What follows is my attempt to impart a little bit of hard-earned wisdom and experience to new concealed carriers.
Welcome to the gun community, folks.
1. Carrying a concealed firearm is a heady responsibility. Concealed carriers are the true First Responders. Ultimately, it means you’ve decided that to save your life, or the life of another, you’re ready to pull your pistol, line up the sights on another human being and pull the trigger. If you’re not ready for this responsibility — and it’s a big responsibility — don’t carry a concealed pistol. If you think that by just brandishing a handgun bad guys will immediately cease, desist and run away, you’re wrong. They will take your pistol and use it against you, or others. There’s nothing fun or powerful about carrying a handgun, as the other team likes to imply. It’s the ultimate responsibility, and it’s certainly not for everybody.
2. A concealed-carry class is not the end of your firearms training. Most shooters stop taking training classes once they get a carry permit. This should not be the case. A CCW course is just the beginning. Training with a well-qualified instructor should be ongoing. Besides, advanced classes are fun. New shooters occasionally have some reservations about taking an advanced class because they’re worried about looking amateurish. Don’t worry about it. We’ve all been there. And when you’re not training with an instructor, dry firing at home and live fire at the range should become your regular routine.
3. Carrying a concealed firearm changes your lifestyle, or at least it should. A concealed pistol will change you — your wardrobe, where you dine, how much you have to drink, where you shop, where you go to relax and much more. It is a conscious lifestyle decision. Pants need to have extra room in the waist for an IWB holster. Shirts need to be longer and patterned to avoid “printing” a concealed pistol. Depending upon state law, taverns that don’t sell food may be off limits. Stores with “no guns allowed” signs present another challenge. While I know some shooters who scoff at the signs and enter anyway, I prefer not to give these establishments my business.
4. You can still be the world’s best witness. Most basic pistol courses teach how to shoot. Some teach when to shoot. Few teach when not to shoot. You will likely never face any legal consequences for not stopping a crime. There’s nothing wrong with merely being a good witness. A concealed pistol does not a superman make. You’re not a cop. You’re not expected to act like one. Even off-duty cops shy away from involving themselves in petty crimes, misdemeanors. Personally, I am not going to involve myself in anything unless the loss of life is imminent — unless I believe, and can articulate, that I was afraid someone was going to be killed. Petty theft, shoplifting, domestic arguments, bar fights — whatever — I’m not going to intervene. Call 911 if you see a minor crime. That’s what police are for, not concealed carriers.
5. Don’t drown. Over the years I’ve seen a few novice concealed-carriers, and rookie cops, who were so overloaded with guns and gear they needed to be careful around swimming pools. If they fell in, they weren’t coming out. What constitutes too much? That’s up to you. Most shooters carry a handgun. That’s it. Some opt for a spare magazine as well. Some add a flashlight to their EDC. Others add a knife or a pocket pistol. It’s definitely shooter’s choice. If you wonder whether you’re carrying too much, keep the swimming pools in mind.
6. Choose one type of carry and stick with it. I prefer strong-side carry. Therefore, all of my holsters are designed for strong-side carry. I have a close friend who likes appendix carry, and all of his holsters are designed for appendix carry. I have hundreds of thousands of reps drawing from my strong side. It’s ingrained in my muscle memory. Now, if I suddenly decided to go to a weak-side shoulder holster and I needed to draw to defend myself, I’m pretty certain I’d be fumbling around for a pistol on my strong side that was now, unfortunately, hanging under my left arm. The point is this, figure out what works for you and don’t change it. Practice drawing until you have thousands of reps — until it becomes automatic.
7. You need to take a weapons retention class. If you carry a handgun every day there will be a time when it becomes visible to the public. Nowadays, unfortunately, there are some who will try to strip a concealed carrier of their handgun. It has happened. A good weapons retention course can prevent your pistol from falling into the wrong hands. Nothing says leave my gun alone better than an arm that’s broken in several places. A good instructor will show you how to tailor your weapon-retention options to meet any threat the bad guy presents.
8. Establish a “bathroom protocol.” Cops, deputies, federal agents and even the odd sky marshal have all left handguns in bathrooms. They usually place their pistol on a toilet paper dispenser or sink, do their business, forget to reholster and walk out without their gun. Here’s an easy fix: Once your drawers are down around you ankles, place your pistol in your pants on top of your underwear. It becomes impossible to forget.
9. Train how you will fight. If you wear a three-piece suit to work, you should dedicate a portion of your training time to drawing from concealment while wearing a three-piece suit. The same goes for female shooters, especially if they wear heels. It’s easy for female shooters to train at the range with boots or sneakers, but if they spend a lot of time in heels, they should dedicate some of their training time to shooting in heels. The same goes for off-body carry, such as in a purse — which I do not recommend. If you must carry in a purse, draw from it a few thousand times.
10. Don’t do doodads. In my humble opinion, when it comes to an EDC pistol, keep it simple. For Glocks, 1911s and every other popular carry model, there is literally a metric ton of aftermarket parts and accessories available. Remember this: What you add to a pistol can fail at the most inopportune time. My go-to gun is stock except for hi-viz sights, a nickel-boron coating and a Streamlight TLR-1.
11. It’s where you hit them, not what you hit them with. There’s no such thing as stopping power or knockdown power. A bullet’s kinetic energy or hydrostatic shock really doesn’t matter. In a gunfight, it’s all about shot placement — multiple shot placement. Keep shooting them until they go down. That’s how to win a gunfight.
12. Range theatrics are dangerous and silly. Forget all the crap you see on YouTube, such as speed reholstering or jerking the pistol back to the center of your chest and scanning left, right, left after firing. These practices instill bad muscle memory, which can get you killed. Keep the pistol on target, even after they’re down, and look before reholstering.
13. Take a tactical med class and carry a tourniquet. If you’re a member of the gun community, you should know how to treat a gunshot wound. You should also have the gear to treat the wound and stop bleeding. Pros carry a tourniquet. Experienced pros carry more than one. They’re lifesavers. I thought I had a pretty good handle on bleeding control until I took a tac-med class from D-Dey Response Group. Turned out I needed a lot more training. The guys at D-Dey are the best — former 18-Deltas and highly recommended.
14. Realize the limitations of a handgun. In a word, handguns suck. Compared to a rifle, they’re anemic, difficult to shoot and not nearly as accurate. In my humble opinion, nothing beats an AR for home defense. The old adage of using your handgun to fight your way to your rifle is still very true.
15. Realize you can be investigated for murder. If you’re involved in a defensive shooting — even a hands-down clean shoot — at some point law enforcement will determine whether to charge you with a crime. Expect to be pulled through a legal knothole of sorts. It’s not fun, trust me on that. The criminal justice system moves at a slow pace, but it does move. You will need good representation — an attorney experienced at criminal law — not the family lawyer you go to for wills or trusts. I highly recommend finding one now, before you actually hear a Miranda warning.
Bonus Tip — courtesy of Richard Nascak, co-founder and executive director of Florida Carry, Inc. Join your state’s firearms rights organization.