Saturday, March 8, 2014

Concealed Carry--No Elegant Solution (Updated)

    I got my first CCL about 15 years ago. Prior to starting to carry, I researched the best guns, carry methods, and so on--at least as best as I could--talking to other people, pouring over articles in numerous gun magazines, and reading the few books I could find that covered the topic. I came away with two things:
(1)  Most of the articles and books were authored by someone with a law enforcement background, whose concealed carry experience was typically plain-clothes duty; and, 
(2)  The "proper" carry set-up was a full-size or nearly full-size .45 ACP or .40 S&W, carried in strong side hip holster (although there was some debate between whether it should be straight draw or at an FBI cant), under a jacket (if you worked in an office), or under an untucked shirt if you did not. Off person carry was verboten. 
There was some grudging acknowledgment that for "deep undercover" work, or certain other circumstances, there might be other carry methods or guns, but they were considered inferior. 9 mm or .38 Special was considered acceptable (but barely), but .380 or smaller was not.

    Over the next several years, I tried various firearms and carry methods. For firearms, in no particular order, I tried for concealed carry a full-size 1911, a 6-shot .357 Magnum with a 3-inch barrel, a .22 Beretta, a .380 Grendel P-12, a couple full-size 9 mms, a couple compact 9 mms, and a .38 snubby. I no longer own most of these firearms. For carry methods, I tried strong-side hip (various holsters), weak-side hip (i.e., cross-draw), inside-the-pants (two different holsters), various types of pocket carry (with and without a pocket holster), and middle-of-the-back, a couple fanny-pack holsters, and various off-person types of carry. I now have a box filled with holsters I never use (and several I gave away). Due to the climate I live in, I have carried in everything from 100+ degree heat, to nearly zero degree cold. I have carried to work (I work in an office), day-to-day activities, riding a bike, hiking, working in the garden, etc.

     I came away with two fundamental conclusions:
(1)  Concealed carry is a very personalized matter depending on your personality, risk assessment, clothing/job (the two are generally inseparable), physical activity, climate, physical condition, whether you stand or sit, what level of concealment you need, whether you have to remove the holster/firearm during the day, and many other seemingly insignificant factors. 
(2)  People with law enforcement backgrounds have little useful to say about concealed carry for the average person. I don't say this to belittle their experience, but because most of the foregoing factors for police officer are fixed: the officer is expected to have a sidearm, so it is of little consequence if the firearm prints or is accidentally exposed; police do not generally have to remove their firearm or holster; plain-cloths police may have to deal with the same situations as a uniformed officer, and so generally will need to carry a standard sized weapon, or slightly smaller version of the same, and which is probably department issued; police will generally be in good physical condition; a plains clothes officer will have a dress code typically consisting of a coat and tie (unless undercover), and so on. It was telling to me that on the rare occasions when an author from a law enforcement background wrote about carrying a back-up weapon or off-duty weapon, the general rules cited above went out the window because, if they were coaching their son's Little League game, or going bowling, etc., it was no longer practical to carry the larger weapon they normally wore under their sports coat.
In short, what I learned was that not only did you need several ways to carry a weapon, but you potentially might want more than one gun.

     Given the foregoing, I'm not going to try and dictate your perfect carry weapon. I'm just going to relate some of my experiences and a few things I read here and there that I would have found useful when thinking on the issue, and possibly disabuse you of a few misconceptions.

     Some Initial Thoughts--Why Concealed Carry? There are a growing number of people that are advocating and practicing open carry. So, other than the fact that open carry may not be allowed in your particular location, why would anyone want or need to carry their weapon concealed? There are several reasons, not the least of which is so you won't upset other people. I can hear it already--"who cares what some pansy so-and-so thinks?" Well, if that other person is a client or customer, a supervisor, a co-worker, or relative, you should. If that other person is the local police, you will also care.

     Another important reason is to short-circuit the OODA loop. Some of you reading this are going to chuckle, or mutter something less than complimentary. After all, if someone attacks you, and you are having to dig underneath a shirt or jacket to get your gun out, your are already way behind on the OODA loop. Maybe.

     Years ago, I read an article in one of the gun magazines (and I wish I had a copy) that discussed this issue. Basically, the author argued for concealed carry because, if you were attacked, it was to your advantage if the attacker didn't know you were armed in order to give you time to react. Otherwise, the attacker may just shoot you from a distance, without warning. He had a couple stories to illustrate his point. One involved a local convenience store owner that was very vocal in the local media about openly carrying a gun, and always prominently wore his pistol on his hip. So, one day, wanting to rob the place, the perps shot the owner dead through the window. He never had a chance. Another story he related was a couple of criminals that decided to burgle a farmhouse. Reconnoitering the farm, they noticed the farmer riding on his tractor was carrying a large revolver. They shot the farmer while he was on his tractor, and then proceeded to the farm house.

     The point is, if you are not immediately attacked--the perps have pulled a weapon on you but don't use it, or perhaps you are just a bystander to a robbery--having your weapon concealed means that you have more options on how and when to act. Instead of being the first one killed, you might be able to surprise the perps.

      Now, to move on to my experiences:

     Personality: When I'm talking about personality, I'm not talking about whether you are a type "A" or "B", outgoing or introvert. I'm talking about something much more basic--are you anal retentive/OCD or lazy. Okay, I should back up and try to be less insulting. My point is that there is nothing "sexy", glamorous, daring, or some other similar adjective, about carrying a concealed weapon. I think it is a pain in the butt. Maybe you won't. But if you think it is a pain in the butt, you will be tempted--so tempted--to not carry, or take other shortcuts in caring for your weapon. You could try and change the way you are--and that is typically what is recommended. That's up to you.

    Some examples. Before I started carrying, I had never realized how much lint and other crap came off me and my clothes. Think about it. You shed, on average, 30,000 to 40,000 skin cells every hour, and almost a million over a 24-hour period. On top of that, your clothing is losing fibers--particularly if you wear a lot of cotton--just like the stuff that gets caught in the lint trap on your clothes dryer. And, finally, you are going to encounter dust, dirt, animal hair, etc., all through the day. For some reason, much of that will accumulate on your handgun. Everyday, I would get home, take my gun out of its holster and there it was--lint and dust around the hammer, stuck between the slide and frame, sometimes a tiny piece of lint in the muzzle. One or two days, not too bad. But by the end of the week ...!  Although I can't point to anytime I went shooting and had a misfeed or misfire due to lint or dust, it worried me. I quickly started thoroughly cleaning the gun and wiping down magazines at least once a week. Until I finally got tired of it, and decided to carry a revolver.

    Ideally, you will be going to the range once per week and practicing with your defensive ammo. But we don't live in an ideal world. You may not get out to the range very often. You may shoot cheaper ammo when you practice. In either case, the result is that you may have one or more magazines left fully loaded over a period of weeks or even months. Although I've heard and read that it should be impossible to set the spring in a good quality magazine by leaving it loaded too long, I've had a few magazines that would beg to differ. Besides, how do you know you didn't get the one crappy spring in the lot? There are three solutions to this: download the magazine, regularly switch the magazine(s) you are using, or use a revolver. I don't recommend downloading the magazine because I'm not sure but that you still might have a spring set even if you are one or two rounds short of full capacity. Since, if you are carrying a semi-auto, you should clean it thoroughly at least once per week, I would suggest that you empty and switch magazines at the same time. That way, the process becomes a habit. Or you can buy a revolver.

     "Crap and doggone it!" It is 10:30 pm, and your wife just announced that you are out of milk, bread, whatever, and could you make a quick trip to the store. Maybe you carry your gun on you at home (a good thing) and so you can just slip on your shoes and a jacket and go to the store. Except, maybe you don't carry around your house, or you just got ready for bed. "Geez," you think, "it is just down the street," or "its just a quick trip to the supermarket"--"I don't need to take my gun." Big mistake. In reality, your trip to the local 7-11 late at night is probably the time you are most likely to need a concealed carry gun. So, are you the type to get back into your gear, adjust your belt, slide on the the holster, put your gun in the holster, put your extra magazines in their carrier; or do you just slip something into your pocket? A large handgun, or most any firearm using an exposed hammer, is better carried in a holster. If you think you may need or want to throw a handgun in your pocket, a revolver with a concealed or shrouded hammer, or a small semi-auto with an internal hammer or striker system is the way to go.

     Buy Common Guns. You may have noticed that one of the guns I mentioned using for concealed carry was a Grendel P12--a precursor to today's KelTecs, but a lot bigger. The Grendel had a lot of features that I thought were important at the time and, best of all, it was relatively inexpensive. However, I learned something after I bought it. No one made any holsters or accessories for it (except for a very expensive holster only available from the manufacturer). No one carried extra magazines for it. Oh, and I bought it just before the manufacturer went out of business. The result was that I was stuck using "generic" Uncle Mike holsters that never worked very well.

     The same goes for other accessories. If you don't like the grip on your gun, can you buy replacements, new grip panels, etc.? If you don't have a tactical rail, can you get a laser or flashlight mount for your pistol? Does anyone make night sights for your gun?

     So, the general lesson is to buy commonly found guns. But even having  a common brand or model doesn't guarantee that you are going to find holsters or other accessories. I found this to be a problem for several of my firearms, including a Ruger P-89 and Beretta .22. This isn't as big a problem today as it used to be, but I would still recommend browsing your local gun store(s) and the internet, and see for what guns you can find specific holsters or other accessories.

     Holsters and Carry Methods. I want to emphasize that the choice of holster and carry method is as important as selecting a gun. The choice of a holster is inseparable from the method of carrying, and from the firearm. I tried many different holsters, a few of which are pictured below. So, here are a few thoughts.

Some of the holsters I've used
     Cheap holsters are just that--cheap. I'm not saying that you have to buy a $200 custom leather holster. I'm not even saying that an inexpensive holster is a cheap holster. But your holster needs to be well made, durable, and simple. A snap is okay. Several snaps, or a button and snap, or some other combination of actions to release the gun is a disaster waiting to happen. "But the pros use holsters with multiple retention features," you may exclaim. True, but not when having to pull a shirt up or sweep aside a jacket at the same time. And you are not a police officer working in a crowd. Keep it simple, especially when it comes to a concealed carry holster.

     Generic concealed holsters work okay when that holster is carried in something else--e.g., a pocket holster carried in a pocket, or the holster in a fanny pack. Otherwise, generic holsters just add unnecessary bulk, because they have to fit multiple models and makes of firearms, and don't retain the firearm as well. If you are going to wear a firearm in a belt holster, you should get a holster specifically made for the firearm you are going to carry. Although I haven't tried a shoulder holster or ankle holster, I'm sure that the same would apply.

     Inside the waistband holsters enjoy a certain popularity because they allow you to carry a handgun discreetly with a shorter, untucked shirt, or even with a shirt tucked in, with the shirt puffed out just enough to cover the butt of the gun. However, even a small handgun is going to add a couple inches to your waist size. And, if you have "love handles," it is uncomfortable and harder to draw the weapon. Also, these style of holsters collapse, and it is difficult to reinsert the firearm.

     Belt on or clip on? I tried a couple styles of clip on holsters, using a steel clip, and found that when practicing draws that I was just as likely to pull the gun and holster off my belt as I was to just pull the pistol free. Maybe the holster would have loosened up over time, or perhaps there are better models out there, but I wasn't going to wait to find out. There are some models that have a secondary clip which engages on the underside of a belt to keep the holster from coming loose. However, this defeats one of the primary purposes of a clip holster, which is the ability to put it on and take it off without having to remove your belt.

     Fitting the belt. Many (most!) holsters are designed to slide a belt through loops or slots, such as the pancake holster and belt slide holster shown above. This is probably one of the best ways to wear a holster...unless you have to remove and replace your holster during the day. The pancake holster shown above is very secure, holds the gun close to the body, and is a great holster. The belt slide holster (in the packaging) used nylon loops that tended to stretch out during the day, allowing the pistol grip to lean out. When that happens, the gun tends to print more and is less comfortable to carry. If you are going to carry a large pistol, a belt holster is probably the best to go.

     Paddle holsters, such as the Kydex Fobus model pictured above, are a compromise between a belt and a clip on holster. The paddle provides more resistance, as well as utilizing a "shelf" to catch the belt, which prevents the holster from pulling free when you draw the gun. Yet, at least with the Fobus make, the holsters are easy to remove or put on without having to replace the belt. (I've tried other makes that have a "hook" to catch the underside of a belt that makes it extremely difficult to take off without removing my belt). The paddle also distributes the weight of the gun against your waist, making it more comfortable than many belt holsters--particularly if you are trying to carry a gun using a more narrow dress belt. I also like Kydex because you get good retention without having to release a thumb retention strap--the epitome of the KISS principle. There are a couple downsides to the Kydex paddle holster, though. First, there is necessarily a bit of space between the body and the holster--meaning, the weight is not right up against the body. With a smaller pistol, this is not a problem except to the extent it might make it more likely that your holster will "print" under your clothes. With a larger handgun, this means that the weight of the gun tends to pull away from your body, making it more fatiguing to carry all day. Second, a Kydex holster only comes up to the trigger guard area of your firearm. If the center of mass of the pistol is forward of the trigger, the gun pulls down and into the holster. If the center of mass of the pistol is higher up--which is not uncommon with large capacity semi-auto pistols--the pistol will tend to lean out, again making it more fatiguing to carry the gun. A small frame revolver or compact pistol, like the Glock 26, work fine in a Kydex paddle holster, but full size semi-autos do not. I haven't tried a large revolver, so I can't speak to how that would work. But I would expect that a large, short barreled revolver would be just as bad as a full-size semi-auto.

     I found that the pancake holster to be the most comfortable for carrying a full size semi-auto, and the paddle holster the most comfortable with small handguns.

     The pocket-holster provides a lot of versatility. I even use mine to protect the gun when I have just put it in a bag. The basic purpose of a pocket holster is protect a firearm from dirt and lint, protect the pocket from wear and tearing by the gun, prevent the gun from snagging in the pocket, keep the gun oriented correctly in the pocket, and keep the firearm from "printing"--at least in the obvious shape of a gun. To be effective, the holster needs to stay in the pocket when you draw the pistol. A good pocket holster uses two methods to keep it from coming out of the pocket: (i) a rough or tacky surface that "sticks" or snags to the fabric of the pocket (don't get one made of smooth leather!); and (ii) a large "flap" of material on the holster designed to catch inside the pocket. I use a model made by De Santis which works well.

     Pocket holsters work best in pants that are loose and where the pockets are vertical and deep, such as pleated dress slacks. It doesn't work in tighter fitting pants, such as most blue jeans.  It also works well in a the vertical outside pocket of an overcoat or trench coat, and the inside pocket of a coat or jacket--although, I would warn you that the inside pocket of a suit coat is not intended for the weight of handgun, and carrying a handgun will accelerate the wear on the pocket and lining. I wouldn't recommend this method unless (a) you don't care if you have to replace your suit coats or sports jackets more often, or (b) you use a very light weight pistol, such as one of the Keltech .32s or .380s. Obviously, a pocket holster will not work well in a horizontal jacket pocket (but I'll get to that issue in a bit). Also, pocket carry is generally suitable only for small pistols. A J-frame revolver is probably the largest gun that can generally be discretely carried in a pocket. I've read comments from those saying they could carry a compact Glock, like a Glock 26, in a pocket. Being able to carry a handgun in a pocket, and carrying discretely in a pocket, are two different things, and I doubt that anyone could carry a Glock 26 discretely in their pockets. At least, I couldn't. However, there is one big drawback to pocket carry--if you have to sit, the gun and holster will print, and they are almost impossible to draw from a sitting position (if you try, you will look like you are trying to deal with a squirrel in your pants).

     Fanny pack holsters used to be in vogue because they allowed you to carry pretty much any size handgun you wanted as long as the fanny pack was large enough. They are no longer in style because they make you look like a nerd or really old man, and the larger size necessary for carrying a pistol practically screams "gun" to anyone that knows anything about concealed carry. However, if you are out for a jog or riding a bike, the fanny pack fills a valuable void. It also may be the only effective way to carry if you are not wearing a jacket but can't wear an untucked shirt. When I do use a fanny pack, I use the one pictured above. As you will note, it is leather, not cordura. Also, it is small--so small that even people I know that carry concealed often don't recognize it as a possible holster.

     The first fanny pack holster I purchased was a type that closed on the top with velcro, instead of using a zipper. I thought it was pretty cool, until I realized that I'd never practiced an emergency draw from it. By that I mean that I had slowly "ripped" the velcro open to get the gun out, but I'd never actually quickly and energetically pulled it open to get the gun out. It lasted only two or three practices. The force necessary to rip open the velcro quickly, also meant that I was still pulling strongly when the pocket opened to its full extent. Needless to say, the rivets that reinforced the sides ripped out on one side. My next fanny pack holster used a zipper. Besides, I can open the zippered one quietly.

     The belt slide holster in the picture above was purchased for when decided to try middle-of-the-back carry. I don't remember why I thought middle-of-the-back might be a good idea. It probably had something to do with trying to pick a method that was more balanced and less fatiguing. Middle-of-the-back is probably great if you have to stand all day. But, as I found, unless you are careful, you will expose your firearm to view if you bend or squat (such as picking up a box). Also, it is extremely uncomfortable if you are sitting for any length of time. The last time I used this carry method, my wife and I had gone to see a movie. By the time the movie ended, I would have preferred to be shot over carrying the gun any longer.

     I suppose middle-of-the-back carry might allow you to carry a larger gun concealed under a tucked in shirt. However, I remember an occasion where my wife and I had gone out to dinner. While waiting to be seated, I observed a man approaching that I could tell was a cop from the way he walked. I automatically scanned for signs of a concealed weapon, and sure enough, when he had turned slightly, I could see the outline of a Colt Commander printing slightly under his shirt in the middle-of-the-back.

     If you carry a gun concealed, you will eventually carry it in an outside coat pocket. Generally, these pockets are horizontal--that is, the opening of the pocket is on the side of the pocket, rather than the top. If you try and keep the handgun in its proper orientation (i.e., barrel on top, and grip down), the pistol will be top heavy and tilt or otherwise shift until it comes to some equilibrium. Don't fight gravity. Just put the gun in your pocket upside down. It is just as easy to draw--you just have to turn your wrist--and it makes the gun less recognizable in the event it should print.

     Nature Abhors A Single Method To Carry Your Gun. In an ideal world, from a concealed carry point of view, you would always be able to wear a loose jacket or shirt to cover your pistol, and if you had to remove your jacket, nobody would care because it is perfectly natural for everyone to have a gun strapped on. Oh, and you would live in a Mediterranean climate--not too cold, but not too hot. But most of us are not plain clothes cops or security consultants living in San Diego or L.A.

     I work in an office, but I don't always have to wear a suit, and I'm certainly not going to sit at my desk all day wearing a suit coat anyway. But I can't walk around with my shirt untucked either. In the winter, I can wear a sweater which covers the gun, so I typically will employ a strong-side carry using a holster. In the autumn or spring, I wear a jacket into work, but I don't wear a sweater. In that case, I will use a paddle holster until I get in my office, and then the gun and holster come off and go into a drawer or other accessible location. In the summer, I rarely wear a jacket or suit coat into work because of the heat. I keep a sports coat and tie at work in case I need one. I will generally carry in my fanny pack or pocket holster, or off-body carry in a bag. Yes, I'm aware of the general rule to not "off-body" carry, but it is better to carry in a bag than to not carry at all.

     I used to carry a larger caliber gun in the winter, reasoning that since everyone was wearing heavier clothing, I might need something of larger caliber to compensate for said heavier clothing. So, I would put a larger handgun in a strong-side holster, zip on my heavy coat, and head out into the cold and wind. When I arrived at my location, I would unzip my coat and, viola', my pistol was concealed, but I could still reach it easily. There were two flaws to my theory, I discovered. First, I couldn't get to my firearm unless I unzipped my coat, making it very slow to access. Second, sometimes I had to take my coat off. Which meant that, once again, I was back to carrying in a pocket.

     Weight. One of the most important factors in concealed carry is weight. Not just the weight of the firearm, but also the distribution of the weight. A heavy gun, or even a lighter weight gun that is carried poorly, will pull to one side and, over a period of hours, cause muscle fatigue and pain as your body attempts to correct. As you probably know from backpacking, a heavy load is more easily carried when it is carried closer to the body and more evenly distributed. The same applies to a concealed carry weapon.

     Both the holster and gun are important. Ideally, the holster should bring the firearm up snug against your body. As I noted earlier, I found that a pancake style holster did the best in this regard. Also, a thinner weapon will keep the weight closer to your body. In this regard, a full-sized 1911 because it is flat, can actually be easier to carry concealed than many smaller weapons.

     You should also try to balance the weight, if possible, by carrying something on the opposite side--an ammunition carrier, your cell phone and keys, etc.

     Finally, I have found that using suspenders can help with distribution of the weight (as well as helping keep your pants up under the added weight of a firearm on your belt or in a pocket!).

      Using Different Guns. Once I got through my experimental stage, I wound up using just one pistol for 90% of the time I carry concealed. However, I have used other guns because I wanted something with higher capacity, larger caliber, or greater power. Sometimes I have resorted to open carry. Sometimes I have carried two guns. Your needs and assessment of risk will often dictate what you should carry.

     A Backup.  The reality is that the gun most any civilian will use for concealed carry is typically one that a police officer or security consultant would regard as a "backup" gun. So, if that is the case, what do you carry as "backup" to your "backup gun"? Well, you could carry an even smaller gun, like one of the North American Arms .22 revolvers, or a .32 Keltech. Or you could carry a knife suitable for fighting. Since I recommend someone to keep an everyday carry (EDC) knife on them anyway, you might as well make that knife something large and strong enough to use to defend yourself.

     Risk Assessment. Here I move away from my experience and into opinion and theory about selecting a weapon. One of the basic questions to someone trying to decide on a carry gun is: should you carry a full-size handgun with 15 or 18 rounds, or will the 5 rounds in your J-Frame revolver, or the 5-6 rounds in your XDS .45, meet your needs? My guess is that you don't know and can't know because you can't see the future. All you can do is assess risks and possibilities. "Well shouldn't I prepare for the worst-case?" You could, but if you did, why would you leave your house? In fact, maybe you would be better off in a concrete bunker in the hills.

     Obviously, you must plan for some risk. You wear a seatbelt and carry auto insurance because the risk of an auto accident is great enough to justify the cost. Maybe you spend the extra money for an SUV or a Volvo because they have better reputations for protecting you in a collision. Maybe you don't because it is too hard to find a large enough parking space in the city, or you are trying to save money on gasoline. But, either way, the car you drive to work everyday probably doesn't have a roll-cage or a 4-point safety harness, and I doubt that you wear a racing helmet and protective suit like a race car driver does.  Selecting a handgun for everyday carry involves similar trade-offs between effectiveness and cost/convenience.

     First, I want to address the issue of terrorism. I have read blogs and forums where people argue for carrying extra firepower in order to deal with terrorists. You are more likely to choke to death on your own vomit than be killed by a terrorist. Maybe in the future this will be a viable concern, but right now, in this country, it is not.

     Your risk of being the victim of a violent crime is primarily a result of lifestyle choices. Hang out at seedy bars in the rough part of town? You are more likely to be a crime victim. Use illegal drugs? You are more likely to be a crime victim. Work in a convenience store? You are more likely to be a crime victim. Drive a taxi? Your job is more dangerous than being a cop. Live in Chicago? You are more likely to be a crime victim. Regularly transport large amounts of cash and valuables? You are more likely to be a crime victim. If you are more likely to be a crime victim, you probably should carry a bigger gun and have a back-up gun as well.

     FerFal is a well-known survivalist writer that has written extensively about the financial crises in Argentina. He lived in Buenos Aires. His reports of crime involved a lot of stories of home invasions, carjackings, kidnappings, and robberies committed by gangs of a half-dozen or more people. He recommended carrying a full size semi-automatic pistol carrying as many rounds as possible and extra magazines. He specifically recommended against revolvers because they didn't carry enough ammunition and were too slow to reload. In the situation he lived under, with that type of crime, his recommendation makes sense.

     Conversely, I live in a medium sized city with a low crime rate. How low? Well, I don't have the exact figures, but I'll give you a couple examples. You know the "fluff" news pieces that most news channels run at the end of a broadcast, or the minor local political story that get a brief slot in the middle? That is generally the lead story where I live. I remember one time someone yelled the "n-word" at a black family in a local park, and it was the top news story for a week. I'll admit that was almost 20-years ago, and things have gotten a bit rougher, but not much. I have little chance of a gang jumping me in this area, and a small capacity hand-gun of 5 to 7 rounds is adequate. On the other hand, I'll admit my office gets at least one death threat every year, and when that happens, I carry a larger gun for a while.

     So, look at your lifestyle, job and where you live. Maybe you should carry a larger gun. Maybe you are fine with a smaller gun. And maybe you could split the difference and carry a Glock 26 with a spare Glock 17 or 19 magazine.

     How Are You Going to Use the Weapon? "I'm going to pull the trigger and send the perp to hell," you reply. Well, actually, I have something a little different in mind, which is: are you going to be involved in gun battles, or will it be at bad-breath distance.

     In warfare, the primary objective is to destroy the will of the enemy to fight. The same consideration comes into play when faced with a criminal. Your primary purpose in defending yourself from a criminal is not to kill the criminal, but to get the criminal to stop his attack. You may have to kill or seriously injure a criminal, but you may be able to "psychologically" destroy a criminal's will to attack you without having to pull the trigger. Most "defensive gun uses" probably involve the victim displaying a weapon. No one knows exactly how many times the types of incidents occur--estimates vary between 150,000 and 2.5 million times per year--but since most defensive gun uses are never reported, no one knows. I don't know what a perp thinks when a gun is pointed at him. However, I would guess that a large bore (e.g., a .44 or .45) is more intimidating than a smaller bore; and that seeing the rounds in the cylinder of a revolver is more intimidating than wondering whether the auto-loader is loaded.

     At bad-breath distances, guns are sometimes used as melee weapons. One story that has stuck with me (and no, I don't remember where I read it) was an event related by a private detective, and it was completely unrelated to the case he was working on, other than it had taken him to a part of town where he normally didn't go. As I remember the account, he decided to stop off at a bar for a drink. It was still early, and there was hardly anyone there. However, his presence irritated a very large and strong man there, who proceeded to threaten him and, finally, when our detective was just trying to leave, simply grabbed the detective by his jacket and pulled him off his feet. The detective pulled out his revolver and shoved the barrel into the man's mouth, advising the man that he was going to blow his brains out if he (the detective) was not released immediately. Our detective left the bar without further injury or interference.

     After I read that account, I wondered if you could even get away with that with a semi-auto. Or shoving the barrel into someone's gut. There are some models of semi-autos that are easily pushed out of battery. Just a thought that maximum fire-power is not the end-all, be-all of a carry weapon.

     Final Thoughts. Please don't misunderstand that I'm recommending a particular firearm, or a revolver over a semi-auto. I'm not. More than any other purpose for which you might use a firearm, concealed carry represents compromises--sometimes very unpalatable compromises. If you want "point-and-shoot" capabilities, I would recommend a compact Glock or XDS. (Most people recommend a revolver, but I can think of few weapons more difficult to learn to shoot well than a small revolver because of the size, recoil, and heavy trigger pull in double action). If you want something that will shoot every time, even if you are on the ground with a 200 lb thug on top of you and can't get your gun out of your pocket, a concealed hammer J-frame is a good choice. If crime by larger groups is a likely problem (which it is unfortunately becoming in many areas, what with flash-mobs, the knock-out game, home invasions, etc.), then you will want to carry a gun with a higher magazine capacity that is quickly reloaded--i.e., a larger semi-auto--and will have to make the lifestyle adjustments to have it with you. As I state in my title, there is no elegant solution to concealed carry.

(Updated 3/9/2014--added section on Weight)

(Update 4/11/2014--just wanted to add a thanks to Greg Ellifritz at Active Response Training for linking to this post).


  1. Best article on carrying concealed I have read. Excellent coverage on the subject. Very sensible. Thanks.

  2. Forgot to mention getting here through Greg Ellifritz.

    1. I saw the jump in traffic. Mr. Ellifritz, if you see this, thank you.


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