A quick synopsis to begin. I went to my first MAG40 class in September 2012. Besides a four day handgun class at Front Site, this was my first formal shooting class. Like many people who look back at their shooting skills, I was terrible. I was also on a college student shoestring budget. I took a Springfield 1911 in .45 ACP, and a Glock 19, simply because combined I had enough ammo for the class between the two calibers, but after paying tuition, etc., I didn’t have enough left to buy any additional ammo. Mas came back again the next year, and again I made my way down to Salt Lake for MAG40 round two. I was invited back the third year as an RSO, and the next year I took MAG80, the level two class. Beyond the regular interactions with the instructor, I was fortunate enough to meet with Mas on several occasions before and after class, and have talked with him over the phone on a few occasions. The purpose of this background is nothing more than to provide a basis for why I am writing this class overview. Although I am not the most experienced student of the Massad Ayoob Group, I do have a fairly good background to provide an overview for those interested.
Massad Ayoob is a gun writer, competitive shooter, firearms instructor, and recognized expert witness in deadly force cases. Those seeking a more detailed bio can look on his website here. LINK Focusing on his expert witness background specifically, I think there I find the greatest impact in his teaching. One of the most pervasive criticisms I hear about Mas is that he is overly-cautious when it comes to actions and equipment specifically. Hearing about his experience in the courtroom makes it clear where that mindset comes from. More about that later.
MAG40 is a four day, 40 hour intensive study of both practical pistol shooting and classroom instruction that together makes it the introduction into citizen use of deadly force. In my experience, it was more along the lines of 20-25 hours classroom, and 15-20 on the range. If you are taking both the classroom and range classes together, they are usually split up so a half day of each happens every day. That keeps people engaged, and makes it much more enjoyable to change things up throughout the day.
The range portion of MAG40 would be considered fairly basic, and quite regimented. The curriculum is run to only require three magazines, although like any other class more is better as you have a better chance to take loading time to talk to the instructor. Divided up to be 6 round revolver neutral, Mas begins at square one (in fact, I remember a brand new shooter attending, and ended up being quite successful in the class). While the pace may be considered a bit slow for a more experienced shooter, keep in mind an absolute novice needs to be able to keep up, so using that slower pace to really focus on perfection with the fundamentals actually ended up making the shooting portion quite valuable for me.
MAG40 progresses in a logical fashion, building on previous concepts until everyone is drawing, reloading, holstering, and fixing malfunctions on the fly. As any quality class begins, MAG40 starts with safety. Mas devotes a good amount of time talking about a safe mindset, as well as discussing practical concerns like safely holstering (watching for clothing in the way that could work into the trigger guard), trigger finger discipline, etc. A few focus points of the shooting are crush grip, aggressive stance, and smooth roll on the trigger. In the times I have been in class, both USPSA and IDPA targets have been used. Much of the shooting at the beginning stays within the 3-7 yard lines, but you will make it out to 15-20 by the end of the class. Once again, for a beginning class, accuracy is paramount, and getting new shooters to be comfortable getting hits past 15 yards is a good thing.
The apex of the range portion is the qual. Mas will make you feel the pressure to do well. Even though a ‘pass’ is fairly easily accomplished, an experienced shooter is going for a perfect score, which helps even a good shooter feel the pressure. Mas talks about learning to shoot under pressure, and making sure when you practice you always have something on the line, even as simple as loser buying lunch, or having to drive home for example. Although the qual has generous time limits, as you progress through the classes, the times are cut down drastically, until the level four class when you are allowed only a quarter of the time of the original.
4 Yards SHO 6 rounds in 8 seconds
4 Yards WHO 6 rounds in 8 seconds (from low ready)
7 Yards 6 reload 6 in 25 seconds
10 yards 6 cover crouch position reload 6 high kneeling reload 6 low kneeling 75 seconds
15 yards 6 Weaver stance reload 6 Chapman stance reload 6 isosceles 90 seconds
This qual is a hybrid from a variety of pistol quals from across the country. As Mas explains in the class, the purpose for the qual is to show proficiency at a similar level to law enforcement, even using similar requirements and par times. When you start speeding it up to 2X, 3X, or 4X the standard time, it gets pretty sporty.
As a final note about the range portion, Mas still does live demos of everything he teaches, which is something I appreciate.
I want to start off by saying that the classroom portion is akin to drinking from a firehose. When it was all said and done, I had over 20 pages of typed notes from the classroom portion, and it seemed like I was almost always writing something down. The focus here is having documentation of the training, and being able to use your material in court. Some portions of the lecture are done through video, so that 1) every student gets the exact same material and 2) so that video selections may be shown in court to a jury. Every video was followed up with additional comments as well as a Q&A portion to clarify any points. As a very small selection of topics, a few of them are:
Admissible evidence in court
Interacting with suspects
Interacting with responding officers
Black letter law and courts cases
Situations justifying deadly force
Standards of Proof
Dealing with the aftermath of shooting
Once again, this is a small selection, obviously with over 20 hours of material, you will really get into the fine details of many other topics during the class.
There are a few common criticisms I have read about MAG classes online. One is that Mas is overly cautious when it comes to aftermarket additions to defensive firearms, specifically trigger components. Another is the use of factory ammunition only for defensive purposes. While I don’t agree with Mas on everything, I can say that he has valid points for every stance, and will take the time to discuss it with you should you have any questions. Essentially it comes down the less common “CYA” acronyms: Can You Articulate and Can You Authenticate. This is a principle that permeates the class.
I consider my experiences at the MAG classes to be a foundation to me. I am lucky to have begun firearms training with such a through curriculum, a passionate and knowledgeable instructor, and in such a professional environment. A common response to taking MAG40 is “I didn’t know what I didn’t know” which was surely the case for me. This class really made sure that I wasn’t going to go all “Dunning-Kruger” anytime soon.
(photo taken by a terrible cell phone or a potato, I forgot which)