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This writer has been carrying concealed handguns for over half a century, starting young in the family business. Four of those decades have been spent working with law enforcement, where concealed carry is the practice among plainclothes detectives, undercover operatives and all the rest of the sworn personnel when off-duty. That provided a pretty deep pool of collective wisdom on the topic of carrying a handgun with discreet invisibility—while maintaining ready access. That’s where the following advice comes from.

Within The Law

When the point of concealed carry is defense of self and loved ones, don’t ruin your life and your ability to earn a good living for your family by committing a crime— to wit, the crime of carrying concealed illegally. In many states it’s a felony on the first offense, and in New York, you’re talking some three years in a mandatory sentence. As a convicted felon you will never again be allowed to carry a firearm to protect your family, or even own one for home defense. Not a good trade. In at least one state, the offense is a “wobbler,” meaning that the district attorney’s office has the option of charging it as a felony or as a misdemeanor.

Even in states where the first such offense is a misdemeanor according to the law, beware the advisor who treats it as if a misdemeanor was on a par with a traffic ticket or a slap on the wrist. “Only a misdemeanor” means “only 364 days in jail, and a ‘gun crime’ on your permanent record.” That sort of record doesn’t look good to the human resources director who was about to hire you for your next job on the way up your career ladder, and won’t bode well for the next carry permit you apply for, either.

There are some states where no permit is required for concealed carry, and in the majority of states “shall issue” policy makes the permit readily available to any law-abiding citizen who goes through the process. Realize that you can make a living in one of those places and legally protect yourself and your family with a concealed handgun when out and about in public.

Every year, some well-intentioned people who have a gun permit where they live, get in serious trouble by carrying a gun in a jurisdiction that does not recognize their permit. “Ignorance is no excuse in the eyes of the law.” Bookmark the website handgunlaw.us. It has the best, constantly updated list of reciprocal permit recognition states that I know of. Consult it whenever crossing a state line.

In the same vein, know where you can and can’t carry within your licensed jurisdiction; again, handgunlaw.us is the blue chip resource. In one state, banks are off limits, though you can use the drive-through. In others, a liquor store is off limits. In some states, you can’t carry a gun into a bar even if you’re not drinking, and in a few jurisdictions, that’s even true of restaurants with liquor licenses. Courthouses are off limits. No matter what you may hear on the Internet, private citizens are not wise to carry guns into the Post Office or other Federal buildings.

When You Can Draw

Don’t believe interpretations of self-defense law that come from newspaper pundits with anti-gun agendas, and then get spread among legitimate gun people who don’t do their legal homework. Waving guns at people is against the law, let alone shooting them; self-defense is merely an affirmative legal defense that may convince police, prosecutor, grand jury, judge, or petit jury that you should be held harmless for having done so.

The anti-gun lobby has so often falsely prattled that “Stand Your Ground” laws mean “you can shoot anyone you’re the least bit scared of” that some people actually believe it. It’s not so, and double-edged tragedy awaits those who stupidly do believe it. Case in point: in Texas, a man bragged to friends that he could kill anyone he wanted and get away with it if he just uttered the magic words, “I was in fear of my life.” The day came when he became angry at a neighbor playing loud music, and marched to the man’s house with a camcorder in his hand and a gun on his hip. Babbling catch phrases like “I am in fear for my life!” and “I am standing my ground,” he provoked a confrontation in which he ended up shooting and killing the unarmed neighbor. In 2012, a jury convicted him of murder, and a judge sentenced him to a sentence so long he’ll probably die in prison. Two lives sacrificed to sheer ignorance and stupidity.

Similarly, don’t fall for such idiotic myths as “I can kill any stranger I find in my house or on my property.” In Florida in 2012, at least one fool apparently took that seriously. He shot and killed a door-to-door salesman. When arrested at the scene by an off-duty police officer, he was said to be screaming, “I’ll kill anyone who comes on my property!” If he isn’t found too crazy to stand trial, in which case he’ll be confined to a mental institution, he’ll soon be standing trial for murder.

Since this article is about concealed carry, it won’t touch on exposed “open carry.” Instead, we’ll presume that “concealed means concealed.” Let’s look at some different carry options.

IWB Versus OWB

In the world of belt holsters, the first choice is inside the waistband (IWB) versus outside the waistband (OWB). The IWB gives better concealment for three reasons. First, the body of the gun being inside the pants breaks up the outline of the pistol and holster, causing less bulge or “print” through the outer concealment garment. Second, that concealing garment can now ride all the way up to the bottom edge of the belt without the holster being revealed. The IWB holster may attach by clips, loops, or in the LFI Concealment Rig I designed for Ted Blocker, a Velcro tab which mates with Velcro lining in the matching belt. Finally, that belt outside the holster, if properly adjusted, is constantly pulling the gun in snug to the body.

Since the holstered gun is now sharing space in a waistband selected just to wrap around the abdomen, there can be fit and comfort problems. Most who carry IWB let out their waistbands or buy new pants with a waist measurement an inch or two larger than usual.
OWB carry is more comfortable for many. Holding the gun slightly out from the body, it may allow a faster grasp and thus a slightly faster draw. With this type of carry, it’s particularly important to have a holster that is “mated” to the belt so there is no slop in the attachment, whether that attachment is the usual belt slots in the holster, or a paddle arrangement. Otherwise, the weight of the gun will make it lean out away from the belt, compromising concealment.

Strong-Side Hip

The most popular belt carry position by far is on the dominant hand side of the body, butt to the rear. A holster that rides exactly on the point of the hip will chafe underlying bone and protrude outward from the body. Most professionals holster the gun behind the ileac crest of the hip. This tends to be much more comfortable. On most males, the concealing shirt or vest or jacket will drape down from the shoulder muscles and hide the gun well. Concealment is improved by tilting the gun butt forward, pushing its muzzle correspondingly to the rear, to bring that most potentially bulging part of the gun more in line under that drape of the outer garment.

Some shooters prefer “appendix carry,” with the gun between the navel and the hip in front on the strong hand side. Hard to conceal under an open front jacket, this normally demands a closed front shirt or pull-over garment. This slows a one-handed draw, though it can be very fast if the support hand is used to rip the garment upward as the dominant hand goes for the gun. Some shooters find a handgun uncomfortable in this position, digging into groin or thigh when they sit, and some others find it disconcerting to constantly have their own gun pointed toward their private parts.

Cross Draw

Holding the gun butt forward on the hip opposite the dominant hand, cross draw can be very fast from a seated position, and is also suitable for people who have limited flexion of their elbow or shoulder injuries such as a rotator cuff problem. However, to reach the gun it has to be somewhat forward of the hip, which can cause concealment problems and comfort problems when seated. Because women have shorter torsos and higher hips than men, they often find cross draw carry more efficient than do their brothers. A front cross draw position just to the side of the navel can work particularly well with a small handgun under a button-front shirt, in a holster such as a belly band, or a “tuckable,” both of which can be concealed under a tucked-in dress shirt in a business environment.

Since this holster position forces the gun to be drawn across the body, there is a possibility of its muzzle “sweeping” another shooter on the firing line or even a range officer behind the line. For this reason, many shooting schools ban them, as do some shooting sports such as NRA PPC (National Rifle Association Police Pistol Course) and IDPA (International Defensive Pistol Association, which also does not approve appendix carry).

Shoulder Holsters

Suspended from the armpit opposite the gun hand, the shoulder rig requires an across the body draw, so all cross draw issues apply. A shoulder rig makes sense for a person with a lower back or hip injury who has to keep weight off the pelvic area, and is also well suited to the person who doesn’t care to wear a belt, one reason it works particularly well with female fashions. It does require a harness, which some find uncomfortable; you want one with straps that don’t put pressure on the back of the neck area, and the straps should be wide and soft to most comfortably distribute the weight. Shoulder rigs are very accessible to the wearer who is constantly seated, such as the professional driver, though this requires constant wear of a concealing outer garment, even in the vehicle.

Ankle Holsters

Particularly easy to reach while seated or on one’s back, ankle holsters are a long-time police favorite for backup guns, but not so well suited for primary carry. The best way I’ve found to reach one from standing is to take a deep step back or to the side with the opposite leg, and pull the pants cuff up with the free hand while executing the draw with the gun hand. This allows a draw without going to kneeling or otherwise sacrificing mobility, without losing threat scan capability. Tips: pull your sock up over the lower body of the holster so it won’t be revealed when you sit down, though this will wear out your socks a lot quicker. Also, a trick I learned from Richie Rosenthal when he was at the NYPD Firearms and Tactics Unit: strap on the ankle rig empty, then insert the gun. It’ll fit better.

Pocket Holsters

A small gun in the pocket is extremely handy, and allows you to casually have your hand in the pocket without anyone realizing you’re already holding the gun. This allows a very fast draw if you’re suddenly attacked. Carry nothing else in the pocket that has the gun, and always keep it in a dedicated pocket holster! Every year, some few people accidentally discharge their guns in their pockets, with unpleasant results. A holster that covers the trigger guard area (and, with the popular little single action .22 mini-revolvers with spur triggers, also covers the hammer) will prevent such mishaps.

Final Thoughts

I’m out of space already, and since this topic really needs a book instead of an article, the one I’ll recommend is the one I wrote for the Gun Digest folks. It’s the Gun Digest Book of Concealed Carry, generally available at Barnes & Noble or through Amazon.com.

Give it thought, give it practice, live up to the attendant responsibilities and you’ll find that the peace of mind that comes from responsible concealed carry will more than outweigh the inconvenience that comes with it. Good luck, and stay safe!

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