Getting Started With Concealed Carry

There are many ways to carry a gun discreetly for self-defense, and pocket carry is just one. The pants are from CCW Breakaways, the belt from Blade-Tech and the holster is by Galco. Whatever method you choose, get quality equipment and good training. There is more to it than meets the eye. (Doug Larson photo)

Thirty or forty years ago, only a few states allowed citizens to carry a gun discreetly for self-defense. That has changed drastically now and almost all states have laws that allow citizens to carry a gun. The laws vary, with a permit being easier to get in some states than in others, and some states even allow citizens to carry a gun without having to ask the state’s permission to do so. That’s been called Constitutional Carry and recognizes that a person has a God-given right to defend one’s life and that often the best tool for the job is a firearm. And despite the ridiculous predictions of some, laws allowing the carry of guns for self-defense have not resulted in a rise in gunfights. In fact, the more people who carry a gun legally, the lower the crime rates.

Police can’t be everywhere and rarely are present when a crime is committed. That leaves it to the individual to protect himself from serious bodily injury or death at the hands of a violent criminal. There is a lot more to carrying a gun than slipping it into a pocket or tucking it into a waistband, and carrying for self-defense is a serious undertaking that should not be done as a hobby or because of a thrill derived from carrying a gun. Fortunately, most people realize that and have a sincere desire to learn to do it the right way.

First, the citizen who carries a gun must realize that the gun is there to protect himself or herself, or people he or she is committed to protecting, from serious bodily injury or death. It is not the non-sworn civilian’s job or duty to stop crime or pursue a criminal. That’s the job of sworn civilians, also known as the police. It’s a dangerous job and should be left to them. For one thing, if you see a confrontation involving someone with a gun, how do you know who is the good guy and who is the bad guy? One may be a plainclothes law enforcement officer and you may not know which.

People who have decided to carry a gun usually have questions. And the most often asked question is, “What gun should I carry?”

Don’t rely on the recommendation of someone else. A gun is a very personal piece of equipment. A woman would not rely on her husband’s opinion about what shoes to buy without trying them on. So while some guidance can be given about the gun to choose, the individual who will carry the gun needs to shoot the gun or at least handle it before making the purchase. With the increase in ranges around the country where gun rentals are available, it is easier than it has ever been to try before you buy. And this applies to men as well as women.

Generally, a small handgun is harder to shoot than a large handgun. Small guns may be easier to carry, but their grips are smaller making them harder to hold onto during recoil. They are also usually lighter making recoil feel greater. And many small guns have minimal sights with a short sight radius which makes them harder to aim. So while a small gun may appeal to some, recognize those facts, and if at all possible, shoot the gun before buying it. Something as elemental as how the gun feels in the hand can make a huge difference in how well a person can shoot it.

There is no one gun that is right for carrying by everyone. The small Ruger LCP or the Air Lite Smith & Wesson revolver are easier to carry discreetly than this full-size Colt Competition 9mm but are also more difficult to shoot. (Doug Larson photo)

The cartridge is another consideration. We are discussing handguns here and it must be recognized that handguns chambered in the common self-defense cartridges are not very good fight stoppers. They are carried because they are more convenient to carry – especially discreetly – than a long gun.

Statistics have shown that there is very little difference in the fight stopping ability of handgun cartridges including .380 ACP, 9mm Luger, .40 S&W, and .45 ACP. There used to be, but ammunition makers are now making such good bullets, that the difference is small. However, where the bullet strikes makes a huge difference. A wounded finger does very little attack stopping damage compared to a chest shot. So it is important that you be able to hit what you are aiming at, and that gets back to picking a gun that you can shoot well.

The .380 ACP (from left to right), the 9mm Luger, the .40 S&W and the .45 ACP vary in recoil and power, but surprisingly are very similar in the ability to stop a violent attacker. More important than cartridge selection is picking a gun that you can shoot well and accurately because shot placement is more important. (Doug Larson photo)

It is also of vital importance that the gun function properly every time the trigger is pulled and that it does so with the type of ammunition you carry in it. So, the chosen gun should be test-fired with the same ammunition you intend to carry. Don’t just shoot a magazine or cylinder full and call it good. The military fires thousands of rounds through a test gun and insists on no failures before it selects a gun. It is impractical for most to test a gun to that extreme, and self-defense ammunition is expensive, but you should still fire more than a few rounds to verify that the gun and ammunition work together.

Don’t use lead or full metal jacket round nose ammunition. That ammo can be used for practice but is not designed for self-defense. Even though it’s more expensive, get ammunition that is designed for protection. Generally, if your police force is using it, it’s probably been tested and is satisfactory.

You also will need to decide how you are going to carry the gun. There are many ways to do so ranging from a regular belt holster to deep concealment like a belly band. No way is necessarily the best way. It depends on your needs and circumstances. In general though, the deeper the concealment – the more hidden the gun is – the slower it will be to draw. But in some circumstances, you may not have much choice and must carry a certain way. Whatever way you choose though, get a good holster and practice drawing and holstering with an unloaded gun.

If you choose pocket carry, do not just drop the gun into the pocket. Use a holster because it protects the trigger from being accidentally pulled and the gun discharging inside the pocket. And do not carry anything in that pocket except the gun in its holster. There are techniques that should be used to draw and holster the gun, so find a competent instructor who knows them and can teach you. That advice applies to any carry method, not just pocket carry.

Ladies often choose to carry a gun in a purse. If you do so, consider that every time you put your purse down, you are no longer in control of the gun inside it and may not be able to get to it in a hurry. So before choosing purse carry, consider other options designed for women including garters, bras, and belly bands.

The Galco Front Pocket Horsehide Holster (upper left) is designed to carry a gun in a pocket while the Galco Kingtuk (upper right) is made to carry a gun inside the waistband. The Blade-Tech Signature has a paddle that allows the gun to be carried outside the waistband. Buy quality holsters and don’t waste money on cheap, floppy nylon junk. (Doug Larson photo)

Your carry method may force you to alter your wardrobe and dressing style. For instance, if carrying in a belt holster, you may have to begin wearing your shirt outside of your pants. Or you may have to start wearing a jacket. Weather can also affect how you carry. You would look out of place in a hot climate if you always wore a jacket. Buy clothes that fit your surroundings and try not to draw attention to yourself.

And speaking of wardrobe changes, if you carry in a pocket or on the waist, get a real gunbelt. A department store belt, even if wide, just won’t work because it is not sturdy enough to support the weight of the gun and keep it in place. A gunbelt is stiff and distributes the weight. It also keeps the gun and holster from sagging. There are many good gunbelt makers including Galco, Blade-Tech, Crossbreed, and The Wilderness.

A department store belt just won’t work very well to support the weight of a gun and spare ammunition, so spend the extra money and get a real gunbelt like The Wilderness Instructor Belt (top) or the Ultimate Carry Belt from Blade-Tech. They make wearing a gun much more comfortable. A real gunbelt can also be made of leather if that is your preference. (Doug Larson photo)

Holsters are special pieces of equipment, and a cheap nylon fabric holster that allows the gun to sag is not satisfactory. A good holster will retain the gun until drawn, won’t lose its shape, and the mouth will stay open after drawing even if the holster is worn inside the waistband (IWB). That is important because when you put the gun back in the holster, you need to be able to do it with one hand. Your other hand may be busy holding your child or wife or could be injured, so you may not be able to use it to open the top of the holster. Besides, doing so very likely will put your hand in front of the muzzle where your own gun could put a bullet through it by accident. And holstering is a very dangerous maneuver if not done correctly, so do it slowly and deliberately after you have been taught the correct technique by a qualified instructor.

Some products do not work well or their design is not suited to proper gun handling techniques. For example, there are some strong side holsters that have a built-in magazine carrier. If you have to make an emergency reload in the middle of a gunfight, you will not want to waste time transferring your gun to your support hand so you can get the spare magazine. Instead, you will want the magazine carrier to be on your support side so you can rapidly get to it with your support hand. You’ll be able to tell if the equipment is properly designed after you get good training.

Incidentally, it is a good idea to carry at least one reload. You may never need it, but you could, and if you do, you may need it very badly. Modern semi-automatic handguns are fed from detachable box magazines and sometimes magazines fail. They get worn out or their feed lips get bent preventing them from feeding properly. If that happens, even if the magazine still has rounds remaining in it, you will need to replace the magazine quickly in order to continue defending yourself.

A reload is essential. Assaults by multiple attackers are increasing and if you carry a semi-automatic and it malfunctions, the cause is often a faulty magazine. So having a spare may be the only way to get the gun to work. (Doug Larson photo)

Back to training. Only very exceptional individuals – and they are rare – can learn how to use a gun effectively for self-defense by watching a video or reading. And that assumes they get the right information. So find a competent instructor who can teach you proper techniques and then watch you do them while correcting errors.

Finding a good instructor is a challenge because some just don’t know that they don’t know. A good indicator of competent instruction is a well-known school that has been around for a long time and has a good reputation. If the school is used by the military and law enforcement, that’s a good sign. Examples of highly respected gunfighting schools include, but are not limited to, Gunsite Academy – this is the oldest privately owned such school, SIG Sauer Academy, and Thunder Ranch. Interestingly, many instructors got their start at Gunsite before going on to open their own schools. I am not recommending these schools, just citing names as examples of schools that are highly respected. Do your own research.

Ask the instructor for references and then talk to them. Ask the reference how many classes he or she has taken from other instructors or schools because if they have taken one class – or even more – from just one instructor or school, they do not have a very good frame of reference. If, in a class, the instructor does something that you believe is unsafe or unsound, rely on your instincts and leave, even if it’s in the middle of class and you have paid. Getting hurt in training is not worth it. If the instructor stands downrange or has students stand downrange while guns are not holstered, or worse yet when shots are fired, walk away.

A gun is not magic, and having one will not make you safe by itself. You need good training like that offered at Gunsite Academy so you can fight with the gun. Defending yourself is much more than just being able to pull the trigger. (Doug Larson photo)

Just because an instructor was or is in the military or law enforcement, does not mean they are competent instructors. Some are, some aren’t. And some cops and military operators are very highly skilled, but they make up a small percentage of personnel. The average soldier, sailor, marine or law enforcement officer does not have a high level of competence with a firearm and, even if they do, may not be able to pass that knowledge on.

Ask if the school includes instruction in the mindset needed to prevail while protecting yourself with a gun. A good school should cover this subject because it is a vital component of learning self-defense. And keep in mind that the gun is the absolute last resort. You are much better off if you can avoid a fight in the first place. Even if you do everything lawfully and are legally justified in shooting for self-protection, you can still be sued and charged with a crime. Even if you win in court, legal defense is expensive. So hope you never have to shoot.

While competition shooting is fun and has its place – it can improve marksmanship and performance under stress – some of the techniques used to make high scores are not suitable for a gunfight, so find a school and instructor that teaches gun fighting, not just competition. One of the most successful competitive shooters of all time teaches military students. But he is honest and admits that he does not teach gunfighting. He teaches how to shoot fast and accurately, but leaves tactics and fighting techniques to others.

Don’t fool yourself into believing that the concealed carry class you might have to take in order to get your permit prepares you to fight with a gun. Those classes have a primary goal of teaching students where they can carry and when they might be able to shoot. And most are tailored for that state’s permit, not other states.

If you do decide to carry a gun, keep that fact confidential. No one, not even friends, needs to know. If they know, they may innocently mention it to someone and that can lead to trouble. Say you and a friend are present when a robber points a gun at a shop owner and your friend says “Why don’t you do something? You have a gun!”  That could get you shot.

Carrying is a big responsibility and should be done only after careful thought. And proper training is essential. We all have a natural right to protect ourselves – even animals fight back when attacked – but everyone needs the training to do it effectively. Shooting a gun does not come naturally, even to red-blooded American males. It requires instruction, just like any other martial art.

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About the author: Doug Larson is a former Contributing and Field Editor for Guns & Ammo magazine, Doug Larson’s articles have appeared in many top firearm publications. He has completed hundreds of hours of firearm and self-defense training provided by some of the finest world class gun fighting instructors and schools. He has experience with handguns, rifles, shotguns, submachine guns, machine guns and other crew served weapons. He reports on the tactics, techniques and procedures developed by real life gunfighters and taught at the best martial arts schools. This information is passed on to the reader to stimulate thought and a desire to get the best training possible.

{ 1 comment… add one }
  • Earl Belz July 29, 2019, 1:12 pm

    If you do decide to carry, consider purchasing insurance that provides legal council in the event you discharge your firearm in self defense. Even if you are well within you legal rights to use your firearm, doing so will cost you money to defend your action.

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