You should not take your choice of concealed carry class lightly.
Most states that require a concealed carry license also require training courses with certified instructors before a person can obtain that license. In most states, there is no shortage of concealed carry class offerings. However, not all courses are created equal.
Some are going to offer better information and firearms training than others. That is why it is important to do your research ahead of time to find the course that is best for you.
Carrying a handgun concealed for self-defense is serious business, and that is why the class you choose should be too.
Look beyond minimum requirements
Most states require training classes have minimum requirements. That is, there is a list of things that the class must cover before it can be certified by the state and a certificate of completion issued to pupils that is accepted for use toward a concealed carry license. In most states, it is a minimum number of hours of classroom instruction and a minimum amount of range instruction.
For instance, in my state of Michigan, it is about eight hours of classroom instruction and three hours of range time. The classroom portions generally cover things like home defense laws, ammo selection and basic firearms safety. The class I took provided stories of several real-life scenarios where people had to use a gun for self-defense. Then there was discussion on each scenario and if there were ways each could be handled differently.
The quality of the range time portion varies greatly depending on the instructors. For my class, it was more of a focus on firearms safety than shooting skills. For someone like me, who was already well-versed in the safety, it was good to have a refresher. However, it was also disappointing as I had wanted more instruction on scenarios and accuracy. If you are a first-time gun owner, you are going to want a class that puts heavy focus on shooting fundamentals to increase your skill level, ear protection selection and defensive shooting scenarios. When researching the class, find out how in-depth they will go on these things.
For my first class, the instructors seemed more concerned with just having everyone fire off the minimum 100 rounds than they did in anything else. That was a mistake in choosing them. If you can, find someone who has taken the class before to determine how dedicated the instructors really are. A good CCW course should do more than give you certification for a concealed handgun permit, it should give you real world marksmanship and decision-making skills.
You are probably paying anywhere from $100-200 to take this course, make sure you are getting your money's worth! Ask questions before you sign up, things like: "Do you go over holster and ammo selection?" "Will you help me with my hand placement?" A good firearms instructor will teach you those skills and help prepare you for a real-world self-defense scenario rather than just trying to get you to graduate at all costs.
Check their credentials
Sadly, there are people out there teaching CCW class that probably have no business teaching firearms safety. A good concealed carry course should offer more than just a cheap price. I would advise being wary of courses that make their low cost the largest part of their sales pitch. I have noticed some courses are now offering extensive portions online. Try to go for in-person. It is just going to be easier to have a back-and-forth discussion and your questions answered when you are in the same room as the teacher.
Ideally, you want instructors who have great experience with firearms safety. Former military and law enforcement are usually trained by the best firearms instructors our nation has to offer. Most courses have a website these days. Check them out extensively. Some of the best instructors proudly tout their experience and qualifications. The more the better. Do not be afraid to pay a little extra for someone who knows what they are talking about.
When you do find someone with great credentials, learn more about their teaching ability. Some people may know a lot about firearms, but they may be lousy at instructing a course. Find someone who is good at both. This is especially important for brand-new shooters. A good instructor will spot and help you correct the flaws in your stance and grip on the spot. Again, this a good time to check word of mouth from others who have already taken a concealed carry course you are interested in. Did the instructor give lots of time for questions? Were they hands-on in the range portion? Did they try to present real-world scenarios in the range setting?
Try to find instructors who are not only over-qualified to be teaching, but who also have a passion for teaching others. Try to avoid the guys who are only teaching classes on weekends to pay for their kids' college tuition.
Do they offer additional training?
A quality concealed weapons class is not just offering one cookie-cutter course designed to hit the minimum for what state law requires. The best instructors may offer additional firearm safety courses to help you fine-tune your skills in case of the unfortunate event you have to use your gun. While researching online, I found some instructors at a gun store who not only offer additional classes, they also offer up to 30 days of free range time afterwards when you take a course with them. It is likely these men and women care about you being properly trained in the use of your firearm!
Additional courses may go into more depth on things like reloading, draw from concealment, types of cover and the psychology of drawing your firearm in a life or death situation. If you are new to handguns, follow-up courses are important. Not only will they give you the vital skills needed to handle your gun safely and accurately, they will also help put you in the proper mindset to start carrying and defending yourself should you be put in that situation.
You will usually find that it is often the independent gun stores that offer the best types of training like this. If you can find a store with a highly knowledgeable staff, odds are the firearms instructors will be good too. The stores that put a ton of effort into teaching multiple courses are usually going to be better for getting your concealed carry permit than a couple guys running just running through a basic NRA class at the local library every other Saturday.
The bigger point we are trying to make here is that a concealed carry course is not the only firearms training you should do. Find a quality instructor who knows what he or she is talking about and then do follow-up courses with them to increase your skills. Carrying a firearm concealed is a great responsibility and you owe it to yourself and others to get the best and most extensive training possible before ever carrying for the first time.