NRA Basic Pistol

Having taken the NRA’s FIRST Steps class in September. I had also scheduled myself to take the NRA’s “Basic Pistol”. By taking both, I would be enabled to answer questions regarding how the two courses compare.

The first day of “Basic Pistol” was very similar to the “FIRST Steps” course.  In fact they both utilize the same NRA training manual. Many of the topics covered were the same. In fact, some areas were covered a bit more thoroughly in the FIRST Steps class than in the Basic Pistol. I believe this was due to the fact that we’d all pretty much been thru the FIRST Steps, and therefore we did not ask quite as many in depth questions on certain topics; having already received the answers. It may have been furthered by the fact that we also had two days of class. Being less need to have everything crammed into a single day class.

All that said, we had more time on the range. And the shooting techniques that were introduced in FIRST Steps and reviewed in Basic Pistol truly began to have a pronounced affect on my shooting.  I began to see a noticeable improvement in my accuracy.  One thing that I did prefer over the prior class was the method of targets used. In the prior class, we had a targets with black center points/black tape to aim. In this course, we simply used a blank target. Firing one round and setting our groups around it.  This really jibed well with me.

The second day was new territory. In particular, we focused on one-handed shooting – both strong hand and weak hand. The course also featured a brief exam courtesy of the NRA.  I found the exam to be fairly easy. I got a couple of question wrong, but in both cases it was an internal debate in my mind as to what the question was actually seeking. There were a few other such questions which, while I got right, I believed them to be poorly worded, unclear or ambiguous in their answers.  But overall it wasn’t a bad exam.

The second day’s range time was a learning experience. I was partly surprised how decent I was doing one-handed.  I’d fired my sidearm one-handed at the range before. In fact, I have shot better strong-handed than when wielding dual-handed on a few occasions. But my few attempts at weak-handed were pretty disastorous. It does involve learning (or rather, teaching yourself) new actions.  It was very beneficial to do the entire process weak-handed. I realized that my muscles/brain had no clue where my mag release was, or the slide release.  Not to mention a friendly little reminder from my side-arm that these were new muscle actions. (I pinched my hand while sliding in a fresh magazine. I had already performed this task weak-handed a few times. But I tried to go a bit faster than my lack of muscle memory allowed for and the result was a small blood blister.  All-in-all, a very good learning experience.

Finally, we concluded the class with cleaning our firearms. And receiving guidance and recommendation on the methods to do so, the variations for different firearms, etc.  This is something I considered quite beneficial. On top of being scarce, trying to read how to clean a firearm from a website or book is rather deficient – it’s really a hands-on education.


So what are my thoughts regarding the comparison of FIRST Steps versus Basic Pistol?

I do feel there is a lot of similarity between the two courses. If you were to only take one course it would probably be dependent on whether you intended to utilize your firearm regularly, practice or whether you’ve simply purchased a firearm for the intent of having on hand in your home for self-defense. If the former, than Basic Pistol will give you a full entry. If the latter, than FIRST Steps may be a satisfactory option.  It is also important to note that certain states require a training course for a concealed carry permit. And some states, like Connecticut, will not accept the “FIRST Steps” course – requiring the more comprehensive “Basic Pistol” class.

Regarding taking both classes – I do not think it a waste to take both courses, especially if you are a new shooter who is serious about their education and training.  Taking both courses provides a review of the safety.  Furthermore, it includes additional range time. And I noticed a much more significant improvement in my shooting on the first day of Basic Pistol.  While I had been introduced to various techniques in FIRST Steps; it was the second day of shooting that the techniques really came together. However, as these courses are not free. I’d probably recommend the “Basic Pistol” over the FIRST Steps for most individuals.  You get all the same basics, greater range time, more advanced shooting stances (one-handed), and training on the care and maintenance of firearms.


Lastly, I want to state the fact that there is likely to be some variance from instructor to instructor.  And I heartily recommend taking these courses at a location that provides good quality instruction. While I could have found courses that were slightly cheaper. In fact had a quote from a nearby range, I was not comfortable with that venue’s quality.  In fact, that particular range in question was recently broken into and robbed and criticized for having woefully inadequate security. It was a confirmation of my gutt instinct that such was NOT where I wanted to learn.

Instead, I ponied up a bit more $$$ and took the courses at Freedom Armory in Glen Rock, PA with an instructor by the name of Chuck. I enjoyed Chuck’s instruction. I felt that I was learning from a competent individual with a strong experience level.  I also appreciated the fact that Chuck never came off egotistical or  condescending.  I have always preferred teacher with humility. Perhaps because my experiences have showed me that such instructors usually provide better more accurate instruction.

I imagine the quality of these classes can vary greatly based upon the instructor teaching a given course. FIRST Steps may have been more comparable under my instructor as he really wanted to make sure we all knew what he thought we should. And desired us to have a more emphasized shooting experience than what the NRA mandated as a minimum. I also agreed with his reasoning.  Under another instructor, there might be a greater difference in depth between FIRST Steps & Basic Pistol, though in all likelihood it’ll probably compare closely to my opinions above.

In closing, I hope this helps you to decide what is right for you.  I don’t think you can go wrong taking both. As long as you are prepared to accept that there will be a fair amount of redundancy and that a good 60%-70% will be review. Taking the understanding that there is benefit in such repetitiveness in the classroom, just as there is out on the range.

That said, I think many if not most should be able to get by fine only taking Basic Pistol. But I would argue that if you are intending to take shooting seriously or are planning to carry, than you really must consider these courses as the beginning of your education. (ie: Kindergarten and 1st Grade)

One last comment regarding the NRA “FIRST Steps”. It was a good class to take with my wife. I can’t really give any solid reasoning for this other than it just felt like the right amount of time and effort for a couple activity.


If you’ve taken any of the NRA pistol courses, I’d love to hear what your thoughts and opinions were on them. Please feel free to chime in and comment below.

It is my hope that my experiences with these courses will help to offer some explanation as to what to expect, and help you in your decision of which course is right for you.


*Note – I utilized a Ruger P-345 in .45 ACP for all range shooting for this course.

Published in: on October 26, 2008 at 3:35 am  Comments (3)  
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3 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. I don’t know of anyone who runs First Steps classes here in MA. Mainly because you need either Home Firearms Safety or Basic Pistol to get a license, which sadly is required for mere OWNERSHIP of firearms and ammunition.

    I took a basic pistol class having never touched a firearm before, and found it to be exactly what I needed at the time. My instructor ran BP in one day. I can see a use for first steps for those who aren’t as gung ho and are just looking to try it out. However, I think the best thing for that is to go shooting with a friend to see if you like it. I’m happy to take people shooting whenever they want. The ammo for the first trip (usually about 100 22LR and 20 each of 9mm and 45ACP) is on me.

  2. You started this blog in Sept?
    Keep it up.

  3. Great blog! I am shopping for the Basic Pistol course as we speak (or as I type), and am looking for a one-day version due to my work & family schedule. I’m a former martial artist, working as a security officer (unarmed) and am pretty gung-ho about learning but have no experience beyond .22 rifles as a kid. I’ll be ready to sign up in about a week. More on this as it develops. ~GT

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