You have just received your concealed carry permit… this is a great accomplishment. It means you have taken it upon yourself to be responsible for the safety of yourself, your family and your community.
Carrying a concealed handgun is also a very personal choice and a lifestyle change. Every person has a different reason for making the choice to become a responsibly armed citizen; and every person is going to have a different journey as they mature in their walk as a concealed carrier.
Let’s start off with the basics of what your concealed carry class should have covered. If any one of these items were not touched upon, these are good places to continue your education in carrying a gun for self-defense.
- Firearms safety
- Proper Shooting Techniques
- Parts and function of ammunition and common firearm models
- Handgun malfunctions, identifying them and fixing them
- Laws around use of force
- Laws which govern where you can carry in your state
- Interacting with Law Enforcement while armed and after a defensive gun use
If any one of these topics was not discussed in your permit class, it is a good idea to reach out to a local certified instructor to help you find the right resources. Likely though, if your CCW instructor takes their craft seriously, they had gone above and beyond these basic minimums and you will already be in a good place to move forward.
Mindset – Your Greatest Tool
First, let’s talk about mindset. There are hundreds of data points out there where individuals with minimal training (or no training at all) were able to successfully defend themselves from a violent encounter. There were always 2 major benefits they had on their side: LUCK… and MINDEST.
I often discuss with new CCW holders, there are many ways to survive a violent encounter. Paraplegic, quadriplegic, mentally and physically scarred are well within the definition of surviving. What I want all of you to realize, is that if you have the mindset to win; to prevail over a threat to you or the ones you love, you can and will move Heaven and Earth to make it through in one piece.
When I say that mindset is your greatest tool, I wholeheartedly mean it. We make movies of the accomplishments of great people, who against overwhelming odds prevailed over an imposing force. This is exactly what I mean!
Now… what happens when we take this “I WILL WIN” mindset and start adding some training and practice?
Training – 1st steps beyond the basic Concealed Carry Class
Your basic CCW class should have given you a good foundation. Though, the CCW class was
an introduction, not the full skills class. I can tell you from experience, the first class I decided to take which dealt solely with the mechanics of deploying your firearm in a defensive manner was an eye-opening experience.
Local instructors are great (and I am not afraid to say that I take great pride in my own ability to teach) … but do not be afraid to sign up with one of the big names out there either. If you are more comfortable with a female trainer, Tatiana Whitlock, Carrie Lightfoot and Melody Lauer are wonderful, nationally recognized trainers with some serious skills. I can also recommend. Jeff Gonzales, Travis Haley or Mike Seeklander as examples of phenomenal instructors who teach students of varying skill levels and produce great results. You may be a bit intimidated with the big names in this industry, but these guys LOVE teaching; and the earlier they can influence new shooters the better that shooter will be.
Beyond the basics, here are a few topics we all must become proficient at, in order to effectively use our defensive pistol.
- Drawing your pistol from both easy non-concealment and concealment
- Basic marksmanship (yes, I know this is repeated from your CCW class, but it is that important, every beginner level training should have some serious focus on marksmanship.
- Balance of speed and accuracy and distance
- Target transitions (wolves travel in packs… you may have more than one target (Wolves = Bad Guys)
- Emergency and Proactive Reloads – this is a skill that is statistically unlikely to be needed, but when they are needed, they are important
- Malfunction Clearance (failure to fire, failure to feed, failure to eject and double feeds)
- Cover and concealment, the differences and how to work around them (Cover stops bullets, concealment hides your visual location)
Why Train Alone?
I may be biased, but I think shooting is fun. It challenges the mind and our ability to focus. It challenges the body for us to control our fine and gross motor skills… and it challenges us to overcome emotional states such as fear, apprehension and nervousness. To me this is fun. I feel a sense of accomplishment every time I go out and perform a little better than my last trip to the range.
Now… activities that are fun, are often more fun when you enjoy them with other people. Get together with your friends. If they are not shooters already, take them out shooting. If they shoot, go to the range together, encourage one-another and help each other improve.
I recently attended a class with Travis Haley. Travis is one of the top firearms trainers in the nation. I will not lie that I was a bit intimidated and nervous to go to this class. Yet, I really wanted to learn the skills he could teach. I had watched his YouTube videos, read articles he had written for various magazines and had a desire to learn all I could from this man. Thankfully, I had two great friends who joined me and attended Travis’s class. I had backup. I had emotional and moral support.
Moral support while training is important. You are going to have highs and lows as you learn and build your shooting skills. Your friends and training partners are going to celebrate with you on your good days and they are going to encourage you on the days when things don’t work out the way you want (and we all have those days).
Equipment – Different Strokes for Different Folks
Equipment really does come after training in the priority of defensive pistol topics… within reason. Many people effectively defend themselves and their families with inexpensive gear that is not considered up to the same robustness required of military or police use. There typically needs to be some minimum standard of quality in equipment in order to train effectively and not allow your equipment to limit your learning. But, the gun you have will be the tool you use to defend yourself with when it is necessary.
I highly recommend investing in quality equipment though. It will last longer, shoot better and enable you to learn/train more efficiently. Handguns from Glock, Sig Sauer, Heckler and Koch and Smith & Wesson tend to be the guns I recommend. Guns though, are only a small part of the equipment you will need. So, do not get focused on buying the most expensive, fancy or pretty gun you can afford. Most of these guns can shoot faster and more accurate than the person behind the trigger. Find the gun that feels good to you, that also leaves some of your budget for practice/training, a good holster and proper safety equipment.
The minimum safety equipment you need, is good eye and ear protection. Again, I recommend giving a moderate investment in this area. The old saying is, “buy once, cry once”.
Go to your local gun/sporting goods store and try out the eyewear. Find something comfortable you can see wearing for an hour or two at a time. I am a huge fan of Smith Optics Elite line of eyewear, but there are several other options out there that may meet your needs. SSP and Wiley X come to mind. There are also good offerings from Smith & Wesson, Butler Creek and others on the budget friendly end.
Electronic ear protection is also a good idea. These hearing protectors (some are earmuffs which are cheaper and some are in-ear buds which tend to be more expensive) help to keep out loud noises, but have little microphones/amplifiers in them so that when someone is talking to you, you can still communicate. These are most helpful when training/practicing in a class or group environment. Howard Leight, Walker’s Razor and 3M Peltor are the leading earmuff designs in this category. Sport Ear and Walker’s tend to be the leaders in the earbud designs.
And Then There Were Holsters…
Holsters and methods of carry is a contentious subject. Everyone has their favorite, and that favorite is not likely to be the favorite of even a tenth of their concealed carrying friends. We all have different physiologies which impact our comfort while carrying and our access to that firearm in a time of need.
The sad truth is… you are likely to try and buy several holsters over your concealed carrying life. Some will work for you and some will not. I personally have a box full of holsters I do not use anymore. Normally I would sell these and recoup some of my cash, but I keep them around as demonstration pieces when I teach concealed carry and handgun skills classes. If you aren’t teaching a group of new shooters, I see no major need to hoard holsters like I do. Selling them off and moving on to new and better holsters is not a bad proposition.
Many holsters were designed for male physiology and clothing. Female physiology and fashion often REQUIRES different needs/designs. The location of women’s hips and their center of gravity often shift the positions a holster would be located from places which men generally find to be comfortable.
Strong-side carry (at the 3 o’clock position for right handed persons) may require shifting slightly to the rear (4 o’clock or more) for women to get past the pressure placed on the hip bone. Appendix carry (around 1 o’clock) is often a preferred carry location for women for comfort. Appendix carry comes with some new concerns about safety and trigger finger placement while drawing the firearm due to the muzzle direction around the femoral artery.
There are also many other concealment options for women with belly bands, bra-attached holsters and off-body carry like purses (though I warn against such methods of carry due to ease of theft and the inability to have the handgun under your control 100% of the time).
One secret to carrying a concealed pistol comfortably is a belt specifically designed as a gun belt. Companies are even making belts for women that are a little lighter and more flexible than the belts marketed to men.
Clothing… It is a Really Bad Idea to Ask Me About Fashion
Concealing a firearm on your body, and not making it obvious is a bit of an art-form. The general idea is to carry your gun in a fashion that is both easily accessible to you in an emergency and yet obscured from any observer’s view.
This is typically done with clothes that hang more loosely off the body. I often advocate for dark colors or patterned clothing; which help obscure the outline of the gun from the human ability to visually see patterns.
My wife can tell you, I generally have poor fashion sense. I usually dress in a pair of jeans or khakis with a button up shirt or polo shirt. But this is boring attire for a man. It is really meant for me to blend in and not draw attention to myself. I do tend to avoid the stereotypical Hawaiian shirt, unless I am trying to be ironic. Nothing says “look at me, I’m carrying a gun”, more than dressing up as Magnum P.I.
Also, I recommend avoiding any articles of clothing which blatantly display a gun brand, the NRA or other iconography which may betray you are carrying a concealed pistol. I can see a time and place for those fun shirts, like the NRA convention, or a trip to the shooting range. Generally, though, I advise against it walking around in the general public.
Women have different needs and expressions of fashion. I would recommend searching out different videos on YouTube and reading some of the articles by leading women authors. Julie Golob, Tatiana Whitlock and Gabby Franco come to mind as good resources. The Well Armed Woman website should be a definite visit as you are learning about women’s specific concealed carry needs (https://thewellarmedwoman.com)
If You Had to, Can You Pull the Trigger
Jumping back into more serious topics…
A question all of us who carry a defensive pistol must answer is, “If we are forced into a situation where the lives of ourselves, our children or other family and friends are in immediate and imminent danger, can we take another human life?” This is no small question. It is a very personal and introspective question every responsibly armed citizen needs to answer for themselves.
Concealed carriers wield an enormous amount of power. These tools (our pistols) we carry have the potential to kill. They also have the ability to prevent innocent lives being lost without the ability to defend themselves.
It should also be said… your firearm is a tool to defend innocent human life. Material objects are not worth killing another human being. If a criminal wants to break into your home and steal your television, let them have your television. This is why we have homeowner’s insurance.
If you take a human life, even in self-defense, there will be consequences. There will be moral and spiritual consequences as you come to grips with your actions; and depending on the circumstances surrounding your use of deadly force, there may be legal consequences.
Small Steps to Prevent Being a Victim
We live in a very peaceful country. For the most part, we do not have to worry about the violence and crime witnessed in many other parts of the world. Even Europe is experiencing massive increases in violent crime in the past decade.
I think part of the reason the United States is so peaceful, is our Second Amendment rights and risk imposed to the bad guys should they choose the wrong victim.
While we live in relative peace, this also places us into a position of complacency. Unfortunately, criminals, when profiling potential victims, look for those who appear to be complacent and aloof. We have all seen the aloof individual out in public. Those who walk around staring at their cellphone screen or those paying no attention to the world with earbuds in their ears show the rest of the world they are an easy target.
As we go out into the world, it is our responsibility to take extra steps to avoid being the target of evildoers. Simply keeping your head up, not looking at your phone and allowing all of your senses to be used to observe your surroundings (keep those earbuds out of your ears), goes a long way to outwardly communicate you will not be an easy victim.
An often overused and highly misunderstood concept in the defensive training world is situational awareness. It has become a catch all term for looking around and being aware of your surroundings. This catch-all phrase has lost the meaning of its first word, “situational”.
Situational should suggest you already know what is normal for this particular situation (or similar situations) and you can readily observe when something changes and plan accordingly.
I strongly recommend reading the book “Left of Bang” by Patrick Van Horne and Jason A. Riley. This book lays out the different categories one would observe both as “normal” in a situation and things which might change or be out of place, and suggest that you may have to act (hopefully preventatively) in a manner which removes you from any threat or danger.
Those categories are:
- Kinesics – Body Language – You should focus on postures and gestures which express a person’s emotional state and possible future intentions.
- Biometrics – Uncontrollable and automatic biological responses to stress. Is someone sweating when they shouldn’t? Is a person avoiding eye contact?
- Proxemics – Interpersonal Space – peoples’ behavior as it relates to surrounding people – Do you see someone keeping distance from people in a more intimate environment? Are they getting close to others when the environment is keeping larger distances?
- Geographics – People’s relationships with their environment –Do you observe individuals who are familiar or unfamiliar with the areas they are in?
- Iconography – Symbols, Clothing, markings, or other imagery which communicates beliefs or affiliations – Do you see people whose dress/tattoos indicate a dangerous affiliation?
- Atmospherics – Collective attitudes, moods, emotions or behaviors of groups of people in a given situation or place. Does the environment see a sudden shift in behaviors?
And the Journey Continues
This is far from everything you need to know as an individual who has just received their concealed carry permit. This is a journey. Every day you will learn more. You may experiment with a new holster and discover a new or better carry method (or a method that did not work at all). You may take a training class and learn a shooting technique or concept that elevates your speed and accuracy. You may even find a great group of friends who love to go shooting like you do.
As is the case with many things in life, it pays to become a lifelong learner. The more you know, the better prepared you are going to be if bad things happen.
I want to give a heartfelt thanks to all those who have chosen to take the steps to become a responsibly armed citizen. You will make yourselves, your families and your communities safer.
Simply by reading this article, you have invested the time into thinking a little more about what being a defensive minded person entails. To me, this is no small thing.
Good luck in your journey as a defensive firearms owner and concealed carrier.