I am a huge proponent of training. Not only do I preach it, but I try to live it as much as possible. When the opportunity and the wallet allow I try to take at least one class per year.
In recent times, topics have covered mushrooms, trauma medicine, wilderness, and urban survival, counter custody, locksmithing, as well as firearms. My skill level for each of these has varied from complete novice to expert.
I’ve never taken a course where I didn’t learn something. The NHFC Firearms Academy-Handgun Level 1 class raised this bar for all my future classes!
I need to frame this article with my personal firearms history as this will frame my interpretation of the class.
I’ve been shooting since I was 5. My father took me out back to plink with a .22. I hunted as soon as I could get my license and started serious training with a pistol when I turned 21.
Soon, I started carrying, but not until I educated myself on the laws and personal responsibility of using a firearm in a defensive situation.
In the many years since I purchased my first “real pistol,” a Sig Arms 239, I’ve taken over 100 hours of formal classes and logged thousands of hours on the range in practice and competition.
Massad Ayoob taught several of these classes. These included LFI 1 (now re-branded as MAG 40) and Stressfire. The NRA hosted a few, while others involved private instructors that my friends and I hired.
Most of these classes centered on trigger time, a few included indispensable hours spent on self-defense and the law.
This quickly became a passion of mine. I’ve since invested many hours deepening my understanding of this critical aspect of carrying a firearm.
I primarily competed in IDPA. I rose through the ranks of novice, marksman, and sharpshooter. I was even bumped up to expert in my last few years of shooting.
This was due to high placement in a competition rather than scoring well on the classifier. I don’t consider myself an expert shooter.
During this time, I shot with one gun, a Sig 239. With its 3.6” barrel and 8 + 1 mag capacity, it isn’t considered a serious competition pistol by any means. But it was what I had and, more importantly, what I carried.
I also never competed with a “gaming” attitude. I showed up, and I shot the course of fire. I was never in it for the score, only for the application and testing of my skills.
As Massad once said to me, “beware of the man with one gun, he probably knows how to use it.” I tried very hard to live up to that statement.
When I heard of the NHFC class, I jumped at the chance to attend the trial run. They spent over 2 years developing and tuning the syllabus and were ready to launch the in-person class.
Keith Hanson, more on Keith later, was to take the reins for the lions-share of the class.
The primary goal of these two days was to iron out the kinks of the syllabus. I had a brief phone interview with Keith so that he could gauge my self-assessed experience level.
Shortly thereafter, I rolled up to the host club with a mix of excitement and apprehension. In the end, I was not disappointed.
New Hampshire Firearms Coalition (NHFC)
New Hampshire is the “Live Free or Die” state for good reason. We are fiercely independent northerners and don’t take our liberties lightly.
The NHFC (https://www.nhfc-ontarget.org/) is a second amendment advocacy group that strives to keep New Hampshire free.
They continue this mission in the face of both federal and local pressure on our bill of rights. Their mission statement is a follows.
The New Hampshire Firearms Coalition, Inc., (NHFC) is New Hampshire firearm owners’ strongest voice to State and Municipal government officials and agencies, and to the media. The NHFC seeks the widest scope for you to exercise your Second Amendment civil right to be armed.
- Roll backs of laws restricting the types of firearms New Hampshire residents may own
- Expanding New Hampshire residents’ right to carry firearms, openly or concealed
- Strengthening protection for shooting clubs and ranges against encroachments/harassment
- Extending carry license validity beyond four years
- Increased concealed carry license reciprocity
- Strengthening protection for firearms manufacturers and dealers
- Educating reporters and editors about firearms and firearm related issues
- Educating public officials about firearms and firearm related issues
- Easing regulatory burdens on firearm buyers, sellers, and manufacturers
- Expansion of hunting seasons and areas
- Helping firearm-owners to better their shooting skills and to learn new ones
In our fight to keep our rights, the NHFC is one of the hardest working and smartest organizations we have in New Hampshire.
In this endeavor, they review and rank New Hampshire candidates, review and comment on proposed legislation, actively lobby for good legislation, lobby against destructive bills, and provide expert testimony where needed.
Further, they provide educational classes on the political process and how, at a grassroots level, we can all influence our local governments.
As a part of this effort, the leadership team of NHFC worked with Keith Hanson for over two years. They worked to develop a fundamentals course that teaches the three pillars of self-defense with a gun.
These include safe and effective handgun use, self-defense law, and second amendment advocacy.
Their goal in this class was not only to train safe shooters but to also create a population of knowledgeable shooters that advocate for our second amendment rights.
Keith Hanson and Critical Dynamics
Keith is an instructor’s instructor. He has the knowledge to, and most importantly, knows how to share it and make an impact.
This starts in the classroom and continues to the range. He is a court-recognized expert in civil liabilities for both civilians and law enforcement officers.
He brings to the classroom his experience as a career law enforcement officer. During his time in law enforcement, he was a certified instructor in counter-terrorism, active shooter response, tactical firearms, and SWAT medic.
Keith spends hundreds of hours per year sharing this knowledge both in the classroom and on the range.
As a part of the learning experience, he encourages questions as “The only stupid question is the one that you don’t ask.”
He also emphasized that there is no one way that we all learn or shoot the same. It is therefore important for the teacher to present multiple techniques for each goal.
Likewise, the student must be open-minded to try new techniques for each link in the shooting chain. You never know what little tweak will improve your understanding or your grouping.
Much more on that soon. But for now, on to the class.
Handgun Level 1–Second Amendment Activism
The first morning of the class opened with the NHFC leadership team providing a comprehensive talk on their second amendment political efforts.
I don’t need to say this, but our second amendment rights are under assault. Not a month goes by where a new bill is proposed seeking to limit this right as clearly defined in the constitution.
Groups like NHFC are on the front lines fighting for you and me to keep and bear arms. NHFC takes a multi-pronged approach to this assault.
The NHFC leads at the class presented their recent efforts within the New Hampshire government to testify for and against bills, providing hard facts on both national and local trends in firearm use.
Details that are too often misrepresented by gun control advocates.
Second, they illustrated their efforts to create grass-roots operations that educate and empower gun owners not only through voting but through communication with their representatives.
Every gun owner that sends the message that we will not tolerate further erosion of our gun rights is another active voice for the second amendment.
Finally, they discussed their educational outreach programs, such as this class.
Handgun Level 1–Know The Law
Keith started his class time by presenting self-defense and the law. As stated, I’ve had several classes on this very topic and I was pleased that Keith first presented the basic terminology of our law.
The words that form our statues are very precise, and each one is there for a specific reason.
He defined deadly force (force that causes death or serious bodily injury) and then listed the Revised Statutes Annotated (RSAs) in the New Hampshire criminal code that apply to self-defense.
An understanding of these terms and how they are applied formed the foundation of the rest of his law material.
Next, he introduced the well-established Jeopardy Triad.
The Jeopardy Triad balances opportunity, ability, and intent during a deadly encounter.
Does the aggressor have the opportunity and ability to cause harm and have they expressed intent?
A person with a firearm in the same room as you has both the opportunity and ability to deploy lethal force. But if they have expressed no intent, then you are not justified in engaging them with a lethal defense.
We carry this situation out every day at firearm ranges across the country. We are armed, but we have no ill intent.
Keith reviewed this, emphasizing each point and providing well-illustrated examples.
The class material then introduced one of those nuggets that, had I not attended another minute of the class, made the trip worth it a hundred times over.
Here, Kieth extended the Jeopardy Triad with his DUI Prism. DUI stands for Deadly, Unavoidable, Imminent.
Keith developed this extension through his many consultations and courtroom testimonies. You must ask the following questions.
- Death: Is the threat capable of causing serious bodily injury or death
- Unavoidable: Are you an unwilling participant in the evolution of the encounter, specifically were you involved in the continuation, escalation, or perpetuation of the event
- Imminent: If I fail to take action, will the next logical action result in death or severe bodily injury
If all elements of the Jeopardy Triad and the DUI Prism are present, then and only then are you justified in exercising lethal force in your defense.
In pursuit of this as firearms users, we have the requirement to employ the following priority of action.
Avoid conflict at all costs
If that is not possible, then
- Diffuse and de-escalate
If all elements of the Jeopardy Triad and DUI Prism are present, then
If any elements of the triad and prism are missing, then we are guilty of using excessive force.
I can honestly say that this material should be present in any class that teaches any application of firearms for self-defense.
An armed society is a polite society. This is not because people are nice only when a gun is stuffed in their faces. In fact, it’s the opposite.
Those who carry a firearm are required to avoid conflict and de-escalate at every opportunity. It is only when you have exhausted all efforts that you may apply lethal force.
It is those of us who carry that are the polite members until, that is, it is necessary to shoot quickly and accurately to stop the threat.
I could have sat through two days of this material. Everyone who owns a firearm for self-defense should feel obligated to commit these elements to memory.
They should be as ingrained as any muscle memory required for shooting. That being said, Keith provided as concise a description as I have ever encountered.
Handgun Level 1–Range Time
Any and every range time begins with the four Non-Negotiable safety rules.
- Treat every firearm as if it is loaded
- Always point the muzzle in a safe direction
- Keep your finger off the trigger until you have identified your target
- Know your target and what is behind it
These rules kicked off our session and were reinforced for the day and a half that we were on the range.
Twelve shooters varying in age across four decades attended the range portion of the class. Further, their abilities varied from novice to expert and included one seasoned NRA instructor.
This supplied an excellent mix of skills, questions, and comments that bolstered some of the presentation points.
Keith provided the main instruction while three range safety officers accompanied him.
Range time began with foundational instruction on stance, grip, sight alignment, and trigger press.
Keith emphasized dry fire for both this class and for home practice. After dry and a minimum of live-fire exercises, we ran a basic skills assessment drill.
This assessment of 24 rounds evaluated: two hand, strong\weak hand, and timed shots, including reloads.
We ran the assessment three or four times during the two days to gauge progress.
It was an effective exercise that demonstrated our improvement as we honed each skill.
With the first assessment completed, we focused in earnest on basic skills.
Starting with stance, Keith and his cadre presented isosceles, weaver, and modified-weaver. These included their history, which was a fascinating evolution.
They also introduced stances with lead in positions, such as the interview stance. Keeps you ready with non-threatening body language.
Next was grip. I’ve heard lectures on balancing push and pull with enough grip force to manage recoil. Been there, done that, got the hat! I love practicing basic skills, and day one was no different.
Keith continued with a tutorial on trigger management. He thoroughly covered placement of the finger and a steady press.
He further explained the mechanics and the opposing forces taking place and the effect imbalance has on shot placement. Your trigger finger is a powerful thing.
It can pull your shot down or twist the gun towards your weak side (to the left for us right-handers).
A proper trigger press is a thing of beauty. It also requires an immense amount of concentration.
Keith reflected on his technique. While he has probably pressed a trigger a million times, each one is executed as if it were the first.
“If you were to crawl inside the dark and murky world of my head during a trigger press, you would hear the same thing over and over again…. Don’t drop the front sight. Don’t drop the front sight.”
Next, we covered sight alignment. Again, standard material, well presented.
Then there is that pesky weak hand thumb. I’ve always let it fly. It’s pointed north for 30 years and I’m pretty comfortable with that.
Across the decades, friends and even instructors have recommended that I point it forward. In this way, it becomes another index to the target.
Ok, but I have my trigger finger doing the same thing. No one has given me a compelling reason least yet demonstrated why I should change.
Keith mentioned what to do with it, but my brain was somewhere else for that valuable lesson.
Once we ran a few practice drills, he had us put it all together with 18 rounds aimed at a 1-inch bullseye at 7 yards.
Keith assessed each target and provided recommendations for improvement. From stance, to trigger press, and sight alignment.
Keith asked those with left drifting groups to stand by for one more run. I ran off with the adults to refill my mags.
Nope, Keith called me back for another run. While I had an impressive group, I pulled it distinctly to the left.
This drill focused on that wayward, weak side thumb.
Without the thumb, your supporting hand remains open and can only provide a minimum of resistance to the trigger finger pushing the shots to the weak side.
Now he really had my attention.
The solution, press it into the side of the firearm. If it rides the slide, it won’t affect the operation of the gun. Just press it over there.
Because of the balance of pressure between the fingers and thumb of that hand, it’s impossible to overcompensate.
That bit of pressure nullifies the trigger finger in its effort to throw your shots wide.
Finally, a good explanation of what to do with that pesky thumb. But did it work?
A few rounds of dry fire to drill this home and then back to the 1-inch bullseye we went.
Reminder, my first group was 1-inch, but it was also half a diameter to the left.
Now, after diagnosis, corrective action, and adjustment, it was dead on! Oh, I tightened it up a bit too.
This exercise absolutely validated the process of diagnosis, corrective action, and adjustment equals results.
This old dog can learn new tricks! My improvement aside, I need to repeat that this is a validation of Keith’s process.
Anyone can teach, but it’s the skilled instructor that can diagnose the cause of a behavior, provide the right corrective action, and then nurture the student through the adjustment.
I wasn’t the perfect student, though. We did the 1-inch drill a few more times throughout the two days.
Every time the thumb would head north, Keith or his cadre would remind me and I’d pull it back together.
Again, this was another tangible takeaway that made this course a winner.
The remaining class time for day one focused on ammo management, malfunction clearing, and basic at-rest positioning.
Day two on the range revisited the first day’s material, then layered on a few extras. The first was refined trigger presentation.
This included staging the trigger and precision vs accuracy. Specifically, Keith covered the “under-stress” progression of precision falling to accuracy, and accuracy falling to misses.
He emphasized, returning to the four rules of safety, that every missed shot is a liability. Or, more bluntly, every bullet has a lawyer attached to it.
The class proceeded with threat assessments (checking to each side and behind you) as well as shot assessment. Were my shots effective?
Are additional shots required and are there additional threats? All important questions under stress!
We wrapped up with a few more dynamic drills that included all the elements presented in the day and a half and finished with one final assessment. There was improvement across all shooters.
As I’ve stated, I’ve spent a fair amount of time in shooting classes and even more time on independent study, dry-fire practice, and live-fire drills. That being said, nothing compares to quality instruction from a skilled teacher.
The NHFC Handgun Level 1 shooting syllabus was first-rate and would have been worth my time and effort, even if it wasn’t with the self-defense law and second amendment advocacy material.
Together, there was a synergy that made this class some of the most valuable hours I’ve ever spent learning.
Bringing The Class To A Close
We all have limits to our time and budget. It is often difficult to balance trading time or money for something that we may feel that we are already good at.
I assure you this is a part of my decision process whenever I evaluate attending a class.
That being said, I profoundly feel that those of us who are firearms owners, and specifically those of us who choose to carry a firearm for self-defense, are held to a higher standard for our education.
We owe it to ourselves and those we protect to know definitively when and when not to deploy lethal force in our defense.
Not only could the wrong decision end the life of our attacker, but it could profoundly affect the lives of those around us. We must know conclusively when lethal force is justified.
Classes such as this play a part in our education, as we all can’t be lawyers or law enforcement.
We are, however, responsible citizens and this class should be on every gun owner’s resume.
I cannot speak highly enough about the curriculum that NHFC put together for this class.
Nor can I speak highly enough for Keith and his team for providing world-class instruction in a safe environment.
I hope that our personal improvement continues to validate his approach.
If you can find a class with a similar course of study, you owe it to yourself to attend whether you just picked up your first handgun, or you can already shoot the wings off a fly.
Because no matter what, there are opportunities to learn. And where education takes place, there is improvement.
Shoot straight, my friends!
Neither I nor any of my classmates paid to take part in this class. The expectation of each of us was, in lieu of a class fee, that we would provide a full and honest assessment of the material provided.