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Whether teaching officers or concealed carry holders, the concept of concealed carry as a lifestyle has come up constantly over the years. It’s more than simply getting a permit and buying a gun—there has to be some thought that goes into the decision. In order to use a pistol to defend yourself or others, it must be with you, and carrying a pistol all the time is not easy; in fact it is very difficult and requires a significant adjustment in mindset and to your current lifestyle.

The most critical tenet in concealed carry is to actually carry your handgun. For the most part that means on your person. Having it accessible in the car is fine when you are in it, but leaving it in the car to go into the restaurant, gas station, or corner store leaves you at risk. The bottom line is simple—in order for the weapon to provide protection you must have immediate access.

Right Gun & Holster

Opinions abound as to which gun to carry, but in the end it needs to be the one that you will carry. Revolver or a pistol, they each have their strengths and weaknesses. My advice is to carry the biggest pistol you will carry all the time and that you can fire accurately under stress. Make it a caliber that has proven to be effective in the field. A 9mm or larger in a semi-auto is my preference. For revolvers, .38 Special +P would be my minimum. Some of the smaller magnums are fine, but hand cannons should be avoided. Having carried a 4-inch 1911 in .45 ACP or similar for decades, it is not about the size of the pistol for the most part; it is about your willingness to change your lifestyle and accommodate it.

At least as important as your choice in handguns is the holster. Put a $3,000 pistol in an inexpensive holster and it will still be uncomfortable, hard to access and maybe even dangerous. It is critical you choose the best holster you can afford that will allow you to conceal it well. It may never be completely comfortable; that is part of the lifestyle change. As Clint Smith so clearly stated, “It is not supposed to be comfortable, but comforting.” It needs to hold your pistol solidly on your person. It will require a real pistol belt designed to hold the weight of a pistol. Many companies provide nice-looking belts that fit into just about any clothing style these days.

Alternate carry positions are fine, but strong side hip is probably the best. Having carried a 3-inch 1911 in an ankle holster, I know it has its advantages but it is not for everyone. While working in an administrative position in a suit and tie these are very comfortable. Just make sure you clean your pistol regularly as it picks up all kinds of stuff from the ground. Bags and purses work, just make sure you practice accessing them. Shoulder holsters look really cool in the movies, but seldom end up anywhere other than hanging in the closet. They are great in a car, but present other issues almost everywhere else in my opinion. For the most part, whatever you decide to use make sure it holds the pistol in the holster. Your handgun is hardly concealed if it falls onto the floor in the restaurant when you bend over.

Clothing

Concealed carry is for just that, concealed carry. It means you will need to wear clothing to conceal your handgun under normal circumstances. Be careful when shopping for conceal clothing, as some custom apparel screams to everyone you are carrying a handgun. Winter is easy with coats and outer clothing—it is summer that is the issue. Loose clothing is going to be the norm, but it can be as simple as an oversized t-shirt.

There are a few really nice shirts out there that look normal and are cut to conceal a pistol. Dress shirts that are designed to be untucked work well. You can also get holsters that allow you to tuck your shirt over the pistol. They work well, but take some practice and forethought. If you are going to wear an ankle rig you need pants that are cut wide at the bottom. It depends on your ankles, but you may even need to alter them. All my duty pants were altered to conceal my back up handgun. Vests work, but sometimes they scream that you are carrying a handgun, especially if there are magazine pockets everywhere. There are normal vests that can be worn as well, and these can be fine. Just remember the idea is to blend in, not stick out. It is a big part of the lifestyle. If you do find yourself in a lethal encounter at the restaurant or mall, you do not want to stick out to the predator. You want surprise on your side for as long as possible.

In Public

Carrying in public is the most difficult, but this is where you will need the protection. You can do a few things to help this process. When you go into a restaurant get a booth, preferably one that allows you to see the entrance and locate an exit. It allows you to slide in with your pistol side completely concealed. Sitting in chairs with holsters, is problematic. It also means you can remove your jacket where appropriate. Make certain you can carry in the establishment. Personally, if I cannot carry there they do not get my business. That is your choice, but you need to make sure you follow the law in your state.

One of the most frequent horror stories I hear involves a pistol left in the bathroom. When you go to the restroom you need to make sure you leave with your pistol. So, place it somewhere in the stall where you see it as you exit. Hanging it on the coat hook is not an option. Place it somewhere safe and secure so it does not drop on the floor as well. Above all, make sure you place it back in your holster before you leave.

In The Car

If at all possible, carry a pistol on your person even when in the car. It can help to choose a holster that rides higher for access, but this way it is on you when you exit the car. Crossdraw holsters are great in a car, as well as shoulder rigs. An ankle rig allows access that is not obvious. Above all, do not set your pistol on or under a seat. If it is going to be in the car then rig some sort of holster for it. If not, when you stop suddenly it is on the floor where you cannot get at it. Placing them under the seat generally means they slide so far under you have to get out of the car to get at them. Glove boxes work, but it depends on the car. In all of these cases it means you have to remove it when you exit the car, and that adds a whole other process to the equation. Maintaining the same principle, it needs to be with you to be of use, so make sure it is where you can access it in an emergency, preferably on your person.

Final Thoughts

As critical as how you carry your handgun is practicing with it from the place you carry it. You can certainly train with a “range holster,” but you do not want the first time you draw from concealed to be when your life depends on it. Practice how you carry.
Attending organized training is fantastic. It offers an opportunity for reloads, presentation and accuracy training, and makes you comfortable with your handgun. It can also point out any flaws or problems with your gun, your ammunition or your carry method. Local clubs and competitions are fantastic. Not only to you get practice but you also spend time with people sharing your lifestyle. In my experience they are mostly comprised of great people who just simply like to shoot and want to be proficient with their handgun.

All in all, there is a ton more thought that goes into this process than most people like to think. It is not as simple as buying a gun, shooting a few rounds and throwing it in a holster. In order to do it safely and appropriately it requires a change in lifestyle. You really need to think about what you are doing and what you will do. It is like anything else—the more thought put into training when you have the time, the less needed when put it into practice where there is no time!

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