About a month ago I took a basic firearms course at Blue Ridge Arsenal in Chantilly, VA. The class was four hours and consisted of about three hours of classroom time, including two 10- to 15-minute breaks, and one hour of range time. Ammo (up to 100 rounds), gun rentals, and eye and ear protection were included. The course was $125 and I had to register several weeks in advance. At the time of registration there were only a few slots left, and my group filled all but one. The class was well worth the money, and I now feel confident enough to pick up and check if pretty much any type of handgun is loaded or unloaded, unload the weapon, or fire it if necessary.
At first I wasn’t sure what could possibly take four hours to cover, but in fact the course was very detailed and informative. Handouts and the classroom lecture covered all the bases, from some basic history, to the internal workings of several types of revolver and semi-automatic handguns, to the function of the rounds themselves (the bullet is just part of the round, along with the casing, powder, and the starter stuff which I forget what it’s called, maybe starter, which sets off the black powder that causes the bullet to fire). Dummy rounds and parts of handguns were passed around for hands-on inspection as well.
The classroom time also included two-on-one and one-on-one physical instruction on gun safety, including dry-firing semi-automatics and revolvers (using good safety practices like keeping one’s finger off the trigger until prepared to fire on the target, and never pointing the barrel at anyone or in an unsafe direction). Also covered were the various causes and types of misfires, and what to do when one experiences a misfire or misfeed, which turned out to be more common that one might expect.
Once we had donned our safety gear and entered the indoor range, we had a Range Safety Officer as well as the two instructors for assistance, and access to nine different weapons, including various .22’s, a .38 Special, several 9mm’s, including a type of Glock and a Beretta, and a .45 semi-automatic. I think there may have been a .45 revolver too, but I can’t remember now. I fired maybe six or seven of these, including the .45 semi-auto, which I could barely fit my hand around well enough to pull the trigger. I actually hit a bullseye with it (at only five meters), but I needed help to chamber the first round because the action on the slide was so tough.
I think my best experience was with the Beretta 9mm. One of the worst was the Ruger .22, which misfed several times, and another semi-auto .22 that misfired so much they removed it from the range for maintenance. I had misfires with several weapons, most caused by improper wrist action on recoil I think, but the ones with the .22 semi-auto were likely caused by the weapon’s condition. It was brand new and may not have been thoroughly oiled, or it may have had some other defect that interfered with the slide action.
All in all, the class was interesting and informative, and the range was not as intimidating as I expected (after the first few shots startled the hell out of me and I’m sure several other first-time shooters who were already jittery going out there). I would highly recommend that everyone take this or a similar course to be prepared if the need ever arises to handle a gun. Even if you are a pacifist and a vegetarian, when you’re getting a Coca Cola Slurpy at 7-Eleven and a robbery occurs, the clerk hits the robber over the head with a Slim Jims display, and the gun goes flying, slides across the floor, and stops in front of your feet, you’ll know how to unload it safely so no one gets hurt, and probably be rewarded with a lifetime supply of Slurpies or something.