Small Steps to Concealed Carry
This post is about people, not politics. I meet perfectly brave men and women who tell me they could never carry a gun. Look at the issue from their perspective.
They are justifiably afraid of having a lethal weapon belted to the side of their body. In their minds, it can launch a deadly projectile into their leg. From the holster it can shoot right through a wooden floor. That is what they imagine. Given their beliefs, they would be afraid to touch the gun and probably afraid to move.
It is an understatement to say a firearm is alien to them. Someone who never handled a gun should be afraid in that situation. It is as if they were sitting in the driver’s seat before they ever saw what it was like to drive a car. That isn’t a comfortable place.
Is their reaction unreasonable? They could learn to safely carry a gun the same way most of us learned to drive a car, but they can’t imagine how. Let’s imagine how someone new to firearms would become familiar with armed self-defense by taking a series of small comfortable steps.
Say you live in a “shall issue” state or a state with constitutional carry. There are very few legal restrictions between you and carrying a loaded firearm in public. Maybe you’ve been shooting a few times, but maybe not. You know you’re not ready for concealed carry because you lack training and experience. Your hesitation makes good sense and shows good judgement. It’s time for you to take a firearms safety class.
Your introductory firearms class covers the basics of gun safety and state laws. That class will remove much of your uncertainty. This class is like your learner’s permit when you first learned to drive a car. Like learning to drive, this class sets the ground rules so you can learn safely outside the classroom. Simply taking that class is a giant first step.
You’ve started to replace fear with fact. Simply by taking a basic firearms class you now know more about firearms than most of the public. Good for you!
After taking a basic firearms class, you can get some hands on practice at a local shooting range. You rent their firearms and find the ones that fit you. Your comfort and confidence grow each time you successfully handle a firearm. Give yourself some credit because what you are learning is unnatural. Having a small explosion at arms length is unnerving. It takes practice before the sight, sound and motion becomes routine.
Here is another gun-student secret; outdoor ranges are much quieter than indoor ranges. You have enough to learn without someone shooting a shotgun a few feet away from you and making you jump. If that happens, then safely set your gun down and talk to the manager about getting another lane where you can shoot.
Some students do almost the same thing to themselves by training with a gun that is too powerful for their level of skill. You didn’t learn to drive a car by trying to drive a bus. You’ll spend plenty of time shooting a 22 caliber handgun as a new student. Try something more powerful when you’re curious, but please don’t be in a hurry. Pretty soon you’ll find a particular gun you like to shoot. Buying your own gun isn’t far away once that happens.
It is up to you to become familiar with your first gun. Ask questions at the store where you bought it and read the manual until you are familiar with this new tool. You can also ask an experienced shooter for help loading, unloading and cleaning your firearm. Going to the range is a different experience when you’re taking your own equipment. Soon you’ll be comfortable transporting the gun in a range bag and taking it apart for cleaning. You’ll also have eye and ear protection that you’ve chosen to fit you.
There, you’ve taken another step. It is a step you couldn’t imagine when you started.
You’re ready for a concealed carry class at this point. It’s another large step from shooting at the range to discretely carrying a loaded gun under your jacket for self-defense. Your concealed carry class is a mixture of local laws and the mechanics of carrying safely and effectively. My class even talked about how to go to the bathroom and undress when you’re carrying.. No, I’m not going to explain that here. The people in your concealed carry class can also tell you about applying for your permit.
Some people can’t imagine being armed on the street. Stay with me now. We’re almost there.
Here is a small trick to get over the psychological hurdle of carrying in public. Wear an empty holster at home for two weeks. That’s right; live with an empty holster that is carried discreetly. At first you can’t believe it could ever feel comfortable, but wear the holster every day. You’ll be bored with it after a few weeks. You’ve taken another step by carrying in private.
Now you’re ready to wear the empty holster outside your home as well as inside. By now you’ve learned to dress around the gun, so wear the holster when you shop. Do this until it is boring. If it is allowed, you’ll graduate to carrying the empty holster at work. You’ll see your routine in a new light if you do.
You might be tempted to skip this part. What you’re learning is important. You’re mentally reviewing where you may and where you may not carry as you practice. The empty holster helps you apply what you learned in class to the actual places you travel each day. You’re also getting familiar with the feel of the holster as you move. Believe me, no one knows you’re carrying, but it takes practice to feel comfortable. Will your firearm stay concealed when you bend over? You need to get your mind off your hip. That is why you’re practicing.
You’re also practicing situational awareness. Your empty holster reminds you that you have new responsibilities. Some public places like schools, fairs and sporting events may be off limits if you carry concealed. Bars and restaurants take on new meaning if you’re carrying. You don’t drink if you’re carrying. Now is the time to make new habits become second nature.
Find out if your employer allows concealed carry at work. Also talk to your church and find out their rules. Explain that you’ve taken classes and it is part of your class work to find out their policy. Some will welcome you. Some won’t. Everyone will appreciate that you asked and did not assume. You’ve graduated when you carry an empty concealed holster everywhere you’re legally allowed to carry a loaded gun. One step at a time. There is no need to hurry.
How many times have you unloaded your gun? Probably not many if you only practice at the shooting range. Go buy some snap caps and practice loading and unloading your firearm. If you weren’t doing it already, you are now going to use snap caps when you dry practice at home. Dry practice has its own rules and you want to learn them. Let me explain why we’re taking it so slowly.
We are trying to build safe habits before you carry with live ammunition every day. Each practice session is a chance to review safe loading and unloading. A chamber check and magazine check is automatic because you need to know the condition of your weapon. Build those checks into your dry practice routine. Congratulations if you’ve made it this far. You’re building new skills that will last a lifetime. Here is another small step.
There is a world of difference between target shooting and presenting a loaded firearm from concealment in self-defense. You need to learn to draw. If it wasn’t covered in your concealed carry class, now is the time to get some range training that includes presentation from concealment. Yes, your concealed carry clothing has to hide your firearm, but it also has to let you present your gun reliably. Practice leads to comfort.
Please take a class and learn from other people’s mistakes rather than your own. If you’re going to carry in a purse, then you need a purse with a gun compartment and preferably a built in holster. The purse needs to live on your body, not 5 feet way on the back of a chair.
I understand why women want to carry in a purse. Please remember that your purse is often the first thing you loose in an assault. If you’re carrying in an ankle or thigh holster, then you need to practice that presentation with your instructor. Please don’t be sloppy. Practice with perfect performance because you want to be confident about what you can do. Presenting a firearm takes more than an hour to learn.
You should be well along in getting your carry license by now. Stay legal. Get the license to carry before you go out in public! Now is also the time to review your training and carry the loaded firearm at home where you’re comfortable and uncrowded.
I’m going to slow you down at this point. Don’t be in a hurry to wear your gun outside your home once you have that concealed carry license. Look at all the things you’ve learned already. You’re practicing putting on the holster. You’re practicing loading, unloading and safe storage of your firearm. You first practiced these actions at the shooting range. Now they take place in your bedroom or closet. You’re aware of where the muzzle points from the moment you pick up the gun until it is holstered at your side. You are consciously and consistently establishing safe habits. You’re almost there.
Yes, it is a pain when you have to unload and secure your firearm to dash to the store for a quart of milk. Don’t stuff your gun behind the sofa cushions because you’re in a hurry. Suffer though the inconvenience for a few weeks, and don’t slip an inch on firearms safety. You’re learning to live up to your responsibilities. You’re practicing to take safety seriously even when it costs you a few minutes. Good for you. That commitment is another important step.
Your anxiety about carrying is not a hurdle to jump over, but a snow bank that slowly melts away. Don’t expect your progress to be completely smooth. Some days will feel easier than others. I assume you have your permit by now. At some point it will simply feel more natural to bring the gun with you than to put it back into its gun safe or storage location.
Advance at your own pace and give yourself a chance to succeed. The time to carry in public is when you feel undressed without your firearm. Don’t get discouraged, but simply step back to carrying the empty holster for a day while you continue to carry your loaded firearm in a holster at home.
Promise yourself that you’ll carry for 90 days before you decide you can’t make it work. Maybe you know someone from your firearms class who is working the program with you. You can monitor each other as your skills grow.
Here are some more small steps that will ease you into carrying. Each step is significant. How about carrying concealed in the car, even if you don’t get out of the car. Go get some fast food and order through the drive though window. If you want, travel with other people who carry. Go as an armed passenger so you don’t even have to drive the first time you carry in public. Getting in and out of a car with a gun under your coat is another skill you’re learning. See, you survived another small step.
Go get gas. Yes, you’re carrying in public, but you don’t have to interact with anyone. Let’s start in the daytime rather than at 2 in the morning in the wrong part of town. Stay with that until it is comfortable and you’re ready to move on.
Next, you can take your regular trip to the store to get a few groceries. It is a milk run because everything is as ordinary as can be. Practice until it feels that way. Aren’t you running low on eggs?
Practice going to familiar places. Walk the dog and get the mail. (Not at a federal post office, please.) You’ve been doing this with an empty holster for weeks. Now you’re doing it while armed.
Go out to meet friends. States have different laws about carrying in restaurants or places where alcohol is served. You learned about that back when you took your concealed carry class. In some states you can carry but not consume.
Here is a hint; one way to tell who is carrying is to notice who volunteers to be the designated driver.
You will carry for the rest of your life, so who cares if you want to practice another day. None of this is intimidating if you take it step at a time and are patient with yourself. You already established where you can carry when you were wearing your empty holster. Now you’re driving on your own. Do you even remember why you were concerned a few months ago? Since then, you’ve formed safe habits until they are second nature.
Disclaimer- I’m offering you what I learned through my own experience. I wrote this for people who are not familiar with firearms so they could imagine themselves becoming unconsciously competent. This is not a class. I want to thank my instructors who made me think about what I was doing.
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