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This column highlights the work of our affiliated instructors. Few firearms instructors active in America today have touched as many lives as our mentor, Advisory Board member and affiliated instructor Massad Ayoob.nra 22 ayoob

One characteristic that sets a class with Ayoob apart is his focus on the laws and ethics of use of force. In fact, some classes he teaches aren’t focused on shooting skills at all, and yet have the greatest personal impact on many of us. We spoke with Mas recently about his Deadly Force Instructor course, which, interestingly, is not just for instructors. It was a fun and thought-provoking conversation that I expect Network members might enjoy “sitting in on.”

For those who prefer streaming video, we offer a less formal version of this interview with Massad Ayoob about his Deadly Force Instructor class at https://youtu.be/SIl40dGKjC4 .

eJournal: By way of introduction, how did you get started teaching and why has your curriculum developed that very different focus from what’s common to mainstream shooting instruction?

Ayoob: I started shooting and carrying guns at an early age. Due to a quirk in the local law which allowed it, I started carrying at age 12 in my dad’s jewelry store. Realizing the gravity of it, I sat down with the chief of police in the community, one very patient judge and a couple of lawyers and they told me what I needed to know and where to learn more.

That sent me into the state legal library, and I practically haunted the place. It didn’t occur to me until later how the librarians might have felt about a teenager who kept looking up homicide law!

I remember thinking, “Why doesn’t somebody write a book about this for the armed citizen?” There had been books on how to win a gunfight that went back in the 19th century and absolutely nothing in the gun magazines or in the bookstores that would guide you on when can you use deadly force in self defense.

Time went on and in 1972, I became a police firearms instructor at age 21. A year earlier, I’d started writing for the gun magazines and during the 1970s, I put together a book called In the Gravest Extreme that explained lethal force to private citizens for the first time. It turned out to be a bestseller.

I started teaching private citizens in 1981 with Ray Chapman at Chapman Academy in Columbia, Missouri. Ray encouraged me to start my own school. At the time, I was a full-time writer specializing in guns, law enforcement, professional journals, and martial arts. I thought I’d teach part-time as a lark, do a class once a month and need to travel less than I was as a writer.

That year, I opened Lethal Force Institute and within a year it became the tail that wagged the dog. I became a full-time instructor, part-time cop, and part-time writer. We were the first school to teach in depth the law of deadly force as it relates to the private citizen. We don’t give legal advice, of course. We give practical advice.

I had started as an expert witness in 1979 and quickly found out a whole lot of trial tactics aren’t in the law books. Attorneys will tell you that law school teaches you the law; you learn trial tactics on the job, in trial, or in continuing legal education from other attorneys. I spent a couple of years as co-vice chair of the forensic evidence committee for National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers which gave me access to some of the best defense lawyers in the country who were doing self-defense cases.
I met Marty Hayes in 1990 when I started teaching for him and in the late ‘90s, he said, “You know, neither of us is going to live forever! How about we start doing courses on how to teach deadly force in the private sector?” We did the pilot program with Marty at Firearms Academy of Seattle and ever since, we’ve been doing one or two a year. We did one earlier this year in Phoenix that was very successful, and we have another one coming up this summer at Firearms Academy of Seattle.

We’ve both been to many instructor courses, and one thing that’s always bothered us is how instructor courses teach how to do a technique, give you some drills, then you shoot a qualification and they say, “dóminus vobíscum, thou art an instructor,” so at Deadly Force Instructor, each student teaches a 10- or 15-minute block in front of forgiving peers who give constructive criticism, not in front of unforgiving students.

eJournal: Better also to work out issues through feedback from instructors and avoid miscommunications that cause a technique to fail when it is needed for real. Teaching instructors brings its own special challenges, but one is the absolute necessity to connect on a mental and emotional level.

Ayoob: Very much so.

eJournal: Interestingly, there is also an entirely different facet to the Deadly Force Instructor course and something you mentioned doing early in your career: giving expert witness testimony at trial and being a subject-matter expert for attorneys.

Ayoob: Over the years, Marty and I have been appalled to see how often the instructors who had trained the defendants refused to testify for them, were ordered by their bosses for political reasons not to testify, or could not competently testify, so we teach how to testify as material witnesses to the training that their student received.

Here’s how the course goes: the first two days, we hammer out all the material, the third day, we start getting into the subtleties of adult education in high liability areas. I’ve been an expert witness for 45 years; Marty has for 30 years. We teach elements like the importance of bringing in demonstrative evidence and the different ways to present it to the jury. A trial tends to focus on the actions of the defendant. We emphasize telling the attorneys who hire us as experts to let us show the jury what the deceased would have done to the defendant if the defendant hadn’t pulled the trigger. That tends to get lost at trial.

We can demonstrate speed of closure, how quickly a knife can be deployed, how quickly someone can be disarmed. We also show students how to do it on video because some judges will not allow live demonstrations in their courtrooms. They’ll say, “This is a dignified courtroom, not Shakespeare in the park. You’re not going to dance around in front of my jury! You want to show them something, put it on video and I’ll let them see it.” Then you have other judges who are the exact opposite. “Look, I know about CGI; I know about AI. Nobody’s going to play any video tricks on juries in my courtroom. Counselor, if you want to show something, you and your expert get in front of the jury box and show them!” We show students how to handle both.

eJournal: People think, and maybe even judges believe, “Of course everybody knows how quickly you can close the distance across a room and make contact with somebody.” Well, have they experienced it? In Spencer Newcomer’s trial, Attorney Chris Ferro briefly played some video images on a big screen and asked the jury, “Could you really draw an accurate conclusion out of what you just saw, in the time it was visible?” Ferro’s skill at presenting demonstrative evidence was really a huge factor in that trial.

Expert witnesses also face scrutiny if they testify. For many, the idea of being cross examined on the witness stand is daunting: something to be avoided at all costs!

Ayoob: In DFI, we cover the dirty tricks of cross-examination. One of our graduates, the great instructor John Murphy, said the Deadly Force Instructor course was like a preview of what the prosecutor was trying to do to that poor kid on the witness stand in the Rittenhouse trial.

I call it quicksand. You might be told, “This is solid, step on it, go ahead and put your weight on it.” Suddenly, you find yourself being sucked down. The two rules of quicksand are, one, know where the quicksand is and how to avoid it. Two, know how other people have found themselves up to their butts in quicksand and have gotten out of it. Be prepared to do that if you must. We’ve had very good success.

eJournal: The defendant needs an expert identifying where it is safe to put your weight, or standing by to help the attorney pull you out if you fall in.

Ayoob: Marty and I both feel that expert witnesses are underutilized in both criminal and civil trials.

eJournal: My sense of it is that the top-tier deadly force experts – you and Emanuel Kapelsohn come to mind – are overworked. There aren’t that many people who really know the deadly force material.

Ayoob: Many of our DFI graduates, like Karl Rehn and Kaery Dudenhofer, have gone on to give very successful expert witness testimony. After-class evaluations from students like Kevin Davis and Lee Weems, who were already doing expert witness testimony, said they found our class very useful.

I’m very pleased to say that every single attorney who’s been through that class has said they learned more about deadly force the first day than they did in three years of law school. That’s because law school is a sea of tort law, civil law, maritime law, family law, contract law and so deadly force is a drop in the bucket. Three hours is the average answer when I ask attorneys how much of their three years of law school were spent on deadly force law. Marty told me he got less in law school.

eJournal: If the number is an average, yes, some programs are even stingier. Moving away from expert witness work, a huge subject we could discuss for hours, I know that some of your DFI students are just good, common citizens; people who come to class never intending to expose themselves to cross examination so they’re not going to work as either expert witnesses or as instructors. What do these men and women come for and what benefit does the class give them?

Ayoob: There are a number of people who carry a gun and feel they’re not truly competent with something until someone who knows what they’re doing has certified them to teach it. I’ve really found that to be true in life. We get to where we can meet a certain standard or score an expert or master rating, therefore we must be an expert or a master, but I found it is not until you start teaching something have you really, truly master it. When you know that people are going to be asking you: “Why do we do it this exact, particular way? What are the pros and cons of this other competing theory?” You’ve got to be able to answer confidently. Being certified to instruct and being experienced in teaching is the final imprimatur that double stamps your mastery. Teaching sharpens your own technique and your own confidence in your abilities.

History shows that competence and confidence intertwine. Confidence comes from being competent; part of the competence is the confidence that you can do it that allows you to carry out whatever the task may be.

eJournal: Like a Venn diagram, both attributes overlap. One thing Deadly Force Instructor course offers is the experience of moot court. Experience contributes to confidence before possibly going up against someone intent on imprisoning you, perhaps like Rittenhouse faced in prosecutor Thomas Binger, as you referenced earlier.

Ayoob: Moot court is the aftermath equivalent to force-on-force training with Simunitions®. When you’re on the witness stand and somebody’s actually firing questions at you, it’s a whole lot different than theory.

eJournal: How stressed out do you think your students are when testifying as an expert in moot court? One even gets to act as defendant! How stressful is that for your students?

Ayoob: They’ve told me afterwards it was stressful as hell because while they knew they weren’t going to go to prison, if they lost, they knew their peers were watching to see how they handled themselves.

eJournal: Stress inoculation is a term you taught us years ago and it is a proven concept. Of course, whether we are training with Simunitions®, or practicing in moot court, it’s not like being on the witness stand in front of the real judge and the real jury, but I don’t think that you can overstate the confidence factor you referenced a few minutes ago. I don’t think you can overstate the value of the mind being able to say we’ve worked through a shadow model of this previously. Watch out for this, be careful and avoid that.

Ayoob: If you think about it, essentially training should be, as much as possible, authentically replicated experience. That’s why we included the moot court in Deadly Force Instructor. The evaluations students turn in at the end of class tell me that moot court is some of the most profound time in that 40-plus hours of training.

eJournal: In my experience, profound is a good word for pretty much any Massad Ayoob class. It changes lives; seeing a tiny fraction of how bad it can be changes our risk-aversion. If we’re smart, we base future behavior on what you teach. You have taught thousands of classes to tens of thousands of students, but I find it charming that what you and I are talking about today is a return to the original venue in which you launched Deadly Force Instructor. Tell us a little, please, about class prerequisites, tuition costs and possible discounts, how to sign up and all of those important details so we can print them for reader convenience.

Ayoob: It’s an intense program that’s 40 hours long over five days, but if you count the evening work, the study groups, and the preparation, it’s between 40 and 50 hours. Prerequisites include showing proof you can pass a criminal record background check. It certainly would be helpful if you had taken a Massad Ayoob Group class prior to the instructor course, so we give a discount to people who show MAG 20 or MAG 40 certificates. They’re already grounded on the topic, so we tend to assign them to be the leaders of the study groups. If they’re not MAG grads, there’s a discount for Network members. Call Firearms Academy of Seattle at 360-978-6100 or read more online at https://firearmsacademy.com/guest-instructors/deadly-force-instructor-washington and my own website https://massadayoobgroup.com/deadly-force-instructor-class/.

eJournal: It would be great to bring you and Network members together in that class. The Network owes you a debt of gratitude for all the members who, on the strength of your recommendation, joined and made us the strong member support group that we are. Your guidance and instruction have been so integral to who we are and what we do! Thank you, Mas.

Ayoob: Well, thank you Gila and Marty and the whole team there at the Network. You literally created something that didn’t exist before – a member mutual support group for people who get in trouble doing the right thing to save their lives and their family’s lives. God bless you for doing that.

Network Advisory Board member Massad Ayoob is author of several dozen books and countless articles. Ayoob founded the Lethal Force Institute in 1981 and now teaches through Massad Ayoob Group of which he is the director. Since 1979, he has received judicial recognition as an expert witness for the courts in weapons and shooting cases, and was a fully sworn and empowered, part-time police officer for over forty years at ranks from patrolman through captain. Learn more at https://massadayoobgroup.com or read his blog at https://backwoodshome.com/blogs/MassadAyoob/.

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