My Initial Experiences with Concealed Carry, by AceHigh

As I started my journey into preparedness, one of the areas I pursued was getting my Concealed Carry Weapons (CCW) license (sometimes called Concealed Handgun License (CHL) or Concealed Carry License (CCL)). I thought it might be helpful to Survival Blog readers to share my recent experiences related to obtaining my CCW license and getting to a point where I felt comfortable carrying a concealed weapon in public. I know there is some concern regarding obtaining a license that puts you on record as a gun owner/carrier, but that is the trade off of being able to legally defend yourself and is a decision each of us must make.

In a full TEOTWAWKI situation, concealed carry is likely not much of an issue, as most everyone will be carrying openly. However, it is possible, if not likely, that a less than full TEOTWAWKI will occur where there is increasingly more crime and yet some semblance of law enforcement is still in place. This limbo between where we are today and complete lawlessness may last a long time. You could be considered a criminal by illegally carrying a concealed weapon for self protection.

First, a little background regarding CCW. Most states are either “shall issue” or “may issue” in regard to CCW licenses (nice of them to offer something already provided for by the Second Amendment). Both Illinois and Wisconsin do not allow concealed carry at all and a few other “nanny” states (California, New York, New Jersey, etc.) are “may issue” and only provide licenses in very limited circumstances. There is a complicated set of state reciprocity (which states will honor another states license), especially considering that many states offer non-resident permits and a few states only honor resident permits. The best source I have found to understand the laws pertaining to individual states is the web site. Even though there are sporadic attempts to nationalize concealed carry, I do not believe this will happen which is probably a good thing (the federal government, especially the current one, would likely make things much worse).

I applied for and subsequently received my CCW license about 18 months ago in Idaho, my state of residence. My first several months of carrying a concealed weapon was limited to having my gun in the car (in a somewhat hidden spot) anytime I left the house. My concern was that, even though I had some experience shooting handguns and rifles, actually carrying a weapon in public carries a high level of responsibility and I did not have enough confidence in my ability in handling the weapon or in having the proper mindset as to how to respond to the variety of situations that could present themselves.

I made one of the best decisions of my life when I attended the Four Day Defensive Handgun class at Front Sight. Not only did those very intense four days enable me to gain familiarity and confidence in handling my Glock 23 but started me down the road to good marksmanship. The range work (about 75% of the class) focused on gun handling safety, proper mechanics for drawing the gun and shooting, and shooting accuracy. Just as important was the classroom work at Front Sight where they discussed a wide range of topics related to self defense, including the legal ramifications of even a justified shooting and the color codes of awareness. The most important thing presented was that you should only present your weapon if you are in fear for your life or grave bodily harm and, if you do present your weapon, you should be prepared to shoot until the threat is stopped. This may sound simple but there are many shades of gray here that each individual must come to grips with.

One of these gray areas involves protecting others. Of course, there is no question regarding protecting my family who would get a higher priority than even myself. My personal decision is that I would also use deadly force to protect my friends. Here is where it starts to get gray. Do you protect acquaintances or strangers? While it would be very difficult to stand by and let someone be harmed or killed when you could have done something to stop it, the real issue is: Do you know enough of the circumstances about the event? How do you know for sure who the bad guy is? Is the person holding the gun seeming to threaten someone an off duty cop or even another CCW who is restraining a bad guy? You certainly cannot count on presenting your weapon to get everyone to stop until it can be sorted out. Chances are pretty good that the bad guy (or the off duty cop) holding the gun will not surrender and you will either be shot or have to shoot them.

Another gray area is: how far do you go to protect your stuff? You are only legally able to shoot someone if you are in fear of your life or grave bodily harm. In most states, you cannot legally shoot someone who is just taking your stuff. For example, if someone pulls a gun (or knife) on you and demands your wallet, you could shoot them if you were in fear for your life. However, if you see someone stealing you car and you shoot them while they are driving away; you are likely in deep trouble. An exception (in most states), called the Castle Doctrine, is that you do not have to be in fear for your life if the bad guy is inside your house. Be sure to check your state laws on use of force!

Prior to the class, I had begun to read the defensive handgun forums primarily regarding hypothetical and actual defensive scenarios. I highly recommend these forums. My favorites are: Defensive Carry Forum, Concealed Carry Forum, and the Glock Carry Forum. Even though there are many different opinions expressed on these forums, hearing them helps to solidify your own mindset as to what you would do in a variety of situations. It is important to think this through thoroughly prior to carrying a weapon because there will likely not be time to do so when a situation arises.

The main point is that you need to go out of your way to avoid a gunfight. This is illustrated by the fact that in a gunfight, you risk everything (including your life) and don’t win anything. The ramifications to your life of even a good shooting are such that it is something to be avoided if at all possible. Those ramifications can include financial ruin, losing your job, tarnishing your reputation (at least among the non-violent types), or even incarceration. Now that I am armed, I am more able to resist the macho urge to stand up to someone because I know that escalation could be deadly. It also doesn’t hurt to have witnesses that say you tried to walk away or de-escalate the situation in case the unavoidable does happen.

After attending the Front Sight class, I made the leap and started carrying in public all of the time. This is where you start to figure out the type and manufacturer of holster which is going to work best for you. Most people end up with a drawer full of holsters since it is difficult to evaluate a holster without wearing it with different clothing options and sometimes in different positions for some period of time. Again, the defensive handgun forums can provide a wealth of opinions regarding the variety of holsters available. Some holsters are adjustable for height and/or cant, which make them more versatile but also extend the time to figure out the most comfortable concealed position. I could write many pages on all of the options and types of holsters available since I did considerable research and tried many of them personally.
To simplify, the most common holsters are either OWB (outside the waistband) or IWB (inside the waistband). They can be worn in various positions (usually described but referencing the numbers on a clock with straight ahead being 12:00). Many people carry “behind the hip” at 4:00-5:00 (for right handed people) or 7:00-8:00 (for left handed people) with some amount of forward cant (grip of gun forward and barrel angled toward the rear). That cant (typically 10-20%) allows for a more natural grip on the gun for drawing from that position as well as provides better concealment than a straight drop. I could never get comfortable with this behind the hip position, maybe because I am not very limber and I have bad shoulders making it difficult to reach behind my hip both for getting the holster positioned initially and for access to the gun when needed.

The 3:00 position allows for a straight draw and is the most comfortable, even when sitting. Since it is on the apex of your hip/waist, it is a little more difficult to conceal but is a good option in winter when jackets and coats are common. You just need to make sure that you won’t be put into a position where you will need to remove your cover garment. I have found that a fleece vest works very well to conceal a handgun at 3:00 and you can still wear and remove a heavier coat and keep your weapon concealed.

I have gravitated toward “appendix carry” at about 1:00-2:00 using an IWB holster, especially in the summer. It allows for excellent concealability and access and can be concealed with just a light shirt. This position also allows you to be able to visually make sure you are not “printing” (outline of the gun showing through your clothes). There are a large number of IWB holsters available and some of them allow a shirt to be tucked in between the pants and the top of the gun if you need to have your shirt tucked in. I did have to go up one size in pants to accommodate the holster and gun being inside the waistband.
Cross draw is another option and works well for people who spend a lot of time driving. Other options that have drawbacks but may be useful for some people include SOB (small of back) holsters, shoulder holsters, and ankle holsters.[JWR Adds: As previously mentioned in SurvivalBlog I consider SOB holsters too much of a risk for back injuries, particularly for anyone on horseback, or that is riding motorcycles or ATVs.] I use a fanny pack (worn in the front) sometimes, especially when hiking. A fanny pack in public tends to scream “gun” to most law enforcement and some bad guys. For women, carrying in a purse is an obvious choice. However, you have to be very careful not to set it down anywhere where someone else could get access to it. A purse can also be the target of someone trying to snatch it, which not only deprives you of your means of self defense but gives your weapon to your attacker. There are other options that each individual should look into to meet their specific need.

To maintain and even improve the level of proficiency gained at Front Sight, there are a few approaches. The obvious one is to do a lot of shooting. With the cost of ammunition these days, this can be very expensive. A .22 conversion kit for your carry gun will help to minimize the cost of putting a lot of rounds down range. An alternative is to mix in dry practice. Personally, I like to try to maintain 10%-20% of my practice time as live fire but sometimes that is even difficult to achieve. Dry practice can help to maintain muscle memory for drawing, sight acquisition, trigger pull, and even malfunction clearing. An obvious important safety concern when dry practicing is to absolutely insure that the gun is unloaded. I know that sounds pretty basic but a clear delineation of starting and stopping dry practice will help to eliminate a very bad experience of a negligent discharge. Unload the gun and double check that it is unloaded. Then remove all ammo from the dry practice area. Check again to make sure the gun is unloaded. Even then, make sure you dry practice target has a good backstop and make sure you never point the gun at anything you would not want to destroy. At the end of the dry practice session, remove any dry practice targets, load and holster the weapon, and go as far as to say out loud, “The weapon is loaded and dry practice is over.”

I have applied for and am awaiting receipt of my Utah non-resident permit which will make me legal in more states (33 states in total). I am also planning to attend Front Sight again in a few weeks and take the Four Day Practical Rifle class to gain more proficiency with my battle rifle. I even talked my wife into taking the Four Day Defensive Handgun class at the same time. – AceHigh in Idaho