Teachable Moment: From Weird to Ugly

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Editor's note: This is my GLOCK, and my notes. The first thing I wrote is "5 hours is a long time." We're not here to debate mandatory classes for concealed carry certification. We're looking at something much more basic.

Editor’s note: This is my GLOCK, and my notes. The first thing I wrote is “5 hours is a long time.” We’re not here to debate mandatory classes for concealed carry certification. We’re looking at something more basic.

Editor’s note: I’d like to preface this piece by saying that I witnessed what happened first hand. I was there. I took this Arkansas Concealed Carry Certification course. Yes I was a bit annoyed by the requirement, but that is a story for a different time. After the chaotic events of the class, though, I was tempted to write it up. Instead, I asked the instructor to write it up herself.

This is her story. We’ve decided to use it as the first in a series of articles we’re calling Teachable Moments.

From Weird to Ugly

by Carla Wells

My name is Carla Wells.  I am a concealed carry instructor for the state of Arkansas.  I’m an Iraq veteran who deployed as the only female in a group of eighteen in 2006.  Was I qualified to go over?  Yes.  I passed all my range qualifications and did my training like my team did.  Was I ready to go over?  No.  Did I know and understand my sidearm?  Just the “point and shoot” part.

Even the classroom work allows for hands on instruction in safety and safe handling.

Even the classroom work allows for hands on instruction in safety and safe handling.

I’m sure some of you can relate. When you’re in the military and its range day, some are taught to raise their hands and a block officer will come and fix any stove pipes or troubleshooting for you. Yes. That was me and, sadly, a few others as well.  No one took the time to help us really understand our weapons. An occasional class once a year just doesn’t cut it.

It wasn’t until I got to Iraq and stood at the clearing barrel to unload fellow Airmen’s pistols that the light bulb went on. Sadly I was a Security Forces cop, and though I was dang good with my 5.56, if I had gotten into a jam with my pistol, everyone around me would have been screwed.

Fast forward to 2011.  A colleague asked if I wanted to become a concealed carry instructor. I thought about this overnight, paid my fees the next day and joined the instructor class.  I was tested before I even entered the room, just not in the way you would expect.

Being asked to go home with the instructor isn’t part of the typical instructor qualification process.  I was a bit embarrassed and irritated.  A fellow Airman that I served with was standing behind me and overheard the remark, but I blew it off and sat down.

And there's a good deal of paperwork to read and fill out.

And there’s a good deal of paperwork to read and fill out.

As the instructor began to teach class, he casually handed me a training pistol and told me to clear it. I took it, cleared it and handed it back to him.  It was at that moment I realized why I had agreed to take the class. As a woman, I wanted to teach other women.  I wanted them to learn in a comfortable atmosphere, without the intimidation.  I didn’t want female students to have to go through what I endured from my instructor.

The state of Arkansas requires five hours of classroom time plus four hours of range time before instructors can certify students.  Why so much time, you ask? When people leave the range after a day of class, most inexperienced students (and there are more of them than you’d think) have just barely learned the fundamentals.  As an instructor, I support the state’s curriculum. A day of class is hardly enough time for me to be confident with who I am certifying.  In most cases, it’s the last time I see these people.

I believe Arkansas has a good understanding of this. Just because you’ve attended the class and got the t-shirt, it doesn’t mean you’re really ready to carry, even with the license. With Arkansas’s requirements, and my basic judgment as an instructor, the State can be assured that all attendees have had some kind of formal training with their firearms.

Teaching a seasoned revolver shooter (and a black powder shooter, at that) how to modify her grip is easier to do in person.

Teaching a seasoned revolver shooter (and a black powder shooter, at that) how to modify her grip is easier to do in person.

I don’t know most of my students. However, in the event that something goes bad in a gunfight and a student ends up in court, as an instructor, I may have to testify that my student was briefed on the laws, use of force, and to stayed current on changes associated with concealed carry in the state.  It was my name on the instructor’s sheet. I don’t take that lightly.

Case in point. It’s the summer of 2014 and I’m teaching a class. By the end of the day, I wished I’d canceled the class and given everyone a rain check because the situation went from weird to downright ugly.  At the end of in-class session, which was held in a side room at a local restaurant, I noticed a student carrying his gun to his car. No holster. No case. He just freely carried it in his hand, right through the dining room of the full restaurant and out into the parking lot.

I followed, and politely explained to him that he should case his gun until he got to his vehicle. He mumbled something unintelligible and kept on walking to his truck. I passed him off as a rude idiot and walked back into the classroom, where I was told that the same gentleman was seen by three other students—washing his gun with soap and water in the men’s restroom.  During one of our breaks, while I was working with another student, he decided to scrub up his gun—right in the middle of the lunch rush.

A good concealed carry certification class is an opportunity to practice the basics. At least it should be.

A good concealed carry certification class is an opportunity to practice the basics. At least it should be. In this case I learned more advanced lessons.

At this point, the red flag was flying high. I smelled his drink. No sign of alcohol. In fact, other than this odd behavior toward the end of the class, there wasn’t anything I could find that seemed out of place. Could he simply be that clueless?

Later in the day, I had eleven people waiting to qualify at the range.  No time to waste. I called the genius over who had washed his gun in the sink. I wanted to qualify him and send him on his way.

I needed to get a feel for what was going on with him. He clumsily walked up to the line and displayed a practiced proficiency with his pistol. He shot well enough. He hit the target. He easily qualified, and I didn’t find any evidence of alcohol, at all. He still slurred a bit, and he had a tick that spooked me.  But he qualified and I thanked him and said good-bye. He fishtailed his truck on the way out.

I wasn’t about to let it go. I called the State Police that Monday morning and told them what I’d seen in the class. That is my legal responsibility. I chose to let the State of Arkansas handle the decision. Let’s face it. I didn’t want to piss someone off when there were already guns and ammo around.  You don’t poke a bear. Even if he wasn’t a bear. How would I know?

The qualifying target can pose a

The qualifying target can pose a challenge to new shooters and to those with test anxiety. For the rest, though, it is more of a formality. That said, it is always good to practice.

But he fishtailed off down the road and didn’t come back. So I pressed on.  Eventually I worked with a woman who’d brought her husband’s Ruger 9mm P 95.  She was having trouble hitting the target and I began watching her trigger pull. I asked for the gun and shot a couple of rounds into the target to get a feel for the trigger. I stopped. With the gun still pointed down range I felt for the slack in the trigger. I squeezed enough to feel the slack and stopped. I told the student to watch my finger and see where it stops… then it happened.

BOOM!  It wasn’t intentional. In fact, it scared the hell out of me. I looked up in shock and said something along the lines of “what the hell?!” I honestly cannot remember what happened right before or right after. It is still a blur. I went through two emotions. Shock and total embarrassment.  I’m the instructor!   As if anything else could go wrong, now I was responsible for an accidental discharge. The bullet went down range and in a safe direction, luckily.

Like I said—from weird to ugly. At any rate, I let the surprise of what I did blow over quickly.  I couldn’t and didn’t make a big deal about it. There was still work to do. Everyone knew it happened by accident. At this point, people were uneasy and I was embarrassed but there were still people to get qualified.

I ended the class by working with a man who hadn’t shot in a very long time. I worked with him one-on-one for forty-five minutes. I also worked with a female, letting her shoot different types of guns in order to get a feel for what she liked and what to look for when she went shopping—yet, another advantage of actually attending a class instead of getting your permit online.

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The rang time offers a basic skills refresher and an opportunity to build community. After the one odd student left, the mood shifted and the exercise became much more productive–even through the accidental discharge.

In other states, applicants for concealed carry permits don’t get that kind of attention. It doesn’t matter if a student claims to have shot their whole life or if it’s the first time. I’ve had men I thought would knock it out of the park take three trips to qualify.  In contrast, I’ve had women with little experience step up and hit black every single time. I’ve also had experienced shooters get nervous and lose their heads and have to be instructed on how to clear their stovepipes.

After class, I went over the scene in my head. I tried to replay what happened with the accidental discharge.  Did I pull the trigger or was the slide open just a hair?  Did I press the mag release and the bolt slammed forward, causing it to go off? This is what my husband is still trying to convince me happened. He loves me and I assume he’s trying to make me feel better. I think I pulled the trigger. Even though I don’t remember pulling it past the slack, I know I must have.

I took August off.  It’s the first month I haven’t had a class in a year and a half. You don’t think something like that would affect you. I, personally, never thought about it. I have always been safe and never thought it would happen to me. I usually take things in stride but this is something that made me sit back and want to regroup.  In my class for September, will I be more attentive? Most certainly.  Will I be relaxed? Highly doubt it. As long as I’m instructing shooters, I never want to become complacent.  From the least to the most experienced shooter, my last class reminded me that it can happen to anyone.

Have a Teachable Moment you’d be willing to share? Email it to teachablemoments@gunsamerica.com.

{ 20 comments… add one }
  • Harry Taraskus December 18, 2015, 6:13 pm

    Carla, it has been said one is never REALLY careful until they’ve had an AD. You will likely never know if it was a mistake on your part or some issue with the gun. However, most ADs are operator error. You followed proper procedure and that is why there was no harm done. I was a police officer for 26 years. When we switched over to the Sig Sauer P220 I had an AD. As you probably know, the P220 is double action/single action. A long stiff trigger pull for the first double-action shot, then a short, light trigger pull after that, with the pistol self-cocking for the following shots. I thought I was pretty slick. I started cocking the hammer on my first shot while qualifying, thus bypassing that first double-action pull. I figured this would improve my score (easier trigger pull) and I reasoned that, if I ever had to use my weapon in a gunfight, I’d breeze through that first long trigger pull without an issue. Then it happened. On one string of firing we had to shoot to slide-lock, insert a fresh magazine, drop the slide, de-cock the weapon and holster. We then had to fast draw on a signal and put six into a close target. On the signal, not being used to the long first trigger pull, muscle memory took over. I was expecting that short, light single action shot, not the long double-action pull. I fired my first round into the ground about five feet in front of me because I pulled the weapon downward as I pressed the trigger. No one saw it, but I knew what I did. Taught me a lesson: Train as you will fight. I never “cheated” again.
    Your AD taught you a lesson. Now, consider it a learning experience and move on. You sound like a good instructor to me.

  • Bill in Lexington, NC March 9, 2015, 11:06 pm

    Carla, even though it was unintentional, you drove home the basic safety rules in a way your students that day will never forget. They saw the AD happen to the most experienced person present and they saw that, since the safety rules had been followed, no harm occurred.

    Your only serious error in this was in losing the teachable moment in order to save face. Thank you for being honest about this because it opens up another “train the trainer” teachable moment.

    I taught adult ed for three years and I’d like to suggest that you NEVER try to save face … ALWAYS demonstrate absolute personal integrity by accepting responsibility for any mistake you make and correcting it before moving on. Your students might not know the right way to do things … but they are all adults and can recognize a screw up from a mile and a half away.

    Make it a point to tell this story to all of your classes from this point on just before you introduce the rules of safe firearm handling and explain that if they shoot long enough they also will eventually have an AD, but that, even in the event of an AD, they can control the outcome if they follow four simple rules. Use what happened to drive home the need to be intimately familiar with the operation of their firearms to the point that they have experienced, and recovered from, every single fault their particular firearm is capable of — because the cause of what happened to you was a lack of knowledge about that-particular-firearm. Nothing but range time — either training or practicing — can reveal those problems and make them proficient in their resolution. I’m sure you drive home that to carry a loaded firearm is to assume an awe-inspiring level of responsibility. Make certain that they understand that it will take a lot of focused practice on their part to meet that responsibility.

    I had a similar thing occur at the range when a Mini-14 went full auto on me because my friend was pretty bad about cleaning his firearms. Theoretically that can’t happen … but it did. That happened to me because I was unfamiliar with the firearm and its owner was careless about its maintenance. It might well be that poor maintenance was the source of your AD, too.

    You might also mention that when that day arrives and a bullet exits the muzzle of a firearm before they intended for it to, if they have followed the rules the worst penalty they will likely have to pay will be a profound level of embarrassment … but that if they have not, and the bullet strikes another human being, they will likely face bankruptcy and jail time that will dog them all the rest of their days.

    Give that a moment to sink in and then say, “The four rules are …. ”

    Stop after each of the rules and have them discuss why that rule exists / what it accomplishes. After the second rule, also ask them how each additional rule reinforces the one before it.

    ———–
    Apparently the states are willing to let people be “talking heads” teaching by rote. Although my wife and I aced the NC CCL test the first time through, we still took the class over from a different instructor because the first instructor struck us as a cowboy who barely met the minimum qualifications. I don’t know about you, but I want to learn from an instructor who could have designed the class, not simply someone who got a “C” in it. I don’t want an “okay” surgeon – or even an “okay” plumber – I want the best I can find, regardless of price.

    The second instructor charged $10 more … but was easily worth $100 more. And, good to his promise (and written class rules), when he saw a firearm in class he gave the owner the choice of putting the firearm in their car immediately or being ejected, minus refund, from the class. The guy’s name is Manny Matos and he teaches at Calibers Range in Greensboro, NC. He has both MP and PD experience.

    Please, Carla, continue to resist the urge to take the low road of simple regurgitation … think long and hard about every moment in every class and pull every bit of good from it them you can. Then, teach as if your life depended upon it.

    It does.

  • Jack December 22, 2014, 8:03 am

    I’ve been shooting for 60 years. Retired from US Army BRL at Aberdeen Proving Ground, Md. 28 years service, small arms range manager for last 10…..Just to say I’ve put a million or so rounds down range. I’ve had exactly two AD’s. Both scary. One of them only I actually knew it was an AD. Other was a defective weapon, full auto, it emptied the clip. Just hang on and keep it pointed down range…… Bottom line, weapon pointed down range so no one hurt. You observed the FIRST rule, point it in a safe direction/down range! Learn from it and put it behind you. We need female instructors.

  • Ditto December 7, 2014, 10:42 pm

    I had an accidental discharge a couple of years ago. No harm, as my .22 rifle was pointed at the ground. The incident taught me how important it is to follow all firearm safety rules. Accidents happen, but if you forget one safety rule, but are following all the others, it’s unlikely anyone or anything will be harmed.

  • Al November 25, 2014, 5:25 pm

    The editor notes some frustration over mandatory classes, but this very article shows why they are important. They allow mistakes to happen in a very controlled environment, and they root-out some very interesting characters, like the odd ball she had to report. Kudos to the author!

  • Tim November 13, 2014, 10:12 am

    Nice article. First off, men are pigs. It takes women like yourself to mold us into better people. We all have that “oh crap” moment. Yours just happened to be in front of several people. You took it to heart and learned from it. Sounds like you’re an instructor that cares about the student. Maybe offer half price classes for those that have already taken your class to get refreshed. At my range, when new members want to qualify for the indoor pistol range, they are instructed to practice and not bring their uncle’s 100 year old revolver that they never shot before. You guessed it, that’s the gun they bring and can’t hit the ranges’ backstop. They don’t get qualified. Not sure if you have that option if they satisfactorily pass everything you presented. Good luck and stay aware.

  • Bill P November 2, 2014, 1:16 pm

    You taught your students a valuable lesson, even if it was unintentional! If that “AD” scared them a little, good. Now they’ll remember why the muzzle has to be pointed in a safe direction. When things go wrong is always an opportunity to learn.

  • WOODY September 27, 2014, 6:27 pm

    GLOCK IS A CHEAPLY MADE WEAPON. IT’S A WOMANS GUN. FOR THOSE WHO CAN’T HANDLE A REAL FIREARM. THERE’S A REASON IT HAS FEW MOVING PARTS. IT DOESN’T MAKE IT BETTER JUST CHEAPER. GLOCK IS JUNK. OR RATHER GLUNK!!!

    • J November 10, 2014, 3:16 pm

      Now that is about the silliest thing that has been let go by the “moderator” in some time. I am perplexed by some of my own comments that were not approved, especially if garbage like this is approved!
      Glock being junk or not is a matter of opinion, but this ignorant crap “it is a woman’s gun” for whatever reason or excuse is something that simply doesn’t belong here. It is a cheap shot by an ignorant person.

    • Dave November 24, 2014, 8:23 am

      Now that is a real insult. I carried a Glock 23 for 20 years. I still carry a 42. It’s never let me down. Not once!
      I do believe Sonny, that you are the ignorant one. Please stay off this site and make your stupid comments on Face Book.

    • Bill November 24, 2014, 7:34 pm

      Umm … who was talking about Glocks?

      By the way, your caps lock key is stuck. You might want to fix it before someone notices that you are an idiot.

    • Bob February 23, 2015, 6:22 pm

      Really? “Junk…woman’s gun”. I didn’t know that. What makes it a woman’s gun. How is it cheaply made?

    • Steve Warren December 18, 2015, 11:02 am

      I hated Glocks! Plastic POS. Then I got one. 1911 collects dust now. My other guns are all good. I like them. But I always go back to my Glock for daily carry. 15 years of holster wear just make me like it better!

    • cobalt327 May 18, 2016, 10:43 pm

      Talk about a “teachable moment!” It shouldn’t, but I’m still occasionally surprised by how clueless some people are.

  • NITRO T September 25, 2014, 10:54 pm

    AD’s happen, even to the instructor. You followed the safety rules.No one was hurt. Consider it a learning moment and move forward. Thank you for becoming an instructor. Many ladies are just uncomfortable with male instructors. If we can just get them into a class, we just might teach them enough to save their lives in a crisis, or perhaps get them interested in shooting.

  • Ken S. September 22, 2014, 7:35 pm

    Carla,
    While the accidental discharge was unexpected and surprising, it happens to many of us. I, too, am an instructor and had it happen to me two weeks ago. I teach at my gun club and enjoy doing so. I was on our shotgun field with some of our members one day shooting trap. I was using an older shotgun with a manually cocking hammer. I pointed it downrange just above the trap house, cocked the hammer and BANG!, it went off. Turns out the older shotgun had some serrations in the hammer for the thumb to grip, but not enough and it slipped away from my thumb and fired the round. I was standing there, jaw on the ground, in front of a bunch of guys who have been shooting much longer than I have-some longer than I’ve been alive-and I thought I just blew the roof off our trap house. A bit embarrassed, to say the least. After all, these things don’t happen to the club’s instructors, right? We’re supposed to know better and set an example for the rest. As luck would have it, you and I both followed proper firearms handling and had the guns pointed in a safe direction. I missed the roof as the round went just over it.

    This was my first time ever with a situation like this, but luckily all’s well that ends well. After we determined what happened and ruled the gun safe to shoot, the people I was shooting with kept right on going without a second thought. I was telling the story to another experienced shooter the following week and he tried to make me feel better by telling me not to worry, that we’ve all done it, and pointing out that following my training by always keeping the gun pointed in a safe direction was what kept the incident from becoming more than it was. That actually did make me feel a bit better about it.

    I have a class coming up this weekend and fully intend on using my story as a teachable moment in it. Take what you’ve learned from the experience and use it to help your students going forward. Lessons like this tend to have more meaning to your class if you can personalize them and say “It happened to me.”

    Good luck.

  • Chris Baker September 22, 2014, 2:21 pm

    An easy mistake to make, at least you kept the gun pointed downrange and no one was hurt. Absolutely dry fire practice is called for. You should consider making it part of your class. There are cartridge simulators that prevent any damage that may occur although I personally don’t like the idea of owning a firearm that I can’t dry fire.
    I do have concern about the person who failed to follow normal procedures with his weapon, carrying it out to his car in his hands could very well have gotten him shot by a nervous policeman, we’ve sure seen enough instances of that sort of thing happening. Also, washing it with soap and water? in a restaurant? Seems like a pretty boneheaded thing to do. What was his reasoning? I think I’d have refunded his money and asked him to take a different class. I would NOT have signed off on him. I hope this doesn’t come back to haunt you.

    • Bob February 23, 2015, 6:26 pm

      Do you know if he thinks that Glocks are junk?

  • Brad Robbins September 22, 2014, 11:20 am

    I wouldn’t dwell on the event too long….It appears as if you followed all protocols…especially muzzle control/direction. That’s why the outcome resulted in no injuries. Any thing man-made, ie the Ruger P95 is subject to mechanical inconsistencies and/or failures. Keep teaching.

  • Robert Hill September 16, 2014, 12:01 pm

    Good morning Carla;
    I enjoyed reading your article and can sympathize with you on what happened. As a retired Army Sergeant and former small arms instructor I can only suggest one thing; When someone is having trouble feeling the trigger break, have them unload the weapon and dry fire it several times. I know some may say that is crazy, never dry fire your weapon, however; with the advances made in pistol designs over the last couple of decades most never pistols can be dry fired without causing damage. If I am training someone with a pistol that has a hammer I will simple put an empty casing in the chamber for them to practice trigger pull with. I wouldn’t beat yourself up over this, we are all just humane. Keep up the good work you do to help others.

    Respectfully;
    Robert Hill

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