Sunday, December 19, 2010

NRA Personal Protection in the Home Class

Last week, 11 December, 2010, I attended the NRA Personal Protection in the Home class offered by Bay Area Professionals for Firearms Safety and Education (BayProfs), and held at the San Jose Municipal Firing Range, home of the Santa Clara Valley Rifle Club. I had previously taken the NRA Basic Pistol class from BayProfs, and found it to be very valuable for a novice handgun enthusiast, and I had been looking forward to taking this class for quite some time. I was not disappointed.

Students were expected to provide a firearm, a holster, gun belt, magazine carrier, and at least three magazines. BayProfs provided the instructors, ammunition, and the venue. BayProfs also provided each student with a packet of instructional materials that included the NRA Guide To the Basics of Personal Protection Inside the Home, and the book How To Own A Gun And Stay Out Of Jail, 2010 Edition, which, in my opinion, every gun owner in California should own and read. The fee for the class was $200 for an entire day of instruction: 9 AM to 6 PM.

While BayProfs recommended standard Kydex training holsters, I had long since purchased a rig in leather, and on consultation with Tom Laye, the training director for BayProfs, got the approval to use my rig. It consists of:

The class size was small, only seven people, with a mix of ages and genders. Two students in my class were women, one of whom could not have weighed more that 90 pounds soaking wet, who shot a full size automatic pistol as competently as any other student in the class. While all individuals in the class had taken the NRA Basic Pistol Class from BayProfs (a prerequisite), some had taken additional classes from other organizations. While a variety of firearms were used by the students, no revolvers were present in this class.

It is well known by any student that has taken BayProfs class that the BayProfs instructors are huge enthusiasts of the famous 1911 pistol, which was designed by the famous John Browning, and has been in continuous use and production for nearly one hundred years. Every instructor present had a 1911 pistol in their holster, and while a few joking comments about how the students should “get a real gun” were heard, the BayProfs instructors are all of the conviction that any gun in a credible defensive caliber will work just fine for personal protection. The gun is a tool, the weapon is a person with training, the correct mindset, and a determination to survive, holding the gun.

The instructor to student ratio was high, with six instructors present to help the students as well as ensure safety on the firing range. The class format alternated between lecture and shooting sessions on the range. Topics covered included, but were not limited to, firearms safety, the ethics and morality of self defense, legal aspects of the use of deadly force, the use of cover and concealment, and defensive shooting techniques. Safety was a paramount concern during the shooting sessions, with each student paired with an instructor, and a range master keeping watch over everyone. NRA rules required that the class was run with a “cold range”, which means that no loaded pistols were holstered. Students practiced the draw and presentation with unloaded pistols, and only loaded them on command of the range master after drawing, presenting to target, and then entering the low ready position. All shooting commenced from the low ready position. When a course of fire was completed, instructors required each student to clear their firearm, show the instructor that the firearm was clear, and then drop the hammer on the empty chamber.

There was as much discussion about how to avoid a gunfight as there was about how to survive one. The class emphasizes that the only gunfight one wins is the gunfight one avoids in the first place. Once the shooting starts, one does not “win”, one only survives. Awareness of ones surroundings was taught as the key discipline to learn to avoid violent encounters whenever possible, and to be fully prepared for them when avoidance fails. Awareness combined with prior planning is essential if one is to act effectively once a threat is encountered, and employment of a firearm is always the last option in any plan, used only when everything else fails.

Shooting sessions started with a marksmanship check of each student, and proceeded to a demonstration of combat accuracy, and the explanation of the “flash sight” picture. As the day went on, more elements were added the shooting problem: shooting from cover, shooting around corners from both the strong and weak sides, shooting from the kneeling position, and transitions between standing and kneeling. One of the final shooting exercises was two fast shots to the center of mass of the target, with aimed shots into the cranio-optical cavity. This exercise was very challenging, and some students had to reload a more than once to accomplish the task. After the very first shooting session all students were responsible for keeping their magazines loaded, and for reloading their firearms as required during all courses of fire, further simulating the conditions that might be faced during a real firefight.

One of the final exercises of the day was BayProfs version of the Teuller Drill, a demonstration of how fast an attacker can close to knife range before an armed defender can draw and fire. With a shooter in the low ready position and facing down range, another student, the runner, placed his hand on the shooters shoulder and faced up range. The runner would start running up range at a moment of their choosing, and the length of distance covered before the shooter could place an effective round on the target was measured. In almost all cases the runner could cover 20 to 30 feet before the shooter could react and fire, demonstrating why all police agencies and defensive shooting instructors consider an attacker with a knife a deadly threat within 7 yards of a defender.

One instructor, fresh from a defensive shotgun class, gave a short talk and demonstration of defensive shotgun usage, including shooting a few rounds to demonstrate the spread of the pellets and effectiveness of the weapon in self defense. Each student was then invited to shoot the gun, a modified Remington 870 Police Magnum. I must say that I was very impressed with the gun, and with the effects of the Vang Comp ported shotgun barrel. Seeing the spread of 00 buckshot at 7 yards clearly showed why shotguns must be aimed for maximum effect, not simply pointed as so many people assume.

The class ended with a recap of the most important points covered that day, and with tips for both dry practice and range drills for the students to use to hone the techniques introduced in the class. Dry practice drawing and presenting the firearm to the target and reloading the fireatm help develop “muscle memory”, making these operations automatic in a defensive situation. Emphasis is placed on correctness of each motion, not on speed. As one instructor said, “Slow is smooth, and smooth is fast.” Range drills included a sight flash shot at center mass, followed by a head shot using a 3”x5” index card as a target.

My final impression of this class is that it was a very good introduction to practical, defensive shooting. The quality of the instructors was evident, as well as their enthusiasm for the subject. Instructor demeanor in the class is supportive and consultative, without the “boot camp” mentality that I have heard other instructors use. This must be especially comforting for female members of the class who might be intimidated by strident instructors. An amazing amount of material and new concepts were presented, too much to master in one day, or even adequately absorb. Should this class be offered again, I would be tempted to repeat is because I am sure I would come away the second time learning things that I missed in the first session, and with a deeper understanding of things that I thought I knew. I do know that this class has changed how I will practice at the range, and during dry practice at home.

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