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Firearms trainer interview – John Farnam

John Farnam
John Farnam

We interviewed John Farnam at SHOT Show 2014 about firearms training. He is President of Defense Training International, Inc. John is often referred to as the ‘Dean’ of tactical firearms instructors. His tenure as a firearms instructor goes back to his days in the Marine Corps during the Viet Nam conflict. He was a Marine officer, a police officer, and is currently a commissioned Deputy Sheriff in Colorado. John has written about defensive shooting and tactics in numerous periodicals and has also written several books about ‘The Art.’:

We asked John seven questions about training and what it means to him.

1) What is the value of training?
The first purpose is to learn the psychomotor responses appropriate to criminal confrontation, either in the lethal force or less-lethal force mode. Those who carry weapons need to have their mechanical skills well ingrained before the confrontation so they are not preoccupied with remembering how to operate their weapon.

The second is the transference of the philosophical overlay of the concept of how to safely handle deadly weapons on a daily basis. My experiences in Viet Nam taught me that while many people have learned how to shoot firearms well, that doesn’t necessarily translate into being able to operate firearms safely around others on an everyday basis. I wrote my first paper on training, “Living With Guns,” while I was still a Marine Lieutenant. My experiences since becoming a trainer have reinforced to me how important that concept is.

2) Why did you become a trainer?
I did it as much out of anger, as anything. I realized in Viet Nam and later as a Police Officer, that my training, and the training given to my fellow Marines and Police Officers, had been poor, at best. I had the notion that I could do it better, so I began my quest to improve our Art.

3) What is the emphasis of your class?
Understanding why you are here, what you are learning, and why you should pass it on. That ‘philosophical overlay’ is extremely important for people to understand. Then we can work on the mechanical skills to begin making ourselves unconsciously competent at weapons manipulation.

4) Who is your market?
My market is composed of police officers, military personnel, and white collar professionals. About 25 percent police, 10 percent military, with the balance being white collar people.

5) What do YOU do to train/practice?
I demonstrate everything I teach. Demonstrating in front of an audience to a standard is demanding and helps keep me tuned up. I also regularly attend training from other schools and other trainers.

6) How would you describe your training philosophy?
Looking out for the students’ best interest drives my point of view. It’s important for us, as trainers, to raise students to the level they can achieve and have them understand why that goal is important. We have to keep in mind what’s best for them, regardless of the difficulties, both psychological and physical, that may entail.

7) Why should people take training?
The best students are the ones who have had a bad experience; they are motivated to learn how to avoid a repeat experience. The worst students are the ones who are there for a lark; however they are the ones who probably need training the most because they could stumble into a bad experience at any time. Those who have had a bad experience frequently understand the need for a change of lifestyle and are already working on it. Learning to avoid the ‘S trilogy’ of Stupid People, Stupid Places, and Stupid Things, and how to do that, is not something many people have thought about before taking training.

The following is an excerpt of John’s essay Living With Firearms, which he has given permission to reprint.

By John S Farnam

Several years ago, while I was attending The US Army Command and General Staff College at Ft Leavenworth, KS, I submitted [a] paper entitled, "Living With Guns". In it, I describe[d] some of my unpleasant experiences as an infantry second lieutenant platoon commander in Vietnam in 1968. I observed that, during that conflict, although we all had been (at great expense) thoroughly trained to operate various weapons systems, nobody ever taught us how to live with them.

[Unintentional discharges] kept happening, and it struck me that sterile, abstract “training” in "safe gun handling" did not suffice to prevent it.

We learned, the hard way, that it does not suffice merely to train people how to operate guns. We have to make them into gunmen, not just gun operators, but gunmen!

As a private defensive firearms training contractor, I now have the opportunity to work with military, civilian, and police personnel alike. Unfortunately, I see the same problem no matter which sector I work with. There are still unintentional discharges everywhere you find people carrying and attempting to live with guns.

It does not, however, have to happen to you!

Modern defensive firearms are designed for one purpose: to launch bullets. And once launched, the projectile cannot be called back. We don't learn how to live with guns by trial and error.

The memorization of a laundry list of "safety rules" is no substitute for presence of mind and common sense. However, there are two maxims that must be learned and observed at all times:
(1) The muzzle of the weapon must not be allowed to point in an unsafe direction; (2) The trigger finger must be kept in the register position (out of contact with the trigger and out of the trigger guard) until/unless the sights are on target and it is intended for the weapon's hammer to fall immediately.

The weapon is neither a toy nor a random home furnishing. Rather, it is a deadly serious tool, designed to protect your life. It is not an object of fear, but it should be treated with respect.

When keeping a firearm in the home with the intention of having it readily available for defensive use, you must remember that safety and readiness are mutually antagonistic. That is: the more safe the gun is, the less ready. The more ready, the less safe. You can't have it both ways. A gun that is perfectly safe is perfectly useless.

When a gun is carried on your person, you have constant, direct control over it. But, a weapon kept in the home is often unattended. Every householder must decide for himself where he will strike the compromise, based on the perceived threat level and the nature of his household.

Trigger locks are little more than an exercise in self-deception and are highly not recommended. Anything that is designed to go inside a trigger guard is a veritable invitation to disaster. As a general rule, defensive firearms should either be (1) carried on the person or (2) secured inside a locked container.

The scrupulous observation of a few simple rules, combined with good judgment and assiduous common sense will enable you and your family to live with guns and never experience even your first accident. Gunmen are distinguished from pretenders by three main points. (1) We don’t have accidents with guns. (2) We don’t hesitate, and (3) we don’t miss.

We appreciate John taking the time to talk with us about this important topic. His schedule of classes is listed here.

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