How I Changed How I Teach Self Defense Law In My CCW Classes

Hi folks,

Today’s After Action Analysis has been postponed this week to make room for something I think is both fascinating and important.  Jacob Paulson of has agreed to write a few lines about his experience with self-defense law as it pertains to instructors.  I hope you enjoy it as much as I.  Our After Action Analysis Show will return next week but don’t feel bad – this info is just as fantastic. So please enjoy this contribution from our frequent partner, Jacob Paulson of


Attorney Andrew F. Branca

Law of Self Defense LLC


How I Changed How I Teach Self Defense Law In My CCW Classes

It is time for firearm instructors to change something. Something that is as deeply rooted and well intentioned as any other dogmatic practice I know of. Let me start at the beginning…

My Journey In Teaching “Gun Law”

I’ve been teaching Concealed Carry classes since January 2007. While I’m no longer a newbie I know a lot of instructors who have been at it much longer than I.

I started out in Utah where the state has a defined curriculum that requires the instructor to push up onto the screen the actual language from the state statutes relative to justifiable force and then attempt to explain what it means.

In theory instructors know what these statutes mean from having previously attended an instructor qualifying class given by Utah State employees who are essentially state level law enforcement tasked with managing the permitting program.

When I moved to Colorado I continued to do the same, this time researching those laws on my own and seeking legal council from a local competent attorney. I thought I was doing the best thing possible for my students by showing them the language of the actual statues and explaining what it meant.

Like most parts of a class curriculum you start to notice patterns in the questions that your students ask and so you tweak and adjust your presentation of the material to address those concerns before they can be asked by the students.

At this point if you are a firearm instructor I suspect you identify with my story. I currently work with about 50 instructors across the US who make up the instructor network and most of them have a story just like mine.


Before I tell what I changes I think it is important to know WHY I changed it. Sharing the actual state statutes with my students and attempting to explain what they mean has some significant drawbacks. I hadn’t really thought about it before because I just assumed this is the way it needed to be and should be done.

  1. Statutes are written in legalize rendering them difficult to understand even for educated people.
  2. Statues by themselves are not the only source of the law. In many states in order to fully understand self-defense law one also would need to share with their students several case precedents set by a state supreme or appellate court
  3. This teaching method is time consuming. First we read the statute. Then I interpret in my best plain English possible. Then I add some clarifications that will address common questions. Then we move on to the next statute. Repeat as needed. This can take up A LOT of time in a class where any decent instructor is trying to cram a lot into a short time period.
  4. This method of teaching makes it hard for the students to remember any of the finer points. Based on my 60 day surveys sent to students I know they are likely to remember an emotion like “if I do smart and ethical stuff I’m likely to have acted legally” but when pressed on finer legal points that matter they don’t remember the answers to basic questions. This emotionally weighs hard on an instructor who feels an obligation to set up his students for success.

I push up this slide:

With the use of PowerPoint animations I have each of the 5 Elements appear one by one as I explain them.

*Note, given you are reading this article on I’ll assume that you are fairly familiar with the 5 Elements of Self-Defense. However if you are NOT, and this part of this article feels like a curve ball please click here and get up to speed… I promise it will be the best thing you do all year as an instructor.

This approach takes me about 10 minutes. Yep, 10 minutes. This single slide 10 minute lecture has replaced 4 slides previously used to deliver a 25 minute lecture.


I’m as likely to go back to having a home phone as I am to go back to pushing statutes up on the screen for my students. Here are some of the benefits I’ve found.

  1. As previously noted this saves times which means I can add other valuable content to my class period further benefiting my students.
  2. I get less questions from students which isn’t on it’s own important; but it is indicative that they understand when and how they can engage in the use of force in self defense of themselves and others within the boundaries of the law.
  3. Retention is much better. Students are much more likely to remember 3-5 of these elements of self defense 60 days later than they were to recall the rules of engagement based on discussing state statutes.
A Few Important Notes For Any Instructor Reading This

Like any material you teach you should become as much an expert on that material as you can to ensure you can teach it concisely and with credibility. I recommend you start by reading the book, “The Law of Self-Defense” and strongly would encourage you to complete the Law of Self Defense Instructor course which is the equivalent of a law school class on self-defense law. I loved it and I know you will too.

You will note from the image above of my slide that I have the word Avoidance struck out. In Colorado there is no element of avoidance but since (at the time of this writing) 13 states have some element of avoidance in place (better known as a duty to retreat) I still keep it on my slide deck so I can explain what it is and how it might apply should they be in a state with such a requirement.

Also note that at the bottom of my slide I provide the references needed for the students to find and read the actual state statutes should they desire. I feel this is important for a few reasons. First, they know that I have researched and read the statutes myself and have proactively chosen to explain the concepts therein via this paradigm of the 5 elements. Second, as many of you know; some of your students will feel compelled to go look up those laws and read them. I don’t see any harm in this, especially AFTER they understand the 5 Elements.

Lastly, I need to note that when I teach a Utah Concealed Carry Class I still push up the relevant statutes because Utah requires I do so and I work hard to be compliant with any state requirements. If you also teach in a state where you are required to share statute language with your students I encourage you to FIRST, explain the 5 Elements of Self-Defense. Then, with that starting foundation take the student through whatever other required material.

I haven’t shared any massive breakthrough or technique in this article… actually an overly simple solution that I feel has strengthened my class and my students. I hope you will consider it as well!

-Jacob Paulson


10 thoughts on “How I Changed How I Teach Self Defense Law In My CCW Classes”

  1. Question, a mob trespasses on private property yelling in your face. At what point can you legally use pepper spray? Only after they assault you? Before they assault you (In WV)?

    1. NCCCH-Instructor

      Few conditions come to mind: age disparity, look up the legal definition of assault, did the mob approach you past your property line? Is your property posted “no trespassing with a controlling authority? In some states yelling in an aggressive manner can be considered assault? But in most states, a subject does not have to physically strike you before you enact a defensive posture to neutralize the threat.
      I welcome criticism of my comments as am willing to learn.

  2. Heh. This post — particularly the parts about Utah course law — reminds me of “tau” as a replacement for “pi” in mathematics. The idea simplifies mathematics somewhat in general, and in particular makes trigonometry significantly easier to understand … but because all the textbooks still use “pi”, you still have to teach the idea of “pi” anyway.

    I’ve been following self defense law for years, mostly internet-taught, but have somehow nonetheless learned the “right” things (I’m not entirely sure how I managed that) but one of my favorite resources has certainly been Andrew Branca’s website! As much as I think I’d like to make a living using this knowledge, I have neither the time nor the inclination to become a lawyer, which seemed like the only option for people seriously interested in self defense law.

    This post makes me wonder if I ought to consider becoming a firearms instructor ….

    1. John, KNOW THE LAW, MA

      SNOW – Since you want to replace pi with tau, you may wan to replace your qwerty keyboard with the Dvorak keyboard. It too, is about ease, simplicity and performance. Maybe you already know the Dvorak option. Stay safe and be efficient.

        1. John, KNOW THE LAW, MA

          SNOW – a Dvorak keyboard enthusiast, and so I’m impressed. Silly me, never made the transition. Also, Pi Day and Einstein’s birthday one in the same, but likely you knew that. lol

        1. That’s one of the unfortunate side effects of preferring tau over pi; furthermore, while tau has its own potential for jokes, the idea hasn’t yet been around long enough for them to grow in the way that pi has.

  3. I started teaching in 2003, or rather I assisted a soon-to-retire officer with almost 30 years of experience. He did what most instructors still do — He read the statutes out loud. I wrote a Power Point, so then the students could read along as he read.
    Mr. Branca ‘dropped the scales from my eyes’ and allowed me to see the light: Statutes were written by people who will not be around to help the judge or others understand what they intended.
    Indeed, you will not be the first one who’s been charged with that offense (unless it’s a brand new law), so the court system, including prosecutors, have a fairly uniform idea of what the law means and how it’s applied.
    I now show students some or all of the statutes, but then I explain that’s not necessarily what the law will mean if they get arrested, and I show them my own version of Branca’s wonderful graphic of the the five elements (Minnesota still has Duty to Retreat). It’s wonderful to see how quickly they pick it up, compared to the blank stares I used to get from the statutes alone.
    Mr. Paulson needs an editor, someone who can read his work and make necessary corrections so it says what he intends. In this particular piece, I will point out the phrase “written in legalize”, which I believe he intends to mean that the language is almost a secret code for lawyers. Well, the proper word would be “legalese” rather than “legalize”. I won’t belabor the point by citing other errors, but many of us notice such things, and — as I read somewhere years ago — the difference between the right word and not the right word is like the difference between looking through the keyhole and looking through the window. It’s not that I get pleasure from correcting others, but if you’re trying to educate others, you need to give them clear and correct information, right down to the dotting of the i’s and crossing of the t’s.

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