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So that you will regularly, properly, and legally carry a concealed firearm, you must select your optimal firearm, gear, and accessories that match your lifestyle, dress, work, recreational and daily activities, personal preferences and philosophies and understand certain guidelines. It is a terrible thing when anyone takes the life of another and you should accept that shooting someone with your firearm is only a last resort, after you have done everything possible to avoid a firearm confrontation and retreat. However, if you carry concealed you must also accept that to protect your life and the lives of your loved ones in specific scenarios, you might be faced with using a firearm and deadly force to take another’s life in self defense. You must have the knowledge, training, mindset, skills, and best firearm and accessories to appropriately and legally handle situations you might encounter. Since the firearm and equipment challenge may involve a trial-and-error approach that can be time consuming and costly for a new concealed carry licensee and shooter, included below are some ideas about that issue as well as some other topics and considerations that may save you some time, trouble, money and, most importantly, help safeguard your life and the lives of your loved ones.
Mistake #1 – NOT UNDERSTANDING THE GREAT RESPONSIBILITY OF CARRYING A CONCEALED WEAPON NOR ADOPTING THE RELATED MINDSET AND TRAINING PLAN
You are carrying a deadly weapon that can kill people, ruin and change the lives of the person you shot or killed, their families, and your own life and family. Carrying a firearm brings a lot of responsibility, so adapting the proper concealed carry mindset is extremely important. Those who carry must go out of their way to avoid conflict and confrontations. We must be more mellow and discreet with an easy-going attitude. Just because we can legally carry a concealed weapon does not make us police officers nor vigilantes. We should not have a macho, emotional, killer instinctive reaction, but rather avoid trouble, use non-emotional judgment, and de-escalate confrontations. The same holds true for situations where deadly force would be justified. Just because we can legally shoot does not mean we must or should ALWAYS shoot. It may seem like commonsense, but you have to remember that you will not be able to carry a concealed weapon into places like courthouses or courtrooms, police or sheriff stations, jails or prisons, bars, nor schools and colleges. Forgetting you have a gun on your belt or in your purse when you’re running late to an appointment, could get you arrested, with the loss of your concealed carry weapons license. You must know legally when you can and cannot shoot, when to use deadly force, where you can and cannot carry concealed, how to relate to the police if there is a shooting, and what to do after a shooting, etc.
You should train, carry, and shoot with specific goals, priorities, and purposes in mind. You should not waste your time, ammo, and effort training and shooting haphazardly just to fire a certain number of rounds. Rather, manage your shooting by planning the specific techniques, fundamentals, and skills you want to learn and improve upon while training. While there are similarities, you will train somewhat differently for concealed carry, competitive, combat, and Range shooting. Every training repetition you do builds and reinforces the particular technique and muscle memory for each unique action. When a technique or movement is repeated over time, a long-term muscle memory is created for that task, eventually allowing it to be performed without conscious effort. This process decreases the need for attention and creates maximum efficiency within the motor and memory systems. Examples of muscle memory are found in many everyday activities that become automatic and improve with practice, such as riding a bicycle, dancing the waltz, and typing on a keyboard. However, if the training drills and repetitions you do in your training are incorrect, you will train this poor technique or incorrect fundamental into your subconscious memory. When you need the skill in a future critical, life-or-death situation, for example, where you are under stress and must react quickly as you have trained, your brain will draw from what it knows from your muscle memory. So, if you have trained with an incorrect fundamental or with poor technique, you will automatically and subconsciously perform it improperly. So you don’t know what you don’t know. Your training drills and techniques should be planned with specific goals, purposes, and prioritized based on the results you want to achieve in various scenarios. Simply putting rounds downrange and hoping you are learning the right skills are a waste of your effort and resources. To correct this, plan by listing the skills and techniques you will likely need in specific situations and then prioritize them. Then develop some unique Training Drills that will work on each of those skills and strictly use them during your training sessions. See my “5-Shot-Touch Group Shooting Drill” article.
Mistake #2 – INITIALLY NOT GETTING SUFFICIENT FUNDAMENTALS CLASSROOM AND RANGE LIVE-FIRE TRAINING
This mistake will get you or a family member killed. Even if you don’t take your Florida Concealed Carry Weapons License training from me, please do your research and avoid an abbreviated, one-round fired gun show, 45-minutes, or “quickie course”. You are harming yourself by getting minimal training that often overlooks several fundamentals and improved techniques necessary to protect your life and your loved ones. Frequently there is minimal Range hands-on firing without personal guidance nor private, customized instruction to improve your current skill set. Also, just because 5 years ago or so you received a solid basics course, techniques and methods improve and change, so you can learn something by attending a new fundamentals course.
Mistake #3 – NOT REGULARLY GETTING REFRESHER FIREARMS’ FUNDAMENTALS TRAINING AND LEGAL UPDATES FOR YOUR STATE OF RESIDENCE
The training to get your concealed carry license is usually minimal, non-personalized in large classes, and not in-depth enough to effectively train you to defend yourself or your family in critical situations. You need to regularly seek out additional one-on-one training from qualified instructors in the classroom and on the Range and then practice and practice again the fundamentals they teach you on your own or with a shooting buddy. This is true just as you exercise to maintain your health. Consider that at the very minimum most police officers have to qualify with their firearms once or twice a year. Also, firearms and concealed carry laws change and improved techniques and philosophies emerge. So I believe you should practice fundamentals of shooting for accuracy with your holster, gear and accessories once a month (or at least 8 times a year) and attend at least one firearms training course per year if possible. Don’t take a chance on missing or forgetting proper techniques and relearning bad habits. Some think because they were raised with a gun, shot tin cans, and went squirrel hunting a lot, that they already have the best firearms knowledge and techniques. The proper grip, stance, sight alignment, sight picture, trigger, breath, and hold controls, and follow-through techniques should be learned and committed to muscle memory from a certified instructor who has updated methods and improved basics, without a need to think about what needs to be done. This may mean unlearning some bad techniques and learning proper ones. This comes with practice, practice, and more practice. Lives may depend on your accuracy, current knowledge, and refined techniques.
Mistake #4 – NOT REGULARLY PRACTICING
Shooting fundamentals and skills are perishable and they deteriorate if not practiced. So, you must practice on a regular basis. Although dry-fire practice drills are useful, there is no substitute for live fire. You can run dry practice drills to practice presenting your handgun, aligning your sights, getting your firearm on target, exercising your trigger press and reset, and performing emergency reloads, tactical reloads, and malfunction clearances. However, dry-fire practice does not give you the experience of controlling your trigger and your firearm under recoil. If you cannot devote some time on a regular basis to shooting practice, your shooting skills and performance under the stress of a deadly-force encounter will suffer. Unfortunately, our deadly-force encounter shooting skills do not increase under the stress of pumping adrenaline. Our shooting skills and accuracy during a real-life encounter do not come close to our worse day of accurate shooting at the Range, but actually decrease. Your body is going to dump massive amounts of adrenaline into your bloodstream which will make you temporarily stronger and faster, but it adversely affects fine motor coordination such as your ability to focus on the front sight and press the trigger without disrupting the sight alignment. As a result, you will tend to be about half as good in a real encounter as you are on your best Range day. Regular practice definitely helps. Aim for a monthly Range shooting session, but try to go at least every 7 to 8 weeks at minimum. Certainly not once a year.
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Mistake #5 – SELECTING AND BUYING THE WRONG FIREARM
Many new shooters with concealed carry licenses hurry and buy a large caliber and/or full sized handgun for concealed carry without thinking of their purpose, criteria, and lifestyle. While large caliber big guns can be concealed with some considerations and trade-offs, shooters may find they are too heavy, over-sized, hold too few rounds, with too much recoil for them to be consistently accurate and safe… or too bulky and easily print for their style of dress. So they don’t carry it or shoot it.
Some may fall victim to a slick sales pitch by a salesperson at a gun show or store who seems to think that bigger is always better. It may be true for them because bigger guns usually mean larger sales commissions. Others are influenced by their Range buddy who knows what works for him and tries to get you to select and buy the gun and caliber that he uses. Selecting a firearm is a very personal and subjective process based on individual preferences, purposes, goals, priorities, criteria, use, and resources. There is no one best firearm or caliber. Try before you buy and remember ACCURACY is more important than equipment.
I believe, but the evidence is mixed, that there really is not enough average ballistic (velocity, energy, and bullet weight) differences between a 9MM, 38 Special, .40, and even a .45 when it comes to getting shot. Also, I believe that there really is not enough difference between a .380, 9mm, 38 Special, .40, and even a .45 when it comes to potential damage. All calibers can be deadly and kill with the right shot placement! Recognize that Senator Robert Kennedy was killed with one shot from a .22 just below his right ear and that President Reagan was shot with a .22 in an assassination attempt.
Recognize that if you buy a firearm that you leave in your gun safe because it’s too heavy, has too much recoil, or you don’t like shooting it, you bought the wrong gun for concealed carry. A .380 in your pocket or purse is much more effective than the .45 in your gun safe if someone tries to rob or attack you at an ATM. Hitting the target with a 9 mm is more effective than missing with a .357 Magnum.
The main point again is that you must hit what you aim at… ACCURACY is top priority. Recognize the importance of TRAINING over equipment and even caliber.
Mistake #6 – USING THE WRONG HOLSTER AND/OR CONCEALED CARRY METHOD
Once you have a concealed carry firearm selected, think about how you will carry and use it and the best type of holster. Is this only for concealed carry? Is it a primary weapon or a back-up that needs to be carried in a secondary position? The type of holster you select affects not only your draw time and presentation of your gun, but also your safety. What are your goals and priorities: deep concealment of your gun, maximum security retention, something with all-day comfort or comfort for just a few hours, quick access and draw, durability in all kinds of weather, top quality material, easy on-easy off, inside or outside the pants, for the Range or competition, etc. Yes, it would be nice to find a holster that would accomplish all or many functions and meet all criteria, but realistically there is rarely a one-type that meets all needs holster. You probably will need several holsters. So prioritize your needs and decide what will be your primary use of your main weapon and holster and where that holster should go, given your wardrobe, dress style, and preferences. Do you want something to clip on to a gun belt or to a jeans pocket or to the inside of your pants? Do you want something to conceal with a suit coat or t-shirt? Would you like the fashion look of a CSI Miami-style shoulder holster? Do you want an easy-on-off paddle type? Maybe an ankle holster, though many don’t prefer them because they are more difficult to get to and greatly reduce your draw time. Do you want a thumb snap or higher level of extra retention, a screw retention adjustment, or passive retention rather than active retention? Maybe you prefer to have an open-top passive retention belt holster for quicker draw, relying on your safety discipline.
You will probably need to choose from one of the following holster materials: Leather; Thermoplastics (Kydex); or Nylon. Each material has it’s own pros and cons. Leather is the most popular, looks quality, generally costs more, and makes a great holster. As a material, Kydex has some great properties that could really be beneficial to you in certain situations. For example, if you live in Florida or a very humid or hot climate, Kydex is durable and completely waterproof, whereas leather isn’t waterproof. Kydex is a fast draw type of slick material. Recognize that there can be gun wear from rubbing on the Kydex. Nylon is the least expensive of the three, but really won’t mold or form fit like leather or Kydex. Here are some holster options.
Belt Holsters – Belt holster are designed to worn threaded through the belt. They can’t be worn without a belt, and are sometimes called outside the waistband (OWB) holsters. Belt holsters have a number of applications and can be used for the concealment (certain models), general Range use, competition, and/or general carry (field use). Belt holsters tend to be the most popular, most comfortable, but for some dress styles the least concealable. Belt holsters won’t work unless you can wear an un-tucked shirt or jacket all day. OWBs are typically worn on the strongside (same side as the shooting hand). A paddle holster is a type of OWB holster and rides closest to the body, since the paddle backing curves over the belt and pants to sit inside your waistband. It is easy-on and easy-off, since the belt is not removed.
Inside the Waistband Holsters- Also called IWB holsters, inside the waistband are designed pretty much for concealment only. The holster is worn inside the waistband so most all the weapon rides inside the waistband, with only the butt being exposed above the belt line. IWB holsters are probably the most used concealment holsters, but some say they are uncomfortable, depending on your size, weight, and build. Some buy an extra size of pants to help. There are IWB designs that will work with a tucked-in shirt.
Crossdraw Holster – Crossdraw holsters are a variation of the belt holster that is worn on the weak side of you body. With those holster, you move across your body to draw the weapon, so this could present a safety hazard due to sweeping others.
Small of the Back Holster – Also called an SOB holster, small of the back models are designed to be worn right on the small of the back. SOB holsters can be either belt models or IWB models. Some say they are difficult to get to quickly.
Pocket Holster – Only made for small revolvers and semi-automatic handguns, pocket holsters are produced in designs that can be worn in either a front pocket or a back pocket. You must practice the pocket draw to perfect it. Recognize the hazard of possibly shooting yourself when you accidentally stick a pen or something in your gun pocket.
Ankle Holster – Ankle holsters are generally made for small revolvers and semi-automatic handguns and are designed to be worn on the ankle of the strong side leg. For example, if you shoot right handed, an ankle holster would ride on the outside of your right leg. There are complaints about difficulty accessing from the ankle and being uncomfortable.
Shoulder Holster – Shoulder holsters consist of a single or double loop harness system that fits over the shoulders. The holster itself typically either rides horizontally or vertically under the weak side arm. So if you right handed, the holster would ride under your left armpit comfortably and well-balanced. They are well-suited to jackets and suit coats, but may be difficult to conceal for certain dress styles. The major drawback is that the cover garment cannot be removed without exposing the gun.
Purse Holster – These are good options for ladies that carry concealed because of their high degree of concealability. However, if you carry one of those large purses filled with many things, you may not be able to find or access your gun in a hurry. Worse, your lipstick or eyeliner tube may accidentally discharge the trigger of your gun and shoot someone or yourself. Also, don’t accidentally leave your purse someplace or expose it to children because it has your gun in it.
Mistake #7 – NOT CONSIDERING PROPER CLOTHING, DRESS, AND ACTIVITIES FOR CONCEALED CARRY & SHOOTING
Recognize that your job and expected work attire, the type of sports and recreational activities you are involved in, your usual dress style, your weight, height, and size, and the climate where you live all affect your choice of the best way for you to carry concealed.
High-fashion, tapered and slimming clothing and concealed firearm carry do not usually mix well. You will have to start dressing in a manner that allows you to conceal your handgun, but also gives you fast access to it in the event of a critical incident. This may mean buying your pants or shirts a size larger to effectively cover up and conceal your gun in comfort. You may be wearing more camp-style, loose-fitting Hawaiian shirts. However, concealed carry clothing designed for fit is available now. Also, darker-colored clothing with designs and patterns in the area where your gun and/or holster will be kept will help conceal your firearm. All shooters should wear a baseball cap or wide-brimmed hat to protect from ejected casings, gunpowder residue, the sun, and dirt and sand from the wind.
If the job is a place where concealed carry is a wise choice for you and allowed, then the method of carry must be adapted to the daily work routine. A person sitting at a desk or driving a vehicle daily would find it hard to access a firearm carried in the front pocket. Seated workers often find that appendix carry in a quality OWB holster to be a good option. However, those who are overweight cannot usually carry in the appendix position comfortably. It is not impossible to get used to a good inside the waistband or belt holster even if one is seated most of the day. Your weight, height, and size affect your carry options.
If you participate in sports and recreational activities, you have to be aware of the considerations. You don’t want to play flag football, tennis, or run and kick the soccer ball with a gun strapped on or in your pocket. Playing golf is different. Many who jog believe in being armed, so a fanny pack around the waist with a gun inside is a convenient option. It can be worn on the waist without it moving downward while jogging. Others find it works better slung over the shoulder. So, investigate the options and decide for yourself.
It is important to try out the different holster options while sitting and standing. Just because the movie cops carry their guns in a cool-looking shoulder holster does not mean you have too. Also, understand that you must CONCEAL your carry gun, because it is required by law and for the license. Ensure you are not “printing”; does anything stick out, bulge, or show the shape of the gun? See if your gun becomes visible while reaching for something up high on a shelf or bending over to pick something up off the floor. Is it comfortable with your usual dress attire, work clothes, and when you participate in sports activities? Can you quickly access and draw your weapon? Is it easily concealable? Is the material durable and functional for your primary use? Do you need the thumb snap or break or other retention?
Many considerations and decisions for you, so take the time up front to analyze them for your long-run benefits.
Concealed carry and shooting bring much responsibility requiring a proper mindset and much training and practice. They require much time, effort, and money for training and acquiring the best firearm for your use and the proper equipment, holster, and gear. They require you to think ahead and not make the seven most common mistakes made by new concealed carry licensees and shooters. With planning and proper decision making, you will be confident knowing that you’re properly trained and equipped to carry concealed, shoot, and to defend yourself and your family.
* This personal opinion article is meant for general information & educational purposes only and the author strongly recommends that you seek counsel from an attorney for legal advice and your own personal certified weapons trainer for proper guidance about shooting & using YOUR firearms, self-defense and concealed carry matters. It should not be relied upon as accurate for all shooters & the author assumes no responsibility for anyone’s use of the information and shall not be liable for any improper or incorrect use of the information or any damages or injuries incurred whatsoever.