THE FAT BOY’S GUIDE TO CONCEALED CARRY:
By: Spats McGee
First and foremost, I’ve carried a concealed firearm in virtually every legally-permissible setting over the past nine years. I learned a lot by reading, and I learned a lot by doing. With that said, if you’ve been carrying a concealed handgun for years, I’ll tell you right now that this guide probably doesn’t cover anything you don’t already know. I wrote this guide for people who are either considering carrying a concealed handgun, or just recently started.
To give the reader a frame of reference, I’m not an operator, ex-military or certified law enforcement officer. I am an overweight, middle-aged pencil-pusher. To be more precise, I’m a lawyer. I’ve been involved in some work that made me pretty unpopular. That’s one of several reasons for which I have carried a concealed firearm almost non-stop since roughly 2008. I’ve learned a lot along the way, and I’d like to share a few things with you. I’m neither an engineer nor a gunsmith, so I’m not qualified to offer much on the best gun, or the latest whiz-bang carry load, so I’ll (mostly) avoid those topics. Besides, those are very popular subjects, and there are hundreds of writers more competent than I addressing them. I’m here to address concealed carry for those of us who either cannot (or do not want to) open carry wearing 5.11 pants and a nylon web belt on a daily basis.
First, my caveat: I’m a lawyer, but I’m not your lawyer. I’m licensed in the great state of Arkansas and the federal courts, but that’s it. Unless you’re in Arkansas or dealing in the federal system, I’m not licensed to practice there. Further, I’m employed full-time by my one and only client. If you want legal advice, you’ll need to go hire someone other than me.
Second, know your laws. I’m often puzzled by the fact that those who carry a concealed handgun spend hundreds or thousands of dollars in order to properly carry concealed, yet many of them are unwilling to pay a lawyer for advice. Oddly enough, those very same folks who won’t spend money on a lawyer often take legal advice from anonymous internet sources. That is a monumentally bad idea. There are a great number of internet “experts” who seem to think themselves well-qualified to give out legal advice. Some are correct. Some are not. Some are garden-variety morons. The reality surrounding legal information in matters involving firearms is this: If you are arrested and charged with a weapons-related offense, none of those folks who advised you over the internet will stand in front of the judge with you. Remember the old saying, “Laugh, and the world laughs with you. Cry, and you cry alone.” This could be one of those “cry alone” times.
You should no more accept legal advice from anonymous sources than you should medical advice. It’s well worth your time & hard-earned cash to hire a lawyer for thirty minutes or an hour to discuss the ins and outs of gun laws in your jurisdiction. This is one of those “ounce of prevention” scenarios. Hiring a lawyer for that one-hour consult will help you avoid breaking your local laws. If you break that law and have to hire one to defend against a criminal charge . . . well, that’s far more expensive than a one-hour consult. There are also some outstanding websites to help you keep current on gun and carry laws, like www.handgunlaw.us, www.thefiringline.com, and www.thehighroad.org.
Third, know the laws where you travel. This is a corollary to “know your laws.” If you travel to other states, bear in mind that carry laws differ quite a bit from state to state. If, for example, you live in northern Tennessee and travel to Kentucky, your rights and obligations change the instant you cross the state line. In some states, gun laws may actually vary from city to city, due to local ordinances. In many cases, the changes are minor. That said, you need to know what those changes are before you can decide if they’re minor or major. As an example, one area that varies from state to state is commonly called the “duty to inform.” This refers to whether one who carries a firearm has an affirmative duty to inform law enforcement officers that he or she is carrying a firearm. If Officer Friendly stops you for speeding in a duty-to-inform state, one of the last things that you want to have happen is for Officer Friendly to unexpectedly discover your pistol after you’ve neglected to inform him that you have one. If that happens, and you’re lucky, you’ll find out why Officer Friendly graduated at the top of his class in the Submission Holds class at the police academy. If you’re unlucky, you’ll get shot.
First, many newly-minted concealed carriers are surprised to discover that nobody notices when you carry, if everything is properly concealed. For the first few weeks that you carry concealed, you’re going to feel like everybody and their dog knows that you have a gun, and you’ll just wait for someone to start shrieking, “OHMYGODITSAMANWITHAGUN!” That’s not going to happen, and the feeling will eventually go away. After a few months, you’ll figure out that you could carry anything short of a bazooka under your coat, and nobody would ever know the difference. Most folks out in public are either on their phones or herding children. That’s not to say that you shouldn’t take measures to properly conceal your firearm, but learn not to worry too much about “being made.” If you’re constantly looking over your shoulder and hitching up your gunbelt, all you’ll do is draw attention to yourself and increase the odds that someone will notice. If you do much internet research on concealed carry, you’ll also see a lot of chatter about “printing,” which is the outline of a gun showing through your cover garment. Depending on your jurisdiction, it may or may not be a big deal. In practical terms, though, I think printing presents only a small risk of exposing one as a concealed carrier. In this day and age, everybody and their dog has some kind of odd lump poking out through a shirt. Pagers, cell phones, pistols, . . . . If anyone other than a police officer asks about the lump, you could always either: (1) ask them why they’re so interested in things on the inside of your clothing; or (2) tell them it’s your colostomy bag. I doubt the questions will go much further than that.
Second, it’s important to know your wardrobe. This may seem like a silly statement, but what you carry and how is largely dependent on three things: (1) your daily attire; (2) your daily activities; and (3) your willingness to dress around the gun. If you’re a twenty-something barista, or if you work in an auto shop, you probably don’t wear many suits. Let your usual wardrobe guide (but not dictate) your choice of carry pistols, but be prepared to make a few alterations to accommodate the gun. There’s no sense in buying a large pistol if you’re not going to be able to conceal it, or if doing so will be monumentally uncomfortable. That’s a recipe for leaving the gun at home, which should be considered a failure. If a .380 “mouse gun” is all you can conceal, then carry a .380 mouse gun. Don’t let the internet chest-thumpers talk you into something that you will just leave at home. Me? I’m a lawyer in my late-40s. I wear a suit 3-4 days per week. Given my age, profession and demeanor, that is exactly how the general public expects me to dress. Fortunately for me, it’s also a wardrobe that lends itself well to bigger guns. With pants cut 1-2” larger in the waist and my jacket on, I can conceal and carry any damn gun I want. Even when I’m not in a suit, I can often be found in jeans or khakis and a sport coat. I have this theory: When people see what they expect to see, it often goes unnoticed. People notice things that clash with their expectations. So dressing in a manner consistent with societal expectations is my way of remaining unobtrusive, which is how I like it. For the first three years that I carried, my EDC (Every Day Carry) pistol was a Government Model 1911A1, and two spare magazines. As far as I could ever tell, nobody ever “made” me. The only downside to my wardrobe is summer. Arkansas summers can get pretty hot and humid, so keeping the jacket on gets a little uncomfortable. I usually carry in a tuckable inside-the-waistband (IWB) holster, but I rarely tuck my shirt in over the holster, because I know I’ll be wearing a jacket. In the summer, I just have to tuck the shirt in over the holster, and I’m free to take my jacket off. While my wardrobe works well for me, though, it may not work at all for you. Take some time to assess your wardrobe and figure out what you can comfortably carry. (A gun won’t necessarily be comfortable, but if it’s definitively uncomfortable, you’re more likely to leave it at home.) You may have to spend some time exploring inside-the-waistband, outside-the-waistband, pocket carry, etc.
Third, if you don’t have a proper gunbelt, get one. If you are going to carry a gun on your belt, you need a good belt on which to carry it. Virtually every person that I know who regularly carries a firearm does so by using a belt holster. I know a few who use pocket holsters or shoulder rigs, but those folks are clearly in the minority. The belt is the basis of your entire carry system. You need one that will support the weight of the gun and holster. It may need to support the weight of a spare magazine, flashlight, multi-tool, etc. My gun belt routinely has to support my pistol, a holster, and two spare magazines. Dress belts will sag under that much weight. Been there, done that. Fortunately, you can find gun belts that look like dress belts these days.
A dedicated gun belt is stiffer than your usual dress belt. In some cases, it will actually have a polymer strip sewn in between two layers of leather, or it may use some other means of stiffening the belt. That does not mean that it has to be the black basketweave pattern that the police use, or that it has to be nylon webbing tactical operator gear. Both of those are certainly available, but virtually all of the major gunleather manufacturers offer more discreet belts, and a quick internet search for “gun belt” will also turn up any number of independent leatherworkers who specialize in gun belts. A dedicated gun belt is also more expensive than a run-of-the-mill belt, but they’re not outlandishly expensive. What’s more, it’s absolutely worth it. I’ve carried with a regular belt and I’ve carried with a gun belt. The latter is far and away more comfortable. I paid something like $55 for my first gun belt, a brown Aker B21. I bought it about 10 years ago, and I think they’ve gone up to $63. My second gun belt is a black DeSantis Econobelt, bought on sale for about $20, also around 10 years ago. That was an exceptional bargain, truth be told. Do not be surprised if some of the belts that you see cost $80-100 or more, but bear in mind that you can expect years of service out of a good belt, and that it will be holding up more than your pants. Both concealed carriers and the police know that if a guy is constantly hitching up his pants, that’s a good sign that he has a gun at his waist.
Fourth, get a decent holster to go with that belt. Whether you choose to carry inside or outside the waistband, on your ankle, or in your front pocket, a holster is a handy thing to have. If you go with waist carry, it keeps the pistol secure and comfortable. If you’re going to pocket carry, it keeps lint and debris out of your gun, and more importantly, keeps things out of the trigger guard. (When I pocket carry, I never, ever, ever carry anything in the pocket with the pistol, and I would caution you in the strongest of terms to adopt the same policy.) And not to be underestimated . . . I think the police prefer folks with holsters. Why? Because felons don’t use them, and the police know this. A guy who can’t afford to be caught with a gun, who knows that he may need to separate himself from any evidence of a firearm as quickly as possible . . . . that guy doesn’t use a holster. He needs to be able to pull his gun out of his pants and ditch it. Now, if not sooner. He doesn’t have time to undo his belt and slide his holster off. You, as a lawful carrier of a concealed firearm, have no such need, right? Right?
Fifth, if you’re at least 25 years old, you should own dress clothes. You may think of yourself as a “tee shirt and jeans” kind of guy, and that’s fine, but by now there should be some things going on in your life that require dressing up, at least occasionally. You should be dressing up for things like: weddings, baptisms, funerals, nice dinners with that Special Someone, etc. If you’re wearing a tee shirt and jeans to those kinds of events, you’re doing it wrong. Go buy some khakis, button down shirts, a few ties and a blue blazer. You don’t have to buy a $1000 suit. Khakis and a blazer will be good enough for about 95% of the events like the ones I listed. I think of khakis and a sport coat as The Uniform, and it’s The Uniform for a reason. Put on The Uniform with a tie and go to the event. After the event (or if you discover that you’re the only one in a tie), you can ditch the tie and have “business casual” for the rest of the evening. Every guy over 30 should have this setup, and it’s incredibly versatile. Carry Tip: Get a jacket that’s just a little wide through the waist and it becomes a near-perfect cover garment. I’ve carried guns ranging in size from a Smith & Wesson Shield to a government profile 1911, all of them in OWB leather, under a blue blazer over the years. I’m a pudgy, middle-aged, white collar worker. Everyone expects to see me in The Uniform. Because of that, nobody is going to notice me or that odd bulge at my waist, and nobody will remember whether I wore it or not, come tomorrow. Money-saving tip: Hit the thrift stores. These kinds of clothes show up at Goodwill and the Salvation Army routinely. This may seem a little macabre, but the reality is that middle-aged men own The Uniform and when they get old and die, The Uniform gets donated. If you think you’ll only wear The Uniform once or twice a year, you don’t have to spend a lot of money on it. Just be sure to put the clothes in the freezer (well, in a plastic bag in the freezer) for a few days when you first get them. In the event that the prior owner allowed something to take up residence there, the freezer will kill it. I discovered a spider living in a tie once.
Sixth, for less formal (or completely informal) events where even a blue blazer would be out of place, get some cover garments. Long, untucked shirts are very popular with concealed carriers, and for good reason. The rules of thumb are: (a) dark colors conceal better than light colors; and (b) patterns conceal better than plain fabrics. This is another item that can be picked up fairly inexpensively at your local thrift shop. When I make my Saturday morning grocery run, I’ll often wear a gray or black t-shirt, with one of my cover garments, unbuttoned, on top of that. One caution that I’ll give you here is that breeze can open that garment plenty wide enough for an onlooker to spot your gun. I have one friend that has sewn small weights (maybe the size of quarters) into the hems of his cover garments. I’m not much of a tailor, so I just tuck a corner of my shirt up under my belt. It’s a little more unkempt than I like to be, but it does prevent my shirt from blowing open.
Finally, learn how to inform police that you have a gun. Whether you live in a “must inform” jurisdiction or not, you should give this some thought. You may one day have to inform whether it’s your first choice or not. You may live in a state where you’re not required to inform an officer that you’re carrying. You may not think it’s a good idea to inform an officer that you’re carrying. You should still consider how you will do so, if you have to. If the officer asks if you’re carrying a gun, you really only have four options: (1) yes; (2) no; (3) I don’t know; and (4) none of your business. Neither #3 nor #4 are going to play very well with any officer I have ever met.
Remember that you carry a gun for the same reason an officer does: To defend him- or herself or others. At first contact, the officer may or may not know anything about you, whether you have a concealed handgun license, or whether you have a violent felony record. Yes, I know that in some states it’s linked to your driver license number, and the officer may be able to run your tags to find out who the car is registered to, but that’s not the case everywhere. Also bear in mind that until the officer actually lays eyes on you and your DL, he does not know whether the driver is the actual owner of the car, so the fact that a car is registered to you is irrelevant until then.
From an officer’s perspective, there’s a gargantuan difference between:
- [calm & steady voice] Good evening, Officer Friendly. My name is Spats McGee. Here’s my concealed handgun carry license and yes, I am carrying a firearm; it’s on my right hip.
[shrieking] I have a gun!
Officers, if they’re being honest, will tell you that their first priority is just like everyone else’s: survival. (That’s why they carry guns, right?) The last thing they really want on any given day is a gunfight. The next-to-last thing they want is a bad surprise. Informing them in the calm and steady manner listed at #1, above, tells the officer a couple of things: (1) you’re being up front and honest with him or her; and (2) you at least appear mentally stable. Those two things go a long way towards avoiding conflict with the officer.
And that’s that. Those tips are this Fat Boy’s Guide for the beginning concealed carrier.