Being a smart consumer means doing your research. Many people know to check that a contractor, auto body repair shop or cosmetologist is licensed by the state before doing business with them.
But licenses are not required of all businesses that offer professional services.
In light of an accidental shooting last month by an instructor of a gun safety course in Modesto, I wanted to know if there is a governing agency that oversaw these types of courses. The answer: no, not really.
There are agencies that regulate firearms training at expert levels like Peace Officer Standards and Training for law enforcement or the Bureau of Security and Investigative Services for armed security guards.
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But this is not the case for most firearms courses intended for the average citizen interested in learning about how to safely own and operate a gun.
To buy a gun in California, you must pass a 30-question written test about firearms safety and basic firearms laws with a score of at least 75 percent. The person who administers the test must be certified by the California Department of Justice.
Beyond that, the consumer should research whether their potential firearms instructor took one course by the National Rifle Association 15 years ago and deemed themselves capable of teaching others or has had recent instruction on the most current firearms laws and training techniques.
The instructor who accidentally shot one of his students last month, Phillip Rushing, had a firearm permit from the Bureau of Security and Investigative Services that expired in May, according to public records. It’s unknown if he had any other training because he did not return calls to The Bee for comment after the incident.
A biography on his website, which appears no longer to be available, detailed mostly his expansive martial arts training. Firearms training seemed almost to be an afterthought: “He has added to his studies law enforcement and firearms training to enhance his knowledge base,” it reads.
The shooting occurred when Rushing was showing the class what to do when attacked by someone with a knife. The scenario took place at the end of the class after Rushing had removed from his holster the rubber gun he had been using for role-playing and replaced it with a real gun. The student was badly injured but survived.
Local firearms instructor Dan Gray, of Trident Firearms Academy, said a real gun never should have been in a classroom environment with role-playing.
Gray, a retired Turlock police sergeant, has a long list of certifications from multiple government and private agencies and is an instructor at one of five firearms training facilities approved by the Stanislaus County Sheriff’s Department to teach concealed-carry permit courses.
The list of approved providers is a good place to start when looking for the right firearms course because they are the only local providers that must meet standards established by the Sheriff’s Department.
The requirements include:
▪ Instructors must submit their background and training certified by a recognized organization like the NRA, the California Bureau of Firearms Safety or POST. The certificates must be current within two years.
▪ The CCW (carrying a concealed weapon) classes must be 16 hours and include six hours of range time and cover loading, unloading, cleaning and demonstrating proficient shooting at a maximum of 10 yards.
▪ Instructors must provide all copies of curriculum and written handouts to students, which cover a range of topics including handgun manipulation, holstering, self-defense laws, civil liability and what to do in the event of a malfunction.
“We expect our providers to provide their course participant with a very practical experience,” said Sheriff Adam Christianson. “It’s not just putting holes in a target. We want to know what range rules do our providers teach, what kind of supervision do they employ and what kind of range masters do they have.”
Local police departments also issue CCW permits and have similar requirements, but the vast majority are issued by the Sheriff’s Department.
In addition to submitting the curriculum and instructor certification, the classes are subject to audit.
Christianson said he sends plainclothes deputies – kind of like secret shoppers – to attend the classes to ensure instruction is in compliance with his mandates.
“Don’t take advantage of my goodwill,” Christianson said. “I will kick you off the list in a heartbeat.”
And he has.
Four providers have been removed from the list in the past five years for not upholding department policy, said Records Manager Colleen Reed. Some weren’t providing even close to the 16 hours of training the sheriff requires.
Reed said six businesses have applied and been denied due to their lack of qualifications. Others were denied because they were located outside a designated radius, and in June the department stopped accepting provider applications altogether because of the time it takes for staff to review and attend the courses.
So while the list certainly has well-qualified applicants that are held to standards set forth by the Sheriff’s Department, others that didn’t make the cut shouldn’t immediately be disqualified.
“Just like with home renovation or auto repair, do your homework,” Christianson said. “Look at their websites, references, what is posted online, talk to other applicants, do all those things to make informed decisions.”
By talking to other students, you can learn what to expect in the class and what safety measures instructors require of themselves, their range masters and their students so that everyone in the class is safe.
“If you touch a gun or you pull your gun out when you are not told to, you go home,” said Art den Dulk, owner of Defend to Survive in Hughson and a CCW instructor. “We don’t yell, we don’t degrade them, but we don’t bend on those rules.”
He said people are usually upset at first but most come back and understand why they were sent home.
Jeff Reed, the Sheriff Department’s range master and instructor of a CCW course in Oakdale, said safety concerns are the No. 1 reason people don’t pass his course.
“A lot of new people are not used to holsters,” he said. “If you touch it while you put your gun away, that will get you kicked out of the class.” He said that is how people wind up shooting themselves in the hand.
And again, you should always vet your instructor, Gray said.
“Would you go to a driving school that has an instructor who doesn’t have a driver’s license?” he said. “Would you learn to fly from someone who read about it in a book? It’s kind of like Spider-Man. With great power comes great responsibility.”
The number of people applying for concealed-carry permits with the Stanislaus County Sheriff’s Department has spiked since 2010:
New applicants: 492
New applicants: 446
New applicants: 986
New applicants: 918
New applicants: 1,087
New applicants: 2,298