Most states require some level of training before they grant a license to carry a concealed hand- gun. That training typically teaches safe gun handling, basic marksmanship, and local laws about self- defense. The class teaches students where guns may and may not be legally carried. Many, but not all, states also re- quire you to demonstrate that you can safely fire a gun.
This state-required training should be regarded as the beginning, not the end, of learning what you need to know. Permit-related training will familiarize you with the basics of handgun operation and use. It will give you a nodding acquaintance with self-defense laws, but it will not make you a responsibly armed citizen, which should be your goal to become and remain.
As a responsibly armed citizen, what’s a good goal? Try this: with your carry gun, shoot accurately (keeping all rounds fired in the center of mass of a man-sized target) out to at least 25 yards. Can you do it? Can you do it with your strong hand only? Can you do it with your support hand only? (In case you are wounded in one hand.) This may sound hard to believe, but you have to prepare for anything. You have to be ready to defend your loved ones when they need it. If your “shooting hand” is injured you have to be ready to fire with your less dominant hand.
Another good goal is to learn the laws about self-defense well enough that you easily, almost reflexively, recognize situations where you are legally entitled to use deadly force. When you read the news, look for stories of violent crime. When could the victim have legally defended himself with a firearm? When could he not? What elements in the story would need to change to make deadly force appropriate and legal for the victim?
You will also want to become well trained in situational awareness. This will help you recognize potential threats before they happen! When you see a problem coming, you can take action to AVOID a confrontation if at all possible.
This necessary level of skill comes only from study and practice at the hands of people who have themselves studied and practiced for a long time. For the responsibly armed citizen, such training never ends. There’s always more to learn. Laws about self-defense change at the whim of legislatures and judges, and you must stay abreast of those changes. Maintaining your physical skills and your knowledge of the law is the duty you take up when you decide to carry a gun for the defense of yourself and your loved ones.
Finding a trainer is not difficult. A web search or tele- phone book will yield many in your area. Finding good ones is a little harder. Check the gun store where you bought your firearm to see if they offer courses in self-de- fense and handgun tactics. Ask around at your gun club or shooting range. Talk to local police or contact the NRA
Check gun magazines for ads and training reports for nationally-recognized firearms instructors . The USCCA is friends with some of the top trainers in the country. Check out http://www.USConcealedCarry.net/join-now/ for more information. The trainers featured in those ads and magazines have national reputations for a reason, and instruction from them is usually well worth the price. “You get what you pay for,” is as true in the gun world as anywhere else, and getting good training in gun-handling skills is more important than in almost any other endeavor.
CHOOSE YOUR WEAPON
As Americans, you have a huge advantage when you want to carry a concealed pistol. Every citizen and legal resident has the right to keep and bear arms, and there are more firearms available to the average U. S. citizen than anywhere else on the planet.
Defensive carry handguns will typically be of two types: revolver or semi-auto pistol. While available calibers range from .22 to .50 Action Express, the usual caliber range for serious self-defense consideration starts at .380 ACP and goes to .45ACP, with stops along the way at .38 Special, .357 Magnum, 9mm, and .40 S&W.
Until police departments moved to the semi-auto pistol to arm their officers in the 1980s, the six-shot revolver, usually in .38 Special, or its more powerful big brother, the .357 Magnum, was the standard sidearm for America’s thin blue line. The modern double-action revolver is inherently safe, with few moving parts to go wrong. It is simple to operate, easy to learn to use (but difficult to shoot well), capable of excellent accuracy, and when loaded with today’s ammunition designed specifically for self-defense, will give good service to the responsibly armed citizen. The chief drawback of the revolver is its capacity of five or six rounds, which some find to be too few.
The other choice is a semi-automatic pistol, most commonly in calibers .380 ACP, 9mm, .40 S&W, and .45 ACP. The advantages of the semi-auto are larger ammunition capacity, faster reloads, and greater ease of concealment. Since a semi-auto does not have a bulky cylinder, they are flatter and a little easier to conceal than a revolver. The downside is their having more moving parts and thus more things to go wrong, which makes for a greater tendency to malfunction than a revolver. But with modern production techniques, proper training, and proper maintenance on the part of the shooter, semi-automatic pistols are capable of great reliability, and are widely chosen for concealed carry.
Try out several revolvers and pistols in the different recommended calibers. While shopping for your carry gun, you should know that what you enjoy holding in the shop may not feel quite so good in your hand when you shoot it! For this reason, if possible, get to a shop that allows you to rent firearms and try them out on their range before you buy. Your choice for a self-defense sidearm should be the one you can shoot most comfortably and most accurately, and that you will carry every time you walk out your door.
Given careful shopping, and the very wide range of handguns developed and tailored specifically for the U. S. concealed carry market, there is no reason your choice of a daily carry gun cannot be that of a powerful and concealable weapon in one of the effective calibers mentioned above. Once you choose one, practice with it until you can quickly and consistently hit the center of a man-sized target at ranges from three feet to 25 yards.
CHOOSE YOUR AMMUNITION
Self-defense ammunition is the next important part of a self-defense system. It must be accurate, reliable, and capable of delivering a hard hit. Any effective defensive round must hit its target, preferably stay inside its target, and deliver enough power on impact to stop that target from continuing aggressive action against the intended victim.
Your best bet for defensive ammunition includes a hollow point bullet, which is designed to expand on impact. You may also choose ammunition with a frangible bullet, which is designed to come apart on impact. Both of these ammunition types dump the bulk of their energy into the target and deliver maximum energy where it is needed the most. Both of them put the brakes on when you hit the target, so they are less likely to go through the bad guy and hit an innocent bystander. All of these factors combine to make hollow point and frangible rounds good choices for civilian self-defense.
Modern hollow point and frangible rounds hit the target accurately and provide a good chance of stopping an aggressor. If you’re not sure what ammunition or bullet shape to choose, check what your local law enforcement agencies are using. Police officers carry guns for a living, and their departments have a strong interest in ammunition that will help their officers stay safe. Whatever ammunition they adopt is likely a decent bet for you.
CHOOSE YOUR GEAR
Once you choose a gun to carry, you need to carry it. Your carry gear and mode is just as personal a choice as that of your handgun and ammunition. You want your mode of carry to be convenient, very discreet, and comfortable. With proper design and construction of the holster/carry system, even a full-size handgun can be carried comfortably and discreetly all day.
Carry modes vary from strong side, back pocket, front pocket, shoulder holster, small-of-the-back, ankle holsters, off- body carry in a purse, briefcase or fanny pack and just about anything in-between you can think of. I know people who carry the new Ruger LC9 in 9mm in their strong-side front trouser pocket, with an extra magazine of ammo in the weak-side pocket. Some like strong-side hip carry for a full-size 1911 Government Model .45 un- der a jacket or shirt; some prefer a weak- side shoulder holster for a short-barreled 5-shot Smith & Wesson Chiefs Special in .38 Special caliber. It truly is a matter of personal preference. Give thought to how you typically go through your day. Are you in a car a lot? If so, perhaps a shoulder holster may be for you. Are you usually in a coat and tie while at work? That may make it easier to discreetly carry a full-sized semi-auto pistol most of the time. Per- haps a small-frame semi-auto in .380ACP or 9mm in a strong-side front pocket holster may fit the bill. Give thought to your typical routine and how you dress; try out different carry modes and go with what works for you. If you are like most responsibly armed citizens, after a while you will have a drawer or box with holsters you tried and retired for something else. That’s okay. Being a responsibly armed citizen is a journey as well as a destination. If we’re lucky, we all learn and grow over time. It’s the same with guns and gear. It’s an art form, not a science. The important thing is to find what’s right for YOU, to know when and how to use your gun to good effect, and to carry 24/7 whenever it is possible to do so.
We’ve all heard the saying, “one size fits all.” Well, at this point I hope I don’t need to tell you that this age-old saying just isn’t true when it comes to responsibly carrying concealed. No matter what you kind of gun, ammo, and equipment you choose to optimize for your needs as a responsible armed citizen, just be sure that you are investing in the kind of quality that will last for generations.
Take care and stay safe,
Tim Schmidt is the founder and CEO of the United States Concealed Carry Association and its sister organization the Home Defense Association of America (HDAA). The USCCA is “The Ultimate Resource for the Armed Citizen” and has over 65,000 active members. He is also the founder and publisher of Concealed Carry Magazine, a national magazine dedicated to the responsibly armed citizen. Tim is an avid shooter, loves to ride big, black motorcycles and holds a black belt in Tae Kwon do. He lives in South-Eastern Wisconsin with his wife of 18 years and three young children.