Teaching a friend or family member to shoot and how to handle weapons safely can be a great experience, but it’s important not to take the process too lightly.
Obviously when you’re just starting out, getting solid instruction from someone who knows their way around a gun is critical if you want to stay safe and get the most from the experience. Many opt for professional instruction from a qualified range or school, and that’s always a good way to go. There are however, MANY instances where you or someone that you know, perhaps a long-time shooter, is the one passing down that knowledge to the newbie. This happens all the time, and it’s all good as long as it’s done right.
As it turns out, not everyone is great at teaching or instruction. You may be good at executing the skills yourself, but you may be lacking the ability to break down the learning process into its fundamental components and steps. When things are second nature to you, it’s easy to make assumptions about the ‘student’s’ ability to understand and to retain the information given. Now this isn’t quite as critical if the task at-hand is learning to play baseball or golf, but it clearly gets ramped-up when being taught how to use power tools, heavy machinery, drive a vehicle or handle a potentially deadly weapon. There’s a lot more at stake.
Good professional instructors have the ability to structure the learning process into a pathway of logical steps that will ideally create the best long-term results. With years of experience and insight, they can recognize common beginner behaviors and the mistakes that new shooters are likely to make. Ultimately, any new learner ‘doesn’t know what they don’t know’ and it’s up to the instructor to anticipate and to provide the appropriate information in the proper sequence.
Additionally, having a clear understanding of the why in most cases can help to get people to better grasp the concept. Some reasons should be self-evident. Like why it’s not the best plan to point any weapon (loaded or unloaded) at yourself or someone else. There are also many others like why it’s important to check the chamber (in a variety of circumstances) or why using old, corroded ammo is a bad idea or why openly storing or transporting a loaded gun can be a recipe for disaster etc. You get the picture.
Keeping in mind that what we’re talking about here is primarily related to safety and gun handling as opposed to shooting accuracy. Hopefully improved performance will come eventually, but avoiding harm to yourself or others is paramount.
The Modern Mind
It’s an unfortunate byproduct of our technologically advanced lifestyle, that most folks these days have shorter attention spans than in the past. Their ability to process information and retain it has also been compromised to varying degrees. Virtual relationships and time spent looking at screens has significantly affected our ability to concentrate, our attention to detail and has lead to a diminishing set of practical skills.
That may sound harsh, but it’s a pretty common sentiment. If you are in the business of teaching anything really, then a lot of it should ring true. The reason why this is important is that it should affect your approach to teaching. If you go into it with the attitude that the person isn’t going to naturally comprehend or remember what you’re saying, then hopefully it will lead you to be more diligent – to reiterate and to double and triple check all aspects (even over a period of extended time or outings) – and to understand that teaching weapon handling is not just a one-&-done process.
Another thing to consider is the current mindset for immediate gratification and reward. There can be a prevailing attitude of ‘yeah I got it’ after a few minutes of instruction, with the expectation that everything is alright. Being exposed to multiple hours of online games, TV and movie gunplay (often inaccurate) doesn’t help.
How People Learn
There are four commonly accepted ways by which most of us learn. They include:
As the name suggests, these learners absorb information best when they can see and visualize the methods, relationships and ideas.
These learners prefer to listen to information rather than watch or read. They are typically very linear thinkers and may also be inclined to repeat the things that they’ve heard.
This hands-on approach works best when learners can physically participate in activities or solve problems in a more practical manner.
Reading / Writing
Since we’re talking about a less structured or formal learning process, this one doesn’t really apply in this case.
Now, no one is expecting a new shooter to know what type of learner they actually are or for the amateur instructor to accurately assess them either. The point is that we all learn and retain information differently, so a broader approach to teaching can often have better results. In essence:
- Listen to What I’m Saying
- Watch How I Do It
- Now You Try
(and then repeat as necessary)
Remember that effective instruction is based on knowledge, a thoughtful and thorough approach, patience and diligence – you won’t want to take anything for granted when it comes to firearms.
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