- 0.1 Part 1: The Absolute Concealed Carry Guide
- 0.2 Part 2: Concealed Carry Laws
- 1 Why You Need to Know State Gun Laws
- 2 Concealed Carry
- 3 Few Parting Thoughts
Part 1: The Absolute Concealed Carry Guide
The average person concealed carrying (CC) a firearm is just like any other law-abiding citizen. They’re welders, doctors, stay-at-home moms, and journalists, and they make up a quickly growing portion of the population here in the United States. And not only do they stand for themselves, they stand for others. In fact, legally armed citizens stop more than twice as many crimes as law enforcement officers do, and with a less-than-2% error rate compared to the 11% error rate among law enforcement.
In the world of legally-owned firearm owners there are more than 2.5 million cases of justified self-defense annually involving the drawing of a weapon, and in 92% of those cases the mere presence of the gun is either enough of a deterrent or enough to hold a criminal until law enforcement arrives.
Criminals wisely avoid gun-toting citizens as well; 57% of incarcerated criminals asked admit to avoiding situations where they know a homeowner or potential victim is armed. If you’re considering concealed carry, or even if you already do carry, there are a few things you should know.
There are numerous reasons people decide to carry a gun. Some are victims of violent crimes looking to defend themselves from future potential attacks, some are parents determined to protect their children, and some are individuals set on seeing to their own personal protection. And the list goes on. Although there are many reasons for concealed carry, there is one common goal: safety.
The misconception that legal gun owners are paranoid or some crazed version of Rambo is just that a misconception. The reality is it takes law enforcement time to reach a crime scene, and the majority of the time, their job is not preventing crimes but dealing with the aftermath. Many gun owners have that in mind when they choose to carry concealed. Personal safety is paramount, in more ways than one.
The Golden Rules of Gun Safety
Before spending any time with guns, let alone taking on concealed carry, it’s a must to learn the golden rules of guns. Although you’ll see various wording, the point of the rules is always the same:
- Don’t point a gun at anything you aren’t willing to destroy.
- Keep your finger off the trigger until you’re on target.
- Know your target and what is beyond it.
- Treat every gun as though it’s loaded.
The rules apply regardless of your experience level. For example, you should never take anyone’s word that a gun is unloaded. Treat it as though it’s loaded, and clear it yourself, not only visually but by touch. That means you don’t just lock the slide open and look, you check by touch as well. That’s true whether you’ve been shooting for five minutes or five decades. That’s because when it comes to firearms, there are two things you can never have enough of: ammunition – and training.
All gun owners should obtain the proper training, whether by enrolling in classes or with the assistance of a truly proficient friend – and by proficient, we mean an experienced marksman, not just someone who happens to own a gun. And although some states require a basic class to obtain your concealed carry permit, that one class alone is never enough. If you’re going to own a gun, you should be trained to use it, and use it well.
There are quite a few options for classes covering a wide range of skill levels; there’s always something new to learn, and always room for improvement. Start with a basic firearms course, which typically cover the golden rules of guns, your state’s laws, and basic marksmanship. Once you pass that first class, keep going: you can never have too much training. There’s no replacement for trigger time.
Deciding What to Carry: The 3 C’s
There are so many guns on the market it can be difficult to know which one to buy for your first concealed carry weapon. However, if you consider the three C’s, you’ll end up with a much better idea of how to proceed.
Let’s start with the most obvious: concealability. Your gun must be concealable, and the two most important factors are width and weight. The wider, or thicker, a handgun is, the harder it will be to conceal. When a gun is heavier, it can drag down your waistband, among other issues. Different people are able to conceal different guns, so never assume you can carry a particular gun just because a friend can.
You’ll need to try different guns, but it is possible to generalize a bit: full-size guns are, of course, hardest to conceal. Men can usually conceal them more easily than women, which has nothing to do with gender bias and everything to do with the reality of our different shapes and sizes.
Compact guns like the Baby Glock (Glock 26 or 27) can be concealed by almost everyone. And pocket pistols such as the Springfield XD-S are the most easily concealed of all due to their small sizes. But there’s a lot more to guns than how easy they are to hide on your body. When you’re choosing a gun for daily carry, you must consider its stopping power.
There are actually two factors in stopping power: the type of bullet, and caliber. Ammunition for concealed carry can be easily summarized: defense rounds such as HP (Hollow Point), JHP (Jacketed Hollow Point), and SP (Soft Point) rounds are a must for a variety of reasons.
Caliber is the second C, and is the cause of endless debate in the firearms community, and for good reason. To simplify it somewhat drastically, the smaller the bullet, the harder it’s going to be to stop an assailant with one shot. That does not mean you should run out and buy the biggest gun you find. What it means is you need to both learn about caliber so you understand what power your potential gun does or does not have, and you need to try different calibers to find out what you’re comfortable using.
A note about pocket pistols: True pocket pistols are smaller caliber guns, so by purchasing and carrying one you’re getting ease of concealment in exchange for less stopping power. The majority are .380 ACP and smaller, although you will find 9mm models. Although there are some guns chambered in .40 S&W and .45 ACP – both of which have nice, solid one-shot stopping power – with single-stack magazines being billed as pocket pistols, they do not have the same incredibly slim frame of a true pocket pistol.
Many gun owners and members of law enforcement use a pocket pistol as their backup gun (BUG). However, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t or can’t use it as your daily carry, and here’s why: the next C is comfort, as in, how comfortable are you firing a particular gun?
You need to be comfortable with whatever gun you choose for concealed carry. If a gun has too much recoil for your personal taste or is too large for your hands, you aren’t going to be comfortable shooting it, which means you shouldn’t be carrying it. In fact, it’s better to carry a smaller caliber gun that you’re fully comfortable and competent with than it is to have a larger caliber gun you hate or are afraid to use and won’t actually carry.
That’s also why it’s important to visit your local range and try a variety of guns, because you should never make assumptions about caliber. Contrary to frequently voiced opinions, everyone is capable of handling a larger caliber gun like a pro, it just takes time and training. Learn about stopping power and caliber – and try them out, figure out what you’re comfortable with, and find a firearm that fits those parameters that you can conceal.
How to Conceal Carry
Once you’ve learned gun safety and at least basic marksmanship – meaning you’re capable of using your gun on your own in a safe, effective manner – and you’ve chosen a gun, it’s time to decide how you’re going to conceal it. The most effective method of concealed carry is on your body. By this we mean it’s far better to carry your gun in a holster on your body than it is to put it in a purse or fanny pack. On the body carry allows for a faster draw time and also a far better ability to retain your gun against assailants and thieves. Female shooters will find there are occasions where they have to choose between going unarmed or putting their gun in a small purse, and on those occasions there are particular guidelines to follow for safety.
For the purposes of this discussion we’ll stick to on the body carry.There are a variety of holsters to choose from: ankle holsters, shoulder holsters, IWB (Inside WaistBand) holsters, and OWB (On WaistBand) holsters, to name a few.
Each offers different pros and cons with some being better for a BUG while some are preferable for your daily carry. When choosing a holster, you should consider how quickly you’ll be able to draw, because that affects presentation time.
Rapid presentation is vitally important in self-defense, so you need a carry method that enables a fast draw time. And since most people carry one gun and no BUG, let’s consider the ideal concealed carry methods for your main daily carry weapon: IWB and OWB.
IWB holsters allow you to carry your gun inside the waistband of your pants. There are several locations gun owners choose to IWB carry, including at the front of the hip, at the hip, and at the small of the back. Vast experience and countless firearms owners have learned the fastest draw time is typically managed when the gun is IWB carried at the front of the hip on the shooter’s strong side, which is the right-hand side for most people.
There are even “tuckable” holsters designed to have a shirt tucked in over them if you’d rather not wear a loose shirt untucked over your gun.
OWB holsters are used for open carry more often than concealed carry, but that doesn’t mean you can’t carry concealed this way. These holsters either hook over your waistband using a clip or paddle or attach to your belt through slits in the back or body of the holster. Concealing them means wearing a shirt or jacket that is both loose and long enough to cover the bulk of your gun. Although it’s possible, it’s more difficult than with an IWB holster.
Shoulder holsters are harder to conceal because they create a bulge under your jacket – and require you to wear a jacket to cover them. They also require mastering cross-body draw and finding one that doesn’t force you to inadvertently sweep people around you with the muzzle of your gun when you wear it.
Although they are certainly an option, they aren’t usually a reasonable choice for the average gun owner looking for a daily carry holster. In addition, ankle holsters and bra holsters are options that are significantly better for a BUG gun, not your main carry weapon. Draw time is significantly impeded with those two methods, and in a life or death situation – which is what you’re intending to survive by carrying a gun – seconds matter.
Legalities of Concealed Carry
According to the Second Amendment of the United States Constitution, we the people – citizens of the United States – have the right to keep and bear arms. However, each state has different laws regarding ownership and carry methods, and as a responsible gun owner, you must know the laws in your area. That means knowing not only your state’s laws but your county and city laws, because they do vary. In states where concealed carry is allowed, you’ll need a permit, and different states have varying requirements for obtaining your permit.
They even have different names for the permit – CPL (Concealed Pistol License) in Washington state, CCDW (Carry Concealed Deadly Weapons) in Kentucky, and CHL (Concealed Handgun License) in Texas, to name a few. And if you want to carry your gun when you travel, you need to know each state’s reciprocity laws – for every state line you cross in a car, not just your destination state.
Not only that, you should know the firearms laws for those states specifically in order to ensure your compliance while visiting. As a legal, responsible gun owner, it’s your job to get to know the laws on a federal and state level.
There are many factors to take into consideration when you decide to conceal carry a firearm. But as long as you take the necessary steps to approach it in a safe, responsible manner, carrying a gun for personal protection could someday save not only your life, but the lives of those you love. Legally armed citizens have also saved the lives of innocent bystanders in countless situations, including the case of the mall shooter in Clackamas, Oregon, in December 2013 and the night club shooter in El Paso, Texas, in November 2014.
And when it comes to armed citizens saving loved ones – or themselves – with their legally-wielded guns, the cases are far too numerous to list. Carrying a gun is a major responsibility, and self-defense is serious business; do the necessary research and training, and then, and only then, are you ready for concealed carry.
In Part 2 of our take on concealed carry, we’ll dive more into the laws and legalities….
Part 2: Concealed Carry Laws
The day you purchased your first gun you joined a community of individuals who are largely quite focused on observing the measures necessary to use their firearms safely. And while it is of the utmost importance to observe those rules with a focus on the four golden rules of gun safety as we discussed in Part One
- Treat all firearms as if they’re loaded,
- Keep your finger off the trigger until you’re on target,
- Don’t point your gun at anything you’re not willing to destroy, and
- Know your target and what is beyond it –
—- there’s more to owning a gun than just being careful how you use it from a literal standpoint. As a gun owner it’s your responsibility to not only know but to follow gun laws, and that includes understanding laws vary from state to state – and that you’re going to need to know the laws for more states than just your own. We’re here to explain not just the how and what, but the why. First, here’s why.
Why You Need to Know State Gun Laws
In your home state the reasons behind needing to know gun laws are obvious, but all too many gun owners fail to think beyond their town limits or state lines. Many gun owners travel, and in the course of those travels you may be either tempted or required to bring one or more guns along.
After all, on road trips you may want your handgun for safety, or you might be traveling for a competition or hunt, and that means you’re going to need to bring a gun along. If you travel somewhere and end up in trouble for violating that area’s gun laws, you are absolutely at fault for not knowing those laws.
Claiming out-of-town status is not a valid reason; as a gun owner, it is your job to know, and that includes other states. If you plan to travel with firearms, do the research. Don’t take someone’s word for it, find out for yourself, and act accordingly.
There are many differences between different state laws, for example, some states are likely to be practically impossible – if not entirely impossible – to enter with your current firearms, such as California and New York. Others have differences pertaining to what is often referred to as the “Will Tell” law, which has to do with whether or not you’re required by law to inform a law enforcement officer that you have a gun if you are asked.
Some states, such as Washington and Kentucky, currently do not require you to answer the question while others, such as Texas, currently require you do. There are differing laws regarding open carry, NFA (National Firearms Act) restrictions, carry inside a vehicle – the list goes on, which is why you must learn your state’s laws for yourself.
Some good sources for learning about your state’s laws include:
If you’re going to carry your gun concealed, a special set of laws will apply to you. But before we get into that, there are a few things you need to consider before going forward with concealed carry (CC). The first thing you need to do prior to CC is to get the proper training, because no one should be carrying a gun if they’re not both safe and sufficiently trained.
That doesn’t mean you need to be an expert marksman, only that you must be proficient and capable in the basics. Once you’ve got that down it’s time to consider the realities of CC. As a CC gun owner you’re responsible for keeping up your firearms skills, because marksmanship requires practice. You cannot simply use your gun a few times, strap it on, and never squeeze the trigger again. Range time is a must.
Then, you must ask yourself if you’re capable of using your gun. It’s important to note here that it’s easy to assume you can without giving it serious thought, so you need to stop and consider this seriously. It might be a good idea to speak to someone you know with combat experience, and there are also books you can read to help you understand the true gravity of the situation.
Two deeply relevant books are “A Time to Kill” by Greg Hopkins, which is a good idea for all gun owners to read regardless of religious convictions, and “Deadly Force” by Massad Ayoob, a law enforcement officer and renowned self-defense shooting expert known for his testimony in many high-profile cases as well as his assistance to the average citizen.
This is an important, potentially life-changing decision, and one that shouldn’t be taken lightly. Be sure you can use your gun before you start carrying one, because if you carry a gun and are unable to use it, you become not just a target but the first target an active shooter will see.
Finally, once you’re a safe, capable shooter and you’ve made the decision to use your gun for self-defense should a life-threatening situation occur, you need to consider the legalities. Again, this is where research is required, but there are a few things you should know in advance.
Currently the majority of states are what is known as “shall issue” states, meaning that although you are required to obtain a permit to CC a firearm, you can obtain the permit simply by meeting the criteria laid out by the state; the granting authorities aren’t allowed to influence whether or not you get a permit with their own opinion. The criteria may or may not include going through a one-day gun safety class but will include a background check, fingerprints, and a fee.
Various states may have additional criteria. Some states are what is known as “may issue” states, meaning a permit is required but that the process for obtaining a permit is more complex than in Shall Issue states. In May Issue states you must still meet certain criteria and the granting authority’s opinion does matter; some states put decision-making power entirely under the jurisdiction of local law enforcement.
Some May Issue states also require you show “good cause” which typically translates into you needing to prove you have a valid reason for believing you’re in real, current danger, such as the kind requiring a restraining order. And some of those states are the ones where it is incredibly difficult to obtain a permit, such as New York. Finally, there is a third, small category: unrestricted.
In unrestricted states you are allowed to CC without a permit; this is also referred to as Constitutional Carry. Currently those states include Alaska, Arkansas, Arizona, Vermont, and Wyoming. There are some states currently discussing bills to allow unrestricted carry, and in two of those – Montana and Idaho – gun owners are allowed to CC without a permit in areas that are outside of incorporated municipalities. You can see why you must learn about your particular state – and city’s – laws, because they vary quite a bit.
Once you have your permit and you’re CC’ing your gun, you need to learn about reciprocity. Reciprocity refers to states that honor permits coming from other states. Some permits are more widely honored than others. Some examples of reciprocity: a Washington state CPL (Concealed Pistol License) has reciprocity with 25 other states while a Texas CHL (Concealed Handgun License) has reciprocity with 34 other states.
To check the reciprocity for your CC permit, head over to: https://www.concealedcarry.com/dynamic-ccw-permit-reciprocity-map-builder/?aid=519
Traveling with guns, whether by car or by plane, requires careful research and preparation. You need to know the laws for every state you enter and act accordingly. You may be required to lock your gun in the trunk, unloaded, or you may be able to carry it on your body; it simply depends on the state.
One of the biggest mistakes you can make is assuming local law enforcement will know the laws, because odds are they will not. This is why you must know, and carrying proof of the specific citation for those laws is wise.
With proof you can politely inform an officer what citation to refer to when checking on your CC permit’s reciprocity with their state. Having that evidence could save you considerable grief; if you cannot find it, it’s absolutely worth obtaining the assistance of a lawyer to put together a packet of state-specific CC citations.
And if you’re flying, be prepared to do some research on-the-spot. There have been cases of planes grounded in areas outside their original flight plan, luggage being returned to passengers, and gun owners breaking the laws when they then took possession of their firearms. Those firearms may have been legal in the state they’d intended to travel to, but in the state they ended up landing in, they weren’t, and by taking those guns from the airline, they’d committed a felony.
(One such case can be seen at: http://www.foxnews.com/politics/2011/01/18/traveling-mans-gun-arrest-appealed-supreme-court/).
If you land in the wrong state and you are unaware of the laws, take the time to find out what they are before taking possession of your firearm from the airline. Most people have smart phones, which makes it fairly easy to do a quick internet search and locate applicable laws.
In addition, flying means following the rules of the airline you’re traveling with, so look up their regulations, and follow them – and consider printing those out, too, because although it may come as a surprise, not all ticket agents will be truly familiar with the process for checking firearms. As a gun owner your mantra is already “be prepared” so make that your motto for traveling with guns, too.
Stand Your Ground
If you CC, there are many laws you need to be aware of, but two in particular stand out when it comes to self-defense. The first is the Stand Your Ground law. Stand Your Ground has to do with whether or not you have a duty to retreat when facing an imminent threat in an area where you are legally allowed to be.
There are currently about 30 states with Stand Your Ground laws, meaning that in those states you are not required to retreat from an area you’re legally allowed to be if you feel your life is being threatened.
This law should never be seen as an excuse to fight; it’s backup for the right to defend yourself if your life is being threatened, and you have no other choice. Basically this means if you’re walking down the sidewalk and someone approaches you and threatens your life in some way, whether with a knife, firearm, or by some other potentially lethal means, you have the right to defend your life.
The issue with this law is that it is somewhat open to interpretation; we have only to examine cases such as that of George Zimmerman to see the firestorm of debates and nuances that arise following a self-defense shooting. A good example of those interpretations also has to do with the nature of the threat, for example, a large man whose only visible weapon is his fists is going to be seen as a significantly larger threat to a woman than to an equally-sized man.
That is not to say there is no threat the other man, only such factors tend to influence perception. That said, hesitating to defend your life could easily mean the difference between life or death, so you won’t have the luxury of taking the time to weigh how a situation will later be perceived. Know the laws in your area.
The other obviously significant self-defense law is the Castle Doctrine. This law has to do with whether or not you are expected to retreat from your own home when your life is being threatened. Yes, there are states where you are expected to flee from your own home rather than defend yourself should you be attacked at home.
In some states this law also applies to legally occupied spaces such as your workplace or your car; this is also referred to as the Defense of Habitation Law. As with all laws, each state varies, including terminology. In Kentucky, according to KRS 503.055, there is no duty to retreat from a dwelling, residence, or occupied vehicle.
While in states such as Missouri, the rules are outlined a bit more extensively in accordance with 563.031: “Extends to any building, inhabitable structure, or conveyance of any kind, whether the building, inhabitable structure, or conveyance is temporary or permanent, mobile or immobile (e.g., a camper, RV or mobile home), which has a roof over it, including a tent, and is designed to be occupied by people lodging therein at night, whether the person is residing there temporarily, permanently or visiting (e.g., a hotel or motel), and any vehicle.”
Most states do respect the Castle Doctrine, but there are a few left that do not, including New Jersey, which says, according to statute 2C:3-4, “Retreat required if actor knows he can avoid necessity of deadly force in complete safety, etc. except not obliged to retreat from dwelling, unless the initial aggressor.”
In most states the Castle Doctrine covers threat from a break-in or any unlawful entry into your home. However, in many states it does not cover your front yard or porch; the aggressor must be physically inside your home to be considered a threat. And, of course, the aggressor must be a viable threat. For example, if they take one look at your shotgun and turn and run, they’re no longer a threat.
Few Parting Thoughts
Customizing your CC weapon with items such as slide plates emblazoned with phrases such as “Come and take it” could be misinterpreted in court. Although it may well be entirely inaccurate, any appearance that you went looking for a fight can and will be used against you, and though it’s sad that you need to consider such things, you should.
Before you customize your daily carry weapon, stop and consider how that particular customization could be interpreted in court, or by those who dislike guns. Also remember the value of not speaking at length to law enforcement should you be involved in a self-defense shooting. The simple statement of “I was afraid for my life” suffices, as does contacting your lawyer.
In fact, having a game plan in advance is a good idea, which is why you want insurance and a lawyer before anything ever happens. That way you can talk to your lawyer in a relaxed setting before anything happens and ask for advice on how to handle the situation if something does happen.
Concealed carry is an enormous responsibility, and not something to be undertaken lightly. By CC a firearm you are taking on the weight of defending your life as well as the lives of those you around you, and although odds are you’ll never be called upon to draw your weapon in the face of danger, there is still a chance it could happen.
Take the time to train, and take the time to get to know the laws in your area, or the areas you plan to travel to with your gun. Never expect anyone else to know the laws; that is your job, your responsibility. You are a gun owner. You exercise safety, you follow the laws, and you hope the worst-case scenario will never come, but if it does, you need to be ready in every possible way. Remember: be prepared.