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Firearms Trainers: Civilian vs. Military & Law Enforcement

It might seem like a trainer with law enforcement (LEO) or military experience is automatically a better choice, but they each have different missions.

Civilians do not go around doing wellness checks, serving warrants, or otherwise confronting criminals. They do not go around in a squad of armed and armored squadmates on patrol or doing raids. Instead, the civilian is targeted by a perp.

When a perp draws a gun on LEO or military, it's to kill them. When a perp draws a gun on a civilian, it's to intimidate them into doing what they want. Most civilian gunfights start with the civilian counter-ambushing the robber(s).

Here's an overview of the differences:
LEO Military Civilian
Initiator Officer(s) SOF raid: US soldiers
Otherwise: Enemies
Perp(s)
Gunfight starts with Perp(s) drawing pistol Either side opening fire Citizen drawing pistol
Winning Tactics Return fire immediately Move, shoot, communicate as part of a team Comply, wait your turn, counter-ambush if opportunity presents
Fight ends when… Perp(s) arrested Enemies flee or incapacitated Perp(s) flee or incapacitated

If a LEO or military trainer teaches civilians without adapting to the civilian context, they will teach to draw against a robber who already has a gun pointed at you. That is how you get shot by a robber.

Still, there are outstanding former LEO and military trainers for civilians. How do you tell?

"Former Law Enforcement / LEO" Trainers

Patrol officers open carry. They don't conceal carry. They equip 30 lb. of armor and gear, which affects their movement techniques. They are sworn to arrest perpetrators to uphold the law. Most their gunfights start with being ambushed.

Their rules of engagement, mission, gear, and tactics are all different from a civilian.

The Exceptions: Undercover Officers

Undercover officers conceal carry as part of their jobs, and their tactics are closer to a civilian's.

Undercover Agents, Investigators, and Detectives

To build a case against top criminals, detectives go undercover to get evidence. It takes special training and the right personality to make it. While undercover, their only defenses are their wits, acting skills, and concealed carry pistol.

There are around 795,000 sworn law enforcement officers in the US. , Of those, about 108,000 are detectives or investigators. Of those, only a fraction are undercover - let's say 10%, or around 11,000.

Federal Air Marshals

Air Marshals blend in with other passengers on flights, ready to act if a serious threat comes up. You might've been near one on your last flight, none the wiser.

How many Air Marshals are there? Around 3,000.

If Someone is "Former Law Enforcement", Is That Relevant for Concealed Carry?

Out of 795,000 law enforcement officers, around 14,000 conceal carry as part of their jobs.
That's less than 2% of all law enforcement officers.

Of all trainers with a "law enforcement" background, we can expect less than 2% to have training and job experience relevant to concealed carry. Some examples:
  • Craig Douglas has 2 years of undercover law enforcement experience.
    He's a traveling trainer, so you might get to train with him a few days a year.
  • Steven Kinsey has US Air Marshal experience.
    If you want to train under him, you'll have to go to Lansing, MI.
  • Bryan Grenier with The Range Complex is a former Air Marshal trainer.
    If you want to train under him, you'll have to go to Autryville, NC.
  • Massad Ayoob is a former police officer who also has a long career as an expert witness for self-defense cases.
    He's a traveling trainer, so you might get to train with him a few days a year.
The other 98% needs training from the civilian world to be relevant for concealed carriers.

"Former military" Trainers

Most infantry open carry and use rifles, not pistols. They equip 90+ lb. of armor and gear, which affects their movement techniques. They fight as a team, not alone. They can call in air strikes and other air support. Their mission can be to patrol, do a pre-planned raid, defend something, and more.

Their rules of engagement, mission, gear, and tactics are all different from a civilian.
Take the time to watch the video above for real infantry combat, not Hollywood.

The Exceptions: Clandestine Operators

Soldiers in clandestine operations blend in with the local populace and conceal carry. They often act alone. If they're successful, no one ever knows of their mission or their true identity. As such, most of the time they're acting as a civilian. Some examples:

Delta Force

Delta Force is a special unit within US Army Special Forces. They number 1,000 strong. Of that only 250-300 are operators - soldiers who go and do the operations. The rest are combat support and service support.

Black Squadron

The Naval Special Warfare Development Group's Black Squadron is estimated to be around 100 strong (out of 1,342 in all of Seal Team Six).

Office of Special Warfare

Other clandestine military include the Office of Special Warfare in 1st Special Forces Command (Airborne) (Provisional). It's around 17,000 strong, but only a small fraction are operators. ,

If Someone is "Former Military", Is That Relevant for Concealed Carry?

As of May 2022, US active Armed Forces total 1,354,259 and reserves 799,500. If we apply the estimates we have to the groups where it's classified, only up to 5,500 do clandestine work.
That's less than 1% of all military personnel.

Of all trainers with a "former military" background, we can expect less than 1% to have training and job experience relevant to concealed carry. Some examples:

  • Pat McNamara is former Delta Force.
    If you want to train under him, you'll have to go to Carthage, NC.
  • John "Shrek" McPhee is former Delta Force.
    He's a traveling trainer, so you might get to train with him a few days a year.
  • Eddie with The Range Complex is former Delta Force.
    If you want to train under him, you'll have to go to Autryville, NC.
  • Paul Howe is former Delta Force.
    If you want to train under him, you'll have to go to Nacogdoches, TX.
The other 99.99% needs training from the civilian world to be relevant for concealed carriers.

Shooting Skills

How much should you care about an instructor's shooting skills?

Teaching and doing are different. You don't have to be the best shooter to be the best shooting instructor. Cus D'Amato didn't have to make the Boxing Hall of Fame to get Mike Tyson, Floyd Patterson, and José Torres there.

Cus D'Amato with Mike Tyson and other students.

Stories like D'Amato's are common among the greatest coaches and trainers. Still, they're all at least good at their sport. When you're mediocre or bad, it's tough to see technique problems and solve them.

There are some suprisingly weak shooters in the military and LEO community. How do you estimate an instructor's pistol skills?

Competition Classification

If an instructor competes, it's easy to gauge their technical skillls. For instructors I recommend:

  • IPSC / USPSA B Class, A Class, or Master
  • IDPA Expert or Master
Why no IPSC / USPSA Grandmasters? They can be the best choice or a bad one, depending on context. Look for ones that are clear on competition vs. defense, or who also train under defensive / tactical trainers.

The Bill Drill

If an instructor doesn't compete, ask for their time on a "clean" Bill Drill.
(Clean means ALL hits in the A zone of a USPSA target or similar.)

In a Bill Drill, you start with hands at sides. The target is at 7 yds. At the beep, you draw and fire 6 rounds. It's not perfect, but if you have only 1 data point, it's one of the best. The Bill Drill tests one's draw, grip, and trigger control all at once.

I recommend a 2.50 or better time. If they don't know what a Bill Drill is, they probably don't know much about shooting pistols.

Training Certs

Training certifications can give an idea of skill level if you dig into the certification's standards. Some good ones:

  • NRA CCW Instructor
  • Rangemaster Advanced Instructor
  • Active Self Protection Instructor
  • USCCA Concealed Carry Instructor

Context Matters

In most cases:

  • The best trainer for LEOs is a LEO trainer.
  • The best trainer for military is a military trainer.
  • The best trainer for civilians is a civilian trainer.

I'm not saying civilians should dismiss former police or military trainers out of hand. What I'm asking for is critical thinking: Look deeper to see if their background is relevant to you.

  • A former military sniper will probably be a great precision rifle instructor.
    (A former SWAT sniper will only be a great precision rifle instructor to the range they were trained in...which might be 100 yds or less)
  • A former SWAT officer or SOF operator will probably be a great CQB instructor (but only if they adapt it to a solo rather than team context...the tactics are completely different).
  • A former US Air Marshal, Undercover Officer, or Clandestine Operator will probably be a great concealed carry instructor.
Any trainer, no matter their background, will probably be great in their niche if they have the humility and love of the craft to keep on training and learning from the best sources they can.

Do they disclose the training courses they've taken? They should.


References

  1. The Other End of the Spear: The Tooth-to-Tail Ratio (T3R) in Modern Military Operations (2022)
  2. CIA Jobs - Paramilitary Operations Officer (2022)
  3. CIA Jobs - Operations Officer (2022)
  4. Appropriations Committee Releases Fiscal Year 2022 Defense Funding Bill (2022)
  5. DoD Personnel, Workforce Reports & Publications (2022)
  6. Individual Tactics with John Holschen (2021)
  7. US Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook: Police and Detectives (2021)
  8. US Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Employment and Wages, May 2021: 33-3021 Detectives and Criminal Investigators (2021)
  9. USASOC Strategy-2035 (2016)
  10. National Sources of Law Enforcement Employment Data (2016)
  11. 1st Special Forces Command (Airborne) (Provisional) (2014)
  12. ‘Black budget’ summary details U.S. spy network’s successes, failures and objectives (2013)
  13. Not a good day to die : the untold story of Operation Anaconda (2006)
  14. FEDERAL LAW ENFORCEMENT Survey of Federal Civilian Law Enforcement Functions and Authorities (2006)
  15. SWAT Snipers (2005)

My Certifications

  • NRA Pistol Instructor
  • NRA CCW Instructor
  • Texas LTC Instructor

Training Completed

Training courses I've completed:




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