Carrying a Concealed Weapon

Let me preface this article with some information. I am not a lawyer or police officer. What is written here are my opinions based on many years of carrying concealed firearms and from discussing the pros and cons of carrying concealed weapons with others who are experienced as well.

There are several things to consider when choosing a weapon for defense: 1) is it 100% reliable, 2) does it feel comfortable to me, 3) is it of a size that I can conceal it and will feel comfortable carrying it, 4) is it of a reasonable caliber, 5) environment. With all the attention given to the latest greatest man stopping caliber and load you may find it surprising that I list the caliber last and least important. Let's go over these points.

  1. Is it 100% reliable. The caliber means NOTHING if the gun won't go bang when you pull the trigger. If it's not reliable you aren't going to feel confident in it and if you ever need to pull your weapon a lack of confidence in your sidearm is the last thing you need.
  2. Does it feel comfortable to me. If the gun doesn't feel good to you, doesn't fit your hand, recoils to much, bites you when you shoot it, pinches a finger or any number of other things you aren't going to like shooting it and aren't likely to shoot it well. If you don't like it you aren't going to carry it.
  3. Can I conceal it. Everybody is different, what I can easily conceal you may not be able to. If you can't conceal it, as is required in most states that allow citizens to carry weapons, you aren't going to feel comfortable carrying it and may attract unwanted attention if people see that you're carrying a firearm. If you can easily carry and conceal your firearm you are likely to carry it more often, which increases the odds that you will have it if you ever need it. As the saying goes better to always have it and never need it than not have it and really need it.
  4. Is it a reasonable caliber. I list this as the last consideration because if you haven't met the first three chances are you either aren't going to be carrying your firearm or aren't going to shoot it well. In either case the caliber won't matter because you won't have it or you'll likely miss. Which brings up the next point, shot placement is key. If you miss it doesn't matter if you have a 22 or the latest greatest blaster ammo; a miss will do you no good. Better to have a 380 that YOU know you can hit with than a 45 that you're afraid of and causes you to flinch. With decent shot placement any reasonable caliber is going to be effective for you. Keep in mind that while a one shot stop is ideal it's not something to count on regardless of the caliber so being able to fire follow up shots is important. Any of the top defensive calibers are going to serve you about as well as the other. 380, 38 Special, 9mm, 357 Sig, 357 Magnum, 40 S&W, 41 Magnum, 44 Special, 44 Magnum (mid loads), 45 ACP, 45 Colt. Pick a gun and caliber that YOU like and practice practice practice.
  5. Environment. Where you live will have an impact on what ammunition and caliber you choose. If you live in an apartment a 12 gauge shotgun with slugs means unacceptable risks to neighbors. A 44 Special loaded with Glaser Safety Slugs could be perfect. If you live in a log home with no close neighbors a defensive load with more penetration won't pose nearly the risk to neighbors as in the apartment scenario.

There are two very broad categories of handguns, revolvers and semi-autos. These each have their strengths and weaknesses. Revolvers stand up to neglect better, autos to abuse better. What's the difference? Most handguns purchased for defense spend the vast majority of their life in a box or a drawer and rarely get fired. That's neglect. Since a revolver that's left loaded doesn't have any compressed springs to fail or lubricants to leak out they can be stored in that condition and picked up and fired at any time. An auto left that way for a long time has a great chance to jam after the first shot as the dry slide that's full of dust prevents the slide from moving smoothly, or the magazine fails to feed properly because the mag spring has been compressed. Autos on the other hand stand up to abuse very well which is why the military uses them. Drop an auto in mud, run over it with a truck etc and it will still fire. The looser tolerances in military semi-autos allow them to function even when full of mud or sand and require less perfection to function. A revolver that's full of mud may not allow the cylinder to cycle, effectively locking up the weapon. Also the crane on a double action revolver is fairly fragile. If it gets bent the cylinder won't move, again locking up the gun, the design of a single action revolver makes this less of an issue. It's possible to bend the cylinder rod on a single action but it's design makes it less vulnerable. Chances are if you're purchasing a firearm for self defense it will be neglected more than it's abused, but as long as you care for it a semi-auto will serve you as well as a revolver.

My recommendation for home defense is a revolver for the reasons stated above and because they are in general simpler to operate. Once loaded it's pull the trigger to fire and that's it. No safeties to turn on/off, no slides to operate to ensure that there is a round in the chamber, no decockers to worry about after firing. None of these problems are insurmountable; anyone with the desire to get training and to practice can overcome them. It just takes practice. If you're not willing to devote the time to really learn your firearm choosing one that's simpler is likely better.

Handloads or factory ammo? High quality defensive ammunition is expensive, as much as $1/round for some calibers so why not save some money and carry handloads? The typical argument against carrying handloads is that if you are involved in a shooting the prosecuting attorney will say that you went out of your way to load up "special extra deadly loads". As far as I know this argument has never actually been used but is it worth saving $30 or $50 to find out? In my opinion it's not worth the risk. I practice with handloads that are designed to duplicate factory defense ammo, but I carry factory ammunition.

If you choose to carry a magnum caliber revolver or semi-auto along the lines of a 41 or 44 magnum or 10mm auto you should consider carrying reduced loads. Statistics indicate that the full power magnum loads do not have a better reputation for stopping an assault, they do however increase the likely hood that you will over penetrate if you have to shoot and endanger bystanders and they are more difficult to control in rapid fire. Neither situation is desired if you have to use your defense weapon.

For defensive use you will want to pick a load with an expanding hollow point. This will help to reduce the chances of over penetration and if the bullet expands will do more damage. If the bullets don't expand you haven't lost anything over using a round nose or semi-wad cutter design that wouldn't have expanded either. An exception to this would be if your weapon isn't reliable with anything other than round nose bullets. If you must use round nose aka hardball to make your weapon 100% reliable then that's what you should do. Use whatever load works 100% in your chosen gun. If you can't count on it get something else that you can. As a side note, if a modern handgun won't feed hollow points I would suspect there's something wrong with it and you should have it examined by a competent gunsmith.

There are many different styles of concealed carry holster, some are more appropriate for particular builds than others. The main carry positions are 1) shoulder holster, 2) strong side hip, 3) cross draw, 4) small of the back, 5) ankle holster. Depending on your build, the gun you are trying to conceal and the climate where you live will somewhat dictate how you carry your gun. You obviously can't carry a Desert Eagle in an ankle holster in Florida but you could easily carry one in a shoulder holster in Minnesota in winter.

Large semi-autos or revolvers with 4" or longer barrels work very well in vertical shoulder holsters. These position the firearm so the barrel is pointing down with the butt of the grip pointing forward. With the length running along your body you can easily conceal rather large weapons. Horizontal shoulder holsters work well for the more compact of the full size semi-autos or compacts like the Sig Saur 220 or Ruger P85 where the length of the slide is less than the depth of your body, extremely thin people will want to consider other carry methods.

If you tend to be on the large size with a broad chest a shoulder holster may not work best for you. Reaching across your body to draw can be difficult. A strong side hip holster is likely to be your best choice. If you're extremely thin a shoulder holster is also not going to be your best choice, with a small frame it will be difficult to conceal a firearm in a shoulder holster without a significant bulge, again a strong side hip or small of the back holster is going to be your best choice.

Your environment can also dictate what will work for you. For example if you spend a lot of time sitting, in a car, truck riding a horse whatever, drawing from a strong side or small of the back holster may well be nearly impossible. For that situation you'll want a cross draw holster. From a seated position it's very easy to draw from a cross draw holster that sits approximately on your front hip.

You will want to experiment with different holsters to find what works best for you in your daily routine. What works for me may not work for you. Your best bet will be to go with what works for you and not necessarily what someone else uses. Listen to the opinions of those with experience then make your own decision.

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John Knutson
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