Your First Handgun Training Class: What to Expect

You’ve purchased a handgun for personal/home defense, and signed up for a private lesson. Assuming you selected a qualified instructor, what can you expect?

Your First Handgun Training Class: What to Expect

I recently joined my friend Claire at a local gun club for a class advertised as “Basic Handgun: Private Lesson 1.” Specifically, we visited Stock & Barrel Gun Club (see sidebar below) in Chanhassen, Minnesota, and the instructor was David Williams.

Claire had completed Minnesota’s Permit to Carry class a few years prior, and soon thereafter bought a Glock 19 for home defense. She purchased that specific model because her instructor for the Permit to Carry class owned one, and her two police officer brothers recommended it, too. 

Truth be told, Claire was intimidated by the size and power of the 9mm semiauto, and not confident about how to operate it. For these reasons, she had never loaded a magazine for her Glock, let alone fired it. 

Finally, Claire decided ignorance wasn’t bliss, and contacted Stock & Barrel to learn about its handgun training offerings. While the gun club provides a wide selection of classes, she opted for a private lesson. (I joined her to take notes and photos for this article in hopes it might encourage new handgun owners to seek the advice of a trained professional.)

Note: At Stock & Barrel, a basic handgun class (maximum 20 students) typically lasts 2 hours and is priced at $79. Claire’s lesson was also 2-hours in length, but she paid $150 for one-on-one instruction.

Instructor David Williams explains to Claire what he’ll cover during the 2-hour basic handgun lesson.
Instructor David Williams explains to Claire what he’ll cover during the 2-hour basic handgun lesson.

Meet David Williams

A police officer for 34 years, David Williams (now retired from law enforcement) was a commander for a police tactical team, and spent 22 years in charge of a training unit. He’s a NRA-certified instructor who has been teaching people how to safely and effectively use firearms for 20-plus years.

Important to note: Williams is an employee of Stock & Barrel who also works the retail floor. While there’s certainly nothing wrong with gun clubs using the services of freelance instructors, Stock & Barrel believes strongly that its customers should have the chance to interact with highly trained personal every time they enter the store, whether that’s to take a class, shop for a new firearm, or purchase gun accessories and ammunition. 

As Claire and I talked with David and learned more about Stock & Barrel, he pointed out that the gun club has five women on staff. What this means is there’s a good chance that when a female enters the store — no matter the day — if they wish to talk to another woman instead of a man about guns and shooting, they can do so.

It was clear from the start of Claire’s private lesson that David has been teaching men and women how to handle firearms and shoot for many years. He was calm, open to questions, and wasn’t afraid to admit that during his early years as a police officer he wasn’t 100% comfortable with handguns. However, through extensive firearm training, and not being afraid to ask a lot of questions, he learned. And he was quick to point out that the learning never ends.

 

Basic Handgun Private Lesson 1

Williams used a PowerPoint presentation to explain his teaching points, and also provided a handout of the same presentation for Claire (and me) to take home for later study. It also meant we didn’t have to worry about taking notes along the way.

Before starting, Williams asked Claire the following questions:

  • How much do you know about firearms?
  • What questions do you already have in mind?
  • How much shooting have you done?

As Williams explained, knowing answers to these three questions enables him to make best use of the allotted class time, avoid repetition, and make sure to cover those topics of most interest to the student.

After Claire explained her limited experience with firearms, Williams began his presentation. First he talked about gun safety, then moved on to topics such as basic nomenclature and gun types; ammunition; loading and unloading various handgun types; fundamentals of shooting;  and finally selecting a firearm for personal/home defense.

Throughout the classroom instruction, Claire asked many questions, and Williams was sure to answer them thoughtfully. Williams had several handguns on-hand for demonstration purposes, as well as bright-orange, rubber training guns for Claire to use for learning the proper grip. She was also off her chair a couple times to practice the proper shooting stance (photo below).

After the classroom instruction ended, Williams led us to Stock & Barrel’s Virtual Shooting Range. Here, Claire “shot” laser-enabled handgun replicas with Williams and could see results on the screen as she learned proper sight alignment.

Claire learns how to properly aim a handgun in a virtual shooting range.
Claire learns how to properly aim a handgun in a virtual shooting range.

Next, Williams led us to the gun club’s indoor shooting range. Before shooting her personal Glock 19, Claire fired two handguns provided by Williams, a .22 rimfire revolver and a .22 rimfire semiauto. During these sessions, Claire could concentrate fully on aiming and pressing the trigger to the rear, and not worry about recoil or muzzle blast. 

Shooting these two different rimfires also allowed Williams to check handgun fit (frame size) for Claire’s hands. Both handguns were a bit on the small size based on Claire’s hands, so he suspected she might actually shoot better with her larger Glock 19.

Before firing her own Glock 19 9mm semiauto, Claire spent time on the range with two handguns provided by instructor David Williams, a .22 rimfire semiauto and a .22 rimfire revolver.
Before firing her own Glock 19 9mm semiauto, Claire spent time on the range with two handguns provided by instructor David Williams, a .22 rimfire semiauto and a .22 rimfire revolver.

And that’s exactly what happened 15 minutes later. By the time Claire put down the two rimfires, she was feeling more confident with shooting. She was now concentrating 95% on the sights and only 5% on the trigger during the shot process. In addition, while before she had a tendency to close her eyes when pulling the trigger, she now felt confident in aiming until the shot happened. Her shots with the much larger, louder, and heavier recoiling 9mm we tighter and more centered on the bull’s-eye than with either of the .22s.

Claire and instructor David Williams, wearing masks because social distancing wasn’t possible on the range, showing the target after firing her personal Glock 19.
Claire and instructor David Williams, wearing masks because social distancing wasn’t possible on the range, showing the target after firing her personal Glock 19.

In total, Claire spent the first 80 minutes in the classroom, and the final 40 minutes on the shooting ranges. In my opinion, this struck an ideal balance for a first-time handgun owner. Being a responsible firearm owner is so much more than loading magazines and burning ammo at the range. Claire walked out the door of the gun club very excited to sign up for a follow-up lesson, as well as plan time for us to shoot on our own in the near future.

 

More About Stock & Barrel

As someone who has been in the outdoor industry as a writer and editor for nearly 30 years, I’ve been in my share of gun shops, from North to South and coast to coast. Claire had told me “Stock & Barrel is pretty nice,” and that turned out to be a major understatement. In fact, it’s so impressive I hesitate calling it a “gun shop.”

Minnesota-based Stock & Barrel has two locations, one in Chanhassen and another in Eagan (shown).
Minnesota-based Stock & Barrel has two locations, one in Chanhassen and another in Eagan (shown).

Quote from its brochure: “Stock & Barrel is a next generation gun club providing a unique experience for owners of firearms. The club is designed with a public shooting range, in an accessible location, featuring a premium, club-like feel throughout the facility and grounds. Our focus will be on safety, education and training.”

Stock & Barrel’s retail space (pro shop) is bright and spotless, and the store offers a wide selection of rental guns, as well as firearms and accessories for sale. You don’t have to be a club member to purchase time on the range (14 lanes), but members receive preference.

Stock & Barrel uses a digitally controlled target system on its range, and an air-filtration system exchanges air every 90 seconds. Each lane is 25 yards long.
Stock & Barrel uses a digitally controlled target system on its range, and an air-filtration system exchanges air every 90 seconds. Each lane is 25 yards long.

As for classes, they offer everything imaginable, including conceal and carry, basic handgun, drawing from a holster, AR15 for defense, surviving a home invasion, surviving an active shooter, judgment training, close quarters shooting, choosing the right gun for you, low light/no light shooting, and classes specifically designed for women. 

I asked Stock & Barrel’s General Manager David Taylor about class size. “The maximum size of the basic handgun class is generally 20 people,” he said. “If we have multiple instructors, we will have a larger number of students, but they will be split into smaller groups to allow more personalized instruction.”

Stock & Barrel opened for business in Chanhassen (a southwest suburb of Minneapolis/St. Paul) in 2016, and in early 2019 expanded with a second location in Eagan (a southeast suburb).

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