Vicki Farnam is a household name in the world of gun training. Having been in the firearms industry for more than 25 years, this vivacious grandmother teaches alongside her well-known husband, John Farnam. Together they own Defense Training International, a business that trains law enforcement as well as civilians in the skills of self-defense. Vicki also has taught for the US Marine Corps at women’s defensive shooting training conferences, and is a regular presenter at law enforcement annual conferences. She is the author of 2 books: Women Learning to Shoot and Teaching Women to Shoot.
Sponsored by Gun Tote’n Mamas
Finished with her training for 2018, we called Vicki at home in Colorado and she graciously gave us time for an interview.
The WON: When people ask you what you do, what’s your answer?
Vicki Farnam: I look them straight in the eye and I pause. I always pause. And then I say to them in a soft voice, “How politically correct are you?” And their response is usually, “I’m a reasonable person.” That makes them think about who they are and what they think, and then, I say to them, “I’m a firearms instructor.” I don’t get that immediate emotional response if they have thought about how they are going to view the answer that I give them.
The WON: How do you decide who you’re going to teach?
Vicki Farnam: To be honest, I have trained far more men than women. When I started in this business with John, he was already established. The makeup of classes was male and once in a while, we’d get females and that slowly grew. Women are welcome in any class we do. It wasn’t till the early- to mid-90s that I did a women’s only class. … Male instructors, particularly in law enforcement, noticed that the way they taught men was not the way they should teach women – because when they used the same techniques, the women failed – they asked me what they were doing wrong. That’s how I developed the specialty of teaching men how to teach women to shoot.
The WON: Why is your husband a good partner to have in business?
Vicki Farnam: John is a former Marine, and when he came back from Vietnam, he was angry … He was angry because he didn’t think the training focused on what he found in Vietnam, and then, he became a police officer and again, felt the training did not focus on what he saw at work. He is a teacher at heart and his goal is to make sure that his students understand how to protect themselves. He has dedicated his whole life to doing that. … He brought me into his business and I spent 5 years as an apprentice, learning how to teach firearms. That’s unheard of today, because people want to be instant instructors. We travel together and teach together and we find that our 2 styles blend well together and we complement each other. We can reach a lot of different students on a lot of different levels.
The WON: What are you seeing in the women’s training market for firearms?
Vicki Farnam: We are seeing a growth in the women’s market for training. It has taken a long time for that to happen.
The WON: Why do you think that is?
Vicki Farnam: One answer is manufacturers … when they started to make products that women can use. For example, I have a small hand and so finding a gun that fit my hand was a real challenge and it wasn’t until Kahr produced a single column 9 (mm) back in the late ‘90s, that suddenly, here was a manufacturer that understood that you needed a smaller gun for some people. In the current century, more and more manufacturers began finding that they could build something for smaller hands. Previously, equipment was made for the average size male, whether it was a shotgun, a holster … Once we started to get equipment we can use, we started to see more women. Then, they could seek training. There had to be a start someplace.
The WON: What is the best advice you give a woman who says she wants to learn to shoot a gun?
Vicki Farnam: Let’s do it! Let’s get started! I know you’re looking for a deeper answer … but one thing about women is that we almost need to have permission to do this – we want to know that there are other women that are doing this. If she has decided that she wants to say the words out loud about wanting to learn to shoot, then someone needs to say to her, “Yes! Yes! Let’s go do that,” and that takes that burden of doubt off her shoulders. Then we can start answering the questions about what she uses, where she goes for training, etc. So, encouragement is the first thing, and then, help her find someone who can give her the specifics.
The WON: What should women look for in a self-defense gun?
Vicki Farnam: You have to find one that fits your hand and that has an operating system that you are willing to learn and in the caliber you want to use. Those things require knowledge. She doesn’t have that right away, so often, a woman winds up with someone else’s favorite gun. It becomes a process of failing and then, learning.
The WON: How does a woman choose a training course that would be the best for her?
Vicki Farnam: Of course, I’d like to say that she should take my training course! She can ask friends who might have taken a training course, and she can go online. We all know that everything you read on the Internet is not true … so seek reviews, read about the instructor, and find out if that instructor has a lot of experience. Asking questions and finding out as much as possible is the only way. Your local gun store is a choice, too, along with recommendations from friends.
The WON: Let’s talk about GTM (Gun Tote’n Mamas). Do you use their bags?
Vicki Farnam: I have several of them, and I have one that I use daily. It’s one that I asked Claudia Chisholm (president GTM) to make for me. I am not one of those people who say that off-body carry is the most horrible thing in the world. Women must have an option when on-body carry is not possible. You have to be willing to live with the circumstances, and you can’t be casual. When I first saw the products, what impressed me was the quality and the price-point. I have trained all the GTM staff and I am Claudia’s personal trainer for several years.
The WON: During your travels, have you heard women talking about regarding firearms? What are you hearing?
Vicki Farnam: There is an underlying feeling that things are not as safe and secure as we might have imagined them in the past. Women who pay attention to that want to have a way to protect themselves. I am seeing more awareness that there is danger lurking. We have women who want to work as partners with their husbands, and other women who are independent enough that they want to seek training when their husbands do not want training. They are strong enough in their own personalities and marriages that they take on that responsibility.
Publisher/Editor Barbara Baird is a freelance writer in hunting, shooting and outdoor markets. She is a contributing editor at "SHOT Business," and her bylines are found at several top hunting and shooting publications. She also is a travel writer, and you can follow her at ozarkian.com. View all posts by Barbara Baird