The 12 Concealed Carry guidelines and information that follow are not meant to be boring or redundant for experienced shooters, but rather to serve as a reminder and a basic, practical checklist to help everyone go through the critical things necessary for success in concealed carry. Sometimes things become so routine, obvious, and acceptable to us that we, therefore, neglect them or don’t focus on them because they are so familiar. So here is a very basic checklist to quickly go through now and then to resurface some of these important things that we may overlook. Hope it helps with your concealed carry and safety.
1. Have A Proper Mindset & Motivation
Carrying a firearm brings a lot of responsibility before and accountability after a lethal shooting, so adapting the proper concealed carry mindset is extremely important. Those who carry must go out of their way to initially avoid conflict and confrontations. We must be disciplined with a controlled and mellow easy-going attitude. We know we have the gun skills and are motivated to protect ourselves and our families just in case trouble arises, rather than trying to show how good our gun skills are or to aggressively solve the world’s problems. We are not carrying a gun to protect the community and all citizens, nor to be “cool.” Accept personal responsibility for yourself and loved ones. If possible to do so safely, leave the area to avoid a deadly confrontation. This is not a sign of weakness, cowardness, or lack of skills, but rather a recognition of the many varying factors that must be considered and our priority to protect our lives and those of our loved ones. The best way to “win” a gunfight is to avoid it all together. Just because we can legally carry a concealed weapon does not make us police officers nor vigilantes. We should not have a macho, emotional, impulsive, or revenge-kill instinctive reaction, but rather avoid trouble, use non-emotional and rational judgment, and de-escalate confrontations.
We should make every effort to not get into fists fights when we are carrying and recognize that any time a gun is introduced into a situation, it escalates it and nothing good will result. The use of lethal force is always the last option. Being armed and prepared is more than just the possession of the firearm. A gun is only a tool. The mind is the true weapon. You must understand the reality of the situation.
2. Have Current & Complete Handgun Training
Your training should be comprehensive and include certain key topics, fundamentals, techniques, and safety. And they should be current and related to realistic concealed carry situations you might actually encounter. Continued education and training in and beyond the basic fundamentals are very important. If the training you receive and the drills and repetitions you do in your practice are incorrect, outdated, and/or incomplete, you will not be properly prepared and will train the poor technique or incorrect fundamental into your subconscious memory and then rely on it in an encounter. Avoid an abbreviated, one-round fired into the barrel at a gun-show, 45-minutes, or “quickie course.” You are harming yourself (and others) by getting minimal training that often overlooks several fundamentals and 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 five 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 as a refresher. Recognize that just because you have had training in rifles and shotguns, there are key differences between those long guns and handguns. Annually scheduling update refresher and key topics training will better prepare you to respond automatically with the proper muscle memory. Do not neglect such topics as recognizing and solving gun malfunctions and stoppages, proper draw and presentation technique, trigger control for accuracy and speed, legal update for your state’s laws, proper use of cover and concealment, shooting on the move AND standing still, shooting with weak hand AND strong hand only, shooting multiple threats/targets, low or no light threat engagement, use of tactical flashlight, gunshot wound/trauma first aid, reloading under fire/stress, scan and access reinforcement, etc.
3. Understand Handgun Laws & Requirements In Your State & Jurisdiction
You must know for your state or jurisdiction legally (and morally) when you can and cannot shoot, when you can use deadly force, where you can and cannot carry concealed, if brandishing and printing are permissible and/or appropriate, if you are required to show your concealed carry license/permit when stopped routinely by a police officer, how to recognize disparate force factors, what are the details of your area’s Stand Your Ground and Castle Doctrine laws, what are your state’s reciprocity states, how to relate to the police if there is a shooting, and what to do after a shooting, etc. A lot to know, so regularly seek out current handgun laws and requirements for your state and jurisdiction from a competent source.
4. Carry Regularly – Not Occasionally
There are many reasons for someone not to carry their gun daily after they took the time, effort, and expense to get a concealed carry license/permit. Why do some not carry all the time and only sporadically now and then? We should carry all the time if we are legally-licensed to do so. I recently had some out-of-state students from states where they can’t get a permit to carry, or it takes 1-2 years to do so. They wanted an out-of-state permit for when they travel, and they recognize the importance of carrying all the time. Some don’t carry because there is a chance of legal problems when they transport their guns to certain places or when they travel in several states. Some live where they can carry, but work in another state where they can’t. But by far the reason for not carrying daily for some is to carry only when they are exposed to a high-threat level or feel endangered, even though we should avoid dangerous places, people, and situations. Today, any place and any situation has the potential to escalate and be dangerous, including (as we know from recent tragic events) schools, malls, churches, birthday parties, all neighborhoods, etc. Another reason I hear frequently is that it is uncomfortable to carry the gun. The holster is rubbing my side; the gun doesn’t fit right in the holster; the gun won’t fit and conceal properly under my t-shirt or with shorts; the belt won’t support it well enough; my tummy roll is a problem; etc. Duh! If the gun is too heavy, too long, too wide, has too much recoil, doesn’t fit right; or if your holster, belt, or carry method is not correct or cumbersome… CHANGE them. Some gun with you is better than the gun left at home, in the safe, or in the car. Find the best gun, holster, belt, carry rig combination that works best for yourself and carry it always. You will never know when that fateful encounter might occur; be prepared just in case.
5. Do Not Frequently Check & Adjust Your Carry Handgun
When I started carrying concealed, I was very conscious about where my gun was riding, if my shirt was properly covering it, if my pants were too tight to reveal the gun’s outline, if my fat paunch accented my gun, etc. Then, I frequently kept adjusting, touching, and checking it. I would touch it through my shirt to see if it was properly positioned and still there. I would often move it around out of habit. After some time, I realized that I was actually drawing more attention to myself and my concealed gun. I looked suspicious when I constantly tugged and adjusted my shirt. So, I calmed down, relaxed, did not touch and adjust my gun, and truly realized the value of a good holster, belt, cover garment, and proper clothing. With my horizontally-challenged build, I could no longer wear tight clothes and form-fitting, light-colored smaller t-shirts, pants, and sweaters. I had to buy my pants a size larger for in-the-waistband carry, accept a somewhat baggy appearance, and had to wear dark clothes. I got used to it and accepted that most would not even see my concealed gun and were not even looking for it. So what if they do accidentally see it. It is just my PDA, cell phone, or medical device.
6. Practice With Your Self-Defense Ammo & Carry Gun
Naturally, it is important to train and practice with the gun and ammo you will carry. The techniques and fundamental actions that you routinely and unconsciously perform in training and practice do influence your performance in actual self-defense and combat encounters. If you are not closely familiar with your gun, holster, ammo, and other accessories, how will you be able to operate and handle them successfully, smoothly, efficiently, and accurately in an emergency encounter? So you should drill and practice regularly with your carry gun, ammo, carry garment, and equipment so that their deployment becomes a second-nature, comfortable habit. While practicing, some shooters fail to use their hollow point (HP) or self-defense ammo they actually carry. Usually, they cite the higher cost of the HP ammo. To better acquaint yourself with the performance and characteristics of your self-defense ammo, practice with it occasionally, perhaps once a month or so. You can mostly practice with your full-metal jacket ammo for cost savings but still practice sometimes with your HP ammo. The gun you carry is going to be a compromise. You probably will realize that the gun you want to carry and the gun you will have to carry may be different. Larger guns in calibers that are generally considered to be more capable may also be more difficult to conceal and may require more practice for optimal accuracy. However, you also need to understand that concealment is usually more a matter of holster design and cover garments than gun size.
7. Use A Proper Holster
It is important to use a quality-made holster from a reputable manufacturer that is designed specifically for your carry gun. Yes, you can keep your gun in a nylon holster when it’s in the range bag, but use a quality, custom-fit holster for your carry gun. A holster made for your gun model will usually allow you to draw and secure your gun better, as well as help to make it more concealable and accessible. A customized holster for your specific gun model will completely cover and protect the trigger from contact with outside objects, including your trigger finger. A properly-designed holster made specifically for your gun will retain the gun until you intentionally draw it. Do not expect a $10. holster on sale for $5. to provide a reliable and comfortable carry solution for your $700 carry handgun. A very rough rule of thumb is to expect to spend about 10-15 percent of the cost of your handgun to purchase a reliable, safe, comfortable, and effective holster.
Proper Inside-the-Waistband (IWB) holsters are usually more concealable, but also may be less comfortable. But they may also require a trouser and belt size adjustment to compensate for the added bulk. An Outside-the-Waistband (OWB) holster is usually more comfortable, but also usually more difficult to conceal. You can make your carry gun very concealable, but sometimes at the cost of a much slower access and draw. Or you can have a faster access and draw, but with less concealability, giving up a major tactical advantage. A very personal decision.
8. Use A Proper Gun Belt
Needless to say, a gun belt is extremely important to support your handgun. Some believe even more so than a holster. Others say at least as important as the holster. In any event, a gun belt is a “must-have” accessory for your handgun rig. You need the support for your gun and accessibility that you can count on. A rigid high-quality full-grain bull hide leather gun belt will help minimize movement of your gun, be strong and resilient for long-lasting durability, help distribute weight, and add to comfort. A leather belt that has been reinforced with an inner layer of kydex will be rigid and help it from deforming, rolling up, and sagging. Price is usually an indicator of quality, so spend the money to get a good gun belt, rather than the $15. for the discount store flimsy belt.
9. Wear Proper Clothing & Cover Garments
The climate, your job, lifestyle, daily activities, and your location where you live have a significant effect on your carry clothing. In some areas, you may carry the same way all year long, while in other locations, you may wear shorts and t-shirts in the summer and heavy coats and gloves in the winter. These differences can be frustrating and challenging, but you must adapt. For example, a plain white dress shirt is usually plenty of concealment if you’ve got an inside-the-waistband holster. A loose untucked casual shirt, like a guayabera, Hawaiian or camp shirt can easily hide the grip of a handgun from the casual observer. A sweatshirt or hoodie add bulk around the waist that probably can hide most large handguns. It just depends on your gun, its size, and dimensions, and your body build. I find as a horizontally-challenged geezer in my very warm Florida weather that wearing loose and baggy clothing and over-sized, untucked casual shirts make concealed carry easier, but not so stylish. I live with it. Sometimes I switch from Outside-the-Waistband (OWB) carry to Inside-the-Waistband (IWB) carry, and it seems to conceal some of my smaller guns better. Another option (so at least you will carry something) is to consider carrying one of the smaller firearms recently released, be it one of the new .380s or 9mms. Now there are many lightweight, ergonomically-rounded, reduced-snag polymer-framed pistols and revolvers made especially for carry. Of course, if you live in one of the 42 open-carry states (not Florida), you should carry with adequate retention to prevent a gun grab. With concealed carry being legal now in all 50 states, open carry may not be your personal choice because of the negative reactions and possible problems with other folks (and maybe the police) to seeing a gun openly displayed and the disadvantage of not having your gun hidden. Of course, this is a very personal choice depending on your preferences, comfort level, and clothing choices, etc. Whether you change your method of carry for one day or the entire season, remember the importance of being familiar with your carry method. Some concealed carry methods require you to access and get past clothing used as cover, which makes drawing more difficult and time-consuming. Practice is key for you to be able to deal with your clothing as cover, draw properly, etc. in stressful encounters.
10. Always Be Totally Aware Of Your Situation & Its Variables
Whether you know and practice Cooper’s 4 Color Codes of Awareness or Boyd’s OODA Loop, or the NRA’s Unaware-Aware-Alert-Alarm cycle, situational awareness is of critical importance for everyone at all times. We should be cautious, practice observation, scan and assess our particular environment, and know the variables at play in each situation we encounter, even though it is very difficult to do so. Briefly, situational awareness is simply knowing what’s going on around you and knowing your surroundings. It sounds easy in principle, but in reality, requires much practice and keen observation skills and focus. This is challenging in a stressful encounter or even in a non-threatening environment. We tend to “behave in a way that makes sense to ourselves” and unwittingly neglect certain things. Our reality is based on our delimited set of experiences and relative knowledge. It makes “sense” to us because of particular unique experiences, controllable and uncontrollable factors, some we may not be aware of. Maybe it is because we “don’t know what we don’t know?” Research shows that when we get nervous or stressed, our attention and focus narrows, causing us to concentrate on just a few things at a time. A narrow focus can, therefore, cause us to miss important threats and details in our environment. While situational awareness is taught to military personnel, law enforcement officers, and others, it is an important skill for everyone to learn as well. It takes focus and concentration with a big picture, total system perspective. In a dangerous situation, being aware of a threat even seconds before everyone else can keep you and your loved ones safe.
11. Thoroughly Know How To Properly Operate, Handle, & Maintain Your Handgun
Knowing where your external safety, magazine release, slide lock lever, and controls are located and how to operate them efficiently as if they are an appendage to your hand, might save your life because of your immediate muscle-memory reaction in a crisis. Some say it takes approximately 3,000 to 5,000 repetitions of the same action or behavior to develop and instill an automatic muscle-memory response, as a subconscious reaction to external stimuli. Others say 8,000 to 10,000 repetitions. So practice is certainly key, like riding my bike, typing on a keyboard, playing my saxophone, or my handgun trigger control. But practice PROPER techniques and fundamentals. If a specific shooting skill or technique is at first performed wrong and subsequently allowed to continue to repeat, with the mistakes intact, then, unfortunately, the muscle memories created for how you complete the task will also be flawed, on a subconscious level. So when beginning to learn a new shooting skill or technique, it is best to take it slow and pay close attention to what and how you are performing the actions. This ensures that the actions being repeated represent those that are correct as opposed to incorrect. Know how to operate and use your handgun without taking time to think about it. Develop the muscle memory. I know in certain strict training environments, some Range Safety Officers (RSO) will not let students clear their own malfunctions and stoppages and require them to raise their hand so the RSO can safely resolve the problem. Sadly, I know of a case where an officer experienced a stoppage problem in the field because they had to think whether they should go ahead and clear the jam themselves. That precious use of time was their downfall. Also, some law enforcement officers have been killed in the line of duty because of their lack of familiarity with their handgun and certain magnum ammo rounds and recoil. In one case (in the unincorporated area of Los Angeles – the Newhall Massacre of 1970), four California officers had practiced almost solely with lesser-caliber and lesser-recoil ammo, so they were not as accurate when they used the duty magnum rounds and were, sadly, killed in less than 5 minutes. Thoroughly know you concealed carry gun and ammo. Take time to regularly practice with your concealed carry gun and use your personal-protection (e.g., Hollow Point) ammo to practice with occasionally. Also, regularly maintain and clean your concealed carry gun. Honestly, I clean my gun after EVERY use, even if only shooting a box of 50 rounds. This may be overkill for some, but I have the peace of mind of knowing my concealed carry gun is always in a top state of readiness and will not let me down because of a cleaning or maintenance issue. I believe that at least monthly you should inspect, function check, clean and maintain your concealed carry gun.
12. Regularly Practice… Practice… Practice With Skill Drills & Snap Caps
Begin your concealed carry training by analyzing your present skills and where you need improvement. It is imperative to build positive and useful training and practice habits early. I believe shooters should review their training process and topics on an annual basis and constantly, then design your practice plan with specific drills to help improve certain identified skills or areas needing improvement. There is always something to learn or improve upon. Shooting fundamentals and skills are perishable, and they deteriorate if not practiced. So, you must practice on a regular basis. Every year I try to complete at least one course for improvement. Practice is critical, but so is how you practice. Do not just shoot holes in paper, but have a planned course of fire and specific drills to focus on key fundamentals and areas where you need improvement. Snap Caps and dry firing can be very helpful. Snap caps have a spring-damped false primer or one of plastic that cushions and protects the firing pin for many repeated strikes and protects your gun’s components. Dry firing is practicing at home with snap caps and an UNLOADED gun. If you cannot get to the range regularly, then use (inert) snap caps to practice in the comfort of your home. You can practice aiming, sight alignment, stance, grip, trigger control, loading and unloading, clearing malfunctions, and drawing to build muscle memory. Recognize that while dry-fire practice drills with snap caps are useful, there is no substitute for live fire. 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. Regular live-fire practice definitely helps. Try to plan for a monthly Range shooting session, but go at least every 7 to 8 weeks as a minimum. You can practice dry firing as a supplement in your home once a week. Be prepared, since violent encounters occur at what seems like the speed of light.
Photos by author.
This personal opinion article is meant for general information & educational purposes only and the author strongly recommends that you seek counsel from an attorney in your state or jurisdiction for legal advice and your own personal certified weapons trainer for proper guidance about shooting & using YOUR firearms, self-defense, stand your ground law, and concealed carry. This is not legal advice and not legal opinions. 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. Safety First!
© 2015 Col Benjamin Findley. All Rights Reserved. This article may not be reprinted or reproduced in whole or in part by mechanical means, photocopying, electronic reproduction, scanning, or any other means without prior written permission. For copyright information, contact Col Ben Findley at [email protected].