If you’re new to firearms, taking a beginner class is a no-brainer. Learning from a friend or family member who shoots is tempting, but you should still get professional instruction. It’s the safest and fastest route to learn the basics and start getting familiar with guns – and a good way to avoid starting bad habits.

But what about those of us who’ve handled and shot firearms for years? We know the basics and can shoot well, so is there any point in taking classes? The short answer is yes. I recently attended a class that reminded me why I will continue seeking firearms training. Let’s look at why you should, too.

Beyond the Beginner


Woman shooting handgun at indoor shooting range
The earliest photo I have of me shooting (left) versus one taken last month. My stance, grip, and iPhone camera have come a long way. (Photo: Elizabeth Bienas/Guns.com)

I learned to shoot nearly 20 years ago on a range date with my husband. I didn’t want to go but knew it was important to him. He’d just purchased a Glock 19. About halfway through shooting my first magazine, I was enjoying myself, so he taught me everything he knew from his years in the Marine Corps.

He’s not a professional instructor, and although he did a great job teaching me, I always suggest new shooters get training immediately. Learn the basics, get comfortable handling a firearm, and then take the next level class as soon as possible. This is the fastest way to improve and something I’d have done two decades ago if I’d known better.

For most of the years I was shooting, I was fine going to the range every couple of months to practice. I could shoot decently and hit a man-sized target. I thought that’s all I needed skill-wise to carry concealed. About six years ago, I realized I was wrong and started trying to improve.

And then the pandemic rolled in, ammo prices went through the roof, and my trips to the range stopped. Sure, I dry-fired regularly, but that time away from the range felt like a wake-up call. I had already wasted many years learning nothing new – effectively letting my skills deteriorate. Continuing education will help you avoid this mistake.

Related: Firearms Training on a Low Ammo Budget

Get Off The Struggle Bus


Instructors teaching on range at Gunsite Academy
My recent Gunsite class had multiple instructors, and they worked well together to give similar but different perspectives. (Photo: Elizabeth Bienas/Guns.com)

Professional instructors can expose the flaws in your shooting and help you correct them quickly. A great instructor can get you back on track much faster than if you try to figure it out independently. I enjoy learning and have always advocated for being self-taught, but firearms training is one area you should outsource your education.

A few years ago, I injured my dominant shoulder, which also caused a nasty case of tennis elbow. My grip was weakened, and shooting – even in dry fire – would send a shock of pain from my hand all the way up my arm to my neck. I developed a flinch from anticipating the pain, and it was wrecking my shooting. I eventually got the pain under control, but the flinch stuck around no matter what I tried.

Last month I attended a two-day defensive shooting course at Gunsite Academy courtesy of SecureIt Gun Storage and their FIRE 2023 event. Early on the first day, one of the instructors could see I was struggling. He came over to give me some one-on-one instruction, and he immediately knew the issue. I was relieved because I’d been struggling with this for a few years.

Within 20 minutes using three drills, he fixed my problem. It’s hard to describe how good that felt. I was shooting like I used to again. I’ve never been a world-class shooter, but before my injury, I was consistent. The injury made me feel like I was constantly regressing. I didn’t realize how much it kept me from improving until I got professional help.

Related: Q&A with Dave Hartman, Director of Training for Gunsite Academy

Learn New Things


Instructors teaching class on range at Gunsite Academy
At classes, you get to try things you usually wouldn’t like shooting on the move and using pop-up targets. (Photo: Elizabeth Bienas/Guns.com)

John Wooden once said, “It’s what you learn after you know it all that counts.” Even if you’ve been shooting for years, I’ll bet a case of ammo there’s an instructor out there who can teach you something new. You may know the basics like the back of your hand, but there’s much more to learn if you’re willing.

Firearms classes tend to build upon each other like math. You have to start at the very beginning and learn the basics before you move on to the next phase. Because of this, you’ll have something new to learn for many years.

Can you shoot on the move or use cover and concealment well? How is your draw from your holster and reload efficiency? Are you confident you’d be able to perform well under pressure or put it all together in a stressful situation? If you attend the right class and keep an open mind, you will pick up at least one nugget of knowledge, no matter how experienced you are. 

Related: Basic Training Videos for New Gun Owners

Keep Your Skills Sharp

When I used to play golf, I had a coach because I found it easy to fall into bad habits with my swing. I’d develop a minor tweak that threw the whole thing off, and mentally it was hard to get over it without an outside perspective. I needed someone to expose my flaws and show me where to focus my attention.

Golf and shooting are similar in that way. Over time, our skills can deteriorate if we don’t work on them, but they can also shift even when we’re practicing. Classes will keep you honest about your shooting. 

Get Out of Your Comfort Zone


Women at Gunsite Academy class
At my recent class, I met women I’ve been talking to online for years. (Photo: Elizabeth Bienas/Guns.com)

If you haven’t taken a class before or it’s been many years, you might feel uncomfortable with the thought of shooting in front of others. Yes, classes are solely there to help you improve, but deep down, none of us want to be the worst in the group.

I felt anxious before my recent training, too. I’d just gotten back into regularly shooting after too much time off during the pandemic. And, as mentioned above, I was on the struggle bus with a still-lingering injury.

Good instructors can make this anxiety disappear. As soon as we started, even during the classroom portion, I knew I was doing the right thing and in the right place. I forced myself to shift my perspective from nervousness to excitement. I would finally get the help I needed, and that only happened because I stepped out of my comfort zone.

Pro tip: get a friend to sign up for the class with you to keep you accountable and make it more fun. And if you don’t have any friends that shoot, commit to making some during the class. Everything is more fun with friends, including firearms training.

Final Thoughts

Colonel Jeff Cooper once said, “Owning a handgun doesn’t make you armed any more than owning a guitar makes you a musician.” 

Shooting is a perishable skill that will suffer if you don’t continue to practice. In my experience, you can only learn so much on your own before needing professional instruction. No matter how long you’ve been shooting, you should consider adding a training class to your to-do list this year.

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