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.

International Training

Rick Weaver’s ITI has been keeping clients safe since 1989, supplying military, police and responsible civilians with advanced personal protection training. With 20 years as a Marine and NCIS officer, ITI director of Operations Greg Reid has taken his experiences – his squad even had the responsibility of body guarding Mohammed El Reheif – the Iraqi citizen who helped us rescue Private Jessica Lynch – and founded International Training.

With a staff of experienced, full-time instructors, ITI has two facilities. One is over 900 acres and includes a working runway, while the 275-acre complex in Pearsall, Texas includes two miles of actual paved roads used in several courses on Evasive and Defensive Driving. Based on analytical studies of assaults on government and corporate personnel, ITI teaches how to become aware of, and deal with threats that could occur while you are in your vehicle. Students get practical exercises in tactical evasive and attack scenarios, including controlling their braking, vehicle dynamics, high speed tactical driving, and attack recognition. Contact: 804-785-6000,

U.S. Training Center

The USTC has “boots on the ground” with a staff of highly trained instructors–including former Navy SEAL Team members, Army Rangers, Marines, even Australian Special Air Services and British Special Boat services.

With schools in Moyock, North Carolina, Mount Carroll, Illinois, and San Diego, California, USTC offers over thirty courses in handgun, shotgun, precision rifle, AR-style carbines, defensive driving and executive protection.

Not a “boutique” training facility, USTC classes begin with a one-day Introductory Pistol Class and go all the way up to five-day long advanced classes–even weeklong classes in High Risk Security Operations. USTC’s staff also includes world class, military-trained gunsmiths and competitive shooters, like USPA Champ Todd Jarrett. Contact: 252-435-2488,

Gun Maker Academies

Along with the private schools, several of the major gun manufacturers have set up their own training facilities to ensure that the owners of their firearms have the skills to use them safely and responsibly while they protect themselves and the ones they love. Two of the best are the SIG Sauer Academy and the Smith & Wesson Academy. The people that brought us the SIG pistols favored by many law enforcement agencies and private gun owners, SIG Sauer has established a 128-acre facility with multiple firearms and tactical training areas, in Epping, New Hampshire. According to academy Director of Training George Harris, their training procedures are grounded in the leading research from the legal, medical, psychological and physiological fields.

Courses are balanced with a combination of classroom and hands-on training by internationally recognized instructors like three-time World Speed Shooting champ Max Michel, Jr. With classes in tactical training, self-defense, close quarter combat, firearms training, and instructor development, the SIG Sauer Academy might be the right place for you even if you don’t own a SIG pistol. With a product line that includes M-4 style rifles, shotguns, revolvers and pistols used by just about every police department here and in over 50 countries around the world over the last one hundred years, Smith & Wesson has been staunchly on the side of the “good guys,” and the Smith & Wesson Academy is their latest contribution to public safety. Offering courses in Personal Defense–including handgun, concealed carry, and urban rifle and tactical shotgun–the S&W Academy is one of the top firearms training facilities available.

Professional firearms training facilities exist all across the United States, so wherever you call home, there’s one within striking distance. This is in no way a complete list, but will give you an idea where to start. Don’t fall for slick websites–do your research, find graduates of the classes you are considering, and get their testimonials. Contact: SIG Sauer Academy 603-679-2003.
Smith & Wesson Academy 413-846-6461,

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