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In the face of an ever-uncertain and changing world, many Americans have chosen to step up their personal protection game by lawfully carrying a concealed firearm. In fact, a study by the Crime Prevention Research Center shows that over 14.5 million people have licenses to carry a concealed handgun- and these numbers don’t even fully include the residents of “Constitutional Carry” states where a permit is not required to carry!
With that in mind, you may either be a concealed carrier or considering the practice in the near future. Whether you’re a seasoned carrier with a worn-in holster or a newbie about to go take their first training course, here are some tips that can keep you comfortable, safe and on the right side of the law.
1. Train, Train, Train
Easily the most important bit of advice you could receive, training is a constant process in the concealed carry lifestyle (and it is very much a lifestyle). A firearm is not a magic talisman that will ward off four and two-legged predators on its own- the effectiveness of such a tool is solely dependent on the proficiency and the competence of the user.
While some states don’t require a permit to carry, most (if not all) states require classroom training (or military/police equivalence) for a concealed carry permit that one can take across state lines.Ranging from a few hours to nearly an entire day of training, these courses vary from state to state, but they all have one thing in common: the training required is the bare minimum needed to carry a handgun and more training is always advised. Fortunately, the concealed carry community is very good about encouraging each other to continue their education in the martial art of concealed carry.
Training simply doesn’t consist of going to a range and shooting at a still target once every six months. You will likely not be casually standing around with a pistol in your hand if your life becomes threatened and you are forced to defend yourself. Learn to safely draw and fire from your holster, engage targets with speed and accuracy and reload while timed and under pressure. If you can get enrolled in classes or can find tutelage from instructors who can teach you to shoot under pressure and on the move, that is even better! Any education is better than none, and constant training will sharpen and fine-tune very perishable skills.
Unfortunately, not everyone can get to the range once a week and even fewer can afford high-end classes as much as they would like. However, one can do dry fire training in the home and there is a plethora of information from credible instructors on the internet to fill the gaps where logistics overrides range and classroom time.
No matter how good you are, you can always be better. Never, ever stop learning. The moment you think you deem yourself “good enough,” you may have lost your gunfight before it ever started.
2. Use What Feels Right, Take Care of It and Use It Often
One of the biggest issues I have come across in the firearms industry is when a person buys a pistol or holster -be it for himself or someone else- and refuses to practice with it due to how uncomfortable it is for them to use or carry. This is particularly common between spouses, where a (well-meaning) spouse will buy their significant other a firearm without even letting them hold it or decide what model works best for them.
A little tidbit of advice- if it isn’t comfortable, you won’t like it. If you don’t like it, you won’t shoot it. If you don’t shoot it, you won’t become proficient with it. If you don’t become proficient with it, you won’t carry it and if you don’t carry it, you have defeated the point of even being armed in the first place!
With that in mind, do your due diligence when buying a carry pistol and holster. This is easily one of the most critical purchases you will ever make- and your life may depend on how wisely you made that decision. You don’t have to do what everyone else is doing or spend a second mortgage, but don’t skimp out on research and quality.
Everyone is different. Some people carry souped-up striker-fired Glock 19s in a Kydex (polymer-based) appendix carry holsters that look like the Batmobile, some carry a Double/Single Action CZ P-07 on their hip in a hybrid holster (a fusion of Kydex and leather) and some folks even carry a classic Single Action Only 1911 cocked and locked in a leather holster, often underneath a jacket. While there are documented pros and cons to each firearm and method of carry, it ultimately comes down to what is comfortable to you, how you will train with that system and what you realistically expect from your individual setup and training.
While some of the more set in their ways types will disagree with this line of thought, insisting that their way is “the way” (and may have data to back it up), it is easy to forget that people come in all different shapes, sizes and levels of comfort with equipment. Ultimately, it comes down to you. You are the one who is going to carry that pistol in that holster. You should either become proficient with aforementioned system or find a new system.
Lastly, take good care of your equipment. Check it, clean it and service anything that isn’t acting as it should Treat the firearm and equipment as if your life depend on them- because it does.
3. Don’t Be Cheap When It Comes To Defense Ammo (And Do Some Serious Research First)
I cannot stress this enough: If you’re going to carry a pistol, carry it with ammunition catered for self defense that is aligned with your local laws.
Every round you fire from your pistol is a fast-moving liability that may have lethal and legal ramifications depending on its performance and placement. You wouldn’t put ethanol fuel in a Ferrari, skydive with a parachute made for ground training or use a bungee cord as a seatbelt (if you would do either of these things, you should probably just stop reading and give up on the idea of concealed carry), so why would you skimp on price or information concerning defense ammunition?
The defense ammunition you choose is as important as the pistol you fire it from. Find out beforehand what ammunition works best in your model of pistol. The internet is awash with testing data, statistics and reliability information in regards to defense ammunition. Look for credible sources and be careful whose advice you take- the “helpful guy” behind the gun counter suggesting you buy that fancy new $50+ “super ammo” might just be trying to offload boxes of gimmick ammo because he can’t sell it to people people who have carried longer/know better and won’t touch the stuff.
Defense ammo is kind of like most products you see on the shelf- if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. With that in mind, do your research (and be mindful of who is providing the research). There are many variables you need to look into (pressure, bullet weight, how it functions in your firearm) and the end results will be well worth the time and cost involved in finding the right ammunition for you.
At the end of the day, you’re accepting liability for your actions and equipment.
Which brings me to my next point…
4. Know Your State’s Laws (And the Laws of the States You Intend to Visit)
One of the things that makes our country so great is that every state is different. Unfortunately, this can lead to a patchwork of self defense laws among the states, as well as a dicey list of where you can and cannot carry your sidearm should you chose to venture beyond the borders of your home state. In Tennessee, a posted “No Carry” sign at an establishment carries the full weight of the law, in Florida, it doesn’t have as much power (but always do your best to honor such postings whenever possible, regardless of legal weight). New Jersey residents are not allowed to use hollow-point ammunition and Colorado does not accept permits from non-residents of a state where a permit is issued. California does not accept permits from anyone outside of their borders.
While there is talk of legislation to make concealed carry permits as universally accepted as a driver’s license, the general rule of thumb until such a day comes (if at all) is to know what states accept you permit. If you plan on travelling, do some research on where you can carry (including what places are off-limits), how you can carry and what kind of equipment changes may be needed to stay aligned with the laws, wherever you may go.
Remember, while some states are more gun-friendly than others, it is up to you to ensure you obey the law of whatever state you happen to be in at the time.
5. Be Prepared
Carrying concealed is more than just carrying a handgun. As I mentioned before, it is a lifestyle choice that has a lot of caveats, added responsibilities and liabilities to go on with it. With this in mind, one doesn’t simply strap on a pistol and “call it good.”
In addition to your sidearm, carry extra ammunition. One of the biggest mechanical weak points of semi-automatic pistols is the magazine and a revolver runs out of ammunition fairly quickly. A spare magazine or spare ammunition for a revolver is a must if you plan to carry. Other handy items include a small flashlight, a tourniquet (or something to make one), a belt and a pocket knife, as well as your mobile phone and a wallet.
Don’t get quagmired in a fantasy of how your potential defensive scenario will unfold. All too often, the average concealed carrier becomes obsessed with how the situation will play out (frequently referred to as “mygunfight”), leading to a person being taken by surprise when real life throws them a curveball. Train in such a way that you are well-prepared for a multitude of contingencies and be flexible to handle whatever may come your way. Flexibility, good training and sound judgement are 3/4 of the battle, with your equipment making up the difference.
Have a plan on what will happen when the situation comes to an end. Defensive situations -no matter how justified- almost always end up with you having to take a trip to the police station or the hospital. Know your local laws, know who you plan on calling for legal counsel and be careful what you say or do after the dust settles. Look into organizations that provide training, legal counsel and other services.
Lastly, keep a level head. Your training and planning will only work if you maintain your composure the best you can. A simple slip of judgement can mean the difference between a happy life or life in prison (or worse, death).
6. Dress For Success
One of the biggest changes for many people who begin carrying is that their wardrobe may suddenly become very impractical. Be it pants without belt loops or skin-tight t-shirts and short shorts (for the ladies..and guys, we don’t judge), once viable options may become impractical.
Some people will tell you to dress around the gun, others will point to finding the gun that works best with your wardrobe. Both options have advantages and disadvantages and often a blend of the two schools of thought is a more realistic option.
Try to avoid clothing that draws attention to you, has vulgar imagery that paints you in a bad light or advertises that you’re carrying a firearm. That “Dysfunctional Veteran” shirt is cool and all, but it might not help your case when the prosecutor sees it in your mugshot photo after you defended yourself from an attacker.
Wear clothes that are as stylish as they are functional and always be cognizant of how your firearm appears in clothing. Some states are more strict than others when it comes to the definition of “concealed,” and even accidentally exposing your firearm in public can land you in an uncomfortable situation, which brings me to my final point…
7. Be Polite, Be Professional…
Anyone who knows the famous “polite and professional” quote from Defense Secretary James Mattis knows that there is a third piece of advice that goes with that saying- but for the sake of this article, it goes without saying. Why? Some things just don’t need to be said or advertised, particularly when you don’t know your audience.
Concealed carry is no different.When you carry concealed, you are not only taking on added responsibilities and liabilities, you are unintentionally representing every law-abiding citizen who carries a sidearm as well. From how you behave in public to how well you obey the law, an act of poor judgement on your part may be a crippling setback to the concealed carry community and even the firearms community as a whole.
Follow your local laws, be polite to everyone you meet and don’t advertise that you’re carrying. Treat other people the way you would like to be treated and don’t use a firearm as a way to boost your ego.
Consider the consequences of everything. Much like the “Dysfunctional Veteran” shirt I previously mentioned, the “We Don’t Dial 911” sign on your front door and “Keep Honking, I’m Reloading” decal on your SUV probably aren’t the best choices of decor. Remember, even the most seemingly benign (and admittedly humorous) things can be used against you in court. If you’re a jerk to everyone around you or strut around your suburb like you’re in a Spaghetti Western or Action film, they likely won’t speak well of your character if you’re forced to defend yourself.
Consider the company you keep- if you have a friend who is prone to getting in brawls or lashes out rudely in public, they may not be doing you a favor.
Don’t go looking for a fight. Your concealed carry pistol is for defensive purposes only and you should only ever resort to lethal use of force in the event that all other options have been exhausted. Always try to avoid bad situations if possible and do everything in your power to de-escalate a situation you find yourself in. Remember- once you open fire, you cannot take it back and your life will never be the same.
By following these steps (and many more), you can have the edge to defend yourself while maintaining a high quality of life that doesn’t include prison (or worse). Sure, there are some adjustments to make and sometimes those adjustments will take some getting used to. If that is too much to bear, you probably shouldn’t carry. For everyone else, may you have the best of luck and never have to use your sidearm in self-defense.
Concealed carry is a huge responsibility that comes with lots of time and money invested for peace of mind. However, the old adage rings true that it is “better to have and not need it than to need and not have it.”
Be responsible, be safe, maintain your firearm, train constantly and carry often!
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