Concealed Carry: Packing Light, Packing Smart

By Bob Campbell published on in Concealed Carry

Part 7 in our concealed carry series.

If you are new to concealed carry, you probably started carrying a large handgun then drifted toward a lighter model for comfort. Sometimes that makes sense, but if taken too far, it reaches a point of diminishing returns. As the indomitable J. Henry Fitzgerald once remarked, “A man giving up a .45 for a .38 has gained a few ounces of comfort perhaps at the expense of his life.” That is good advice, but no one wants their pants dragged down when engaged in mundane chores or recreation.

Brown handled .38 in a light tan Galco holster

This .38 carries well in a Galco holster. The .38 Special is a realistic minimum for concealed carry.

We all want a gun that is essentially unnoticed until needed. My wife, Joyce, and I enjoy long walks and movie nights as much as anyone does. We also like to wander through parks after normal hours and often meet friendly folks. Chance encounters with folks of the rougher sort are not always precursors to violent action, and there are less-than-lethal avenues available in my muscle memory.

Violent attacks do occur, and dangerous dogs are a common problem. Armed criminals are one problem, dogs another—I am not willing to see a member of my family mauled because some inadequate type feels the need for a snarling, biting prosthesis. I most often carry a handgun and a good folding knife. The knife is suitable as an impact weapon as well.

I know what it takes to put down a member of our protein-fed, ex-con criminal class. I know how difficult it is to hit a moving, twisting target under stress in less-than-optimal light conditions. I prefer service-grade handguns, although after 30 years of packing a handgun almost daily, I realize I cannot always comfortably carry a 5-inch-barrel 1911 .45. After a few near misses and injuries, I do not carry the big guns as effortlessly as I once did. However, I am not going to carry a .380 auto, either.

I do not damn pocket guns out of hand. Antipathy would be a better description of how I feel. There are times when I am prone to stick something light in my pocket, although it is a .38, not a .32. The need to have an accessible, and undetectable, handgun conspires against the goal, which is to carry a fight-stopping sidearm. As the cave man said, “Big rock is better.”

Stopping a dedicated assault with only a handgun is a challenging prospect. I am not taking the gun writer route of belittling a cartridge or two to boost my status. I want a cartridge that takes the fight out of the adversary—if the sights are on the right spot. Even with the .45 auto or .44 Special, it may take more than one cartridge. As such, I tend to err on the side of caution. That means a .38 Special or better. Anyone who recommends anything less is doing the honest gun-toting citizen no favors and almost certainly has no experience in interpersonal combat. Let me not make blanket statements; let us intelligently consider the problem of carrying an effective handgun on a regular basis and drawing and using it quickly and effectively.

The Right Carry for the Serious Shooter

Black GLOCK with Streamlight, cold steel and a black holster.

This combination of GLOCK, Streamlight, Cold Steel and a good holster is hard to beat.

The guy who sometimes sticks a gun in his belt on the way to the bank to make a night deposit is not the target of this article. This article addresses the serious, concerned, religious carrier who carries a handgun 24/7. You can pack light, and you can pack smart. Without giving up critical effectiveness, you can realize the economy of weight. I have studied handguns for many years and fired most types available. The mystical properties attributed to some are not discernible by shooting. Some guns are practical; some are tactical. We must keep the problem in perspective.

Multiple attackers can be a problem. When the chief bull signals, the bulls stampede. On the other hand, perhaps a shark-like feeding frenzy is a better image. A .380 auto does not cut it when facing multiple, motivated adversaries. We cannot reverse-engineer the situation; we cannot choose a handgun and hope it fits the situation. Consider the likely threat first.

Meet a serious, imminent threat with a long gun in hand and meet the unpredictable, critical incident with a handgun. Moreover, the gun must be reliable above all else—you cannot call a mulligan (a cease-fire on the target range due to a gun malfunction). Interest in concealed carry is at an all-time high. As a result, we have many choices in compact, powerful handguns and accessories.

The best gun may be a revolver or semi-auto; either will work. Both are available in snag-free, concealed-hammer designs.

  • Striker-fired autos, such as the GLOCK and Smith & Wesson M&P, are true hammerless pistols.
  • Smith and Wesson Centennial revolvers have geometrically snag-free, concealed-hammer designs. A concealed hammer is not a demand for concealed carry, although it is a good beginning.

Pay Attention to Your Clothing

Give considerable attention to your covering garments—the looser the cut, the less printing (printing is simply the outline of the gun on the garment). The looser the cut, the less bulges will be noticeable. Practice drawing the handgun and sweeping outer garments away in one smooth motion. With one hand or two, the drill becomes second nature. Consider your movements made every day and the type of gun and holster combination you use.

Black handled GLOCK 19 in a dark brown leather Writer Holster on a white background

The GLOCK 19 in a Wright holster is a brilliantly fast and secure setup.

A well-fitted holster makes carrying more comfortable. A thin, well-constructed holster may make carrying a larger handgun possible. Thin, very rigid, well-boned holsters offered by top maker Barber Leatherworks are among the wonder holsters of the decade. They work, and work better than most. Those holsters and traditional designs, such as the immortal Summer Special from Milt Sparks, make concealed carry possible. However, in the end, outer garments dictate the mode and type of carry.

True concealment depends on the pursuits in which we engage while heeled. After some time, I find my 1911 duty guns and Commander off-duty guns supplemented by lighter guns. I still regard the 1911 as the primary concealed carry gun; comfort makes for a different course at times, which means a Commander .45. The light part of smart carry is easy; the smart part is more difficult. Discrete is the order of the day.

According to holster maker and long-time peace officer “Wild Bill,” a dark holster with non-reflective snaps helps. So do double loops for comfort. His leather paddle holster offers multiple carry positions. immense comfort and more than a little speed. I like it a lot and am beginning to realize easy-on, easy-off holsters are more appropriate for civilians than cops because there are so many restrictions on concealed carry in most states. Often, we leave the gun in the car, and carrying a holster sans the gun does not feel right.

Black GLOCK 19, barrel pointed upward and to the left on a green desk blotter.

The GLOCK 19 is one of the smartest picks possible.

I have carried off-duty guns more capable than 90 percent of the handguns I see used as duty sidearms. The Kimber CDP is one. However, I give a great deal of respect to the GLOCK 19 as well. The more I fire those little guns, the more I like them. They make a lot of sense and are not harder to handle than full-size service pistols. Modern versions with spring-within-a-spring technology recoil less than earlier GLOCK self-loaders and are more accurate—a no-lose situation.

I have said I appreciate my 1911 handguns, and as efficient as they are, they have exposed hammers. Cocked-and-locked carry demands a certain mindset many do not wish to entertain.

  • The GLOCK compact pistols are alternatives—light, powerful and reliable.
  • The Kahr may have more class and is clearly a purpose-designed compact. From its angled feed ramp to beveled slide, it was designed for concealed carry.
  • The cut-down GLOCKs are nearly as efficient, more proven and hold more ammunition.

If I were backing up a GLOCK, the Mini GLOCK is a clear choice. The Kahr is a fine stand-alone gun. The Kahr shows that gun valley can beat the Europeans at their own game. Those pistols, preferably loaded with the +P 9mm, give the skilled user a high level of protection. Fifteen rounds of 9mm in a GLOCK 19 is a good reserve. Almost light enough to forget, the combo of loaded gun and holster weighs hardly as much as an unloaded Commander .45.

Some Smart, Light Options

Playing a what-if game is fine, and the better armament you have and the better you know how to use it, the more minimized the threat. Accurate, reliable handguns in serious calibers give you a fighting chance. I would not go below the 9mm caliber and see little use in choosing a .380 ACP when there are so many lightweight, controllable, reliable and viable lightweight 9mm pistols available.

Black GLOCK 36 .45 ACP, barrel pointed up and to the right, on a white background

For the GLOCK fan, the GLOCK 36 .45 ACP pistol is among the best choices for carrying light and smart.

When going to the light guns, most of us rarely encounter serious recoil control problems with the 9mm, unless you are not using proper technique. The .40 kicks more than the 9mm, and all of us can control the 9mm better. Mini GLOCKs are fine guns, although not in the same league as the GLOCK 23 and GLOCK 19 in terms of control and overall ability in skilled hands. The Mini GLOCK should be in the dictionary beside Light and Smart. It is a mistake to choose a very small pistol when you could carry a compact or full-size gun. Nevertheless, the compact self-loaders clearly outclass the snub .38/short barrel .357 genre. Revolvers demand more practice for competence, and perhaps a 9mm might bring the user to a higher level of competence quicker. The occasional shooter is better served with a 9mm than a .357 or snub-nose .38 in terms of recoil.

I have great faith in quality revolvers and still use the type for personal defense. Sometimes circumstances dictate the choice of a revolver. I own a five-shot .44, a .357 Magnum in a steel frame and a couple of aluminum-frame .38 Special revolvers. Yes, those are not small guns for the most part, and some kick more than many want to deal with—and there is no free lunch.

Do not let anyone con you with the “modern ammunition performance” argument for the .380 auto or .32 Magnum. Modern ammunition is better than in the past, and the same basic relationship exists. The .38 Special seems to have an advantage over the 9mm in short-barrel handguns. My .38 is most often a backup, although it is my primary carry in sultry weather. It is better than going naked, yet it is usually about as easy to find a place for a compact 9mm.

Different folks have different ideas when it comes to handguns; when they are highly skilled in one discipline, we need to listen. There are martial artists who strongly prefer the snub .38 or .357. They argue the revolver, with its large grip and short barrel, offers superior retention. A skilled martial artist realizes a gun-grabber has little to hang on to when attempting to gain control of a short-barreled firearm. In addition, a revolver may be placed against an adversary’s body and fired repeatedly. The auto pistol will choke if used that way. The revolver is the best choice for ankle carry and probably the best choice as a backup for those who feel the need for more life insurance.

I have no confidence in the .32 auto; believing Maxwell Smart and his Bodyguard .38 represent smarter carry than Bond’s PPK. The .380 is marginal at best, even though it has its adherents. The PPK is smaller than any locked-breech 9mm. Its blowback action and slim lines allow a more compact pistol than the mini 9s. It is a tough call, although there are times when the .380 looks good for backup.

Black handled Smith and Wesson Shield 9mm in a light brown Talon IWB on a white background

A Smith & Wesson Shield 9mm in a Talon steel-spring clip IWB is good kit.

Then I ask myself which handgun would I want in my hand if trapped in an elevator with an acid freak armed with a stiletto.

Sobering? It is for real.

Winchester’s .380 JHP expands well from the PPK. which makes the .380 more interesting. I do not have much confidence in the .380, although it is easy to use well, just the type of trade-off about which Fitz so eloquently warned. Choose a good handgun, a good holster and good ammunition.

By choosing light, comfortable gear that can be carried on a 24-hour basis, you will be ahead of the curve—and armed when needed.

A final example— the Smith & Wesson Shield carried in a Talon IWB holster—holds eight rounds of 9mm +P and is a joy to fire and handle. The SIG P250 compact .45, carried in a Wright Leatherworks IWB, offers eight rounds of .45 ACP on tap. Neither is a burden on the hip. The old .38 just does not look as good these days.

You can pack light. pack smart and be well armed.

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What is your favorite light and smart choice for taking care of yourself and your family? Share in the comment section.

SLRule

Bob Campbell is a former peace officer and published author with over 40 years combined shooting and police and security experience. Bob holds a degree in Criminal Justice. Bob is the author of the books, The Handgun in Personal Defense, Holsters for Combat and Concealed Carry, The 1911 Automatic Pistol, The Gun Digest Book of Personal Protection and Home Defense, The Shooter’s Guide to the 1911, The Hunter and the Hunted, and The Complete Illustrated Manual of Handgun Skills. His latest book is Dealing with the Great Ammo Shortage. He is also a regular contributor to Gun Tests, American Gunsmith, Small Arms Review, Gun Digest, Concealed Carry Magazine, Knife World, Women and Guns, Handloader and other publications. Bob is well-known for his firearm testing.

View all articles by Bob Campbell

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Comments (38)

  • Joe Nyomozo

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    That is why you gotta love Concealed Carry Weapon states. Knives etc., are included under the permit!

    Reply

  • Ross

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    Good post, T.J,

    Reply

  • T.J.

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    My light and smart carry gun is a Glock Md 27 with a finger extension on the magazine for added grip and control. This gives me 10 shots of .40 S&W and by carrying a spare G22 magazine I have a 15 shot reload. This is serious firepower in a compact package. I would never carry a .38spl or lesser round for self defense as one can never tell what the threat may be in size or numbers. I’m a 1911 fan and will always be but Glock’s can Not be beat at any price for reliability and function. The only drawback in a double stack model Glock is that it is a tad wide and I accept that as a perfect conceal gun has never been made, it will lack power, be too big, or be limited in round capacity.

    I agree a Cold Steel knife is a perfect carry choice as a last resort back up but check with local authorities for laws governing legal knife carry as your concealed carry permit does not cover knives.

    Anyone who thinks “size” does not matter has never been in a life and death situation, bigger is always better using ones practice and muscle memory to increase the odds of surviving an unforseen event. A .22 may eventually kill something but the purpose of concealed carry is to “stop the threat” and survive. In other words if you are going to take on the responsibility of carrying a firearm be responsible enough to practice with the largest caliber you can handle effectively it may save you or a loved one. Leave nothing to chance.

    Reply

  • David

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    I’ve carried the LCP, the LC9, the LCR and the Kahr CM9. I have settled for the Ruger LCR in .38. It is light, easy to conceal and it does not fail. As a plus it does not wear you out with recoil and it is accurate. Semi-autos are great guns but I want to be sure I get more than one shot when my life depends on it.

    Reply

  • bob campbell

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    Control is important but the laws of physics are also important.

    The caliber must have adequate mass and sufficient penetration.

    Reply

  • MF Crier

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    I don’t believe it is a question of caliber, or even power, but rather the degree of control, accuracy and shot placement. One needs to practice and be proficient in the best caliber and size handgun with which they feel comfortable. There have been cases where a .22 has taken down a bear.

    Reply

  • bob

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    Sir,

    Thanks for reading!
    I am certainly not anti Ruger. Just this month I did a feature on all three LC Rugers for a major publication. Ruger gives a great value for the money and they always work. But it isnt fair to compare a $500 gun to a $1300 gun. The less expensive guns are good and reliable but of course you can do more with the Kimber. The Ruger CMD is a good 1911 I have tested extensively. These guns are all different birds. The LCP would be better compared to the Kel Tec and the SR’s to the Glock.

    Bob

    Reply

  • Ruger McRuger

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    I’ve shot half a dozen different guns manufactures and will take Ruger over everything else I’ve shot. I own, Blackhawk SA 357, Blackhawk SA 44 mag, SR40, SR40c, SR9c, SP101 357 and I would put them up against any other gun out there. If they would just make me a 10mm i’d be a very happy guy.

    Reply

  • Carl

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    I agree with the article but have a question for Bob. I love my Kimber CDP Pro, I have had 5 inch 1911’s but I shoot and like the Pro. I also carry the Ruger SR40c and LC9. The LC9 works especially good when on my motorcycle in hot weather in a 511 holster shirt and vest. I would put my Ruger’s up against other guns. The trigger on the SR9s and SR40s are really good. Not Kimber good but good. Are you anti Ruger Bob?

    Reply

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