By Seth R. Nadel

The first time you carry a handgun concealed means you have past two milestones. One is universal – you have decided that you are your own First Responder – that when a threat is here, the police may be way over there. The second is either that you have negotiated your state’s regulations to get their permission slip, or, if you live in a “Free State”, that you have passed your 21st birthday. In any event, welcome to the clan of the sheepdogs!

Due to the unique circumstances of the time and place where I lived, I was able to start carrying concealed at 18. I was attending college in Massachusetts, back when the people there were less regulated. A resident had to be 21 to carry, but a non-resident could get a monthly permit at 18 – for the princely sum of $2 per month! Of course this was prior to the Gun Control Act of 1968, which raised the age to 21.

The choice of gun in those days was simple: a Colt or Smith & Wesson 2” revolver in .38 Special. The choice of ammo just as simple: 158g Round Nose Lead for most folks, the same bullet in semi-wadcutter for “gunners.” The way we dressed back then gave us all kinds of options for how to carry (for the men). The women had fewer choices, as their clothes got shorter (and shorter) and conformed more closely to their bodies.

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Today the choices in guns and ammo are mind boggling. Other than covering some basic principals, we will save these options for another article. While any gun is better than no gun, you want a caliber that is likely to stop an attacker right now! I do not recommend anything smaller than .38 Special or 9mm – again a topic for another time. And no matter if you choose a revolver or a semi-automatic, it must be reliable. Size is actually less important than you might think. In fact, many new to CCW choose guns so small, they are hard to hit with and uncomfortable to shoot. Thus they do not practice with them, further decreasing their ability to stop the attack.

Back when I first started carrying, holsters were made of leather, and they were either inside the waistband, outside the waistband, shoulder, or ankle types. Since Steve McQueen had just starred in the movie Bullet, upside-down (muzzle up) shoulder rigs were all the fashion.

No matter your choice of handgun or holster, as you approach the first day going armed in public, you WILL feel as if you are trying to conceal a blender under your shirt! You will be positive that every passerby will see, and snicker, at your feeble attempt to conceal that cannon under your coat! So, here are some tips to make life easier.

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Tips To Make Carry Easier

First of all, if you are dressed to blend in, you are less likely to be noticed. However, your wardrobe may need some adjustments. For example, if you choose to try inside your waistband carry, you may need pants – and belts – 1” larger than you are used to. You may even need to move up one size in shirts. Otherwise there may be an unsightly bulge over your handgun. Also, patterned shirts conceal bulges better than plain shirts. You also need to “de-select” your collection of  shirts and hats from gunmakers, training schools, local gun shops, and the like. After all, the object of carrying concealed is to NOT be noticed.

There is no need to take it to extremes. Watch any new police academy class, and they all tend to dress in black and brown when not in uniform, so much so it looks like an off duty uniform! It’s OK to wear brighter colors, although you do not want to dress to the extreme that makes you stand out. Keep in mind where you are going, and how everyone else there dresses. A loud Hawaiian shirt may be out of place in a law office, as much as a suit and tie is at the county fair.

Certain types of carry have come and gone. Photographer vests is one unless you really need all those pockets, or you carry a camera all the time. Another is the fanny pack. I live in a mountain resort community, and the only time we see people wearing fanny packs is out on the trails, not in town!

The ladies have it easier, as most are used to carrying a purse of some sort. Substitute a CCW purse with a concealed compartment and holster, such as those from Gun Tot’n Mommas. Women also have the advantage of carrying full size guns.

The next step is for you to ask a shooter – preferably an experienced CCW holder – to give you a hand. Using your chosen handgun (unloaded – check it twice) and holster, ask them to come by and see how well you do conceal your rig. Remember that most of us have a box (or 2 or 3) of perfectly good holsters that just did not work for us. Something that fits your body and feels comfortable all day long but makes you walk with a limp is probably not the right choice. Question if the pain is worth it.

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Have your buddy watch as you walk, sit, bend and perform every other normal movement (HINT: with beltline holsters, if you need to access something you dropped, or a low shelf in a store, keep your back straight and bend your knees!). Sitting in a hard backed bench such as a fast food booth requires a small bit of technique, or the butt of your gun may produce a loud ‘THUNK’ as it strikes the back of the seat. Also make sure you will not drop your gun if you run, bend over, stumble, etc. Your holster MUST retain the pistol under all these conditions, and it’s better to find out with an unloaded gun in the privacy of your home, or in a remote area with your buddy to give you some cover from other eyes if you do drop your gun. This is also the time to think about the wind blowing your cover garment around and exposing your gun.

Remember that in some states, you can carry concealed but not openly. You can be arrested in these states if someone sees your gun. Even in open carry states, you could be charged with disturbing the peace or even “causing public panic” or “brandishing a firearm.” It’s best to keep it concealed.

Try different clothes, so your buddy can give you feedback as some holsters work with some clothes but not others. The fabric matters – clinging clothes are less useful than looser, stiffer fabrics. Then start to carry concealed in your home – all day! This will force you to consider some facets of  CCW you had not thought of like what to do with your handgun when you need to use the bathroom. (Another HINT: Placing your handgun on the top of the tank is a bad idea. Some public restrooms do not have tanks, and many folks have left their handguns behind after “completing their mission!” Consider that most public stalls have walls that do not reach to the floor, and you never know who is in the next stall, and what they will do if they see your gun!)

Are you going to carry spare ammo? Where will you carry it and how much will you carry? You really should carry a cell phone any time you carry a gun, or else what will you do if the bad guy surrenders, and you can’t call for help? How about a flashlight? Where will you keep your CCW card? All these things need consideration.

Another issue is “pull up.” You reach for something on a high shelf, and your cover garment pulls up showing one and all your pistol. This is really bad if you are in a store where there are little kids with loud voices – you know, the ones who have to tell mommy everything they see! “Look mommy, that man has a gun!” Such comments are not going to improve your day. Try reaching with your other side hand.

Practice

On the subject of practice, you also need to practice drawing your gun from under cover – it’s different. Your blinding fast draw on the range can turn into 5 seconds of fumbling and even dropped guns as parts get caught in your clothing and rip the pistol out of your hand! Once again, practice in your home (with the shades drawn – no need to excite the neighbors) with your unloaded gun. How will you get to your gun under a zipped winter jacket? Will your pants tend to fall down after you draw from inside your waistband, making your new pants suddenly one size too large? Exactly how will you draw from your nifty new ankle holster? Can you draw from your strong side with one hand, or do you need two?

Since we spend so much of our time in cars, can you access your pistol while you are buckled into your seatbelt? How about if you are a passenger rather than the driver? There are solutions to these issues as well, and several that you could explore.

The reality is that the odds of your ever needing a gun are very, very small – but they are never zero! You can never predict where something bad will happen, and the only think worse than knowing “IF I had my gun yesterday, I could have kept that girl from being killed,” is being killed yourself because you thought you were going “someplace safe.”

Another reality is that you do NOT want anyone to know you are carrying. There is a tendency at first to want to tell your friends “HEY, I got my CCW, I’m carrying right now,” or even to hint, or flash your gun to them. Resist this urge! Their responses may not be what you think, or want! Some will think you are paranoid, others will laugh at you, and some will never speak to you again. Some will start to demand, in public, that you show them where your gun is. I have seen all of this and more.

As a plain clothes investigator for the Federal Government I was, at times, in circumstances where if the people around me knew I had a gun, the consequences would be far more serious than being embarrassed in public, or meeting with an unsympathetic police officer. And after half a century of CCW, I feel uncomfortable if I do NOT have a gun on, concealed.

Final Considerations

A final area you need to consider is what will you do if:

A) You are spotted, and have to deal with the police. Understand that they will NOT think it was funny that you let your handgun be seen – in some states you will lose your CCW on the spot! (HINT: When they arrive, do exactly what they say. Don’t argue, treat it casually, or reach for your CCW – or anything else.  Do as you are told, slowly, and then explain that you have a CCW and ask permission to reach for it.)

B) A situation arises where you may – MAY – need to employ deadly force. The solution to part B is to get real training that deals with actions during and after using force. Usually the shooting problem is not difficult. The outlaw is close and the “target” is big. The problem is making the decision that someone’s life really is in danger, and you must act. (More on this subject can be found in Exploring The Use Of Force Part 1 and Part 2).

Both on and off duty, I have been in situations where I was comforted by knowing that I had the tools and the skills to save lives. I have been close, very close. My focus on Alertness, Threat Recognition and Threat Avoidance (i.e. ‘RUN AWAY!) has kept me from having to apply what I know and shoot someone.

But tomorrow, well you never know.

So I practice, often, under different circumstances with my carry gear. You should too. After a while, you will also feel “undressed” without a gun!

Welcome to the pack, sheepdog!