I have my Concealed Pistol License (CPL), now what?

An interesting, yet common topic was discussed this weekend in my most recent NRA instructor class. Four new instructors were certified as Certified Pistol and PPITH Instructors. Our discussion was about the lack of quality training standards in Michigan for a citizen to obtain their Concealed Pistol License (CPL).

The discussion quickly gained momentum and the broader topic of training and ability came to the forefront. In Michigan, and many locales, a citizen must only complete an 8-hour course of training, make application, and pass a criminal background check in order to obtain the legal authority to carry a pistol concealed in public.

According to the Michigan State Police, there are slightly less than 500,000 CPL holders in Michigan. The population is currently at 9.9 million people with slightly more than 7 million over the age of 21.[1] This represents approximately 7% of the Michigan population over the age of 21 who are CPL holders.

How many of the 7% of CPL holders are adequately trained to mitigate a lethal force situation? Not very many if they are trained to minimum standards. In Michigan, the minimum requirements for obtaining a CPL, is five hours of classroom instruction and three hours on the range.[2] Minimum number of rounds fired must be at least thirty-five. Why teach to minimum standards? For some instructors, it’s a matter of economics. They have invested heavily in instructor training, equipment for the classroom and range, and continuing education. Other instructors have completed instructor training without ever attending another course to improve their own skills. Many of these instructors do not have the skill-sets to teach others. They barely have the skill-sets to survive a defensive encounter.

The late Lt. Colonel Jeff Cooper, a highly respected firearms instructor, once said, “Owning a handgun doesn’t make you armed any more than owning a guitar makes you a musician.” How true! We can modify his statement for our purposes: “Possessing a CPL doesn’t make you proficient in self-defense any more than owning a car makes you a NASCAR driver.”

As firearm instructors, we must seek to change the mindset of the people we train. Learning to read music is the first step to becoming a musician. Taking a SCUBA course is the first step to learning to dive. Likewise, shouldn’t we consider purchasing a gun and taking a concealed pistol course the first step to learning to use a gun in personal defense? Unfortunately, this is not the mindset of most CPL holders and instructors. Obtaining a CPL and carrying a pistol, concealed and in public, appears to be the end game for many of our citizens.

However, this attitude leaves those carrying a concealed pistol in a dangerous predicament. Carrying a gun is one thing; using it in a defensive confrontation is certainly another.

Let’s take a look at some very real statistics involving lethal force incidents. (Keep in mind while reading this; many defensive firearm courses are based on mitigating a defensive encounter 21 feet from the shooter). Dave Spaulding’s research shows that over 80% of defensive encounters occur within 20 feet of the victim. Furthermore, his research concludes that in the 30 years prior to publication of his research, the majority of the close-quarters defensive encounters occurred within 6 feet.[3] In his book, Counter Ambush: The Science of Training for the Unexpected Defensive Shooting, Rob Pincus discusses the need for training for the “nine to fifteen feet” radius around the victim that “someone could be close enough to attack you without ever noticing [his or her] presence.”[4]

If research proves the majority of defensive encounters occur within 20 feet and the of those, a vast majority occur within 6 feet, why do firearm course objectives place so much emphasis on the 21-foot rule? In 1983, Salt Lake City Officer Dennis Tueller wrote an article, based on his original research, discussing the time it takes for an officer to draw, aim, and fire at an attacker encroaching from 21 feet.[5] In a later interview, Tueller commented that training that day consisted of “draw and fire” techniques from 7 yards.[6] The concept of the 21-foot rule soon became a part of the defense-training lexicon. So much research and many more articles have been written to give us an insight into why the 21-foot rule (which, by the way, was not a term coined by Tueller) is not a hard and fast “rule.” This is part of our culture that must be changed.

Changing the cultural mindset in firearm training requires the instructor to rethink many opinions they have held, perhaps for decades. For example, many instructors continue to advance the myth of the “one-stop shot” even though it has been disproven many times over. When firearm instructors do not become students of their craft, they will continue to use old methodologies, outdated statistics, and continue to be proponents of myths and misconceptions.

The public does not understand, mostly, what they are missing in defensive training. Most students place a deep trust, perhaps to their dismay, in their instructor. As in any professional endeavor, there are good instructors and there are bad instructors. How does the beginning CPL student know the difference? For the student, it is difficult and many times they simply do not know. Rob Pincus states “ Credentials do not always equate to ability.”[7]

How does a student vet a firearms instructor? How do students know if what the instructor is teaching them is valid? Because a class or program meets minimum requirements of some standard does not mean it is adequate to meet the needed requirements of the end-user.

Rob Pincus additionally states “It is important to remember that experts are not always right and certainly don’t always know everything.”[8] Going back to the questions just asked, we can ask the prospective instructor a few questions. Consider the following as a place to start:

  1. What was the last student-level firearms course you attended and when?
  1. In the previous five years, what have you changed about the way you personally train?
  1. How do you keep your current level of skill at peak performance?
  1. What is the title of the last book you’ve read on personal defense?
  1. What is the source of your training philosophy?

If your singular goal in obtaining a CPL is to have the ability to carry a gun in public, you can stop reading here. It is not overly difficult to attend a class for 5 hours, spend a few more hours at the range, make application, pay the requisite fees, and wait six weeks for your license. You will have the legal ability to carry a loaded firearm in public anywhere the law allows. However, if your goal is personal protection, you must look at reality and develop a self-defense plan appropriate to your needs.

Obtaining a CPL should be viewed much akin to earning a driver’s license. Driver education teaches the very basics to get one started. Driving skill is learned over the years to follow. Similar to a driver’s license is the Concealed Pistol License. Your skill with a firearm and skill in defensive tactics is learned, developed, and refined over a lifetime. If you are not willing to put in the time through continuing education, I submit that you should pack your firearm away and make a conscious choice of not including it in your personal defense plan. This would be the most responsible and ethical thing to do.

How is a personal defense plan developed and what do I train? This is a common question among new students and isn’t difficult to understand and develop. Consider the aforementioned research of Dave Spaulding. If over 80% of defensive confrontations occur within 20 feet and a majority of those are within 6 feet of the victim, it should become clear that close-quarters training should be at the top of our personal defense training list. This means we need to focus an appropriate amount of time and training resources to learning how to mitigate this type of attack. In your training model, you may want to consider taking courses in unarmed defense and ambush training. Study the physics and physiology of a close-quarters attack. Train and develop your response. Examine your carry methods. Changes may be needed to safeguard your firearm with a different carry method or retention device. Research the effects of the body’s physiology when involved in a critical incident (This topic will be discussed in a future article). Train to use the body’s natural reactions and safeguards to your advantage. Train in low-light, one-handed shooting, unorthodox shooting positions, shooting from a sitting position, train to transition from a primary firearm to your back up.

Plan your range time to incorporate at least one of these techniques each time you go to the range. Plan to take additional training or intermediate/advanced training each year. Read books, search the training forums, attend conferences, and join a local gun club. If you are choosing to include a firearm in your personal protection plan, you must be more than proficient at simply standing on a square range and putting holes on a paper target.

Obtaining a license to carry a loaded, concealed firearm in public is a huge responsibility and training is developed over a few hours. Training to use that firearm to save your life, or that of another, is developed over a lifetime.

Stay safe!

[1] “American Fact Finder – Results.” American Fact Finder – Results. Accessed October 12, 2014.

[2] Michigan State Police, Concealed Pistol License Application. 2014.

[3] Spaulding, Dave. Handgun Combatives. Flushing, NY: Looseleaf Law Publications, 2003.

[4] Pincus, Rob. Counter Ambush: The Science of Training for the Unexpected Defensive Shooting. I.C.E. Publishing Company, 2013.

[5] Tueller, Dennis. “How Close is too Close?” S.W.A.T. Magazine, March 1983.

[6] Hayes, Gila. “The Tueller Drill Revisited,” Armed Citizens’ Legal Defense Fund, Inc (2008): accessed November 9, 2014, http://www.armedcitizensnetwork.org/the-tueller-drill-revisited.

[7] Pincus, Rob. Combat Focus Shooting: The Science of Intuitive Shooting Skill Development. Virginia Beach, VA: I.C.E. Publishing Company, 2010.

[8] Pincus, Rob. Combat Focus Shooting: The Science of Intuitive Shooting Skill Development. Virginia Beach, VA: I.C.E. Publishing Company, 2010.