Basic Instruction for Armed Civilians- the MAG20 class

By Rob Morse : Training

Slow Facts
Slow Facts

Louisiana- (  The Massad Ayoob Group offers firearms instruction across the US.  They have both local instructors and traveling staff.  They trained both law enforcement officers and civilian gun owners.  I recently took their basic class in armed civilian self-defense.  

It is easy to explain why these particular students were in the class with me.  It is harder to explain why more firearms owners and licensed concealed carriers don’t take take classes like this one.

This particular class had more women than men.  That would have been remarkable, but today, women are embracing armed self-defense.  Also, the class was held in Texas.  A recent Girl and a Gun national conference was held nearby last month.  Do not doubt for a moment that women can be extremely successful shooters.  We shot for score in this class.  The most accurate instructor was female as was the most accurate student.

Let’s ask a more basic question.  Is this the training you need?  Most gun owners never get their concealed carry license.  Most licensed concealed carriers never go for training beyond that required to get their state issued permit.  The small fraction of concealed carriers who train, we’ll call them the 1% of gun owners, they never go beyond their first class.  That leaves us with an important question.  

What should you teach these concealed carriers if this was their last training class?

Now we’re getting serious.  Their life or the life of others may hang in the balance if they have to defend themselves.  What do they need to know?

The MAG20 class was not for beginners.  It assumed the very basic knowledge typical of a state mandated concealed carry course.  The MAG20 course covered a few simple defensive skills.  They were made more difficult by performing them in a limited amount of time.  The emphasis throughout the course was more on quality than rapidity.  There was enough time to perform the tasks even for students learning new material.  Most, if not all of the students, can perform the shooting test to the required level of accuracy in the time allowed.

The instructors made the course easier.. even while performing “under the clock” made it harder.  Each instructor ran the qualification course after borrowing a gun from a student.  Some of the instructors performed the course of fire perfectly.  Most importantly, they performed at that level by using the same fundamental techniques they taught in class.

Time works against us in other ways.  Going back to our original question, should you teach these students how to defend themselves on the street.. or how to defend themselves in court after they survive a violent encounter?  That is where the institutional ancestry of the material shows through.  Some of the training was selected because it is easy to quantify and document in a court of law.

As a student, we can prove we were taught, but we won’t know how much of that training will actually makes it back home with us.  We’re not sure how many of these skills are accessible when we are on the street a month from now, let alone five years from now.  What little we know tells us that the physical and mental skills fade with time.

The course teaches the basics of shooting.  Self-defense comes later.

How does this impact self-defense training?  We are most likely to be attacked in a parking lot after dark.  Most of the basic self-defense courses don’t require the student to shoot from under a concealing garment.  Those skills will have to come later.  There was no instruction about how to identify possible threats.  There was no use of cover or movement to cover.  That is for the next course..I assume.

Gun owners are not who they used to be.  Today, many younger firearms owners were exposed to guns through video games.  They see a firearm as a symbolic talisman that has the power to stop an adversary.  That perspective is misguided because guns don’t protect you.  The skills you’ve learned protect you.  Judging by their absence in advanced training courses, young men and women prefer the video fantasy over the reality of gun ownership.  Real firearms training is dirty, noisy, and sometimes disappointing. 

Measuring my performance is how I learn where I can improve.  Training exposes my weaknesses.  It must.  I was clearly out-shot by the instructors and several students.  I was not having a “bad day.”  The shooters who beat me were better than I am.  

One mark of a good instructional program is the ability to expose deficiencies and strengthen them.

The training exercises in the MAG-20 did a wonderful job of exposing the essential building blocks needed to be a competent shooter.  Besides the instructors and other students, these exercises were the best reason to take the course.

It could be better.  I’ve been in physical rehabilitation after an injury.  My physical therapist gave me homework to perform on my own.  In fact, doing the homework was essential.  That was where I both solidified the gains from treatment and where I made progress toward better performance.  A music teacher follows a similar model of instruction.  The self-defense training industry has yet to match that level of instruction.  This course was one-and-done.

The class has leftover methods that probably came from training law enforcement officers.  A large department needs to show they trained their staff in a prescribed way and that the students then performed to a recognized standard.  While important in court, that style of instruction isn’t efficiently tailored for the private citizen today.  It reminds me of the business model used by psychologists who keeps telling their patients that they have to come back for regular therapy sessions to stay healthy.  I might be back.

It works well enough.  That is where we are today.

The original article is here.  Rob Morse writes about gun rights at Ammoland, at Clash Daily and on his SlowFacts blog. He hosts the Self Defense Gun Stories Podcast and co-hosts the Polite Society Podcast. Rob is an NRA pistol instructor and combat handgun competitor.

  • 21 thoughts on “Basic Instruction for Armed Civilians- the MAG20 class

    1. Take the MAG-20/MAG-20 couplet of classes or the MAG-40, and you will learn more about use of force and civil and criminal law than 99.9% of lawyers know. The class counts as CLE for lawyers. I’ve taken it, hosted it and had the MAG-80. Mas knows his subject like no one else..

      1. So does the course teach people how to de-escalate a bad situation so a shooting doesn’t occur? Or it is only concerned when the line has been crossed and you may have the law on your side if you shoot? If plenty of independent witnesses saw you arguing with the jerk to the point of violence you lose your claim to self-defense (save maybe you being on your own private property).

    2. lol I’m hardly a troll. Just because you get bhurt or don’t agree doesn’t make me a troll. Posted here a long time. I mistook what Wild Bill said but I posted the correction. He and I have posted many times and don’t always agree. That’s what makes us great is the ability to disagree and yet be united against the anti 2A crowd.
      In fact I’m a trainer. What I’m seeing is too many who just don’t want to put in the work due to laziness. Fat isn’t handicapped, out of shape isn’t handicapped and thinking isn’t knowing or actually having done.
      I knew I’d get pushback from the post but I also wanted to see if I got a real answer. The PC runs too deep though. That’s what I really wanted to know.
      I encourage everyone to attend as much training as possible but do the whole curriculum of at all possible.

      1. I don’t see “PC” in comments here. We are real people and believe in self-defense and the 2A. Many of us have had decades between youth and our current ages. There may be some bravado, but most are “down-to-Earth”, then there are those like Gil.

      2. Training is America’s secret weapon. No country on earth trains like the Americans. Even the Brits don’t train as realistically and hard as the Americans.

    3. @Matt, Well, it is going to by my gunfight (or your gunfight or whomever’s gunfight), and we all get to fight it in whatever way that we feel is best under the current circumstances. I, generally, like to move to cover as fast as possible, and stay on my feet so as to remain as mobile as possible. Fire and maneuver, baby.
      My worst case senario is “caught in the open, by surprise, immobile, no cover or concealment, available. Best case scenario is commanding from the God track!

        1. @Matt, Perhaps, I haven’t written clearly. What I mean to say is that I get to choose my weapons and tactics. I, of course, don’t get to chose what my opposition does or has.

      1. There are physical limitations. I have a completely trashed knee, if I have to “take a knee” it’s very painful for me, very painful getting back up and I risk further injury to it. Could I do it, sure, but why risk it? Does that mean I don’t get to take the course and do what I am able to do and learn everything I can?

        1. Guess you and the instructor gotta decide.
          I fully understand limitations. I also fully understand those without limitations except those they put on themselves.
          So which am I seeing most?

          1. Matt, wow, just a tad bit harsh? It may be that not everyone is capable of doing that. Not everyone is Superman. Age and health issues take their toll on everyone eventually, some sooner than others. Some people aren’t even still alive at your age, should they also be able to get on their knees? Maybe the coroner or funeral director can assist them. Would that satisfy you?

    4. Riiiiight. Middle-class White people are statistically the most likely to people to fear violent crime- NOT! You have to careful how you train – if you’re idea of self-defense is shooting someone dead that’s what your going to when you feel threatened. Unfortunately, the law doesn’t care about how you felt at the time but whether there was genuine imminent threat.

        1. @Vann, GFYG can not even interpret the law much less apply it to a fact pattern. If you reasonably fear for your life then the law recognizes the use of deadly force to meet deadly force. Fear is a feeling.

          1. WB,

            “Fear is a Reaction, Courage is a Decision” Winston Churchill

            Vann had it right: GFYG is an ‘Anti-gun troll’… and we’re not sure about Matt in OKie, yet. It may be too soon for a GFYM, but he’s trying his hardest to be anointed…

            1. @Garryowen, I always liked Churchill. Matt is OK (is that a terrific pun or what!), but you just have to remember his hard boiled background. He once won a Jelly Bryce “Shoot-a-like” contest.

          2. Um no, emotions don’t count rather an imminent credible threat of harm is when the right of self-defense kicks in. Remember that shop clerk who got charged for shooting a guy dead in the back? Oops.

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