Military and Law Enforcement Are the Worst Firearm Instructors

Written by Morgan Ballis

Military and law enforcement are the worst firearm instructors.  That is one way hell of a way to make friends in this industry!  Hurry and Google my name so you can discredit this piece and tell me what a boot I am.  As some of you take immediate offense to the title without reading the entirety of this blog let me give you my professional background.  

I served 11 years as an infantryman in the United States Marine Corps including back-to-back combat deployments to Ar Ramadi, Iraq with Kilo Company, 3rd Battalion 7th Marine Regiment (3/7. NO SHIT!).  I was a Squad Automatic Weapon (SAW) Gunner for my first pump and a Squad Leader for my second deployment ranging from 2005 - 2007.  While still on active duty I created a firearms training company, Defensive Tactics and Firearms (DTF), focused on the legal aspects of armed self-defense and became the only private training company partnered with MCCS aboard Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton.  In addition to the many schools I attended in the Marine Corps I also had the opportunity to work on the ground with multiple federal agencies on the southern border as part of Joint Task Force North.  I am a law enforcement firearms instructor, Use of Force instructor, and legal consultant for firearm and self-defense cases. So to quote the great warrior poet Snoop Dogg, "Now, back to the lecture at hand..."

Let me clarify my opening statement. I am not talking about military and law enforcement training within their respective agencies, but as these individuals transition into educating armed citizens an essential paradigm shift needs to occur.  Military and law enforcement make some of the best instructors the industry has seen.  These personnel (both current and former) provide some of the most innovative training available.  This statement is by no means an indictment of everyone in these fields.  With that being said, they also make some of the worst instructors.  I say this from the position of a student, co-instructing courses, and as an instructor trainer.  Let me highlight three of the most critical paradigm shifts that need to occur in order for military and law enforcement instructors to be effective in training armed citizens.


"In combat we...." - The manner in which we engage the enemy in combat, governed by rules of engagement, is vastly different from engaging a threat as an armed citizen.  In the military we have the ability to overwhelm the enemy with fire power.  Although we always consider collateral damage, our goal is to accurately suppress the enemy so an adjacent force can maneuver and gain a more advantageous position with the intent to kill our adversaries.  As an armed citizen, we are accountable for every round fired and only use enough force necessary to stop the threat.  Although some states provide protection against prosecution when using justified force, a civil law suit is almost always guaranteed. Therefore, minimal force is critical. As instructors, we need to recognize the difference between preparing soldiers for combat and training citizens for armed self-defense. 

Differentiating instruction to the student - While differentiation, targeted instruction, is always an area of improvement for instructors, this is incredibly true for my fellow instructors with a military background.  It comes from the "telling" versus "teaching" style most service members inherit from senior leadership.  This becomes a greater issue as we adjust to the civilian market because someone is paying us to fulfill their need.  As an instructor, there is an expectation of an end result (qualifying for a CCW, learning marksmanship fundamentals, preparing for home defense).  In the military however, someone failing to qualify on the range does not have an impact on the instructor.  This coupled with the mass production of shooters leaves little time for military instructors to identify individual deficiencies in marksmanship.  Differentiated instruction, targeted to the students'  needs while monitoring and adjusting that instruction throughout your course, is imperative when training armed citizens. 

This is the only way - Again, not exclusive to instructors with a military background but this occurs more often with those who have served.  Typically this is a training scar created by their branch of service.   Let's look at the Marine Corps' new pistol qualification for example.  Most ranges mandate shooters to stay in the Isosceles Stance.  The argument for using this is to present the majority of your body armor to the threat.  A valid point, indeed.  But does one stop a threat by absorbing the most rounds or getting accurate hits?  If hits stop the threat, why does it matter how the feet are placed?  Many instructors with military experience convince their students that their way is the only way.  Some training groups have a specific way students must complete their training. Keep in mind however, there is a distinct difference between "our way" and "the only way". 

Law Enforcement

"It's only a misdemeanor" - We conduct the majority of our training in California.  For those of you unaware, CA is the last remaining bastion of the U.S.S.R.  All jokes aside, let this sink in. California is a "may issue" state leaving the Sheriff/Police Chief--yes one individual, the authority to decide who has the privilege of carrying a concealed firearm.  Peace officers simply telling students they should illegally carry a firearm because it is "only a misdemeanor" is cringeworthy to say the least.  Our attorney, John Dillon, has written extensively on why armed citizens should NEVER illegal carry a firearm ("Judged by Twelve Rather Than Carried by Six" - A Flawed Mentality). To the "only a misdemeanor" crowd.  Stop!  Not only are you setting your students up to face jail time as well as extensive fines, this has the potential to decieve students into thinking they can claim legitimate self-defense--a gray line. Beyond the oxymoron of officers telling students to "only" break the law, this statement leaves instructors exposed to a vicarious liability suit.

Objective Reasonableness Standard - Too much to explore in its entirety, the theory and the case surrounding ORS can be found here.   In a nutshell this standard says police officer's actions must be viewed from the objective standpoint of another officer given the totality of the circumstances.  The same standard is applied to armed citizens.  The common problem with LE instructors is they teach their students how a peace officer would handle a given situation.  Having a different Objective Reasonableness Standard, current and prior LE can articulate why they were justified in acting more aggressively.  LE also has the knowledge to understand when they can detain someone.  Instructors must increase the student's ORS or train them at their current level.

Knowing the laws - One of the biggest mistakes students make with a current or prior law enforcement instructor is assuming they have a deep and complete understanding of the laws related to armed self-defense.  Folks, I'm going to be completely honest here. The amount of instructors with law enforcement backgrounds that continuously provide false information regarding self-defense laws, is sickening.  Law enforcement's job is to investigate crimes and make arrests.  It is not to charge and prosecute suspects, thus making their understanding of the laws and the consequences much less than most would assume.  Encouraging students to illegally carry a firearm is a perfect example of this point. Instructors have a responsibility to provide current information on laws with a legally sound perspective. 

Moving Forward

For those who will blast me for calling a spade a spade let me reiterate one more time, this does NOT apply to all military and law enforcement. I will reiterate that we are some of the very best in our industry.  These failures are primarily those of the instructor.  As students however, we have a responsibility to cross-reference information provided to us and broaden our training by seeking different instructors.  As former military and law enforcement, our job in becoming effective instructors begins with the extra task of unlearning the learned and stretching beyond comfort zones.  Paradigm shifts are critical when training armed citizens.

*Note: The author does not speak on behalf nor is this blog endorsed by or represent the view point of the National Rifle Association.

Morgan is the Founder and Chief Firearms Instructor of Defensive Tactics and Firearms.  With eleven years as an infantryman in the United States Marine Corps, Morgan has the trained and educated thousands of armed citizens, law enforcement, and service members. He is also the Co-Founder and Director of Strategic Planing & Training for DMB Consultants.