By Jason Wuestenberg, P1 Contributor
As a veteran firearms instructor, I know one thing to be true: Firearms qualifications are not important. They matter, but they are not important.
Why qualifications matter
Qualifications are necessary for an agency so an officer can show a minimum level of proficiency with a firearm. This is purely for legal and liability reasons, nothing more – and that is why they matter. However, firearms instructors and administrators also make qualifications a big deal because it can affect an officer’s ability to carry a firearm and work in an enforcement capacity if they fail.
Why qualifications are not important
Qualifications are not important because they measure a minimum level of proficiency with a firearm by testing marksmanship and weapon manipulation. Qualifications are not a measure of how well an officer will perform in a gunfight. We should be training officers for gunfights, not qualifications. This is why qualifications are not important.
A qualification course of fire is not firearms training
The qualification process should not be considered training because firearms instructors cannot coach – and are not supposed to coach – shooters during the qualification. After all, it is a test. Coaching during qualification is like giving out the answers during a written test. Qualifications are not designed to improve a shooter’s skill. Qualifications are not even a test of a shooter’s capability because the focus is on minimum standards, not maximum performance. This is also why qualifications are not important.
Yet many firearms instructors and range masters propose “improvements” for their firearms qualification by adding stages that replicate more real-world activities such as shooting on the move or shooting from cover. Often their argument for this is, “We don’t get enough training time to practice these other skills so we put them in the qualification course.” How do you test a skill if you don’t have the time to train the skill? Another argument I hear is, “We want them to perform at a higher level so we make the qualification more challenging.”
Both of these arguments are the wrong reasons for incorporating tasks other than marksmanship and weapon manipulation into a qualification. Why? The instructors cannot coach the shooters to help them get better because it’s a test!
Forget the qualification!
Recognize the qualification for what it is – a required minimum standards test administered for legal and liability purposes – that’s it! If you want to improve shooter capability and prepare them for a gunfight then put more emphasis and challenge on your range training.
If the qualification represents minimum standards, then your range training should be more challenging than anything that is done in the qualification. If the range training is designed specifically to prepare for the qualification, then the qualification just became your maximum standard. And while this may be acceptable for basic firearms training in the police academy (pass the qualification to graduate the academy), it is unacceptable for in-service/advanced officer training.
Fight for training time
If the argument is there isn’t enough training time, then that is a battle to be had with the administration. Do research, recognize the OIS trends in your state and nationally, and be well-versed on “failure to train” case law to present to your administration. Part of the job of a firearms instructor is to fight for more training time. More training time, coupled with quality training, equals reduced liability.
I hated administering shooting qualifications because I didn’t get to coach the shooters. In my mind we were wasting time asking for minimum performance instead of training and coaching for maximum potential. Unfortunately, firearms qualification is one of the tasks firearms instructors must perform.
So keep this in mind: Firearms qualifications are a “necessary evil” that should get very little attention and occupy very little of our range time.
About the author Jason Wuestenberg is the executive director of the National Law Enforcement Firearms Instructors Association (NLEFIA). Jason retired as a sergeant from the Phoenix (Arizona) Police Department in 2017 after 22+ years of service. Jason has been a firearms instructor since 1997 and has obtained over 20 LE instructor certifications over his career. Jason served as a full-time firearms instructor for over 10 years with the last six years as a range master. Jason was a firearms subject matter expert (SME) for Arizona POST and has conducted firearms instructor development training at the state, national, and international level. Contact Jason at email@example.com.