In the world of firearms instructors, few have been teaching as long or have had as much influence on defensive shooting training as John Farnam of Defense Training International. Having served in combat in Vietnam as an infantry platoon leader in the United States Marine Corps, and later as a police officer, he has had plenty of real-world experience with the use of firearms. We asked him a few questions on a variety of topics, and found his answers to be enlightening.
GDI: How did you get started in the world of firearms training? What was the impetus for you to begin?
JF: When I got back from Vietnam with three purple hearts, I realized that the training was poor. I found the same thing when I became a police officer. Getting departments to train their officers was difficult, I had to go around and beat on a lot of doors. We never had money for training, but always had money for litigation. Isn’t that a little funny?
GDI: Do you still train a lot of police officers today?
JF: Normally the classes are about 50/50 between law enforcement and civilians, but with tax revenues down, a lot of departments have cut back on training. I train a lot of doctors, lawyers, and indian chiefs. I’ve been out to Miramar, Yuma and Camp Pendleton to train Marines, too, which is rewarding.
GDI: What are your thoughts on how the firearms training world has changed since you started? Do you have any thoughts on some of the newer instructors that have become very popular in the gun world?
JF: There are a lot of people doing this, and all have something good to offer. I don’t have much patience for personality cults or those who name things after themselves, but no one is perfect. I’m always modifying what I teach for new realities or new equipment. Some instructors are more military oriented in their methods and the way they treat their students, which appeals to some, but not most students. When a student is paying to be there, you have to perform. More creativity is required than when you’re teaching guys who have to be there for their job.
GDI: If you had to identify one skill that’s most important to handgun shooting, what would it be?
JF: As a shooter, there are a lot of skills, the most important of which is to be comfortable with your equipment. As an instructor, you need to be able to inspire your students and make them want to learn. Some instructors want to impress instead of inspire. Very little of this is glamorous, it’s all just a lot of work. We’re training good people to be armed, who have to be willing to do what has to be done.
GDI: What are your thoughts on “point shooting” versus “sighted shooting?”
JF: There’s an argument to be made for both, neither can be exclusive. Most shooting is aimed. There is a place for “unsighted” shooting, where you’re not using the sights. I don’t think it’s instinctive, but you can be trained to do it. I don’t think we come out of the birth canal knowing how to point a handgun. But very little is learned from success. Learning takes place when you fail. I tell my students, “I’ll give you the opportunity to fail a lot.” I push students out of their comfort zone.
GDI: Do you have an easier time training some students?
JF: Police officers aren’t harder or easier to train than anyone else. Most people learn how to shoot from TV, and we have to break those habits. Some people pick up doing things correctly right away, others don’t. I will constantly remind people to do things the right way. Sometimes they want to get to the fun stuff right away, but until they master the basics, they can’t do that. I tell them, “We’ll get to the fun stuff, but right now you can’t hit the ground with your hat.”
GDI: Do you have any specific thoughts on trigger pull? Is there one way to pull a trigger, or do different methods fit different situations?
JF: Well, you can’t convulse and fire your gun. Some people try to fire by convulsing their entire body, and you have to explain it to them when they’re not hitting anywhere near their target what’s going wrong. One time I was teaching a class to a Korean martial arts group. The way they learn martial arts in an Eastern society is very passive. They all learned proper trigger pull in about ten minutes. Western society is very slam-bang, and it can take longer to teach people trigger pull.
Now, as a practical matter, you’re going to jerk every shot. I call it “trigger jerking disease.” You won’t ever get rid of it, but you can get it under control. Some people have unrealistic expectations of a perfect trigger pull. Ed McGivern was one of the greatest shooters to have ever lived. He did things with revolvers that most people wouldn’t believe if we didn’t have film of him shooting. He had two proteges that he spent a long time teaching, and of all the millions of rounds that they fired, they never came close to doing what he did. I tell my students that we’ll never be that good, but we’ll be good enough that we can make you an effective fighter.
Our goal is to be successful in whatever scenario we find ourselves in. The mark of a mature gunman is that he doesn’t shoot so fast that he misses, or so slow that he gives his opponent too much time. There aren’t too many absolutes in this business – as soon as I make a rule, I find myself making exceptions to it. I’m far less interested in perfect solutions than aggressive action.
GDI: What are your thoughts on trigger reset? Is it something that is discussed too much?
JF: From the standpoint of trigger reset the Glock is a desirable pistol, and it makes a good pistol to teach students. The M&P is a very desirable gun, but the reset is mushy. There’s a company in California called Apex that made a modification, and Smith & Wesson basically adopted it for their newer production guns, so they have a better reset. The Kahr has basically a revolver trigger, the reset is almost irrelevant, same as in the revolver days when you pulled the trigger all the way back and let it all the way forward.
There are not too many pistols I don’t like. I try not to criticize students’ choices and I try not to sell them something. Bring a gun, we’ll work with it, you might like it or you might not like it at the end of the course. Reset isn’t the only thing to consider. Smith sells a lot of M&Ps because of the ergonomics. All students have different issues and problems, and it’s up to us as instructors to help them through those issues and problems.
We may follow up with Mr. Farnam for another interview soon, so if you have any questions you’d like us to ask, let us know!