With my wife and son about to get their CCW permits in our new state, I thought it might be useful to offer others the same advice I’ve given my kin. Having carried concealed weapons myself (as a cop) for almost three decades, I know a little something about the subject.
The paramount rule of carrying concealed is that the defensive handgun must be concealed. I see people clumping around here in Dixie with large and suspicious bulges under their armpits, or at their waistbands. This attracts not only police attention, but criminal attention as well. You want neither. Should a crook try to victimize you, you want the sudden appearance of your pistol to be a nasty surprise: Holy shit! Where did THAT come from? If crooks can tell you are carrying, they may decide to modify their attack plan accordingly. Also, a properly concealed handgun is a great source of pride. Be professional in carrying your pistol. Don’t be a sloppy amateur.
What makes a pistol harder to hide is not so much its length and height as its thickness. I can wear my 1911 under a T-shirt with an inside-the-waistband holster. 1911s and other pistols with single-stack magazines tend to be very flat. Length only becomes an issue when wearing the gun outside the waistband. Thicker guns, like Junior’s Glock 21 – a full sized, double stacked .45 ACP – are very difficult to hide in warm weather. So, don’t worry about the length of your carry gun so much as the thickness, or width.
In a world full of one-size-fits-all nylon holsters, with chintzy little metal clips on the back, you should be choosy about getting a holster that is made for your specific pistol. Rigs made from Kydex are usually a good bet. There is a tendency to groan after buying a $700 (or more) handgun, only to shell out another hundred (or more) for a holster. But a proper holster will keep your gun secure, and to carry it comfortably. A gun is a heavy thing to lug around for hours on end; and the longer you lug it around, the heavier it gets. Spend the money, and get a proper holster for it.
A fundamental truth is that when you carry concealed, you must be prepared to adjust your wardrobe if necessary. My wife, Angie, is used to wearing snug-fitting Capri pants and tank tops in the summer. You can’t conceal a firearm of any useful size under such togs. Clearly, a loose-fitting blouse of some sort is called for. Angie will be carrying her Springfield XD-9 in an inside-the-waistband holster, so those pants need to be loosened up a trifle. Junior has opted for a Glock 30 – a compact .45 ACP – as his carry gun during warm weather. The slovenly style for his generation is raggedy-ass jeans, with no belt, and an untucked T-shirt. The untucked T-shirt is good, and the looser the better; the lack of a belt is not good. You need something to strap your holster to.
Speaking of T-shirts, slogans found on many of these utilitarian pieces of clothing are not good. If you are carefully concealing a carried pistol, why would you wear a T-shirt with the Glock logo on it? Don’t broadcast to the world you’re a gun nut, right-winger or whatever. When you carry a gun, it is important that you fade into the background. It is important to dress, if not nice, then at least average. Avoid bright colors or anything that tends to draw attention to yourself in a crowd.
Also, while you’re checking yourself, feel free to run, jump and make other vigorous moves to make sure your rig doesn’t move around.
If you don’t have a full-length mirror then buy one and, while dressed for street carry, study yourself as you walk, reach, stretch, bend over, etc. If your gun “prints” (outline visible underneath the clothing) – or even worse, actually shows – make some adjustments to your clothing.
The alternative to adjusting your wardrobe is to adjust the size of your gun, and buy some eensy-weensy little .22, .25, .32 or .380 caliber pistol; or a tiny little 5-shot, snubnosed revolver in .38 spl. I do not recommend this. Tiny little guns that you can literally stick in your pocket are not powerful or accurate enough to be of much use in a crisis. Supposedly high-performance or “trick” bullets only go so far.
In law enforcement, I knew a great many cops who would carry, say, a full-sized .40 S&W automatic on duty, then switch to a .380 popgun for off-duty. This made no sense to me because, on duty, they had a carbine, shotgun, taser, impact weapon, OC spray, radio, body armor and plenty of backup – in addition to their service pistol – if something bad happened. When they were off-duty, had something bad happened, they had none of these force multipliers; all they had was a shitty little .380. Bad things can happen to cops on or off-duty. Why settle for a substandard off-duty gun?
The same applies to civilians, who might keep a full-sized pistol, or even a shotgun or semiautomatic rifle, on hand for home defense – in addition to a dog, alarm system, etc. Thus, it is better to carry a sufficiently powerful and accurate gun on the street. Carrying something less than that is, in my opinion, stupid and dangerous.
But the most common way in which persons carrying guns identify themselves is this: Every few moments, they tend to touch or check their gun. If they are wearing a cheap holster, they may even go so far as to reach up under their loose-fitting clothes and slide it this way or that.
Recently, Angie and I went to a Chinese buffet. A few tables away from us was an older, mustachioed fellow in western attire – jeans, boots, western hat, vest, and a belt buckle the size of a salad plate. Every time he got up to mosey over to the buffet tables, he would scoot back, stand up, and use his left hand to reach up inside the vest to adjust something on his belt. I doubted it was a cellphone, because people don’t nervously mess with their cellphones every couple of minutes. As he walked around the dining room, he would nervously brush or tap something under his vest with his right fingers. I watched him for several minutes, and at one point, as he was sitting down, I saw the butt of a medium-framed automatic on his hip.
Constantly touching, tapping, brushing or otherwise checking your concealed handgun can be a hard habit to break. But break it you must. Otherwise, you not only telegraph “I HAVE A GUN” to others, but you look amateurish and incompetent as well. The root cause of this unseemly behavior is often a lack of confidence in one’s concealment strategy, attire or holster; the solutions should be obvious.
Even so, a person with the best possible rig may still subconsciously poke or finger their concealed pistol. Perhaps they feel nervous about the idea of carrying a deadly weapon around, or feel uncertain about their level of competence with their pistol should a crisis arise. In the first case, the best remedy is to tell yourself that, if you have a CCW permit and are carrying legally, there is no need to feel nervous or anxious. You. Are. Doing. Nothing. Wrong. In the second case, train with the pistol until you feel perfectly competent, perfectly at ease, carrying it on your person.
Finally, a concealed handgun isn’t quite like a cellphone, which we tend to be unmindful of until it buzzes, beeps, vibrates or plays a jarring Dead Kennedys riff to announce the boss is calling. Unlike a cellphone, a handgun is a deadly weapon, and it is important to be conscious and mindful of its presence at your hip at all times. I think a lot of people who engage in surreptitious pistol-poking are those who’ve allowed its presence to mentally slide into the background; a moment or two later, the thought, “Oh, wait, I’m wearing a gun” reasserts itself, and the wearer subconsciously or consciously pokes or fondles it. Being aware at all times that you are packing, as well as making a conscious effort not to fiddle with your concealed pistol, thwarts this process.
Carrying concealed is not just a huge responsibility, but an artform. Like a good magician who can hide all sorts of cards, canes, bouquets and rabbits up his sleeves, without the audience being the wiser, so must a CCW person be.
Get good gear. Wear the right clothing. Be confident. Know you are right to carry. Be mindful of your concealed pistol, and of your poking, prodding hands, at all times. And practice-practice-practice.