A concealed carry checklist for personal protection


By Ben Findley

Monday, December 07, 2015

Given the terrible terrorist activities recently, now is a critical time for us to be concerned about our personal protection. We as responsible concealed carry folks must recognize and reinforce the necessary things that must be done.

There are many1207concealedcarrygun things for a conscientious person to be concerned about when legally carrying a concealed handgun for personal protection. It is not sufficient to just possess a gun.

A concealed carry (CC) student recently asked me if I could summarize the key elements and considerations for carrying concealed and offer my personal protection guidelines. Seven or eight things immediately came to mind, but I quickly realized I had forgotten some important considerations. I took them for granted since they were ingrained in my muscle memory, and I automatically handled them.

So I developed the thorough and detailed checklist of concealed carry guidelines below. I hope these guidelines serve as a basic, practical checklist to help you recognize and practice the critical things necessary for success in CC for your personal protection.

Sometimes things become so routine, obvious and acceptable to us that we neglect them or don’t focus on them because they are so familiar. So here is my basic but essential checklist to quickly go through every now and then to remind you (and me) to reinforce some of these key things they we may overlook. Hope it helps with your CC, personal protection and safety.

1. Have a proper mindset and motivation

Carrying a firearm brings a lot of responsibility before and accountability after a lethal shooting, so adapting the proper CC mindset is extremely important.

Other than emphasizing overall safety, those who carry must go out of their way to initially avoid conflict and confrontations. We must be disciplined with a controlled and mellow easy-going attitude.

We know we have the gun skills and are motivated to protect ourselves and our families just in case trouble arises, rather than trying to show how good our gun skills are or to aggressively solve the world’s problems. We are not carrying a gun to protect the community and all citizens, nor to be “cool.”

Accept personal responsibility for yourself and loved ones. If possible to do so safely, leave the area to avoid a deadly confrontation. This is not a sign of weakness, cowardice or lack of skills, but rather recognition of the many varying factors that must be considered and our priority to protect our lives and those of our loved ones. The best way to “win” a gunfight is to avoid it all together.

Just because we can legally carry a concealed weapon does not make us police officers nor vigilantes. We should not have a macho, emotional, impulsive or revenge-kill instinctive reaction, but rather avoid trouble, use nonemotional and rational judgment, and de-escalate confrontations.

We should make every effort to not get into fists fights when we are carrying and recognize that any time a gun is introduced into a situation, it escalates it and nothing good will result. The use of lethal force is always the last option.

Being armed and prepared is more than just the possession of the firearm. The gun is only a tool. The mind is the true weapon. You must understand the reality of the situation.

2. Have current and complete handgun training

Your training should be comprehensive and include certain key topics, fundamentals, contemporary techniques and safety basics. Many times new shooters, those with informal guidance from Uncle Si, or those who have not had formal handgun training for several years may not know what they don’t know.

They may be “out of touch” and not current with acceptable standards and practices for handling and effectively using a handgun. They may behave in a way that makes off-the-cuff firearms sense to themselves, but it is not soundly based on current, proven methodologies and accepted firearms knowledge.

They may follow information offered by someone with limited experiences, no formal training and incomplete information. There are quite a few unqualified “good ol’ boy” instructors out there offering unprofessional, superficial, partial and careless information. Trainers should be prepared with current and complete knowledge with experiences related to realistic CC situations that might be actually encountered.

Continued education and training in and beyond the basic fundamentals are important. If the training you receive and the drills and repetitions you do in your practice are incorrect, outdated and/or incomplete, you will not be properly prepared and will train with poor technique or incorrect fundamentals into your subconscious memory and then rely on it in an encounter.

Avoid an abbreviated, one-round-fired-into-the-barrel-at-a-gun-show, 45-minute or “quickie” course. You are harming yourself (and others) by getting minimal training that often overlooks several fundamentals and techniques necessary to protect your life and your loved ones. Frequently, there is minimal range hands-on firing without personal guidance nor private, customized instruction to improve your current skill set.

Also, don’t think you’re set just because five years ago or so you received a solid basics course. Techniques and methods improve and change, so you can learn something by attending a new fundamentals course as a refresher. Recognize that even though you have had training in rifles and shotguns, there are key differences between those long guns and handguns.

Annually scheduling update refreshers and key topics training will better prepare you to respond automatically with the proper muscle memory. Do not neglect such topics as:

• recognizing and solving gun malfunctions and stoppages
• proper draw and presentation technique
• trigger control for accuracy and speed
• legal update for your state’s laws
• proper use of cover and concealment
• shooting on the move and standing still
• shooting with weak hand and strong hand only
• shooting multiple threats/targets
• low- or no-light threat engagement
• use of tactical flashlight
• gunshot wound/trauma first aid
• reloading under fire/stress
• scan and access reinforcement

3. Understand laws and requirements in your state and jurisdiction

You must know for your state or jurisdiction legally (and morally) when you can shoot, when you can use deadly force and where you can carry concealed. You also need to know if brandishing and printing are permissible and/or appropriate, if you are required to show your CC license/permit when stopped routinely by a police officer, how to recognize disparate force factors, what are the details of your area’s Stand Your Ground and Castle Doctrine laws, what are your state’s reciprocity states, how to relate to the police if there is a shooting, and what to do after a shooting, etc.

A lot to know, so regularly seek out current handgun laws and requirements for your state and jurisdiction from a competent source.

4. Carry regularly, not occasionally

We should carry all the time, if we are legally licensed to do so. Why then do some only carry sporadically after he taking the time, effort and expense to get a concealed carry license/permit? There are many reasons.

Some don’t carry because there is a chance of legal problems when they transport their guns to certain places or when they travel in several states. Some live where they can carry, but work in another state where they can’t.

But by far the reason for not carrying daily for some is to carry only when they are exposed to a high threat level or feel endangered, even though we should avoid dangerous places, people and situations. Today, any place and any situation has the potential to escalate and be dangerous, including (as we know from recent tragic events) schools, malls, churches, birthday parties, etc.

Another reason I hear frequently is that it is uncomfortable to carry the gun. The holster is rubbing my side; the gun doesn’t fit right in the holster; the gun won’t fit and conceal properly under my T-shirt or with shorts; the belt won’t support it well enough; my tummy roll is a problem; etc.

Duh! If the gun is too heavy, too long, too wide, has too much recoil, doesn’t fit right, or if your holster, belt or carry method is not correct or cumbersome, then change them. Any gun with you is better than the gun left at home, in the safe or in the car. Find the best gun, holster, belt, carry rig combination that works best for yourself and carry it always.

Carry with a round in the chamber with safety engaged and be disciplined with the proper training to not put your finger on the trigger until you have your eyes and sights on the target and you are ready to shoot. You will never know when that fateful encounter might occur. Be prepared just in case.

5. Do not frequently check and adjust your carry handgun

When I started carrying concealed, I was conscious about where my gun was riding, if my shirt was properly covering it, if my pants were too tight to reveal the gun’s outline, if my fat paunch accented my gun, etc. I frequently kept adjusting, touching and checking it. I would touch it through my shirt to see if it was properly positioned and still there. I would often move it around out of habit.

After some time, I realized that I was actually drawing more attention to myself and my concealed gun. I looked suspicious when I constantly tugged and adjusted my shirt. So, I calmed down, relaxed, did not touch and adjust my gun, and truly realized the value of a good holster, belt, cover garment and proper clothing.

With my horizontally challenged build, I could no longer wear tight clothes and form-fitting, light-colored smaller T-shirts, pants and sweaters. I had to buy my pants a size larger for in-the-waistband carry, accept a somewhat baggy appearance, and wear dark clothes.

I got used to it and accepted that most would not even see my concealed gun and were not even looking for it. So what if they do accidentally see it. It could just be my smartphone or medical device.

6. Practice with your self-defense ammo and carry gun

Naturally, it is important to train and practice with the gun and ammo you will carry. The techniques and fundamental actions you routinely and unconsciously perform in training and practice do influence your performance in actual self-defense and combat encounters.

If you are not closely familiar with your gun, holster, ammo and other accessories, how will you be able to operate and handle them successfully, smoothly, efficiently and accurately in an emergency encounter? So you should drill and practice regularly with your carry gun, ammo, carry garment and equipment, so their deployment becomes a second-nature, comfortable habit.

While practicing, some shooters fail to use their hollow point (HP) or self-defense ammo they actually carry. Usually they cite the higher cost of the HP ammo. To better acquaint yourself with the performance and characteristics of your self-defense ammo, practice with it occasionally, perhaps once a month or so. You can mostly practice with your full-metal jacket ammo for cost savings, but still practice sometimes with your HP ammo.

The gun you carry is going to be a compromise. You probably will realize the gun you want to carry and the gun you will have to carry may be different. Larger guns in calibers that are generally considered to be more capable may also be more difficult to conceal and may require more practice for optimal accuracy.

However, you also need to understand that concealment is usually more a matter of holster design and cover garments than gun size. It is your responsibility to weigh the several personal considerations and decide and select the “best” gun and ammo for yourself. Try before you buy and before an actual violent encounter.

7. Use a proper holster

It is important to use a quality-made holster from a reputable manufacturer that is designed specifically for your carry gun, if you carry with a holster. Yes, you can keep your gun in a nylon holster when it’s in the range bag, but use a quality, custom-fit holster for your carry gun. This also applies to carry by fanny pack, day planner, etc.

A holster or carry device made for your gun model will usually allow you to draw and secure your gun better, as well as help to make it more concealable and accessible. A customized holster for your specific gun model will completely cover and protect the trigger from contact with outside objects, including your trigger finger. A properly-designed holster made specifically for your gun will retain the gun until you intentionally draw it.

Do not expect a $10 holster on sale for $5 to provide a reliable and comfortable carry solution for your $700 carry handgun. A rough rule of thumb is to expect to spend about 10-15 percent of the cost of your handgun to purchase a reliable, safe, comfortable and effective holster.

Proper inside-the-waistband (IWB) holsters are usually more concealable, but may be less comfortable. They may also require a trouser and belt-size adjustment to compensate for the added bulk. An outside-the-waistband (OWB) holster is usually more comfortable, but also usually more difficult to conceal.

You can make your carry gun concealable, but sometimes at the cost of a much slower access and draw. Or you can have a faster access and draw, but with less concealability, giving up a major tactical advantage. A personal decision.

8. Use a proper gun belt

Needless to say, a gun belt is extremely important to support your handgun — some believe even more so than a holster. In any event, a gun belt is a must-have accessory for your handgun rig. You need the support for your gun and accessibility that you can count on.

A rigid, high-quality, full-grain, bull-hide leather gun belt will help minimize movement of your gun, be strong and resilient for long-lasting durability, help distribute weight, and add to comfort. A leather belt that has been reinforced with an inner layer of Kydex will be rigid and help it from deforming, rolling up and sagging.

Price is usually an indicator of quality, so spend the money to get a good gun belt, rather than $15 for the discount store flimsy belt.

9. Wear proper clothing and cover garments

The climate, your job, lifestyle, daily activities and where you live have a significant affect on your carry clothing. In some areas, you may carry the same way all year long, while in other locations, you may wear shorts and T-shirts in the summer and heavy coats and gloves in the winter.

These differences can be frustrating and challenging, but you must adapt.

For example, a plain white dress shirt is usually plenty of concealment if you’ve got an IWB holster. A loose, untucked casual shirt, like a guayabera, Hawaiian or camp shirt can easily hide the grip of a handgun from the casual observer. A sweatshirt or hoodie adds bulk around the waist that probably can hide most large handguns.

It just depends on your gun, its size and dimensions, and your body build. I find as a horizontally-challenged geezer in warm Florida weather that wearing loose and baggy clothing and oversized, untucked casual shirts make CC easier, but not so stylish. I live with it.

Sometimes, I switch from OWB carry to IWB carry, and it seems to conceal some of my smaller guns better. Another option (so at least you will carry something) is to consider carrying one of the smaller firearms recently released, be it one of the new .380s or 9mms. Now there are many lightweight, ergonomically-rounded, reduced-snag polymer-framed pistols and revolvers made especially for carry.

Of course, if you live in one of the 42 open-carry states (not Florida), you should carry with adequate retention to prevent a gun grab. With CC being legal now in all 50 states, open carry may not be your personal choice because of the negative reactions and possible problems with other folks (and maybe the police) seeing a gun openly displayed and the disadvantage of not having your gun hidden. Of course, this is a personal choice depending on your preferences, comfort level and clothing choices, etc.

Whether you change your method of carry for one day or the entire season, remember the importance of being familiar with your carry method. Some CC methods require you to access and get past clothing used as cover, which makes drawing more difficult and time consuming. Practice is key for you to be able to deal with your clothing as cover, draw properly, etc., in stressful encounters.

10. Always be aware of your situation and its variables

Whether you know and practice Cooper’s Color Codes of Awareness, Boyd’s OODA Loop or the NRA’s Unaware-Aware-Alert-Alarm cycle, situational awareness (SA) is of critical importance for everyone at all times. We should be cautious, practice observation, scan and assess our particular environment, and know the variables at play in each situation we encounter, even though it is difficult to do so.

Briefly, SA is simply knowing what’s going on around you and knowing your surroundings. It sounds easy in principle, but in reality requires much practice and keen observation skills and focus. This is challenging in a stressful encounter or even in a nonthreatening environment.

We tend to “behave in a way that makes sense to ourselves” and unwittingly neglect certain things. Our reality is based on our limited set of experiences and relative knowledge. It makes “sense” to us because of particular unique experiences, controllable and uncontrollable factors — some of which we may not be aware. Maybe it is because we “don’t know what we don’t know.”

Research shows that when we get nervous or stressed, our attention and focus narrows, causing us to concentrate on just a few things at a time. A narrow focus can therefore cause us to miss important threats and details in our environment.

While SA is taught to military personnel, law enforcement officers and others, it is an important skill for everyone to learn as well. It takes focus and concentration with a big-picture, total-system perspective. In a dangerous situation, being aware of a threat even seconds before everyone else can keep you and your loved ones safe.

11. Know how to operate, handle and maintain your handgun

Knowing where your external safety, magazine release, slide-lock lever and controls are located and how to operate them efficiently as if they are an appendage to your hand might save your life because of your immediate muscle-memory reaction in a crisis.

Some say it takes approximately 3,000 to 5,000 repetitions of the same action or behavior to develop and instill an automatic muscle-memory response, as a subconscious reaction to an external stimuli. Others say 8,000 to 10,000 repetitions. Either way, practice is certainly key, like riding a bike, typing on a keyboard or playing a saxophone.

But practice proper techniques and fundamentals. If a specific shooting skill or technique is at first performed wrong and subsequently allowed to continue to repeat with the mistakes intact, then unfortunately the muscle memories created for how you complete the task will also be flawed, on a subconscious level.

So when beginning to learn a new shooting skill or technique, it is best to take it slow and pay close attention to what and how you are performing the actions. This ensures the actions being repeated represent those that are correct as opposed to incorrect.

Know how to operate and use your handgun without taking time to think about it. Develop the muscle memory.

I know in certain strict training environments, some range safety officers (RSOs) will not let students clear their own malfunctions and stoppages and require them to raise their hand so the RSO can safely resolve the problem. Sadly, I know of a case where an officer experienced a stoppage problem in the field because he had to think whether he should go ahead and clear the jam himself. That precious use of time was his downfall.

Also, some law enforcement officers have been killed in the line of duty because of their lack of familiarity with their handguns. In one case (in the unincorporated area of Los Angeles — the Newhall Massacre of 1970), four California officers had practiced almost solely with lesser-caliber and lesser-recoil ammo, so they were not as accurate when they used the duty magnum rounds. Sadly, they were killed in less than 5 minutes.

It is an understatement to simply say “Thoroughly know your CC gun and ammo.” Take time to regularly practice with your CC gun and use your personal-protection (e.g. hollow point) ammo to practice with occasionally.

Also, regularly maintain and clean your CC gun. Honestly, I clean my gun after every use, even if only shooting a box of 50 rounds. This may be an overkill for some, but I have the peace of mind of knowing my CC gun is always in a top state of readiness and will not let me down because of a cleaning or maintenance issue.

At the least, you should inspect, function check, clean and maintain your concealed carry gun monthly.

12. Regularly practice, practice, practice

Begin your CC training by analyzing your present skills and where you need improvement. It is imperative to build positive and useful training and practice habits early. Shooters should review their training process and topics on an annual basis and constantly, then design your practice plan with specific drills to help improve certain identified skills or areas needing improvement. There is always something to learn or improve upon.

Shooting fundamentals and skills are perishable, and they deteriorate if not practiced. You must practice on a regular basis. Every year I try to complete at least one course for improvement.

While practice is critical, so is how you practice. Do not just shoot holes in paper, but have a planned course of fire and specific drills to focus on key fundamentals and areas where you need improvement.

Snap caps and dry firing can be helpful. Snap caps have a spring-damped false primer or one of plastic that cushions and protects the firing pin for many repeated strikes and protects your gun’s components. Dry firing is practicing at home with snap caps and an unloaded gun.

If you cannot get to the range regularly, then use (inert) snap caps to practice in the comfort of your home. You can practice aiming, sight alignment, stance, grip, trigger control, loading and unloading, clearing malfunctions, and drawing to build muscle memory.

Recognize that while dry-fire practice drills with snap caps are useful, there is no substitute for live fire. If you cannot devote some time on a regular basis to shooting practice, your shooting skills and performance under the stress of a deadly-force encounter will suffer.

Try to plan for a monthly range shooting session, but go at least every 7 to 8 weeks as a minimum. You can practice dry firing as a supplement in your home once a week. Be prepared, since violent encounters occur at what seems like the speed of light.

Continued success!