I have been a state certified Texas License to Carry (LTC, formerly CHL) instructor for about five years. During my time as a licensing instructor, I have made a good amount of money from teaching the licensing class. However, I am imploring the Texas legislature to kill my licensing business by eliminating the licensing requirement to carry a handgun when they reconvene at the beginning of 2017. However, this won’t kill my entire training business because Constitutional Carry is not only the right answer from the standpoint of political principle, it is also the right answer from a training perspective. I will leave the discussion of the political principles for another time, but here I want to discuss the training implications.
The state mandated curriculum that is put out by the Texas Department Of Public Safety (DPS) is nothing more than a lowest common denominator overview of state law combined with a very basic shooting proficiency standard. In order to get certified to teach this curriculum, instructors must attend a week long instructor class in Georgetown that basically consists of 4 days of death by power point from State Troopers and State Attorneys that covers everything from disability laws and basic business regulations to a somewhat detailed overview of the relevant sections of the penal code that relate to Use of Force and other handgun laws. Instructor candidates are given a written test at the end of the classroom portion and are required to qualify with both a semi-auto and a revolver at the range on the last day of class. While the goals of the curriculum are obviously very basic, I’m not confident that the program consistently turns out instructors who can even convey those basic requirements adequately.
At no point during the instructor class is there any requirement for an instructor candidate to demonstrate teaching skills or ability to present or explain the subject matter of the licensing course. Any teacher worth his salt knows that having knowledge and being able to convey it effectively to students are two very different things. But at the end of the day, if you pay your money and are able to sit through the class and pass the test, you are able to teach classes and issue certificates, regardless of your actual ability to teach. With the standard for credentials being what it is, if you don’t show up at the class with the ability to communicate, you aren’t going to leave with it. There are some great instructors who teach the licensing class, don’t get me wrong, but it isn’t because the state developed them. In fact, the state just about goes out of its way to ensure that instructors do little more than stick to a script. Based on my interactions with my peers on the licensing side, there are far more folks who shouldn’t be teaching anyone anything than there are quality instructors in this program.
All the state can really be confident that they are turning out is people who can read black letter laws off of a slide deck and run a safe range, which does not in any way constitute a quality instructor. When I took my licensing class back when I turned 21, we spent more time listening to the “instructor” rant about politics than we did discussing the complexities of use of deadly force; and my experience was not an anomaly. The licensing instructors who are doing the best job are mostly those who have taken it upon themselves to seek out continued instructor development both on the legal and shooting side, but they are few and far between. The NRA credentials required to sign up for the instructor class are worth about as much as the paper they are written on as well, as there is not a high standard for teaching or communication ability to receive them either. With the subject matter required for licensing being potentially life and death stuff, the standard for instructors is far too low. To raise the standard to a meaningful level would require resources, time, and expertise that the state simply doesn’t have and can’t financially afford. Developing quality instructors is neither a cheap nor fast endeavor, and it can’t be accomplished by a bureaucracy in Austin. The state would do just as well as it currently does to have the class put completely online like a defensive driving class, because that’s about as much as most students get out of it.
The problem with this reality from my perspective as a professional trainer is that when you put a state seal on an instructor and a training program, responsible but otherwise uninitiated people who are looking for quality instruction are going to be prone to assume that they have found it when they go to see their local licensing guy. After all, if you are looking for a plumber, someone who is licensed and bonded is usually going to be better than someone who is not, right? Well, we all know that this is not necessarily the case. Just as there are plenty of licensed and bonded plumbers who will screw up your bathroom, there are plenty of state certified “instructors” who are going to give you a weak understanding of state law and defensive shooting fundamentals. The difference is that with a plumber, you find out pretty quickly when your toilet still leaks that shoddy work was done. When it comes to gun licensing, you may not find out until you are sitting handcuffed in an interview room or worse, bleeding out on the pavement. There is nothing that the Better Business Bureau or the State of Texas can do to prevent the guy who gives students an improper understanding of state law, because as long as they can simply convey what the black letter law says, they have met the standard. Similarly, if your licensing instructor lets you qualify with a screwed up grip and stance as long as you are hitting inside the 8 ring enough times, he is really doing you a disservice, but has still met the state’s standard. Just about every single student I have had in the licensing class could have met the state’s minuscule training standards without paying me any money to do so. The training requirement simply formalizes and stamps “official” what already exists and does nothing to actually increase public safety.
With this reality in mind, it should be clear to rational lawmakers that we aren’t really losing anything from a training standpoint by eliminating the licensing requirement. Getting rid of that state certified label will force instructors who can’t teach well and have no business calling themselves “instructors” out of the market because they won’t be able to run certificate mills anymore. People aren’t going to be as likely to succeed at hanging a shingle with no real experience or ability when they can’t rest on their “state certification”. The people we should want carrying guns on our streets are the ones who go above and beyond the licensing requirement and seek follow-on training anyway, and that group of responsible armed citizens will be there with or without licensing. In fact, it turns out that instructors in states with no licensing requirements tend to fill their classes more easily because people aren’t fooled into thinking that they have fulfilled their responsibility simply by getting licensed by Joe Bob’s licensing shack. Someone is far more likely to come to an advanced use of force or defensive handgun training class if they don’t already have a card in their wallet that they think means they are already good to go. I can’t tell you how many times people have decided to go see some other guy for “training” simply because his class is cheaper and all they wanted was a license anyway. Those people will still be just as big of a liability whether or not they have a card in their wallet, so let’s stop pretending that we are increasing public safety by mandating lowest-common-denominator training.
I’m not worried about going out of business when the training mandate goes away, because responsible people don’t require a mandate to do the right thing. The only people who are served by keeping the licensing requirement in place are those who profit from it both at the state capitol and in certificate mills. I’m ok with both of those institutions not getting any more of mine or my potential students’ money, and you should be too. Be very wary of any “instructor” who takes the opposite position.