Thursday, June 18, 2009

Michigan CCW Class: Shooting Qualification

For many students, the most highly anticipated component of a state of Michigan compliant Basic Pistol Safety Training Class (BPSTC) is the shooting range qualification.

It is in this module when students will have the opportunity to demonstrate how well they have retained firearm safety information that was presented to them earlier in the day: safe gun handling, safe gun loading, fundamentals of marksmanship, and safe unloading of a handgun.

This class module also presents a lot of uncertainty and angst for some students, as many participants had neither previously attended a target range nor discharged a firearm. This article will explore what students should expect when visiting a shooting range for the purposes of satisfying their statutorily defined shooting requirements while enrolled in a state of Michigan compliant BPSTC.

The state of Michigan statute, PA 381 of 2000, specifies that students enrolled in a valid BPSTC shall accomplish the following tasks: ammunition selection, shooting stances, and discharging 30 cartridges.

Range Safety Briefing
BPSTC students should be given a range safety briefing before they arrive at the range. This informational discussion will explain to students what is expected of them as a visitor to the target range. Topics covered should include a recap of fundamental firearm safety rules, an explanantion of target range specific rules, and a general understanding about what it is like to visit a range.

No student should be allowed to participate in a shooting session until they have satisfactorily demonstrated their comprehension of five fundamental safety rules:
  • Always treat a firearm as if it is loaded.
  • Always keep a firearm pointed in a safe direction.
  • Always keep your finger off the trigger until ready to shoot.
  • Always keep your gun unloaded until it is ready for use.
  • Always be sure of your target and what is beyond it.

Furthermore, the attending firearms instructor should ensure that students are aware of any specific rules that must be obeyed while on the premises of the target range. Some applicable items of interest may include any of the following:
  • Acceptable Behavior
  • Required Safety Equipment
  • Acceptable Ammunition
  • Acceptable Firearm Calibers

Moreover, since many students have never ventured into a target range, it is a good idea for the presiding firearms instructor to inform them of what to expect. Students should be prepared to see ominous looking signs that cautions visitors against producing firearms on the main floor.

As a practical matter, most gun shop employees are always on the lookout for suspicious behavior. Producing a handgun, outside of the shooting range area, may cause them to believe that you are attempting to commit a robbery. Thus, the practice of revealing a firearm should be strongly discouraged to avoid the possibility of a misunderstanding.

In addition, it is a common occurrence for all gun shop employees to be "openly carrying" a handgun in a holster that is visible. Since some students aren't yet totally comfortable with seeing handguns, students should be told that they shouldn't be shocked when they see a lot of people wearing firearms.

Yet still, the biggest surprise that many students usually experience is the sight of all of the firearms for sale in the display cases and mounted on the walls. Many students haven't seen a gun in person and are amazed at the wide variety. Most instructors let their students window shop before assembling the students together to start the shooting qualification process.

Ready, Aim, Fire!
The moment of truth for many students occurs when they are finally in the shooting stall with their firearms instructor. It is certainly understandable that some students will be a little nervous. The best firearms instructors 'size up' their students state of mind and talk to them for a bit to calm and soothe any periods or occurrences of nervousness.

By this point, all range fees have been paid, a handgun of an acceptable caliber has been selected, the proper ammunition type has been chosen, and everyone is wearing their safety equipment. For each student, the firearms instructor will hang the target on the conveyor system and send it away from the firing line to the designated distance.

The best firearms instructors leave nothing to chance, as they conduct a last-minute review with the student of everything that needs to be done to safely shoot the designated target:
  • Review Fundamental Gun Safety Rules
  • Demonstrate Magazine Loading
  • Demonstrate Magazine Insertion
  • Demonstrate Shooting Stance
  • Demonstrate Marksmanship Fundamentals
    • Breath Control
    • Sight Alignment
    • Trigger Movement
    • Follow-Through

  • Demonstrate Firing Firearm

Once the firearms instructor is satisfied that the student knows what is expected of him, he will then coach the student through the process of safely loading and discharging the firearm. While the student is shooting, the firearms instructor's first and most important duty is to ensure safety.

Safety is accomplished by closely monitoring the student's actions: muzzle control and thumb placement. The gun should always be pointed down-range towards the target and the student's thumb should not be positioned under the slide.

In addition, the instructor should be monitoring the shooting session for ammunition and handgun malfunctions. At anytime a potentially unsafe condition can occur. If it does, the firearms instructor's duty is to safely get it resolved.

It may require him to loudly vocalize a command over the noise level of the target range to get his student's attention. A loud and firm command is not a reason for a student to feel that he has been slighted. It is far better to have a student's ego slightly bruised than to have him experience an otherwise preventable accident - such as a thumb sliced by a handgun's slide.

Once the student has demonstrated the ability to fire a handgun safely, the instructor can then place more emphasis on coaching the student how to more accurately hit the designated spot on the target. Essentially, the instructor must decipher the student's results on the target and communicate to the student the correction that must be made.

Shooting Aftermath
Once the requisite amount of cartridges have been discharged at the target, the firearms instructor will give the student an assessment of the results. Most students will readily agree that they will need more practice to accomplish their personal protection objectives. However, in almost all cases, students will shoot well enough to satisfactorily complete the BPTSC and be bestowed a Certificate of Completion.

Further, most students will readily confess that the experience of shooting was enjoyable. Very few other activities function better as a stress reliever than shooting at a target. Additionally, students will confess that they now feel more empowered. For many, shooting a handgun for the first time is a defining moment in their lives, as they had to overcome many unfounded fears to summon the courage to enroll in a BPSTC.

Bottom Line:
Without a doubt, the shooting exercise in a BPSTC is the most exciting module for many students. In just one day, they started out as a novice gun handler and steadily progressed to being able to safely load, discharge, and unload a firearm. As a consequence, they have now met the state of Michigan's requirements to apply for a Concealed Pistol License.

The success of a student's progress at the shooting range will be dependent upon their firearms instructor's ability to safely monitor the shooting session. The student will be taught safe gun handling and his actions will be closely scrutinized. Further, the student will be coached on marksmanship fundamentals and given specific tips to improve their ability to hit exactly what they desire on a target.

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