January 03, 2011
By Daniel T. McElrath
There's a lot to know about the concealed carry of a firearm. While everyone's needs are different, here are seven tips that may just help save your life.
By Daniel T. McElrath
Don't Fall In Love With A Little Gun
There is a fine line between a weapon and a talisman, and a little gun can cause you to cross it. Just because something technically qualifies as a "gun" doesn't necessarily make it an adequate self-defense tool. Sure, little guns can be deadly--eventually--but the issue is not and has never been lethality; it is the gun's ability to cease an attack with immediacy.
Little guns, and I'm talking .22 LRs, .25 ACPs, and even .22 Magnums, may not get the job done. Oh, they're plenty dangerous. Your attacker may expire from a nasty infection a month later or may immediately succumb to a particularly well-placed--read "lucky"--shot, but typically they do not quickly and reliably end attacks.
Yet they are easy to love. They are so convenient, so effortless to carry and conceal. They make concealed carry, which can be a real pain in the neck, almost bearable. The problem is that if convenience is that important to you, you're not that serious about personal protection.
There are only three valid reasons to carry a little gun. First, it's the only carry gun you own. Second, it's the only gun you can conceal under the immediate circumstances. Third, you are wearing it as backup to a larger gun.
The basic rule of thumb is to carry the biggest, most potent, best fitting gun that you can reasonably conceal on a given day. Yet being enraptured with a little gun will make you drop it in a jacket pocket on a crisp fall day, leaving the .40-cal. at home, all the while you're telling yourself that you're armed.
Options among carry guns have never been better. Unless you have trouble controlling them, pistols like the .32 ACP Kel-Tec P32 (6.6 ounces), .380 ACP Kel-Tec P3AT (8.3 ounces), and the brand-new .380 ACP Ruger LCP (9.3 ounces) and .380 ACP Kahr KP3833 (10 ounces) leave little reason to carry a small gun. In fact, some mouse guns weigh as much as or more than these new, more powerful pistols.
A P3AT in an Uncle Mike's pocket holster is about as convenient as carry guns get while still meeting the traditional power floor of .380 ACP. But should you carry it on those days you could readily conceal a Glock 23? Certainly...but as a backup to the Glock.
Carrying a mouse gun and kidding yourself that you are fairly "armed" is a delusion--a potentially dangerous one. If you're going to carry a gun regularly, get serious about it.
Start Small, But Not Puny
That said, if you are buying your first carry gun, or are planning on purchasing only one carry gun, go with a compact model in a suitable caliber. Yes, full-size guns are easier to handle and shoot accurately, but your first priority in a gunfight is to have a gun, so get one you can carry as often as possible. A compact gun allows you to carry in more situations than a full-size model. If you have the scratch and the inclination, you can get the full-size model at some point down the line and wear it as circumstances permit, but the compact model, for most people, will likely get far more use.
And by the way, when assessing the dimensions of a carry gun, follow what I call the Sir Mix-a-Lot Rule: pay attention to the size of the butt. More so than the barrel, it will most often determine a gun's practical concealability, particularly if you use an inside-the-waistband (IWB) holster.
Different, Yet The Same
If you plan to purchase a battery of carry guns, make sure they operate the same way, at least in a broad sense. That is not to say they all have to be of the same make or even the same type of gun. What you want to avoid is reaching for your gun and having to try to recall how the one you're carrying that day operates.
"Let's see, did I wear the Hi Power today? If so, I'll have to disengage that safety. Um, wait, maybe I put on the SIG P220. There's no external safety, but I'd better be prepared for that transition from double-action to single-action. Oh, and I hope I remember to decock before reholstering. Oops, that's right, it's Wednesday, so I'm packing the H&K P7--gotta squeeze that frontstrap."
It's certainly not a conversation to have with yourself when confronted with an armed thug.
If you ideally carry a Colt Commander, you may want to supplement it in your battery with one of the new Model 1911-based subcompacts that have been introduced to the market, or even obtain an old Colt Mustang Pocketlite single-action .380 ACP pistol.
But the grouping can be even broader than that. You may supplement a new Smith & Wesson M&P with a Ruger LCP. You can also supplement the M&P with a Smith & Wesson Model 642 Airweight .38 Special revolver. The first two are semiautos and the last is a revolver; however, all three are double-action-only (DAO). In either case, you just point and shoot, getting a long, consistent trigger pull each time.
Of course, considerable differences will arise should you have to reload.
Multiple Holsters Before Multiple Guns
There is no gun/holster combo that works for every occasion. Accept the fact that you'll likely need multiple holsters for a carry gun and rejoice in the fact that that is cheaper than buying multiple guns.
A belt scabbard and/or an IWB holster, a pocket holster, and maybe an ankle rig and a compact or subcompact, medium-caliber gun can get the job done about 95 percent of the time for most people. If you can't abide ankle carry, you may have to opt for a tuck-in holster or even a proprietary specialty system like Thunderwear or Kramer Handgun Leather's Confidant, an undershirt with sewn-in gun carriers.
I'm no fan of ankle carry, especially as a means of carrying your primary handgun. However, I have made a couple of discoveries that improve the utility of this mode. One is a pair of boot-cut jeans. They are great for concealed carry. The bagginess of their lower leg better conceals the gun while making it more comfortable to carry. And the greater circumference of the cuff makes accessing the gun much faster. If you're used to tapered or straight-leg jeans, the difference made by the boot-cut style is truly remarkable.
One of my biggest gripes against ankle rigs is that they often become visible when you are entering or exiting a vehicle, particularly anything high up, like a truck or SUV. While that often remains a problem, one virtue of an ankle rig as it relates to vehicles is that it can be a very good place to carry when seated behind the wheel. Well, that is if you are right-han
ded and drive an automatic transmission.
Crossdraw driving rigs are okay, but they can be used only when seated in the vehicle. Shoulder rigs are all right as long as they aren't obstructed by your shoulder belt and if the weather justifies wearing an outer garment to conceal the straps. An ankle rig, mounted on the inside of your left ankle, may be the best option. With your pant cuff raised (something that often happens anyway when you are seated), ankle carry places the gun very conveniently within reach yet is not visible to those outside the vehicle. The same doesn't quite hold if you are left-handed or drive a stick since, in either case, the gun is mounted on a leg that you are repeatedly extending forward and moving to operate the vehicle.
Avoid Fancy Holsters
If someone is willing to buy it, someone else is willing to make it. This holds true with some ridiculously expensive ornate holsters. While some of them are as functional as they are beautiful, most people would do well to avoid them. Why? Because when you own something beautiful, expensive, and exclusive, the urge is to show it off.
This is, after all, a concealment holster. Who do you want to show it to? Oh, I know, you'll show it to just one or two buddies you can trust. And they'll tell one or two buddies they can trust. People you don't know and wouldn't trust know very quickly that you're packing. Whether you carry or not is a need-to-know proposition, and precious few people really need to know. In fact, the fewer, the better.
If you're one of those rare individuals who can take abiding satisfaction and pride of ownership in you alone knowing that you're wearing an ostrich holster trimmed in unicorn hide and shark skin, God bless you. But most of us couldn't resist temptation.
When In Doubt, Get A 638
There are few acquisitions in life that demand to be as personal as a carry gun. That said, those who just cannot decide on a carry piece should probably choose the S&W Model 638 by default. Different abilities, builds, temperaments, climates, and lifestyles preclude one gun from being right for everyone, but this revolver may be right for more people than any other carry gun going.
Any lightweight revolver is a good place to start when it comes to carry guns, but the 638 Airweight Bodyguard is a favorite of mine. It's virtually maintenance free thanks to its combination of aluminum alloy and stainless steel. It's also a lightweight at 15 ounces. Granted, it's not as light as S&W's scandium/titanium 340PD, but to save 3 ounces, you'll have to pay nearly twice as much. Also, there are diminishing returns to light weight in a gun chambered in .357 Magnum. In fact, many 340PD owners carry .38 Spl. +P, which is what the 638 is chambered for.
In practical terms, the humpbacked 638 is as snag-free as DAO revolvers yet gives you the bonus of single-action capability. When combined with Barami Hip Grips and two or three holster options, there are precious few scenarios in which a lightweight J-Frame can't be carried.
It's a great first carry gun, and it's also good if you're only ever buying one gun. Further, it makes a fine coat-pocket gun when your preferred carry piece is buried under winter clothing. And if that same preferred gun ever needs to go in the shop, by owning the 638, you have an understudy ready to step in. It can even grow old with you, since you can load it with milder standard-pressure .38 Spl. rounds if the +P stuff starts to become more than you can manage.