There are a number of things that I wish I had known enough to research before I started carrying a firearm every day. Many of these things are things you are unlikely to think about before your CCW permit comes in, and involve questions you are likely not educated well enough to ask about at your CCW course. So, since I am celebrating my first year of concealed carry next month, I now bring you my list of things I wish I had known before getting my CCW.
Firearms are Heavy
I’ve heard, as many of you have, that firearms are not supposed to be comfortable, they’re supposed to be comforting. While that’s true, one thing you don’t recognize before you start carrying is how much an extra three pounds on your hip will affect your balance and your back. Having a gun on your hip makes it difficult to sit in car seats, difficult to negotiate doorways, and most importantly, it makes your back hurt if you carry it on one side of the other.
I carry on my right side, my strong side, and at the end of the day when I’ve been up walking around my right leg feels about 10 pounds heavier than my left. And my back hurts. This is because on those days I usually have either a Glock 19, or a Glock 21 on my hip, and the added weight of gun and ammo create a strain on my lower back, and make additional work for my leg muscles. After a year I’ve gotten used to this additional drain on my energy, but for the first year it was a real drag.
So Many Holsters, So Little Money
Assume is the mother of all screw ups, or so they say. I assumed a belt holster would be the best for maintaining access to and use of my firearm. This was not a good decision. First, a belt holster is fine for open carry, but for concealed carry you need a much longer shirt to cover up the firearm. Given that I wear my jeans low, that means a 2XL or a 2XLT for me (and I am not tall). When it looks like you’re wearing your big brother’s shirt (and you’re 62) its not a stylish look. I experimented with about $200 worth of belt holsters before I figured out that what I really needed was an inside the waistband (IWB) holster.
Why an IWB? Because first of all, it doesn’t stick out like you’re bringing your pet rabbit to work. The one thing that gives away concealed carriers is a bulge in the area where the gun is worn. That bulge is worse when its outside your pants because it is simply more noticeable, and more likely to distort your clothing’s appearance. But inside the waistband the bulge tends to diminish, and the weapon tends to sit up close to your hip on your side. If you move the holster back from the 3 o’clock position on your right hip, to the 4 o’clock position behind your right hip, it is even more concealable. For me this has become the most effective way to carry concealed.
Just knowing that this was the kind I needed however, didn’t prove helpful because no one explained that you need to buy pants a size too big in order to accommodate an IWB holster. So trying to put 3 pounds of gun inside the pants of 230 pounds of lawyer-jackass simply did not work. I had to give up the size 38 pants I’d worn since high school and go to that dreaded 40. Yikes! So the bigger pants helped, but now I was in the first notch of my belt, and worse, every time I drew from the holster the reholstering was awful. This was a belt problem.
To wear an IWB or any holster for that matter, you need at least a 1.5 inch wide belt, and it needs to be a steel core belt (which will not make you popular with TSA). You need to buy in 2 inches longer than your pants. So if you normally wear a 36 pants, you buy 38 pants, and a 40 belt.
Both Galco and Aliengear make great IWB holsters, and I have both. Since I fly between my home and my workplace, I leave one in my car when I fly home, and one in my car when I fly to work. The Galco works great at home, but the Aliengear is what I wear where concealment is king (in my office). The Aliengear holsters are great, but bear in mind that the screws used to hold the kydex in place may become loose after only a few days wear. Tighten them down hard after you get your hoslter, and inspect them at least weekly. Having your gun fall out of your holster is not a good outcome. You should inspect your holster every two weeks no matter what brand it is.
Going to the range once a month has become a habit because I know I need the practice. I practice with my sidearms at 5 yards, 15 yards, and 20 yards. I use standard man-sized targets. I shoot 50 rounds on my strong hand, and usually at least 20 on my weak hand. I practice magazine changes with both hands, and one handed.
If you do not practice, when the time comes to deploy your weapon you will lack confidence in your abilities. It will make you slower. And it could cost you your life or the life of someone you love. You must practice every month, and you should set a qualification goal for yourself once a year. For my part I fire 10 rounds strong hand, 5 rounds weak hand at 15 yards and I total the points. That’s 135 possible points (if everything went in the 9 ring). I consider myself qualified with a score of 105 (which is slightly less than 80%).
I use only Winchester ammunition to train with, and I carry Hornady Critical Defense in my handgun magazines for personal protection. If you fire cheap ammunition, you are likely to damage your handgun, and when you need your handgun, it might well misfire.
Similarly, you should not leave range ammo in your weapon for personal defense. Range ammo, which is full metal jacket ammo, will make a hole in a man, but it won’t stop there. It will keep going through walls and is more likely to ricochet. For this reason I use a bullet that is designed for one thing and one thing only. To leave as big a hole in a man as possible, with as little collateral damage as possible.
Critical defense ammo costs a lot more than range ammo, but you should only shoot it once a year, during qualification, and then replace it immediately. You shoot the defensive ammo in qualification for one reason. And that is…
Train As You Fight
In the Army we were taught to train as we fought. You carry an M-16, that’s the weapon you qualify with. You run your three miles during the day, you run it with the 200 rounds of ammo you’re required to carry. It stunk, but it was necessary to built up the ability to engage in hostile action under real world conditions.
Similarly, you have to be able to employ your CCW weapon in the real world. And while training and target practice with range ammo is necessary and vital to developing muscle memory, when you qualify, you shoot the ammo that is in your gun on a daily basis. It should not have a noticeable deviation from the ballistics of your training ammo (and indeed, Winchester’s Train and Defend ammo is designed for this). Knowing you can be accurate with the loads you carry on a daily basis is an important part of staying qualified to carry.
Another important factor, if you state requires that you retreat before you engage lethal force, you should practice retreating and warning before firing:
Stop! Stop right there! Get on the ground!
(two steps back)
No closer, I will shoot!
You make these skills muscle memory. And when the time comes to testify in court you can say “It has always been my habit when training to retreat and warn before firing my pistol.” It doesn’t necessarily mean the case is closed, but it gives you a better chance when you have that in your training. I would note that I have had my wife videotape me doing this so that in the event I ever have to shoot anyone, that I will be able to document how I trained.
Concealment is primarily about attitude, not clothing, weapon, or holster. While all three of these things are important, attitude is the most important because if you are scared to carry, or timid about carrying, you’ll spend your entire day touching your gun, adjusting your clothing, or doing other things that draw attention to the fact that under your clothes you have a firearm. If you carry confidently, you don’t need to check fourteen times a day to see if it’s there. So plant it and leave it alone unless you need it.
As mentioned earlier, your weapon will be easier to conceal in an IWB holster, but no matter what holster you use, your choice of clothing and cover garments impacts your ability to conceal. Dark shirts or jackets tend to imprint less. And shirts with dark patterns (especially plaids) make it very hard for anyone to realize you’re carrying a firearm.
Finally, it is far easier to conceal a compact handgun like a Glock 19 or Glock 26 than it is to conceal a Glock 17 or a Glock 34. The bigger and bulkier the firearm, the more difficult it is to hide it under clothing. Smaller pistols are easier to conceal, but also have a trade off in terms of ammunition. I routinely carry two extra magazines wherever I go. When I use the Glock 26, I carry three because the magazines hold only nine rounds. If things go loud, I want to be able to make sure I have enough bullets to survive the encounter.
Your mental attitude about carrying is important. You don’t want to let it make you cocky, but you do want your self-assurance to show through. Criminals look for weak victims. Confident and self-assured folks tend to be exactly the kinds of people they want to avoid. So the greater your self-confidence (which comes from training) the greater the likelihood that you’ll never have to clear leather in anger.
The second area of mental attitude is the willingness to shoot, and the willingness to bear the psychological consequences of that action. Taking a human life or critically injuring another is never something any of us want to do. But if your lives or the lives of our family are put at risk (or a police officer, or bystander) you may have to make the decision and take the shot. If you take the shot, you have to live with it.
Every human being is blessed with the ability of free choice. I can coose Kroger or Publix for groceries, and Ford or Chevy for my cars. I get to make those choices freely and voluntarily. Similarly, I could be a lout and go on welfare, or I could be an upstanding citizen and hold down a job and pay taxes.
My choice is to be a contributing member of society. My choice is to be a sheepdog in a society of wolves. My choice is be responsible for protecting those around me. If someone else makes a choice to threaten me or someone I love, if someone decides that the easy path to riches runs through my wallet, or if someone decides he just wants to kill someone to see what it feels like, then I’m not going to blink, I’m not going to panic, and I’m not going to hesitate. I’m going to shoot rounds center of mass until the threat is abated. I shoot not to take a life, but rather, to protect a life. I am willing to do that, because I am trained to do that.
Well, that’s a pretty long list of things, but I hope you find it helpful.