MISSOULA - Owning a firearm is a big responsibility, and that’s where the men at Practical Shooting Instruction come in to help.
PSI in Missoula is a partner with the United States Concealed Carry Association and provides a variety of hands-on firearm safety courses for those who wish to operate a gun.
Their basic handgun class provides information on safety, storage and use of a firearm as a self-defense and concealed carry weapon.
“It’s important, people — it’s something they don’t think about,” said certified PSI instructor Nate Martin. “‘Oh I’ve got a gun.’ ‘I’ll go buy a gun, I’ll be fine. When I need to use it, I’ll be able to use it.’ And that just isn’t true. You have to have experience, and you have to keep that experience up to date.”
The basic handgun course begins with a classroom lecture on how guns and ammunition work and the gear needed for a concealed carry weapon.
They also cover the legality of a concealed carry firearm, such as when you are and are not allowed to use force.
“You have to commit yourself to a decent amount of education on the legalities of it,” certified PSI instructor Scott Giesick said. “You know, a lot of people seem to think they can just buy a gun and strap it on your hip because we’re in Montana, without realizing that there’s specific limits and regulations on when you can use a firearm and when you can’t. As gun owners and concealed carry holders, you have to walk a pretty fine line on that.”
They also talk through other forms of defensive weapons, such as pepper spray and tasers.
Giesick says they want people to consider other strategies for defense before committing to carrying a firearm.
"The firearm isn’t the end all, be all of defense," he said.
After talking through the initial information, Giesick and Martin then lead their students through a dry-fire scenario by using a gun without any ammo.
This is helpful for the participants who feel hesitant or scared to operate a firearm.
“We can get over people's inhibitions on handling the gun,” Giesick said. “So how to grip it how to press the trigger, good set, good stance, all those fundamentals. And then we progress from there to live ammo. And we've found that that step-by-step methodology works very well with the majority of people.”
This process of instruction is similar in all PSI courses, which include defensive rifle, defensive pistol and competitive pistol classes.
In Montana, if residents are able to purchase a handgun, they are able to carry one. While there are online and in-person lecture courses available, it is not technically necessary for a concealed carry.
Giesick and Martin believe it is still very important to take some sort of safety course on firearm safety, particularly if you are considering carrying a gun.
“It's one thing to buy guns and go to the range and have fun with them, and it's another to carry a gun. That's a totally different deal,” Martin said. “It's a serious business, and I would encourage anybody that's considering carrying a gun concealed to take a class– it doesn't have to be from us.”
Another important aspect of PSI courses is the hands-on component. Martin says trying to understand gun safety or mechanics without physically holding a gun is similar to trying to learn to swim without getting in the water.
Martin is a probation officer and carries a gun daily for his job.
Both Martin and Giesick compete frequently in shooting competitions. They also handle guns every day, but they don't do so lightly.
“Even though we work with firearms extensively, and we compete extensively, the last thing I want to do is ever have to use that,” Giesick said.
Martin explained that not everyone should be a gun owner or concealed carry holder.
He says it’s easy for some people to think of a gun as the solution to every problem when it should only be used in the direst situations.
“If you're an argumentative person, you should probably not carry a gun. If you like to put your hands on people and fight, don't carry a gun,” Martin said. “If, if you're in a situation where someone's very spooled up and you're just gonna have to pay for your dinner and leave and not finish it. That's a much better option than being forced to use a firearm to defend yourself.”
PSI provides handguns for rental use at the basic handgun class, and Giesick encourages participants to try out these guns before buying a firearm themselves.
“We have plenty of guns for you to use,” Giesick noted. “Just come, get the training, get the experience and see what it feels like to shoot these. And then you have something to base it on. Otherwise, you’re dropping $500-800 on something you may or may not like.”
PSI offers a few women-only courses, but Martin says that the participants tend to be majority female anyways, "they recognize the need to be able to protect themselves in a bad situation."
Besides this, the participants typically have a large variety of skill levels– from never operating a gun to growing up with firearms.
After the course, students tend to feel a lot more comfortable with a firearm, and even start to have fun, according to Giesick.
But he stresses that the basic handgun course shouldn’t be their last practice with a gun.
“We’ve had a lot of people who like to take the classes just to check that box off,” Giesick said. “You can’t do that with firearms. If you don’t develop a training or a practice program… you know, get out once a week, once every two weeks, something consistent. Any skills you may have picked up, just slowly diminishes over time.”
The course is meant for folks who plan to own their own firearm, but Giesick encourages everyone to come to a PSI class.
“Even if you don’t want to get a gun, you should understand how they function, how they work, at the very least how to clear a gun to make sure it’s safe,” he said.
While Martin and Giesick will always emphasize the importance of safety, knowledge and respect of firearms, they still say they can be a fun hobby for people.
Martin says it’s the perfect activity for a perfectionist.
The basic handgun course costs $120 and is held throughout the year. The next class is on Saturday, March 25 at Deer Creek Shooting Center in Missoula.
Giesick and Martin also recommend Law of Self Defense and the YouTube channel Active Self Protection as other informational recourses on operating a firearm.
More information on PSI can be found here.