While America’s 1st Freedom readers are well aware of the National Rifle Association’s all-important political advocacy that has saved the Second Amendment time and time again over the past several decades, many may not be as familiar with the tens of thousands of NRA-certified instructors spread out across America.
The NRA is recognized nationally as the gold standard for safe firearm training, developing millions of safe, ethical, responsible shooters and instructors; in fact, the NRA trains more than a million people throughout the country each and every year!
More than 125,000 certified NRA instructors are on the frontlines of training America’s gun owners. Incidentally, you can compare that number of certified instructors with those working for so-called “gun-safety” groups like the grossly misnamed Everytown for Gun Safety, and you’ll see the NRA has—yep, you guessed it—over 125,000 more certified instructors than those gun-ban groups who try to dress themselves in gun-safety clothing!
Here Come the New Gun Owners
While these NRA instructors have played a critical role in responsible gun ownership for decades, their job has become even more important recently. That’s because of the incredible number of Americans who have become first-time gun owners in just the past few years.
Because of a number of factors that created somewhat of a “perfect storm,” gun sales to first-time firearms owners have jumped dramatically. First came the COVID-19 pandemic, which led to many businesses being closed down and also alienated Americans who could no longer go about their daily lives. Then there was the widespread rioting and violence in a number of major cities in mid-2020 and a “defund-the-police” movement that took officers off the streets and made law-abiding citizens less safe. The combination of those factors, and a few others, led many to finally realize what most NRA members have known all along: When you need immediate protection, the only person you can count on at that moment is yourself.
“When Columbus was having their protests or riots, that’s when we saw a lot of new gun owners come into our classes,” said Kevin Sadeski, who has been training gun owners since 2010 at Armed2Defend LLC in Canal Winchester, Ohio. “Everybody thought the police were going to come and protect them, or these types of things would never happen to them, then all of a sudden their neighborhood was being destroyed and they felt helpless. So, they realized, ‘Hey, I’ve got to be responsible for myself.’”
We’re not just talking about a few thousand new gun owners entering the picture in a few places. We’re talking about literally millions of first-time gun owners throughout the nation.
According to figures provided to America’s 1st Freedom by the National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF), the year 2020 saw a record 21 million gun sales, of which 8.4 million were by first-time gun purchasers. The next year, 2021, was nearly as impressive. Of the 18.5 million background checks run for new gun purchases at the retail level, some 5.4 million were likely first-time gun purchasers.
While the numbers hadn’t been crunched for 2022 as this was being written, the NSSF estimates that of the 16.4 million background checks, about 3.6 million Americans bought a firearm for the first time in 2022. Add up the three-year total and you come up with a whopping 17.4 million new gun owners!
That number is staggering. And even more staggering is the fact that those 17.4 million new gun owners need training and mentoring; after all, there is so much more to responsible gun ownership than just buying a firearm, loading it up and suddenly being ready to protect yourself and your family from whatever evil might befall you.
In fact, according to NSSF, surveys reveal that nearly half of new gun owners are seeking out professional training beyond the general safety instructions that come with new firearm purchases.
“These trends show that not only is there still a strong interest in gun ownership, but also that these new gun owners are interested in learning more about the safe and responsible handling, use and storage of firearms,” said Joe Bartozzi, NSSF president and CEO.
That’s where the NRA and its thousands of certified instructors (see NRAInstructors.org) come in. As David Helmer, head of NRA’s instructor outreach program, put it: “As experts on the frontlines, NRA instructors’ opinions on the importance of the NRA and defending the Second Amendment are vital to new shooters.”
A Closer Look
This incredible number of new gun owners has made life quite busy for NRA-certified instructors such as Houston, Texas-based Heidi Lyn Rao of North American Outdoors. Rao, who has been an NRA instructor for nearly 20 years, has seen a huge increase in the number of people taking her classes, especially the basic pistol curriculum.
“It’s been great,” said Rao. “What I’ve found is a lot of the people who are coming through our training have shared with us that they have this new item that they never thought they’d own. Not that they were opposed to guns, necessarily, but they just never thought they’d have to get one. But they almost think society has forced them to feel like now they have to have a firearm to protect themselves.”
While the surge started during the pandemic, when Texas declared gun ranges to be “essential,” and thus not subject to pandemic-related closure, business really boomed. And that trend hasn’t slowed down a bit.
“Classes are still full,” she said. “We have to have a minimum of four students for a class according to NRA rules, and I can’t tell you the last time I had to cancel a class. And I’m running classes just about every weekend. They are mostly pistol classes, although I sprinkle in rifle and shotgun as well. The need is there, the demand is there, people are looking to get educated, looking to be safe and responsible. And that’s a great thing.”
Interestingly, that demand is nationwide, and it is coming from a vastly different group of people than what comprised most instructors’ student profiles pre-pandemic. Just ask Doug Williams, who has been an instructor at Central Illinois Concealed Carry in Peoria, Ill., for 11 years.
“It’s been encouraging,” said Williams. “It’s good to see that for some people it was like a light bulb turned on. We’re seeing a very diverse class of students, more so than ever. I would say diversity is anywhere from middle age to older females and people of all races. We’ve had the most-diverse classes of students in the last 24 months than we had in the prior 10 years. It was all predictable before who was going to show up to class. Now it’s like—holy smokes!”
What’s To Learn, Anyway?
As Williams pointed out, “People are coming in and they’re thinking, ‘What am I going to learn? It’s just a pistol.’ And later they’re saying, ‘Wow, there is a lot to learn.’ They soak it up. They are very surprised at the knowledge they didn’t know they needed and at the knowledge they received. You don’t know what you don’t know, and people come to class and realize what they didn’t know. There’s a lot more to it than going to a gun shop, buying a gun, pointing it downrange and pulling the trigger. There’s just a lot more going on.”
For Sadeski, the influx of new shooters at his business has brought him into contact with situations he hadn’t faced in the past.
“A lot of them are terrified of guns,” said Sadeski. “They take the class and come on the range and they’re terrified. They might have to take a few sessions before they can build up the courage to shoot. Sometimes there are things in their history that make the idea of a gun just terrifying to them. And it depends on how they were raised. Some people say, ‘Well, I have kids in the house. I can’t have a gun.’ But, if you have a gun, you can actually protect them versus not being able to protect them. A lot of people who were pretty much against guns now come to the classes and say, ‘I grew up not liking guns and was against guns, but now I want a gun.’ It’s a whole lifetime of mental blocks that they’re trying to overcome.”
On the Political Side
While NRA-certified instructors greatly affect new gun owners’ lives by teaching them about safe, responsible gun ownership, they also have the ability to introduce them to the Second Amendment community and to help them learn about the battles gun owners face against gun-ban groups and anti-Second Amendment politicians.
“I think knowledge is just so important,” said Rao. “By getting my students to comprehend that we are possibly only a generation away from losing the Second Amendment, they learn how important it is to understand the issues out there.”
By doing that, Williams said these new gun owners can become an important force for the pro-Second Amendment movement and the very future of gun ownership in America.
“They realize that there is a war on the Second Amendment, there’s a war on gun owners who have been vilified,” he said. “All of a sudden, people realize gun owners are just common people who want to defend themselves and then they realize, ‘Hey, I’m not the problem, I’m the solution to the problem.’”
Being from Illinois, where the state government is constantly infringing on Second Amendment rights, has also shown Williams how important it is to talk to students about the ballot box.
“We have to make sure people get out and vote, and vote the way they should for their constitutional rights,” he said. “We are in a real uphill battle in our state.”
Giving new gun owners knowledge about their rights is important to Rao. “I try to empower them. I let them know that they now have a firearm and so it is their responsibility not only to be safe and responsible, but also to tell other people why it’s important to advocate for the Second Amendment,” she said. “Now that you’re part of the ‘family,’ tell your friends.”
Of course, while instructors teach their students how to be responsible, freedom-appreciating gun owners, it’s up to longtime gun owners to make these newcomers welcome.
“I think a lot of what gun owners can do to help is just have everyday conversations encouraging friends,” said Sadeski. “If your friend says they’re nervous about guns, take them to the range and show them. Once people learn to safely handle a gun, it breaks down a lot of those walls.”
In the end, NRA-certified instructors are truly the unsung heroes of responsible gun ownership and the protection of our Second Amendment. They’re also teaching the future of the NRA.
“I encourage everyone who comes through class to join the NRA,” said Williams. “Because the Left is coming after us really hard and trying to vilify us. They’re trying to make it look like we’re the problem, when we’re the answer to the problem. New gun owners didn’t really know the Second Amendment was something they needed and kind of overlooked it. And now they no longer take it for granted, because they see the Left basically coming after us. I tell them ‘$35 a year for an NRA membership can go a long way toward stopping a lot of the nonsense, both at the state level and the national level.’”
According to Rao, the majority of new gun owners who hear the truth about the NRA like what they hear.
“I tell them to look at what the NRA has done for training, education and marksmanship,” said Rao. “We talk about the history and why the NRA was formed back in 1871. And people just had no idea, because all they hear are the negative soundbites on the news. Nine out of 10 times, they end up becoming a member right there on the spot. Which is positive, as more members means more voices.”