An unprecedented percentage of the American population now carries a gun for personal protection. In the free states at least, a sensible respect for the true intent of the Second Amendment now means that more Americans than ever are carrying concealed firearms. However, right up there with making babies, being a concealed carrier involves the most remarkably rarefied expression of personal responsibility.

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Screw this up just a little bit and you could go to jail. Screw this up a lot and somebody could die. Going about armed represents the ultimate manifestation of American freedom. In this vein, here are a few guidelines to remember if you’re a concealed carrier.

You’re a Concealed Carrier, Not Superman

No offense, but if you were skinny and helpless before you got your gun, you are still skinny and very nearly helpless afterward. Packing a handgun does not make you cool, smart or tough. That gun is simply an insurance policy to be used only in the event of legitimate catastrophe.

When first I packed heat back when dinosaurs roamed the plains, I always felt self-conscious. Nowadays my gun is background clutter and I no longer even notice. However, early on that uncomfortable chunk of steel felt a little bit like a talisman when I had to traverse the sorts of places “where the wild things roam.” Little could be farther from the truth.

Not unlike marriage, being a concealed carrier is way more about responsibility than fun. Respect the right and know your limitations. Never let the fact that you are armed substantively embolden you to go places or do things you wouldn’t go or do were you otherwise unarmed.

Don’t Draw if You’re Not Willing to Use It

Your gun is your absolute last line of defense. I once read somewhere that 60 percent of folks shot with a firearm anywhere on their bodies spontaneously fall down. That means 40 percent do not. I have seen some of those 40 percent do some of the most remarkable things after they have been shot, sometimes after having been shot more than once. Don’t expect your opponent to be sensible. If your gun comes out it should only be to engage the threat until the threat is no longer threatening.

Don’t shoot to wound. Never fire warning shots. And don’t brandish your weapon expecting people to do what you want. These practices are great ways to get killed.

If the situation is bad enough that your gun is in your hand in public then legal considerations and convincing an evildoer to behave via anything less than lethal force should be distant concerns. Draw your gun only when you feel that you or your family are in danger of imminent death or grievous bodily harm.

Pack Like You Mean It

I have been guilty of this many times. You are stepping out for a brief foray outside the house and wonder if it really warrants girding your loins in gunleather. As a result you just grab a tiny .380 with a loaded magazine and an empty chamber and drop it in your pocket thinking you’re good to go. The better question is whether you are really taking this seriously or not.

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You need not tuck your favorite tricked-out M4 underneath your street clothes every time you step out to check your mail. However, I do discipline myself to carry a proper gun in a decent holster every time I might conceivably run afoul of some ne’er-do-well. This really boils down to personal discipline.

Of course it’s uncomfortable. Best case, you are likely trying to hide about a pound of bulky steel and plastic underneath flimsy clothes and then expecting to saunter through the drudgery of your day otherwise unencumbered. I have never seen any estimates as to how many folks get a concealed carry permit, pack a gun for two months and then quit, but I suspect it is a lot. If you are going to be a concealed carrier then do it right and go armed properly.

Never Stop Practicing

I have had to grab a gun for real a couple times. It was always utterly unexpected and straight out of a clear blue sky. In the two starkest episodes I didn’t really have opportunity to think about what I was doing until afterward. What your body does under those circumstances happens at some primitive spot in your brain right alongside getting hungry and being thankful for pretty girls.

Choose your primary carry gun carefully and then run it enough to get good with it. Even if you don’t have ready access to a range you can still stay sharp. Close the curtains, clear the weapon at least twice and make sure your wife knows what you are doing. Then practice drawing from cover and dry-firing your gun indoors and in private. An airsoft replica of your carry piece also opens up grand training vistas for very little cash.

I have a cop buddy who was medically retired because one of his comrades shot him in the shoulder while disassembling her Glock service pistol during a class. If you are going to be a concealed carrier, you really should be able to run the weapon, clear malfunctions and safely field strip the thing in the dark. Clear it twice and sit down in front of a movie with an old towel on the coffee table. Then strip and reassemble the gun mindlessly while the movie runs. Do this for a while and the mechanics of operating the weapon will become second nature.

Keep Track of Your Surroundings

There is no guarantee that your high tech uber-lethal defensive bullets are going to stop inside your target. Whether it is for practice or for real, always be mindful of what is around and behind your target. Shoot a little wallboard or plywood and it will really drive home how dangerous these things can be.

The very last thing you want if you ever have to use your gun for real is to inadvertently harm an innocent. Be subconsciously aware of the critical differences between cover and concealment. Concealment keeps you from being seen. Cover keeps you from being harmed if you are shot at. These concepts are equally germane whether you are sending or receiving the pain.

Safety Over Security

I have taken heat over this, but I typically carry with an empty chamber. I spent some time in Israel some years back and found this to be a common practice over there. Those guys live more real-world terrorism and violence than most of us can imagine. My day job involves physical interaction with a lot of kids. As a result, while I am invariably armed, it is quite literally impossible for my weapon to go off uncommanded.

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I train myself to jack the slide on the draw stroke. This will indeed slow me down and, under the wrong circumstances, could get me killed. However, I will never run the risk of a negligent discharge, particularly with kids around. If I am carrying a hot gun while out on a date with my hot wife, then the worst case is that I drop a live round onto the pavement before I have to use my weapon for real.

When you are not carrying your gun it has to be secured, particularly if there are kids around. There are too many inexpensive ways to do this for us to have any excuse otherwise. When my kids were young, the guns and ammunition were stored separately. I practiced getting to a weapon and making it hot in the dark. The extra time it takes to do this is simply the price we pay to be parents. As a physician I have seen the tragedy that results from messing this part up. Do not let that happen to you as a concealed carrier.

Be careful. Be armed. Stay safe.

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