You just bought a gun for home defense, and you know the reasons you felt it was necessary. But there’s more to owning a gun for self-defense than knowing what end to put the bullets in. Owning a firearm gives you more than the ability to protect yourself, if gives you the ability to take an assailant’s life–and that responsibility cannot be taken lightly. No matter what your skill level, from raw beginner to experienced shooter, it is your responsibility to learn how to use you gun with maximum safety and proficiency. Many of the local ranges and gun clubs have NRA-certified instructors who can teach the fundamentals of proper sight alignment, trigger control and the basics of safe handling, which is vital, but does not go far enough. Using a firearm in a self-defense situation creates a whole new set of stresses that do not exist in traditional range practice. If you really want to know how to use your firearm, you will have to consider more advanced training–you may have to go to school.


In 1976 there were no professional firearms schools in America. Former Marine Lieutenant Colonel, Jeff Cooper, changed that by opening a training facility to teach the “Modern Technique” of handgun shooting he had developed through years of combat and competition experience. Founded as the American Pistol Institute, Cooper’s baby would soon become know as Gunsite when it expanded its classes to include the rifle and shotgun. Always, the core tenet of the Cooper philosophy was the pragmatic use of the firearm for personal protection.

Specific training to deal with self-defense situations is not available in your corner gun shop. Currently run by former Border Patrol Field Supervisor Ed Head, Gunsite has continued Cooper’s legacy by offering students classes on not only the defensive use of rifles, pistols and shotguns, but also long-range tactical rifles, modern battle carbines, automatic weapons and even emergency medical preparedness.

Gunsite’s goal is self-defense and the survival of the student and those he must protect. Their 250 handgun course is considered the cream of the crop, and I have met many longtime professional shooters who claim that taking it improved their gun handling and accuracy. A Gunsite handgun course will require at least 850 rounds of ammo to be fired over a three-day period. Contact: 928-636-4565,

Thunder Ranch

Marine Corps Vietnam War veteran, SWAT Operator and former Gunsite Dean of Instruction Clint Smith founded Thunder Ranch in 1993. Especially known for their tactical rifle classes, Clint started teaching his urban rifle course–the first such training available to civilians–back in 1983. Whether it’s a rifle or pistol class, Thunder Ranch has one aspect that puts it in a league of their own: no matter whether you take a class in pistol or rifle, the instructor is always the founder himself, Clint Smith. Contact: 547-947-4104,


Shooters in the Southern California area look to Scott Reitz and his ITTS classes to refine their survival skills. Working at the 117-acre Angeles Forest Shooting Ranges in California, Reitz teaches “the art of the gun” as he learned with thirty years on the Los Angeles Police department and SWAT team.

I watched Reitz teach a 2-day class for pistol last year. With moving and multiple reactive targets, the students shot under stress, executed speed reloads, dealt with jams, and used weapon-mounted lights. ITTS students get clear, concise instruction without egos and bull. Some California area law enforcement and military take their training with ITTS. Contact:310.471.2029.

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