I get it. I really do. I lived it briefly. Upon first getting my carry permit as soon as I was old enough to legally do so, the first few days that I carried a loaded handgun on my body concealed proved unsettling. So I have been there, long ago. The difference between me and most that go through this process is that by the time I started carrying I had many years of training with a handgun already under my belt as I was blessed with a father who was a firearms trainer himself as part of his profession. Still, actually carrying the gun concealed proved a new experience despite my substantial training prior to that point. So, I completely understand when a new carrier expresses their apprehension. The good news, I have some advice to assist you in getting comfortable with your decision to carry.
Carrying a loaded handgun is a significant responsibility and it should not be done until you have acquired the appropriate training and level of comfort with the matter. The top priority for all who consider carrying is to obtain appropriate training and to dedicate to significant practice of the safe handling and use of the firearm. This article is not in any way intended to talk people who are on the fence about it into carrying a gun. No, that is an entirely personal decision and it is a big decision. This article is intended for those who have received the necessary training and have decided to carry a gun, but still suffer from significant apprehension concerning the actual process. Here are three topics to consider:
Guns Don’t Just Go Off
To begin with, bear this in mind: modern handguns do not just go off. Firearm technology is incredibly reliable today and modern handguns, really any model that has been produced within the past several decades, have many inbuilt safeties to avoid the gun from being inadvertently fired due to falling or impacting hard against surfaces. A good handgun will only fire for one reason: something presses the trigger. Most often a human finger presses the trigger to cause a negligent discharge. Occasionally an article of clothing, such as a drawstring can produce this unintended loud noise. As much as I hate to say it, police officers usually account for most stories of negligent discharges that we hear about. Many officers take their own training seriously and are competent, but far too many are poor and unsafe gun handlers. Do not be fooled by the stories of such negligent discharges in which the culprit claims “the gun just went off.” Nope. They set the gun off. Keep your finger OUTSIDE of the trigger guard and wear safe and appropriate clothing for concealment and you will not experience a negligent discharge when you holster or un-holster the gun.
A second principle to bear in mind is this: once a gun is holstered and on your body there should be little reason to remove the weapon from the holster. Many of the negligent discharge stories we hear involve people fiddling around with the gun in some way, or perhaps taking it out to show friends. This sort of conduct is not inappropriate. The only reason the gun should come out of the holster while in a public place is to defend yourself with it. There are times that you may need to remove the gun from your person, obviously. Perhaps you have to secure it in a locked container in the home or vehicle, or perhaps you are administratively maintaining the weapon or training with it. Otherwise, the gun does not come out unless it needs to in a defensive capacity. Minimize the handling of the weapon when it is in its loaded and ready condition.
A Good Holster is Top Priority
With the understanding that the only way a gun will fire is if the trigger is pressed by a human digit or some other artifact, the key to safe carry beyond just safe handling is a good quality holster. If you plan to carry a gun that you spent hundreds of dollars on in a cheap nylon holster, don’t bother. A good holster is going to be made out of kydex, leather, or a combination of those two materials. Nylon or another cloth fabric has no place on a holster for a handgun. That may sound like a strong opinion, and yes, it is, and it is shared by anyone who knows what they are talking about concerning carrying a handgun. Nylon holsters are a disaster waiting to happen.
The second consideration that is absolutely paramount is that a holster should be form fitted to the gun. What does this mean? It means that the holster should retain the gun tightly and should be the exact dimensions and shape of your particular model of gun. Most good kydex holsters will be form fitted, but leather holsters may come in a wider range of generic sizes but you want a form fitted holster in leather also. You want to invest in a form fitted holster that fits your exact model of gun. This does two things: First, it will retain the gun more tightly than a generic one-size-fits-all holster so that your gun does not fall out. Second, it will tightly wrap around the gun so that clothing or other objects cannot make their way into the holster and activate the trigger.
Some good modern designs use kydex to retain the weapon on a backing of leather which provides more comfort against the body. The other primary concern with holster selection is to be sure the holster locks securely to your belt. Make certain that whatever form of clip or loop the holster uses is secure, and be sure that the clips or loops do not snag on your clothing when you draw. Test this extensively with dry fire practice before using the holster for actual concealed carry. I personally recommend that most people steer away from the holsters that are made to just tuck into the waistband and rely only on friction to stay put rather than looping or clipping onto the belt. I find that many individuals use these sorts of holsters without even using a good belt and that leads to the gun falling out of the waistband inadvertently. These sorts of holsters can be used properly, but for new carriers I highly urge the use of a securely looped or clipped holster.
Another place in which new carriers go wrong consistently is in belt selection. It is this simple: regular dress or casual belts do not work for carrying a gun correctly. You need a dedicated gun belt. The primary difference is a gun belt is stiff and supports the weight of a holstered firearm. You can get good gun belts in nylon or leather. Whereas nylon is a no-go for holsters it is great for a gun belt, but you may need a good leather gun belt if you need to dress more formally than a nylon belt permits. The stiff nature of a dedicated gun belt makes carry much more comfortable and it prevents your gun from moving around as you walk or do other daily activities. Good holsters and gun belts are a bit more expensive than the cheap versions of either, but the investment is very worth it to ensure secure and comfortable carry.
Evaluate Your Printing
When you first start wearing a gun concealed you will feel that everyone you pass will know you are wearing a gun. The first thing to consider is this: people are not very observant. Think about it, before you started carrying a gun how many times did you notice others carrying concealed? You do, however, want to minimize printing. The way to do this is to look at a full-length dress mirror and look at yourself while wearing the gun in the cloths that you are using to conceal it. Be sure to look at yourself from all angles and move in realistic daily motions to see if it exposes the gun’s outline. Most forms of carrying in or on the waistband will print at certain times, even with small guns. A slight print is not necessarily a big problem. The squared angles of a handgun stand out from the rounded angles of the body. What we want to avoid, however, is the tell-tale square outline of the grip of the pistol from displaying. You will find that dark colors help obscure this contrast better than light colors, and you will generally need to wear shirts slightly larger than you would if not carrying.
You will find that a gun worn inside the waistband is relatively easy to conceal if you put some time into it, but movement is what makes things more difficult. The worst possible movement for a gun worn strong side hip is bending over. A good habit to get into if this is your preferred carry mode is to train yourself to bend at the knees. For example, if you need to get something off the low shelf in a grocery store, drop to a knee to avoid the bend at the waist that makes the heel of the gun print though your clothing. If you wear an outside-the-waistband holster under an open front shirt or jacket, be mindful of reaching above your head with your dominant hand as this tends to raise the garment high enough to expose the bottom of the holster. While these issues sound like a major inconvenience at first, you will find that they are easy to form into habit and you will be mindful of ways to minimize printing if you simply give it some consideration.
Finally, let me say that many Americans carry a handgun on a daily basis and do so safely and securely. The negligent discharges that happen grab the headlines but they are rare in comparison to the number of people carrying safely and they are most often due to avoidable carelessness. The primary concerns are to carry the gun in a secure holster with a good belt and exercise the four rules of gun safety whenever holstering or un-holstering the firearm. If you do this you will be able to carry your gun safely, securely, and it will become completely natural and routine within a short while.