You’re in a car and you come under fire. Do you know how best to respond? Or someone breaks into your home. Do you know how to take advantage of cover, shoot from a non-traditional stance and still hit the target?
As more people, especially women, buy handguns, it’s important to remember the responsibility that comes with owning a gun, including knowing how to use the gun safely and effectively. Let’s be realistic, if you ever need to use your gun for protection, an assailant is not going to stand still or wait while you load up. If your primary purpose for getting a handgun is self-defense, you should consider taking a defensive handgun class from a reputable training center.
I recently attended the Defensive Handgun I and II courses at Pat Goodale’s Practical Firearms Training (PFT), an outdoor range tucked away in the hills of southeastern West Virginia. The sessions touched on things that you can rarely do elsewhere, things that are meant to teach you how to react under duress and protect yourself efficiently. PFT’s training includes three basic elements: classroom instruction, technical shooting skills and tactical skills.
In the classroom session, we learned basic gun handling and the guidelines behind justifiable defensive shootings, and we were given strategies on how to defuse a dangerous situation.
The next phase was technical shooting, where we shot at a cardboard target with the intent of having good groupings in the proper zones—not my forte, and I was told more than once about keeping a strong grip. One of the things PFT stresses is situational awareness, so much so that even during target shooting we were always expected to scan and assess before holstering the gun.
Then came the tactical training, where we engaged in scenarios that you might encounter in real life when someone poses an imminent threat.
If you read America's First Freedom's Armed Citizen feature, you know that occasionally a person is approached by bad guys on the street. At PFT, you learn how to identify cover, get to it, and fire from it using multiple positions. The instructors also teach you how best to exit a vehicle and use it for cover/concealment as you fire back, even from under the car.
The next level of training built upon what we had learned the first day. We started with tech shooting. Then we conducted drills where we learned how to move and shoot, how to conduct ourselves safely in situations where innocent bystanders might get in the way, and more.
What to look for
Here are some things to look for when deciding what type of class to take:
Find out what kind of structure the course includes to make sure it suits your needs. Some can count toward training time for carry permits.
Check into the program’s credentials. Goodale, for example, is one of the primary trainers of law enforcement personnel in West Virginia, and PFT has state and national certifications.
Make sure the program’s philosophy coincides with yours. Goodale’s did that for me.
“Simply owning a gun imparts neither knowledge [nor] skill regarding its use. Only study and focused training can provide real capability,” Goodale says on his website.
Do you really want to have to put the skills you learn into practice? Probably not. Your best defense is always to not need to defend yourself. A good instructor will instill the fact that situational awareness is still a key element to staying safe.