REVIEW: NRA Personal Protection Outside the Home

This was a 2 day course building upon the prior NRA Pistol courses I have taken. (NRA FIRST Steps Pistol, NRA Basic Pistol, NRA Personal Protection in the Home).

The first day was largely lecture. We re-reviewed the basics. For example the NRA’s three rules of safety. (Even though most shooters tend to be more fond of the four rules. Namely the Golden Rule of “Treat every gun as if it were loaded.”

We went over the states of awareness.

  1. Unaware
  2. Aware
  3. Alert
  4. Alarm

Though many are probably more familiar with the four colored system of “White, Yellow, Orange & Red”.

The course addressed the legal aspects of carrying concealed. And the aspects of mental fortitude needed for such responsibility. We also discussed the equipment that helps facilitate carrying. What options are available (external holsters, In the Waistband Holsters (IWB), shoulder holsters, purses/fanny packs, etc. First time I have ever drawn a pistol from a purse. 😉

We then went through the procedures of drawing a firearm from a holster with and without cover.  We practiced this technique as a “dry-fire” technique.  For those unfamiliar with the term, this is where you utilize your firearm in it’s unloaded state. (Often without a magazine but my sidearm is one of the newer California rated pistols and has a magazine disconnect. Which disables the trigger mechanism when there is no magazine in the gun.)

While it can be broken down further the basics of the draw entail 4 steps (5 is you’re wearing covering).  First was gripping the pistol with our strong hand while ensuring our weak hand was to our chest safely out of harm’s way (or at least any harm of our own doing). Second was the process of drawing the firearm from the holster and rotating the muzzle out and forward. [This position that a sidearm can be fired from.]  Next we bring the pistol to a ready position in front of ourself; it is at this time our weak hand joins our grip on the pistol. The fourth stage being to extend the pistol forward while keeping it level so that you can sight in accurately. We would repeat this same process in reverse in order to re-holster. Helping to reinforce the patterns of movement.

Of course, as many states require conceal carry. We also addressed how to handle your external garmet; allowing you to access your firearm.  This is really a pre-step, maybe even a side step. Because while it is the first step in drawing, it may not be the last step in re-holstering. As you likely have to move the garment before returning the sidearm to your holster.

A couple of advantages to this method is that step 3, the ready-position, can be advantageous to training. Many ranges prohibit or look down upon drawing from a holster and firing. However, by picking up the firearm from the table or bench and bring it to ready position (3) and then extending. You essentially are practicing half your draw and shooting.  This combined with dry-fire practice can help reinforce your skills.

We were also shown proper techniques for picking a sidearm from the table. The advantage of setting it down so that your strong hand can easily pick it up and bring it to ready-stance. (In my case, being right-handed, this entails setting the sidearm down on it’s left side. So my right hand can grip the right side of the pistol.)  We also went over recovery drills. The standard Tap, Rack, Shoot (or Access as the NRA terms it).  As well as what to do when that does not work. Such as when a round is jammed next behind another and the magazine does not fall out. In this situation we locked the slide, then released the magazine. Which was followed by rapidly cycling the slide a few times and inserting a new magazine.  The funny thing here is that we were using snap caps. And my sidearm stripped the edge of the snap cap. So it required a bit of additional action to be taken in order to dislode the snap cap. [FYI, a snap-cap is a non-firing replica of a given cartridge caliber. It is design facilitate gun’s function and behavior as if it were using a bullet(except for cycling as there is no discharge of force). It is also recommended by many when doing a large amount of dry firing to reduce the wear and stress on the firing pin.]

After all of this (and quite a bit more) we went out on the range for the last hour or two of day one. However, most of the second day was spent on the firing range.

The first thing that caught me off guard is that we did not shoot from the partitions. Rather our instructor had us all stand in front of the normal firing line, using an line on the ground as a demarker.  This was one of those very odd feelings as even as a fairly new shooter, I have it ingrained in my mind that one does NOT shoot when downrange.  But the value in doing so was quite clear. On the street there is no range, and there sure as heck ain’t no partitions to give you a comfort zone to either side.  I just had to make the internals of my mind realize that I was not standing in front of the firing line. But rather we had denoted a new firing line.

During the two day course we practiced drawing from a holster and firing and returning to a holster.  There were three stages in drawing that we were able to present the gun on target.  These were the extended position of course. The ready position and the second stage upon drawing and rotating the pistol so the muzzle faced the target.  Of course, accuracy was best when we had fully completed our draw. However as a great majority of engagements on the street occur at close range. We were shown how a standard human sized target could still be hit at close ranges from the other potential firing stages. We even did an exercise entailing drawing the pistol and begining to fire at after we’d pulled and pointed the gun. And continuing to fire as we moved to stage 3 “ready stage” and as we extended the firearm until we were in our standard shooting position.

Other drills included handling for failures. We interspersed snap caps in our magazines. So that we had random failures which would require that we ran through the tap, rack, assess/shoot drills.  We also engaged in practice exercises addressing drawing when we are not directly facing the opponent.  When the opponent is standing to your left, your right, or even behind you. We explored the options available and the advantages and disadvantages. From drawing and rotating, to drawing and passing the sidearm to the weak hand which may have easier access to the target.  We had practiced how to properly pass a sidearm from one hand to the other and discussed the merits of weak hand shooting. Seeing that use of your weak hand is not limited only to situations in which your strong hand has been injured or immobilized.

As we went along, the exercises began to incorporate more and more of what we were learning. Including moving while drawing and firing. And eventually shooting from cover.  There were four of us in the class and all found it beneficial. I know a couple of us were really enjoying ourselves by the end of it all.

I personally came away with a lot of new found skills. A lot of new knowledge and a boat load of things to practice and drill.  Our instructor included a supplemental handout of dry-fire skill building drills which I am very appreciative for. If you carry, or are considering carrying, I strongly advise taking this course. I will throw out the caveat that your mileage may very depending on your instructor. I believe our course while covering the NRA material expanded the scope and depth of material a bit.  And I am very glad for this.  Just like when I took driver’s ed many years ago. My instructor made the following statement… “I am going to teach what you need to know to pass the test. I am also going to teach you what you need to know to drive and not get yourself killed.” And I’ve always preferred that approach.  Why else am I paying for instruction? I can read a book and learn quite well. But I am one who likes to ask questions, interject thoughts, and really understand “Why” I am doing something.  Courses that I have taken where the instructor was by the book, often left me with numerous questions. Such instructors are often merely parroting the book. They don’t have enough of an understanding to explain the mechanics or address the unsaid subtleties.  An instructor who is at a level where they can expand upon a book, and say “Hey, when is this a good strategy. Is it still a good strategy in situation B?  Maybe not, huh?” is always more beneficial to me. Firstly it satisfies my curiousity. Second, it facilitates my delving and self-learning. Lastly, it just gets you thinking and internalizing your understanding of the material.

So I am thankful that I have been blessed to have such an instructor for this course.  It’s always a joy to learn and have fun. However, I have felt that taking such a course is part of my duty and responsibility as one who carries a firearm. I’ve endeavored to absorb much book knowledge over the past year. I’ve read a number of books by the likes of Massad Ayoob, Jeff Cooper and more. But the advantage of a course like this is put such knowledge in action and turn it from book knowledge into action knowledge. Taking a course such as this helps me to be more confident. By that, I do not mean more confident in my ability in a gunfight.  (Albeit that does come into play a bit.)  More so, I mean that it makes me more confident in my ability to learn, train, and hone the skills that will enable me to increase the odds that I come out on top were I ever to find myself in such a situation.

– N.U.G.U.N.


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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