I’ve carried a concealed firearm for almost all of my adult life. As a patrol officer, I carried a concealed back up gun on duty as well as off duty. As an Illinois State Police Inspector and a Florida Department of Law Enforcement Special Agent, I rarely openly carried a firearm, but virtually always was carrying at least one. As a civilian I am now limited in the places where I can carry a firearm, but I generally do wherever legal.
Drawn from that experience, here are some rules for the concealed carry of firearms. Aside from the first two, they are in no particular order.
- #1 A firearm is a tool of last resort
A firearm is a tool—nothing more. It is however a tool that you employ only when there is no other choice. A firearm is not a tool that you use to threaten or intimidate.
- #2 Always carry the firearm fully loaded with a round in the chamber
Modern firearms designed for concealed carry have safety devices built into them to prevent being fired unless the trigger is pulled. In a life or death situation, the time it takes to chamber a round could cost you your life.
- Avoid confrontation whenever possible
The wise concealed carrier keeps a calm demeanor at all times. They ignore it if someone cuts them off in traffic; they don’t flip the person off, tailgate them, or do anything aggressive. If someone insults them, they ignore it and avoid the person.
- Remain alert to threats at all times
Criminals prefer to prey on unsuspecting or weak victims. If your head is down with your eyes locked to your smartphone, you’ll never see the attack coming and likely have no chance to deploy your firearm. Always be aware of your surroundings, any possible threats in them, and any available escape routes.
- Don’t feel emboldened because you are armed
Having the ability to defend yourself doesn’t mean that you should put yourself into dangerous or unsafe circumstances. Being armed does not always mean that you will be the victor in a confrontation.
- Any gun you carry is better than any gun left at home
For as long as people have been carrying concealed guns, there has been ongoing debate about what an adequate firearm for concealed carry is. The bottom line is that the largest caliber handgun with the largest capacity of rounds that you can proficiently fire might be the best choice for a home defense handgun, but concealability and comfort of carry are prime factors in the selection of a concealed gun. Larger handguns are often easier to grip and accurately shoot, but they are much harder to conceal and uncomfortable for all day carry.
Many people have a variety of concealed carry guns, choosing one that works with the clothing and activities they have planned. If you can only afford one, it needs to be small enough that it can be concealed regardless of your clothing choice for the day and light enough that carrying it isn’t uncomfortable.
- Know the laws of any jurisdiction you’ll carry a firearm in
Unlike traffic laws which are generally uniform throughout the country, laws governing the concealed carry of firearms vary widely from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. While your driver’s license is valid in all 50 states, your concealed carry permit is not.
While states like Florida have passed preemption statutes that do not allow city and county ordinances to regulate firearms, many other states have state statutes, county ordinances, and city ordinances that all govern firearms.
Here are two sites with a wealth of information about the laws governing concealed carry:
- Whenever possible, avoid places you can’t legally carry
Aside from the fact that you are disarmed, the act of removing a concealed firearm, hiding it in your vehicle, and then having to re-conceal it brings additional potential perils.
Having to go into a place where you can’t legally carry a firearm is inevitable. In some instances it is, however, avoidable. It is illegal to carry a firearm into a Post Office, but you can go elsewhere to get stamps or ship a package. If you are in a state where a merchant can prohibit you from carrying a concealed firearm by posting a sign, take your business elsewhere. Be sure to let the anti-gun merchant know via FaceBook or other social media that you have chosen to not patronize their business due to their prohibition of firearms.
- Know your skill level and don’t exceed it
Television is not reality—don’t take your training tips from it. In the incredibly unlikely event that you find yourself in a situation where it would be appropriate to employ your firearm, weigh the decision as carefully as the available moments allow. If you are not well skilled and practiced in drawing your firearm from concealment, the unarmed criminal standing close to you might successfully arm himself with your gun. For the typical concealed carrier, trying to shoot at a criminal that is twenty feet away risks hitting bystanders.
- All firearms must be in a holster that completely protects the trigger
Objects in a purse or pocket can depress the trigger causing at best a negligent discharge and at worst injury or death.
- If carrying off-body (purse, bag, briefcase, etc.), always maintain the security of your firearm
It is easy to inadvertently set down a purse or bag and then not pay attention to it, providing opportunity for tragedy or disaster—tragedy if a child accesses it or disaster if you need it and it is not immediately available.
- There is no hurry when reholstering your firearm; ensure that nothing is going to snag the trigger
- Holsters should be rigid so that the firearm can easily be reholstered
A holster that collapses when the handgun is drawn can be dangerous when trying to reholster. This is especially true for Inside WaistBand (IWB) holsters such as ones made out of soft leather.
- Holsters must retain the firearm tight enough so that it cannot fall out during vigorous activity such as running
You never want to drop your handgun—especially if you are trying to escape a dangerous situation.
- Practice drawing and reholstering your unloaded firearm from your concealed carry holster(s)
Drawing from a holster on the outside of your belt with nothing covering it is far different than drawing from a concealed holster where a garment needs to be moved out of the way. This is even more so for concealment such as a handbag.
- Test ammo that you plan to carry to make certain it functions properly in your firearm
While most modern ammunition will function fine in a handgun of that caliber, some combinations of ammo and handgun can be problematic. This is especially true with semi-automatic pistols where the shape of the bullet can affect how it feeds into the chamber. The wrong time to discover that the combination of ammo/gun doesn’t work is when you are deploying it to save your life.
- Practice regularly with any firearm that you might carry
You should be able to operate the handgun without fumbling or having to look at it to see where the safety or magazine is located.
- Be aware of how movements can cause your firearm to be exposed
“Concealed Carry” means exactly that. You can be charged in some jurisdictions for even a brief exposure of the firearm. If you’re wearing a jacket covering your handgun in a belt holster and reach for an item on the top shelf at a store, the gun may be exposed as the jacket rises.