with law enforcement regarding a serious topic while keeping the class fun and informative brings positive comments regularly. It’s been a valuable experience for me and a great way to fill the gap between LEOs and the public, which has always been known but is never discussed.
As officers, we have a lot to offer and don't even realize it. Who better to learn about legally armed circumstances than from the police? Administrators may be skeptical with regards to teaching the local populous how to shoot and carry a gun, but just like a parachute the mind works better when it’s open. Having our officers and community better informed about firearms interactions and how a “hot response” will occur has proven to be invaluable in actual situations.
The competitively priced basic course covers basic firearms safety, laws surrounding concealed carry, gun-handling basics, ammunition considerations, shooting proficiency and criteria for deploying a handgun in a deadly force situation. Most state-certified courses across the U.S. follow these points but with a varied course length. This course sounds familiar, right? Well, it should because most of the material covered is the same mode of thought instilled in us badge carriers during the hectic days back at the basic academy.
All of the guidelines for employing police deadly force are pretty much the same as the “common laws” legally armed citizens must abide by as well. We had these rules embedded into us through proper training, practice and job experience. I’ve met some great people training citizens through these programs and they deserve the best we can give them. They’re on our side! If they weren’t, they wouldn’t be coming to our agency for training in the first place.
Where do John and Jane Doe get combative knowledge and experience? Unfortunately, a majority who attend these classes will never seek training beyond the initial course and that’s unfortunate. Unless they’re current or prior military, or have security experience, the concept of real human-on-human conflict just isn’t in their mindset for multiple reasons.
1. Quality control. Who taught their first class? What type of instructor was he/she? There are terrible and incredible trainers out there and we’ve all seen them. Most try their best but let’s be honest—passing on information about how to prevail in situations involving a firearm isn’t easy. Some have it and some don’t. The student might never want to experience anything like their first class again if the class was terrible. That’s unfortunate because there are many great programs and trainers out there who are eager to help them.
2. Ignorance. Some feel “trained enough” and don’t understand the need for regular training and practice. To them, the basic course was a means to an end and they’re finished—permit on one hip and pistol on the other. What more do they need? Why spend more money? They just don’t know what they don’t know—we’re all guilty of this at times.
3. Denial. As in nothing has ever happened and nothing is going to happen mentality. It will take an emotionally startling event to change that perception. This is unfortunate but a reality for most.
4. Not in their job description. Some are in a non-threatening profession or lifestyle so they're not expected to think that way and have zero incentive to do so.
5. Uninformed. Soem can be overwhelmed, confused or generally misinformed about where to find this type of information or any advanced training that may be accessed by civilians and figure that it isn’t available.
How can the law enforcement trainer attempt to address these issues and possibly start their own program? Simply do what you do best—protect and serve! Develop programs as a department based on your jurisdiction and at the direction and approval of your local command staff, governing body, council, commission, etc. If you have your own classrooms and firearms training facilities, put them to use. Your law director or equivalent can advise on language for liability releases for any type of program you may have in mind. Figure out ways to advertise. We have used radio, yard signs, newspaper ads and fliers in local utility bills. Word of mouth and your reputation will help you bring students in eager to attend. Just going through the motions or looking to make a quick buck by being the power point robot won’t help anyone and you’ll fail quickly. But if you do your homework, it will be rewarded in the long run for all involved. Your results may vary, but doing something is always better than doing nothing.
Good luck and stay safe!