How to Find a Good Instructor       by Lyn Bates

A reader asked this question recently, and the idea has been percolating around in my mind for a while, especially since, a few issues ago, my article was inspired by a firearms teacher I encountered  whose knowledge was lacking and whose advice was somewhere between ill-advised and dangerous.

So, how can you distinguish an instructor who is above average from one who is well below average? 

First of all, it depends on what you want to learn.  If you are an absolute beginner, one of the best places to start is with a Basic Pistol class taught by an NRA instructor.  The curriculum for that class is well- established, and is available at many ranges and gun clubs around the country.  That class is recognized as the safety training that is required for firearms license applications in many states, such as Massachusetts.  The NRA website has an instructor locator page to help you find someone near you.

Most readers of this magazine are beyond the beginner stage.  If you become interested in hunting birds, waterfowl or animals with a gun, you will need very specific training.  Your state might have a department of wildlife management that provides instructors for would-be hunters.  Another way to find a recommendation is to ask at stores that sell the type of gun you want to use for hunting, handgun or shotgun.  Many states mandate a hunter safety class as a prerequisite for a hunting license. If you want to learn to shoot in competition, there are many types of competition to choose from: IPSC, IDPA, Cowboy Action, PPC, Trap, Skeet, Sporting Clays, Silhouettes, Airgun, Precision Bullseye, and more.  Each has its bevy of teachers, findable on the sporting organization’s website, or through a shooting club that hosts your desired type of competition. Don’t assume that just because someone is an expert shooter in some sport that they will be the best teacher for beginners in that sport.  Although a number of top competitors are top-notch instructors, you might be better off with someone who specializes in coaching and teaching rather than being a first rank competitor.

Finding a good teacher for self-defense training is harder, but even more important.  Your very best option is to attend one of the major national schools such as (in no particular order) Defensive Training International, Firearms Academy of Seattle, Gunsite, InSights Training Center, Lethal Force Institute, SIG SAUR Academy, Smith&Wesson Academy,  or Thunder Ranch.   Those schools generally have many excellent instructors, teach reliable techniques, and give you more than your money’s worth.  The most comprehensive list of gun schools that I’ve found on the web, though without recommendations, is www.martialartsresource.com/firearms.

Don’t go for someone who works by himself, claims to have invented the techniques he teaches, and offers to teach you those secrets.  He is either fooling himself, or trying to fool you.  Some teachers like to believe they have knowledge of something unique and special, but learning unproven ways of defending yourself is a recipe for disaster. 

Don’t go for an instructor who says that the particular way he/she is teaching is the only way to do something.  The best, most experienced teachers can adapt to the needs of a wide variety of students; some even teach multiple techniques so that you can try them and then choose the one that works best for you.

Many defensive shooting instructors have a background that has some involvement with either the military, or some branch of law enforcement.  I’m going to make some generalizations here that don’t apply to everyone, but might give you a way to determine whether your intended instructor comes from the background that fits you best. 

Both kinds can provide very high quality training.   Military folk tend (not always, but tend) to have one favorite type of gun, or one favorite caliber, or one favorite stance.  They tend to have large classes, with everyone doing everything on his command.  Police or other law enforcement folk tend (not always, but tend) to favor smaller classes and are more willing to work with their students to modify equipment or techniques to find out what works best. Neither is better than the other, but as a student, you might resonate better with a military-influenced teacher, or a LE-influenced one.   Some instructors have neither of those backgrounds.  You can find out by asking questions like, “Where did you get your training?  Where were you certified to teach? Do you have any military or law enforcement experience?” and so on.

Ask, ask ask.  Ask, “How many women have you taught?” or “How many students have you had who have arthritis in their hands.” or “How many of your students are not young, strong and healthy?”  If you are thinking about carrying concealed, ask if your instructor does that every day.  Ask whether any of their students have ever had to defend themselves with a gun. 

If you want to try a specific type of holster, especially a “non-standard” one like a purse, cross-draw, or shoulder rig, ask whether you will be allowed to use that in class, and how much experience the teacher has had with holsters of that type.

Ask how many rounds of ammunition you will be shooting in the class.  If it is a large number for the number of class hours , you might be too fatigued at the end to learn well.  Massive amounts of ammo might be fun to shoot, but any good class will have non-shooting time that is productive, too.  There should be time to practice and learn verbal skills, how to avoid or disengage from a situation, and many more things other than just putting lead downrange. 

Good instructors tell you not just what to do and how to do it, but why.  They don’t just explain, they aspire to inspire you to not just be a better shooter, but to know a lot about personal protection.  That means how to avoid having to use a gun if possible, and knowing what to expect in the aftermath of a defensive situation.

Once you have found a great teacher, you might want to stick with him/her for some advanced courses.  If possible, though, try different teachers, and different schools.  Most advanced classes require a certain level of competence and have prerequisites, so find out in advance whether your second teacher will accept the experience you acquired from your first.  Being exposed to multiple good teachers gives you an even stronger background, and an increased ability to develop the skills you might need to defend yourself someday.

This article first appeared in the Jul-Aug 2010 issue of Women&Guns magazine.  Copyright (c) 2010 Lyn Bates


Just Pick It Up And Shoot        by Lyn Bates

"Just Pick It Up And Shoot"          by Lyn Bates

Linda Schultz is a 47 year old woman who has lived with her boyfriend, Joe Russo, for several years in an upscale condo community in Palm City, Florida.  They operate a pizza restaurant in a different, not quote so nice neighborhood.  The restaurant is a few doors down from a gun store.  It never would have occurred to Linda to get a gun, bur Joe was more security conscious.  The gun store owner introduced them to firearms, and they purchased a .38 Taurus revolver with a laser sight and a .380 Kel-Tec semi-auto.  They went to a shooting range with a friend who had a .40 Smith&Wesson, and tried all three guns.  Linda could not comfortably pull the trigger of the little Kel-Tec.  She much preferred the easier-to-shoot Smith&Wesson semi-auto, so Joe traded guns with his friend, sold the Taurus, and they were left with the .40 S&W as their defense gun.

A couple of years passed.  Joe would sometimes (legally) take the gun with him to the restaurant, but sometimes left it at home with Linda.  When the gun was at home, it was always on one of the night tables in their bedroom, loaded, round in the chamber, and safety off.  He would say to Linda as he was leaving, “The gun is on the nightstand.  If you need it, it is ready and loaded, just pick it up and shoot.”  Hundreds of times, she heard that refrain, “Just pick it up and shoot.”  It became so familiar that she barely paid attention any more. 

Linda and Joe experienced a robbery in the spring of 2009, and that made her hypervigilant. About a week later, when Linda was home alone, she heard a strange sound downstairs.  She grabbed the gun, and ran through the house, heart pounding, terrified, looking for a burglar.  She found nothing and no one. Less than a week later, on Thursday morning, April 16, 2009, Joe left for work about 8:30, leaving the gun behind.  About 15 minutes later, Linda heard another sound downstairs.  Remembering her prior fruitless panic, she told herself that the sound meant nothing, remained calm, got dressed, and started downstairs, not even thinking of the gun back in her bedroom.

Linda’s condo has steps with a landing between the floors, and a balcony from the top of the stairs that overlooked the lower floor.  She looked over the balcony, and saw a bearded man, dressed in jeans and hooded sweatshirt pulled over his head, using both hands to try to pry open the sliding glass door from her porch to the house.  A shotgun was resting between his legs.

Linda’s froze for an instant, realizing that this situation was bad.  Her first conscious thought was, “He’s another burglar.  He thinks nobody is home.  If he sees that someone is here, he will go away,” so she continued down the stairs. She wanted to surprise him, and make him flee.  She never thought of getting the gun.  If she had thought of it, it would not have occurred to her that she could shoot through glass. 

She got down the stairs, and he looked up and saw her.  “What do you want?” she asked.  She waved him off, but he didn’t seem startled, and he didn’t make any motion to leave. “Now what do I do?” she thought, and suddenly remembered the gun.  She turned to run upstairs.  He picked up his shotgun.

Linda made it to the 3rd step before he fired through the glass door toward her.  She knew she had been hit, but wasn’t sure whether it was with glass or buckshot.  (Later analysis showed that if she had been on a lower step, his shot would probably have hit her in the head; if she had been a step or two higher, she might have been hit in the heart.  Either could have been much more serious than her neck wound.)

By now, it was clear that he wasn’t intending to rob an unoccupied house.  Linda, however, still thought that he was intent on robbery, and that he would try to force her to show him where money or valuables were in the house.  She wanted to stop him, and needed to get to her gun, fast, but as she continued to race up the steps, she tripped and fell on her face, fracturing her cheek bone.  He fired again, just as she was falling, and the blast of buckshot passed over her, missing her entirely.  (Again, later analysis showed that if she had not fallen accidentally at that instant, she probably would have been killed.)

She was hurt, winded, and somewhat disoriented, but she now knew that his plan wasn’t to rob her.  He hadn’t shot just to get inside the house.  He had shot deliberately at her.  He was trying to kill her.  She had no idea who he was, or why he was doing this, but now all of her attention was concentrated on getting her hands on that Smith&Wesson.  She forced herself to scramble up the rest of the stairs, and to duck and race to the bedroom.  Of course, the gun was on the night table that was on the far side of the bed, so she had to race around the bed to reach it.  As she picked it up, she could tell that he was in the bedroom doorway, just 10-12 feet away, with his shotgun starting to point at her again.  No time to aim, or even turn to around.  She swung her gun behind her and fired blindly at him, and missed. 

Instinctively, she ducked beside the bed, taking cover.  She didn’t know that a few inches of mattress won’t stop a shotgun blast.  Apparently her attacker didn’t know that either, because when he couldn’t see her any more, he didn’t fire at her.  Instead, he made the mistake of walking around the end of the bed, to find her sitting on the floor, with that .40 caliber muzzle pointed right at him.

Linda hasn’t hesitated to fire her first shot, and she didn’t hesitate now.  She fired again, virtually point blank.  “Oh, my God,” he exclaimed, and gestured somewhere toward his leg.  She fired again.  This time he doubled over a little bit, and said another, “Oh my God”.  She fired a third time, and heard another “Oh my God.”  She knew she had hit him three times, but she saw no blood, and he didn’t fall down, nor did he drop his gun.  “Not like in the movies,” she thought, “Why don’t you just run away?  You know I’m going to keep shooting you if you don’t.  Go!  Leave!  Get out!”  He finally turned, left the bedroom with his shotgun, and started downstairs.

“He’s gone!  He’s out of here!” Linda thought joyfully, and started out of the bedroom to call 911.  But she found him lying face up on the landing, his long gun nearby.  She still had her gun, and it pointed itself directly at him. Her finger was on the trigger again. He made a brief motion toward his gun, realized the futility of that course of action, and said, “No, don’t shoot.  I’m down.”

At this point, most of you readers are probably thinking, if that was me, I would have kept him there until the police arrived.  But this didn’t happen to you, it happened to Linda, and from the beginning the thing she wanted most was to get this man out of her house.  So she started screaming at him “Leave, go, get out of here!”  He made it down the rest of the stairs.  Linda picked up his shotgun and a portable phone, and followed him, feeling her own blood dripping down her neck and over her shoulder, but not feeling any pain.  She made him walk to her front door, and outside, where, as it turned out, he had left his parked car.  He got in his car, and started to drive away.

One of Linda’s neighbors happened to be leaving their home at that moment, and Linda was able to yell, “He shot me!  He robbed me!  Follow him!  Follow him!” she ordered, and the neighbor did.  That neighbor was able to call the police with a description of his car and a partial license plate.

Meanwhile, Linda was finally able to stop running and call 911 herself.  Other neighbors came out to help, and tried to staunch the blood.  The first police officer on the scene made sure that she was going to be OK, got a brief description of what happened, and took off in his cruiser to chase the man.  EMT’s arrived quickly, and Linda was taken to a trauma center where she stayed for only one day after they took four buckshot pellets out of her neck.  Just a surface wound, the doctors said.

What about the man who attacked her, and received three very serious bullet wounds for his trouble?  Did he get away?  No, his mother helped to turn him in.  He had been driving his mother’s car, and when he returned it to her, there was blood on the seat.  She realized he was wounded, but he refused medical attention.  She drove him to the Suburban Lodge, hotel where he had a room, dropped him off, and then she went to the police and informed them of her son’s condition and his location.  She was afraid he was going to die.  She was almost right.

When police arrived at the Suburban Lodge, they found Christoper Reber, 23, in the shower, naked, with a belt wrapped around his neck, apparently trying to commit suicide.  He refused numerous commands to get out of the bathroom.  After he was forcibly taken out and the belt removed, he attempted to grab an officer’s firearm, and again refused multiple commands to lay prone with his hands behind his back.  Tasers were deployed three different times before he was eventually subdued and transported to a hospital where he stayed for a month.

Now the story gets even more bizarre.  When Reber was still in intensive care, near death from his wounds, he told police detectives that he had been hired to kill Linda and Joe, by a former business partner of Joe’s.  This seemed to be a true deathbed confession, but when he began to recover, he changed his story, saying that he only intended to rob Linda and Joe. 

Now the story gets even more bizarre.  Reber had worked at Linda and Joe’s pizza restaurant, for about five months, at least two years before this incident.  He left their employ to pursue a career as a drug dealer. Although they fired him, his leaving was uneventful, and he appeared to harbor no grudge.  So why did he show up, two years later, to break in to their home and shoot Linda?  Was it to kill her for hire, or was the hiring a drug-induced fantasy?  Was it to rob her, because he knew she ran a cash business and would have money on hand?  Nobody can be certain. 

In the trunk of the car he was driving police found bolt cutters, a pry-bar, gloves, and a gun case.  His hotel room contained a blue-hooded sweatshirt with bloodstains and a receipt for the shotgun, purchased just three weeks before the incident. The shotgun was cut to an illegal length of 12.24 inches.  The police don’t seem able to make a conspiracy case for murder-for-hire, since Reber retracted his story, but they are charging him with Armed Burglary of an Occupied Residence, Possession of a Short-Barreled Shotgun, and Attempted Murder.  As of this writing, the case has not come to trial.

Because of the hood he was wearing, Linda never recognized him during the attack.  She was flabbergasted when she was told his identity.  Although he had been only a few feet away at the foot of her bed, and although she fired three rounds slowly, hearing his verbal reaction between each shot, she had never looked directly at his face.  Her peripheral vision picked up only his beard.  The inattentional blindness (what we used to call tunnel vision) she experienced during the attack focused her attention only on his hands (holding the gun) and his body (where she need to shoot). 

I asked her how she is doing now, months after the shooting.  “I am better than I was before the situation, because I am not naive any more,” was her definite reply.  “I used to be too trusting.  Now I feel stronger and more mentally aware.”

At the restaurant afterwards, many, many women came to Linda with words like, “You’re my hero,” or “I couldn’t have done what you did.”    To Linda, the reason she was able to do what she did was that Joe had conditioned her thinking, so that “Just pick it up and shoot” came to her when she needed it. “Mental conditioning is crucial.  Think it through in advance, what would you do?  Visualize it.  Think about it.  Be mentally prepared.  That mental preparedness will propel your body into doing something.”  

And as we know, if you have physical training, that, too, will also kick in when you need it.

 This article first appeared in the Nov-Dec 2009 issue of Women&Guns magazine.  Copyright © 2009 Lyn Bates

First Steps Handgun

Are you curious about firearms?    Maybe afraid of them? Whether you intend to buy a gun or not, this class is a gentle introduction, one-on-one, to how a particular gun works, how to handle it, how to load and unload it, and how to shoot it, all with a very strong emphasis on safety.  You may choose a revolver or a semi-automatic pistol; AWARE will supply the gun, ammunition and all other equipment.

This course covers an introduction to pistol safety, parts, and operation, an introduction to ammunition, fundamentals of pistol shooting, cleaning, and storage.  At least an hour will be devoted to shooting that pistol on the range. 


This class does NOT satisfy the training requirements for a firearms license in Massachusetts.  



Class duration:  3 hours

 Class size: 1 student only

 Cost:  $80

 Prerequisite:  None.

 This class is given by arrangement.

 Schedule and Registration: Contact AWARE to schedule a session.

Shoot / Don't Shoot     by Lyn Bates

Shoot / Don't Shoot          by Lyn Bates

The Force Science Research Center at Minnesota State University recently brought my attention to some research done at the University of Fresno by psychology professor Dr. Matthew Sharps and his colleague, Adam Hess.  They wanted to explore how people with no firearms or law enforcement experience would judge the use of force in various situations.  Why should you care?  Because people just like this might be in your jury some day if you ever have to defend yourself!

Sharps and Hess performed two experiments which were reported in the December 2008 issue of The Forensic Examiner, in an article titled “To Shoot or Not to Shoot: Response and Interpretation of Response to Armed Assailants.”  (Academia just has a way with catchy titles, don’t you agree?)

They performed two experiments.  I’ll bet that you can predict the outcome of the first experiment while I’m describing it.  

In the first experiment, they wanted to explore what a typical member of the public (untrained, but with a pretend gun) would do when faced with a situation in which an “assailant” might be holding a gun, or might be holding something that is not a gun.  The experimenters developed high-quality digital photographs of plausible crime scenes.  They had expert police and field training officers to ensure that the pictures were realistic.  The basic photograph showed a white man armed with a Beretta 9mm handgun.  Four different scenarios were developed, the simplest was very sparse in terms of potentially distracting objects, the second was more complex (including street clutter, garage cans, and so on), the third built on the complex scenario by including several bystanders and young female “victim” being threatened by the armed man.  The fourth scene was identical to the third except that instead of a gun, the man was holding a power screwdriver.  All the scenes had good lighting.

A hundred and twenty-five people were recruited to serve as subjects, 87 women and 38 men.  Remember that none of them had any firearms experience.  Each person was given either a button to push to indicate “shoot” or a toy dart gun to shoot at the screen.  Each person was shown briefly one of the 4 scenes, and was instructed to press the button (or fire the dart gun) of they thought that there was a source of danger.    

So, how do you think people performed?  Did it matter whether a button was pressed to indicate shooting, or the dart gun was used?  Did women and men react differently?  How closely did their performance match what you think you, a highly trained person by comparison, would have done?

Here are the basic results.  Men and women performed the same.  They were somewhat more likely to “shoot” if they could do so by pressing a button rather than firing a dart gun.  In Scene 1 (simple environment, man holding a gun, no victim), 64% of the people made the decision to shoot.  Did that surprise you?  It did me, because the man holding the gun on screen wasn’t necessarily pointing it at anyone.  Nonetheless, a great majority of people decided to shoot him anyway.  In Scene 2 (same man, same gun, but with typical street clutter), more people, 67%, decided to shoot.  In Scene 3 (man with gun, street clutter, bystanders, female “victim”), the proportion of “shooters” rose again, to 88%.  In Scene 4 (same as Scene 3 except that the man held a power screwdriver instead of a gun), 85% of the subjects decided to shoot him anyway.

In other words, this experiment concluded that untrained people were extremely likely to decide to intervene with lethal force if there was a gun and a victim involved, but equally likely to mistake a screwdriver for a gun, and consequently shoot someone who should not have been shot.

As I said, you probably would have predicted that result.  The really interesting part of this study is the second experiment conducted by the same scientists.  Let’s see how good your powers of prediction are here.

The second experiment investigated what untrained people’s attitudes were about police using lethal force in various situations.  

Again, the experiment involved high-quality digital photographs of crime scenes that were developed with the involvement of knowledgeable police personnel.  Two scenes were created.   In one, a white male perpetrator held a Beretta 9mm handgun in a one-handed grip, pointing it toward a young female “victim” amid a typical street scent.  The second scene was essentially identical to the first, but the perpetrator holding the gun was female.  Both scenes met the most stringent police guidelines for a “shoot” situation.

The subjects (33 women and 11 men) were each allowed to study one of these scenes for a full 5seconds (much longer than most police officers have to make life-and-death judgments).  They were asked afterward what a police officer should do on encountering the situation they had just seen.  They were also asked the rationale for their responses.

Now’s your chance to see whether your predictions were right.   Did people think a police officer should have shot the person with the gun? Did it matter whether the “perpetrator” holding the gun was male or female?

Only 11% of the people thought that police should shoot in this situation.  (Does that surprise you?  It amazed me.)

Did gender matter?  The numbers were too small for definitive results, but no male subject thought the police would be justified shooing a female perpetrator, Female subjects were about twice as likely to justify the shooting of a male perpetrator compared to a female one, but at least they did occasionally say that shooting a woman with a gun was justified.

What reasons did people give for their overwhelming reluctance to say that a police officer would be justified in shooting a person holding a gun to a young woman?  How could virtually 9 out of 10 people say that police bullets were not justified, in situations where police believed 100% that shooting was necessary to save the young woman’s life?  The reasons are quite revealing…

Some people felt that the daylight, public conditions of the situations would prevent the perpetrator from firing at the victim.  Others invented rules of engagement, such as saying that police should wait until the suspect fired first.  Others said that a police officer should first attempt to convince the perp to drop the gun.  One said that the police use of lethal force would be justified if the suspect had already committed murder.  Some said that an officer should not fire because the suspect “did not look like she wanted to kill.”  Some qualified their response, saying that if the police had to shoot, they should shoot the perp’s arm or leg.  Another said that if the perp tried to run away, it would mean that he was guilty.

This experiments was developed to study people’s attitudes toward police who shoot in the line of duty.  It isn’t clear whether these kinds of attitudes would carry over to a private citizen who used a gun for self-defense, but they might.  This would make a good topic for future research.  In the meantime, what lessons can you take away?

When making their own shoot/don’t shoot decisions, average untrained folk tend to be trigger happy and are often wrong, especially when distinguishing a gun from a tool.  Police are routinely pilloried for making this kind of mistake.  Remember the Dialou shooting in New York City when police shot an unarmed man who was behaving very suspiciously, but just drawing his wallet in a dark foyer?  More recently, in Tacoma, WA, police shot and killed a man who pointed a small black cordless drill directly at them after threatening to shoot them. That’s why a similar tool was used in the first experiment here.

Even though the vast majority of the civilian respondents indicated a readiness to shoot a perceived dangerous person themselves, only about 1 person in 10 felt it would be appropriate for the police to do so under the same circumstances!  If this generalizes to trained civilians legally carrying, we may be in equal trouble when it comes to the court of public opinion, or the criminal court.

If you are charged with a crime and tried by a jury of such “peers”, you might need an expert witness to explain why what you did was reasonable, and to dispel the myths and magical thinking that ordinary people might use to believe that you could have done something other than shoot. 

You are far more likely to be chosen for jury duty than to shoot someone.  Thus, if you are ever on a jury that is considering a case that involves shooting (as I was a few years ago on an attempted murder case), remember that several of your fellow jurors probably have some of these misconceptions about the use of lethal force. Think about how you could educate them so that the accused receives justice.  

This article was reprinted from Women&Guns magazine, May-Jun, 2009, Copyright © 2009, Lyn Bates

Concealed Carry For Women



What are your options for holsters, if you are a woman?  What holsters and other methods of concealment might be best for your body type? Is the gun you own (or intend to buy) going to be compatible with the carry method you would like to use?  How will they fit your wardrobe and your lifestyle?  What changes might be helpful?

See and examine samples of more than a dozen different types of holsters. Understand  the pros and cons of each holster type. This will help you make a good holster decision without buying and trying many expensive methods that turn out not to work for you.  

Learn from women who have years of personal experience in this area.


Class duration:  1.5  -  2 hours 

Class size: Any number of women

Cost:  $50

Prerequisite:  AWARE Basic Pistol or equivalent class elsewhere.  

Schedule and Registration: This class is given by arrangement.  Contact AWARE to schedule a session.

 Do you already have a LTC, a firearm and concealed carry method?  Consider a private lesson with AWARE to learn to draw and reholster quickly and safely.