7 steps to hosting a firearms training class

Many considerations go into planning and running a firearms training class


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By Sergeant Matthew Borders

Congratulations, you have just become your agency’s lead firearms instructor. Being a firearms instructor is a coveted position in most agencies and a lot of firearms instructors dream of being the lead instructor, but what new responsibilities does this title hold for you?

The assumption that you will, at some point, be sued due to being in charge of your agency’s firearms program is a safe one. To mitigate this, you must create a training environment that increases the firearms proficiency of each member of your agency while fostering good use-of-force decisions. Furthermore, you must thoroughly document your training and capture what was covered, how it was covered and why it was covered.

This picture is from a University of Mary Washington firearms training drill where the officer starts the drill seated in the vehicle to simulate a real-world scenario. (Photo/Matthew T. Borders)
This picture is from a University of Mary Washington firearms training drill where the officer starts the drill seated in the vehicle to simulate a real-world scenario. (Photo/Matthew T. Borders)

The cases of Zuccel v. Denver, Young v. City of Providence and Popow v. City of Margate have established some required elements for law enforcement firearms training, which include:

You also must cover the weapon qualifications for your department and any other legal requirements for law enforcement officers.

From here you have to put together your next training date. Here are seven steps to hosting your next range training.

1. set the Date and time

Creating a date and time for the training seems like an easy task, but there are a lot of considerations. Arranging for range time can be easy for a large agency that has its own firing range, but for smaller agencies that share range facilities, you will need to book ahead to get the dates that work for your agency. You also have to consider how many students will you have on the range at one time, what staffing issues this could create and what shifts the students normally work.

Another factor to consider is who is coming to the training. Knowing the students you are going to be administering the training to will help you develop your training plan. Breaking down the training dates and times by grouping like groups together is also helpful. An example of this would be to have a training date for officers who have a harder time qualifying and need more work on fundamental shooting skills. 

2. establish the Ammunition budget

Creating an ammunition budget can be complex. The easy solution is to take the amount of ammunition you wish to use for that training and divide that by the number of students (members of your agency). While that is an easy method, it is prudent to have some reserve ammunition for various reasons, especially if you are conducting weapon qualifications. With most agencies feeling a budget crunch, making every round count means keeping track of what you are using on the range is imperative.

3. outline training goals

Any good training begins with goals and objectives. While it seems easy to establish goals and objectives that cover the critical elements that need to be reviewed during training, you must also consider the needs of the agency and students when creating the objectives.

Establish what you are working on for this training. Is this going to be a tactical range where you are looking to improve the students’ abilities to move through a tactical course of fire, or is this a basic range where you are working on the fundamentals of marksmanship? If your agency can make it to the range twice a year a good suggestion would be to do a basic range in the spring that focuses on fundamentals of marksmanship and weapon qualifications and then a more tactical range in the fall that focuses on firearms handling and low-light shooting.

During this Firearms Instructor Development class at the Rappahannock Regional Police Academy, co-instructor Lieutenant Weinstein from the Northern Virginia Community College PD discusses how to run a shoot/don't shoot drill using specialized targets. (Photo/Matthew T. Borders)
During this Firearms Instructor Development class at the Rappahannock Regional Police Academy, co-instructor Lieutenant Weinstein from the Northern Virginia Community College PD discusses how to run a shoot/don't shoot drill using specialized targets. (Photo/Matthew T. Borders)

4.  Create a lesson plan

A good lesson plan is the backbone of any training. This will be the document that is subpoenaed into court if you and/or your agency is ever sued for anything related to firearms training. It is the written documentation of what the training is covering, how it is being covered and why it is covering it. You should be able to hand your lesson plan to any other firearms instructor in your area and they should be able to administer the training without any input from you.

Each course of fire should be written in great detail into the lesson plan. It should include the basic set-up of the course, amount of ammunition, number of times a student will run the course, safety factors, and the training elements – such as shoot/don’t shoot – being covered in the course.

Along with the courses of fire, any training topics such as department policy or use of force should be covered in the lesson plan. If you are handing out and having students sign the use of force policy for your agency you should include a copy of the current use of force policy as an addendum to the back of the lesson plan and show that it is being handed out to each student. Consider attaching the range rules directly to the back of the lesson plan as a handout.

5. get Approval

This is probably the easiest part of creating the training. Organize the information and present it for approval.

6. Execute the training

Arrive early so you can make sure you have all the necessary supplies on hand to conduct the training. You will want to have a folder containing all of the necessary paperwork to conduct the range (qualification forms, range safety plan, a range rules sign-off sheet, lead safety handout and weapon inspection form). Do a walk-through of the range and make sure there are no safety issues or items out of place.

If you are working with other instructors, have them come in early. Designate one instructor as the range safety officer. This instructor will hold the pre-range safety briefing and will be responsible for maintaining safety. Outline what is being covered during the training and the order of the courses.

Another helpful suggestion is to have a range date established where all of the firearms instructors are the only ones on the range. This allows each instructor to observe each course of fire and test fire the courses so they know what to expect when the students are on the range.

Keep notes while the training is being conducted. If you have to cut the number of times students run a course due to time or if you change any element of a course, make a note of this.

Once the training has concluded have the students fill out a class evaluation. This can assist you in developing future training classes based on student feedback. It is also a good practice to debrief the students on the range (ask if anyone was injured, if everyone has all of their equipment, etc.).

It is a good idea to, at least yearly, conduct field weapon inspection of each student’s duty weapons. Doing this is a good way to make sure that the weapons going out into the field are in duty condition, department policy is being followed and there are no issues with a weapon. Most manufacturers have a form for this, and it is a good idea to complete this form and attach it to the weapons qualification form.

Once the student debriefing is completed hold an instructor debrief. Any observations can be noted at this time.

Finally, before you leave, do a walk-through of the range to make sure nothing has been left on the range.

7. Finalize the training

All of the necessary paperwork such as student rosters, student critiques of the course, a copy of the range rules signed off by the students, a copy of the range safety plan, copies of the qualification paperwork and a finalized copy (with notes) of the lesson plan should be turned in to your department/training academy.

Remember, once this training has concluded you should already be developing the next training. The notes and experience from the training you just conducted will allow you to create future training that benefits the student and your department.

Conclusion

The majority of law enforcement officers enjoy attending firearms training. Following these steps will help you organize your range training so it is efficient, safe and productive.

NEXT: How to buy firearms training equipment (ebook)


About the author

Sergeant Matthew Borders is a sergeant for the University of Mary Washington Police Department. He has a total of 21 years in law enforcement and has served three different agencies. Sergeant Borders has been a Department of Criminal Justice Services-certified General Instructor since 2004 and a certified firearms instructor since 2009. Sergeant Borders has administered his department’s firearms training program since 2011. He also developed, created and administered a Firearms Instructor Development Class for the Rappahannock Regional Criminal Justice Academy.

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