There is much to be learned by Gandalf the Grey when it comes to being the responsible possessor and carrier of a source of extraordinary power. What typically makes a great lie believable is when there is a little truth mixed in, and what generally makes for a great fiction novel is when the reader can relate to the principles off of which it is built. J.R.R. Tolkien’s main character in the Lord of the Rings Trilogy, the wizard Gandalf, understood some very real obstacles when it came to an ordinary person being given an extraordinary tool that tips the balances of strength and ability compared to that of their fellow man. Here, Gandalf is leaving a small hobbit with the single most sought after possession in Middle Earth and in all of his wisdom conjures up a few simple words that summarizes everything the bearer will need to know for the rest of his life, “Keep it secret. Keep it safe.”
Isn’t that exactly what it means to place in the hands of an average citizen the legal capability to carry a handgun for personal protection on their person in public around many citizens who aren’t equally armed? Let’s face it: most of the pistol wielding population does not comprise the majority of Americans. Even if you look at the number of pistol permits issued, how many actually exercise their right to carry? Just as we should base our preparation to defend our life on the possibility of an attack and not the probability, the attacker should do the same. But that is precisely why violent crimes happen. Attackers base their decision on the probability rather than the possibility that someone is armed which is why attacks are even attempted in public places. They know it and we know it. So what advice can be given to a person of sound judgment who is carrying a legal firearm in a public place for personal protection? Keep it secret. Keep it safe.
Keep it secret
There are two points to be made here regarding the carrying of a handgun for personal protection: one, it should always be concealed to prevent unnecessary alarm; and two, it should always be concealed to keep the element of surprise on the carrier’s side. Imagine yourself as a non-carrier. You go to get your weekly groceries, fill your cart, try your best to keep items from magically appearing in your kids’ pockets, find a short line at the check-outs, discover the person ringing you out is a new hire, do a quick check to make sure your kids are still with you, and then notice a man is standing behind you with nothing but a basket as he sets it on the conveyor belt. As you turn around he smiles at you saying hello, and as you happen to glance down towards his side you see – a gun! What do you think? What do you do? How do you react? What do you say?
Upon closer inspection you realize it’s a gun holstered on the man’s hip, clearly visible and openly displayed for all to see. As we ponder this scenario, it can clearly go one of two ways. One reaction would be based on ignorance of the state’s gun laws. That observer would panic, either silently or outwardly. They would perhaps rush to get their kids out of there and away from the gun. They might confront the person. They might have a preconceived idea that “only a mad person would bring a gun to a grocery store” and automatically assume guilt on the carrier; that they are there to assault them, or everyone else, and call the police (as happened to Eric Scott, 39, at a Costco in Nevada resulting in his unnecessary death.) The other reaction, would be based on knowledge of the state’s gun laws. This observer would notice the mannerisms of the gentlemen, see a person who is non-threatening, and realize that he is in his legal right to openly carry and accept it. That still says nothing at all about how comfortable they are with that acceptance!
Actually, both types of reactions could make the observer very uncomfortable. The only thing that would put both types of people in a calm frame of mind would be that of a badge being displayed showing they are a police officer. How can such a generalized statement be made about people’s reactions to the sight of a firearm? Quite simply. The thousands of documented reports of road patrolmen and women pulling over a licensed carrier who displays (either verbally or visually) that they are carrying a legal firearm shows the proof that some police officers react by drawing their firearms and holding the person at bay until backup arrives. Now here is a member of society who is supposed to know the legal rights of the average citizen and reacts to the sign of someone else having a firearm as being a threat to their life. They’re just not comfortable with it! (Note: If it is your legal obligation in the State you reside to inform a police officer that you are carrying a firearm when being stopped for a traffic infraction, then always do so.)
Can anything be done to change people predisposed this way? No. What can be done, however, is we can change ourselves. The change that is necessary is realizing that our decision to get a concealed carry license, and the State’s agreement to issue it, gives us a legal ability to carry a firearm in and around the public without them knowing about it. We should do everything in our power to make sure it is kept a secret. This affords us the opportunity to prevent unnecessary alarm to those around us; including law enforcement. Probably one of the most asked questions from law-abiding gun owners seeking a concealed carry permit is, “Should I inform a police officer that I have a gun with me when I get pulled over?” That depends. Again, if it is your legal obligation in the State you reside to inform a police officer that you are carrying a firearm when being stopped for a traffic infraction, then always do so. If not, then no.
This may come across as judgmental to most readers but it is because of self-righteous motives anyone feels they should tell a police officer they have a gun when they have no legal obligation to. The inquirer generally doesn’t ask the question because they want to know the answer, it is because they feel like they should and want to make sure they are right. They want to show the officer they are on their side, that they are there to help, that they are the pinnacle example of a law-abiding citizen. Instructors would do well to inform their students that their firearms should never be revealed either physically or verbally unless they are going to use them or they are being arrested. Only when an officer specifically asks you the question, “Are there any weapons in the car/on your person I need to know about?” do you even think about revealing you have a firearm. Even then, your response should preclude with, “Am I being placed under arrest?” If the officer answers, “No” or, “I don’t know yet” then they don’t need to know. This approach will always prevent an officer from becoming unnecessarily alarmed and it exemplifies the first benefit of concealed carry.
The other benefit to keeping your firearms completely concealed is the element of surprise. As much as it is argued that the open display of a gun deters a crime from happening, careful consideration should be applied to the reason for why we carry. Earlier it was stated that we carry not because of the probability of a violent crime happening, but because of the possibility it could. It is just as much argued that if people chose to carry simply on probability alone many would choose not to. The tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary took place in a town with a very low probability of a murder happening, much less a crime of such proportions. If only the possibility was evaluated, proactive steps would have been made to ensure it never did – and not just at Sandy Hook, but schools around the country. So how does carrying because of possibility over probability argue for firearms to be concealed instead of openly carried? Because our very reason for carrying concludes that we’re going to be exposed far more to the unarmed, unfamiliar, uncomfortable, non-threatening populous then we ever will to an assailant! By openly carrying we will cause more instances of unnecessary alarm than we will ever prevent a crime. The benefit of preventing unnecessary alarm concealed carry offers far outweighs the deterrence factor openly carrying has.
An attacker who is dedicated enough will not care whether you have a gun or not when he looks through the windows of the gas station. It might provoke him to shoot through the windows. The attacker should always be forced to react to your plan. Just as the element of surprise is what they use to successfully victimize people; it can be adequately used to thwart their attempt by a law-abiding, morally sound, carrier.
So how does one make sure they are properly concealing the firearm? The following considerations should be taken to ensure that it is kept secret:
- Use a holster. Carrying your firearm by tucking it inside your pants’ waistband or inside your sock or throwing it on the seat next to you is not at all an appropriate way to carry a firearm. That method does not offer the ability to truly conceal it, nor does it provide a good measure of proper retention and protection from unauthorized access.
- Use a strong side hip holster whenever possible. A hip holster allows for the following strengths over other style holsters: easiest access from the authorized user, ease of presentation, and firearm accessibility doesn’t suffer when being bear hugged, held on one’s back, or sitting in the seat of a car. Time to first hit is always faster with a strong side hip holster as well (ladies apparel will be addressed shortly.)
- Use a holster that holds the gun tightly to the body. Whether inside the waistband or outside the waistband, the gun should add as little to your body’s width dimension as possible. Today’s holster technology allows us the opportunity to easily carry a medium to large framed handgun without having to substitute it for a pocket pistol because they “stick out to far,” as is so commonly used as an excuse. Keeping it tight to your body’s natural width also helps with going around corners or hip-high obstacles like tables and countertops where the firearm might bang into them, making a noise that would give away their presence.
- Use a holster that allows good access to the entire stock of the pistol for a positive grip prior to drawing the firearm. It should do this without compromising the pistol’s concealability.
- Use a holster that conceals just as well in shorts and a t-shirt as it does in a three piece suit. For ladies, consider purse holsters before moving to thigh and ankle holsters or even shoulder and small-of-the-back styles. The NRA’s Personal Protection Outside the Home course covers both hip and purse holsters for women looking to become comfortable with pistol presentation in different wear. Men should do the same for their holster selection.
- Avoid apparel where the gun can be made out through the clothing. This is called “printing” and basically reveals you have a firearm. Wearing solid, dark colored shirts that are not see-through helps with this. Stripes distort the area where the firearm is being carried and show the outline of the gun. If striping must be worn, vertical stripes print less.
- Use a belt of proper grade that will both support the weight of the firearm and conform to your hips so the firearm is pulled tightly to your body more efficiently.
- Consider how concealed your extra magazines or speed loaders are. You do carry extra magazines, don’t you? For those not sure why it is important to do so read my article Running Full Capacity. Seeing ammo on a person gives away that they have a firearm too.
- Check yourself in a mirror or ask your significant other to check you out for situations where the gun might sneak out or print. Situations like bending over or squatting, reaching or carrying heavy objects, or sitting in a wooden chair and not banging up against the backrest.
Keep it safe
As important it is to make sure no one knows of the firearm on your hip, it is equally important to make sure the firearm is properly secured on your person. The following considerations should be taken to keep your firearm as safe as possible:
- Use a holster that is appropriate for your firearm. Be wary of holsters advertised as a “one fit for many” solution. If it fits many models slightly, it doesn’t fit any model perfectly.
- Use a holster that properly retains the firearm. It does not have to have a cop style holster with three different locking mechanisms to keep unauthorized users from drawing it off of you, but it should hold the gun tightly enough to facilitate running with it and preventing it from making noise when it is stowed.
- If possible, choose a holster made of kydex or laminate leather as they tend to not shrink and expand for any given humidity and temperature. This will maintain the level of retention you are trying to accomplish through most environments.
- Use a holster that adequately protects the trigger from being manipulated. Some holsters, believe it or not, will make enough contact with the trigger to cause an unintentional discharge.
- Remember when carrying that it is not lawful for you to carry in some places. Have a backup plan for storing of the firearm while visiting such places. Simply throwing it under the seat of your car is never a good option. If you are not going to be around the firearm anyways (i.e. going inside the post office), then unload it and lock it up in a way that prevents unauthorized access. Unloading it ensures that if someone does steal it, they are delayed in using it.
That is all for now. Be safe out there.