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Gun ownership continues to grow at record levels in the United States, and concealed carry permits are growing right alongside gun sales, reaching record levels last year with no end in sight. However, anecdotal evidence suggests that the majority of people who go to the trouble and expense of getting a concealed carry permit don’t carry a pistol on a regular basis. When I went through my CCW class in Arizona many years ago, our instructor said that only a third of us would make the commitment to carrying our gun on a regular basis; I think he was optimistic.
Getting permission to carry a gun and then not actually carrying one makes no sense to me, but I understand why it happens. Carrying a firearm with you day in, day out, makes a big change in your lifestyle. You may have to buy new clothes. You’ll need to change how you act around people. You’ll have to learn a new set of safety rules and follow them diligently. Most of all, you’ll start to see the world in a new way, where decisions that you’ve made in the past seem like utter foolishness now.
These are not easy tasks to accomplish, and our species tends to be resistant to change. However, there are steps you can take before, during and after your concealed carry class that will help you move from the state of being unarmed and unprepared to being ready to defend your life and the lives of your loved ones in a safe, timely manner if (God forbid), the need occurs.
First and most obvious is to chose a concealed carry pistol before you take your class. This will allow you to directly apply what you’re learning in-class to what you already own. While I myself prefer double-action, semiautomatic pistols like the CZ75, what I recommend the most for people starting out are compact, striker-fired guns in 9mm like the Glock 19, S&W M&P 9c and the Springfield XD(M). These are lightweight, easy to shoot, and easy to carry but still pack enough punch to effectively defend what matters most to you.
Secondly, take an introductory-level pistol class before you take your concealed carry class. Most of the time in your CCW class will probably be devoted to the basics of firearms and the self-defense laws of your state, leaving precious little time for the basics of pistol handling and marksmanship. Taking a class like an NSSF First Shots class or an NRA Basic Pistol class will help you understand how your gun operates and how to shoot it accurately, giving you a better chance of passing the qualification test for your CCW if required by your state laws. And while I’m sure that your brother-in-law who’s a policeman or your uncle who fought with the Marines in Fallujah is a good shot, the fact is, unless they’re used to teaching people how shoot, they’re probably not as good as imparting the knowledge of good markmanship as a professional, trained firearms instructor. So start your training off right by going with some who’s been trained how to train new gun owners.
Speaking of which, you should be documenting what training you receive and what books you are reading if you face the unfortunate reality of having to defend your actions in court. I keep a running total of what classes and training I’ve had in a Google spreadsheet, but as long as it’s written down somewhere, chances are what you’ve recorded may be entered as evidence into the courtroom as proof of your competency and ability to safely defend your life.
And while we’re on the subject of state gun laws, I highly recommend Andrew Branca’s book, “The Law of Self-Defense” for all gun owners. Get a copy and mark it up to show that you’re read it, because reading this book will give you more information about the self-defense laws than just about any other book around. Andrew is one of the few attorneys out there specializing in the legal aspect of lawful self-defense, and his book is a “must-have” for anyone who has a gun for self-protection.
Keep in mind that in the (thankfully) rare chance you’ll need to use a gun to protect your life or someone else’s, there is a good chance you’ll need to defend yourself in court after you’ve defended your life in the streets. Spending a few minutes to sign up for a self-defense insurance program that covers not only lawful gun use but other forms of self-defense means there is one less thing for you to worry about.
Having confidence in your ability to make the shot on-demand is also a big part of safe, confident concealed carry. Most people are not as good a shot as they think they are, and dealing with the performance anxiety of shooting a pistol in front of your instructor in order to qualify is a very real concern. Range practice with an eye towards shooting groups can help with this, but range time costs money and so does ammo. Dry-fire practice, safely done with no live ammo anywhere in the room while practicing, can teach you the trigger control you need to place your shots where you want them, on-target an on-demand. And it goes without saying that if you have a gun in the home, the Three Rules of Gun Safety apply every single time you are near a gun.
Every. Single. Time.
Lastly, we come to how to carry your pistol day in and day out. There are literally thousands of different options out there, and one of the advantages to the compact 9mms I mentioned is that the holster choices for them are almost limitless, but most choices come down to either Inside the Waistband (IWB) holsters for better concealment, or Outside the Waistband (OWB) holsters for better access to your gun. Each has its own advantages and disadvantages, and which one would be best for you is a very personal decision based on what you wear, how you’re shaped, and what rides best on your body.
You can put all those lessons into practice by practicing concealed carry around your house before your class. Wear the gun in your holster, unloaded, on your hip on the weekend as your do the chores around your house. You’ll soon find what you need to adjust to make carrying concealed more comfortable, and carrying your gun on a regular basis will make the routine of concealed carry more routine for you after you receive your permit to carry outside the home.
And please, whatever you do, don’t just carry a pistol “when you think it’s needed.” I’ve never considered going anywhere where I might need a pistol to stay safe (because those are dumb places to go to) and neither should you. We carry a gun not because we’re looking for trouble, we carry because trouble is always looking for us.