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Basic Instruction for Armed Civilians- the MAG20 class

May 25, 2017

The Massad Ayoob Group offers firearms instruction across the country.  They have both local instructors and traveling staff.  They trained both law enforcement officers and civilian gun owners.  I recently took their basic class in armed civilian self-defense.  It is easy to explain why these particular students were in the class with me.  It was the most basic training offered.  It is harder to explain why more firearms owners and licensed concealed carriers don’t take take classes like this one.

This particular class had more women than men.  That would have been remarkable, but today, women are embracing armed self-defense.  Also, the class was held in Texas.  A recent Girl and a Gun national conference was held nearby last month.  Do not doubt for a moment that women can be extremely successful shooters.  We shot for score in this class.  The most accurate instructor was female as was the most accurate student.

Let’s ask a more basic question.  Is this the training you need?  Most gun owners never get their concealed carry license.  Most licensed concealed carriers never go for training beyond that required to get their state issued permit.  The small fraction of concealed carriers who train, we’ll call them the 1% of gun owners, they never go beyond their first class.  That leaves us with an important question.  What should you teach these concealed carriers if this was their last training class?

Now we’re getting serious.  Their life or the life of others may hang in the balance if they have to defend themselves.  What do they need to know?

The MAG20 class was not for beginners.  It assumed the very basic knowledge typical of a state mandated concealed carry course.  The MAG20 course covered a few simple defensive skills.  They were made more difficult by performing them in a limited amount of time.  The emphasis throughout the course was more on quality than rapidity.  There was  enough time to perform the tasks even for students learning new material.  Most, if not all of the students, can perform the shooting test to the required level of accuracy in the time allowed.

The instructors made the course easier.. even while performing “under the clock” made it harder.  Each instructor ran the qualification course after borrowing a gun from a student.  Some of the instructors performed the course of fire perfectly.  Most importantly, they performed at that level by using the same fundamental techniques they taught in class.

Time works against us in other ways.  Going back to our original question, should you teach these students how to defend themselves on the street.. or how to defend themselves in court after they survive a violent encounter?  That is where the institutional ancestry of the material shows through.  Some of the training was selected because it is easy to quantify and document in a court of law.

As a student, we can prove we were taught, but we won’t know how much of that training will actually makes it back home with us.  We’re not sure how many of these skills are accessible when we are on the street a month from now, let alone five years from now.  What little we know tells us that the physical and mental skills fade with time.

The course teaches the basics of shooting.  Self-defense comes later.

How does this impact self-defense training?  We are most likely to be attacked in a parking lot after dark.  Most of the basic self-defense courses don’t require the student to shoot from under a concealing garment.  Those skills will have to come later.  There was no instruction about how to identify possible threats.  There was no use of cover or movement to cover.  That is for the next course..I assume.

Gun owners are not who they used to be.  Today, many younger firearms owners were exposed to guns through video games.  They see a firearm as a symbolic talisman that has the power to stop an adversary.  That perspective is misguided because guns don’t protect you.  The skills you’ve learned protect you.  Judging by their absence in advanced training courses, young men and women prefer the video fantasy over the reality of gun ownership.  Real firearms training is dirty, noisy, and sometimes disappointing.

Measuring my performance is how I learn where I can improve.  Training exposes my weaknesses.  It must.  I was clearly out-shot by the instructors and several students.  I was not having a “bad day.”  The shooters who beat me were better than I am.  One mark of a good instructional program is the ability to expose deficiencies and strengthen them.

The training exercises in the MAG-20 did a wonderful job of exposing the essential building blocks needed to be a competent shooter.  Besides the instructors and other students, these exercises were the best reason to take the course.

It could be better.  I’ve been in physical rehabilitation after an injury.  My physical therapist gave me homework to perform on my own.  In fact, doing the homework was essential.  That was where I both solidified the gains from treatment and where I made progress toward better performance.  A music teacher follows a similar model of instruction.  The self-defense training industry has yet to match that level of instruction.  This course was one-and-done.

The class has leftover methods that came from training law enforcement officers.  A large department needs to show they trained their staff in a prescribed way and that the students then performed to a recognized standard.  While important in court, that style of instruction isn’t efficiently tailored for the private citizen today.  It reminds me of the business model used by psychologists who keeps telling their patients that they have to come back for regular therapy sessions to stay healthy.  I might be back.

It works well enough.  That is where we are today.

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