Concealed Carry

Concealed Carry and Practical Defense

Man in tan shirt and pants with his hand holding onto a gun in his waistband.

When you first consider concealed carry, the key word is commitment. Many decide to carry a concealed handgun after a life-changing event such as an assault or robbery. Others are concerned about crime and want to take advantage of every means possible to protect their own safety as well as that of their families. Others simply want to exercise their Second Amendment rights.

When you are earning your certificate to get a concealed-carry permit, you learn from a certified instructor. There are thousands of NRA-certified instructors, and they are all equally well trained. The NRA instructors’ website has valuable information about training and instructors in your area. As you look at concealed carry, you begin to realize there are compromises inherent in the promise of increased safety.

In many ways, a concealable handgun is a compromise in size and caliber, and you need to consider the budget for both training and gear. We all have budgets—some are simply larger than others. One size, one gun, one holster, one training school do not fit every shooter. We all have different problems and different environments.

And the bottom line is this: there are serious crime problems in America. The average criminal population of most cities is about 3 percent, although there are particular places where the ratio is much higher.

About 3 percent of the United States population is behind bars. That is a lot of criminals, and many of them are dangerous and violent. The police are swamped, overworked and underappreciated; officers are relegated by city fathers as yard police and dog-catchers, as well as enforcing petty ordinances, when they should be attacking real crimes and the sources. They are good at taking reports, following leads and arresting criminals.

Actually stopping a violent crime before a criminal injures a citizen, however, is practically unheard of. It simply is not humanly possible, no matter how dedicated the officer. Traditional patrols and saturation squads, such as the famous New York City subway teams, are effective in limiting street crime and catching perpetrators.

But in the end, you must that take responsibility for your own safety, and you are the only one who can guarantee that safety.

Budget restraints have forced police to downsize, so they simply cannot guarantee our security. The chances of criminals being caught after the fact are high; the chances of being caught in the act are slim. Against this backdrop of concern for our safety, we have politicians who present faulty ideas, emotional garbage and outright lies. But I will leave the political organizing and effort to the experts at the Second Amendment Foundation, as they have the education and energy for the task. You must educate yourself or risk losing more of your rights.

I also have considerable training in psychology, and while many regard psychology as an inexact science, the study of human antics is interesting. The behavior of certain types of criminals is predictable; I can read them like a book and not miss a page.

Some Tough Questions

Let’s ask some tough questions about concealed carry.

Is your mindset on track with reality?

Many shooters view concealed carry as a fad. They become interested, take the class and then lose interest. There is a serious side to the fun of shooting and, when carrying a concealed handgun, you have life and death in your hands. A wrong move, and the life that is lost is your own. The possibility of a financially devastating lawsuit, a criminal charge and social stigma are all considerations you need to face when obtaining a concealed-carry permit. The true winner in a lethal situation is often the one that uses verbal judo to control the situation and dissuade an attacker without using lethal force.

Avoiding trouble beats getting into trouble, and watching the news beats being the news. The handgun is not there to assert your will or to keep you from getting your butt whipped. It is there to save your life and for no other reason. Lethal force is the last—and final—option in the continuum of force. On the other hand, if you are carrying the gun only to scare an attacker and do not feel you would fire at another human being, you have no business carrying a gun. You are a danger to yourself and others and may end up arming an attacker with your own firearm if he or she wrests it from you. The mindset for concealed carry is as important as the training; determination to save your life is part of the package, as well as a determination not to fire at another human being unless there are no other options.

Have you trained properly for concealed carry?

In the state-mandated training course with which I am most familiar, there are stages of fire shot at 3, 5, 7, 10, 12 and 15 yards. Almost all those who pass the course, and most do, have qualified with the requisite 80 percent score from the 10-yard line. The marksmanship problem is not severe. Students who have never fired a handgun before often excel if they have paid attention in class. Yet it is important for you to go beyond this training and be certain you feel comfortable carrying a concealed handgun. Be honest with yourself, diligently practice and consider the worst-case scenario, not the easy problems.

If you have little to no experience with a handgun, find an instructor to give you the NRA basic handgun course. Although basic in some ways, it contains excellent information about gun handling and stresses safety. Safety is always the number one rule—safety comes first.

Next, comes learning the different types of handguns, how they function and the proper way of loading and handling those firearms. I often tell students it is best to have some type of training before you buy a handgun. A hands-on experience on the firing range means considerably more than simply handling a handgun in the gun shop. You need to know more about hand fit, recoil and the complexity of the operating action.

You also need to be comfortable when carrying the handgun. You cannot be overly conscious of the act of being armed: you must handle it with  a matter-of-fact attitude. The handgun will not disappear even though it is concealed and may not always be comfortable. However, you must go about your daily routine with the handgun hidden and instantly ready.

Study is part of the training and where you should begin. It can be the most important part because it is the beginning and the impetus for facing the rest of the battle. The battle is not that difficult, and the people, training and gear you encounter are often very interesting.

Next, in this series on concealed carry and practical defense, I’ll talk about dealing with the adversary.

Have you taken concealed-carry training? What did you think when you got through the class and had the gun? Share in the comments section.


About the Author:

Bob Campbell

Bob Campbell’s primary qualification is a lifelong love of firearms, writing, and scholarship. He holds a degree in Criminal Justice but is an autodidact in matters important to his readers. Campbell considers unarmed skills the first line of defense and the handgun the last resort. (He gets it honest- his uncle Jerry Campbell is in the Boxer’s Hall of Fame.)

Campbell has authored well over 6,000 articles columns and reviews and fourteen books for major publishers including Gun Digest, Skyhorse and Paladin Press. Campbell served as a peace officer and security professional and has made hundreds of arrests and been injured on the job more than once.

He has written curriculum on the university level, served as a lead missionary, and is desperately in love with Joyce. He is training his grandchildren not to be snowflakes. At an age when many are thinking of retirement, Bob is working a 60-hour week and awaits being taken up in a whirlwind many years in the future.

Published in
Black Belt Magazine
Combat Handguns
Rifle Magazine
Gun Digest
Gun World
Tactical World
SWAT Magazine
American Gunsmith
Gun Tests Magazine
Women and Guns
The Journal Voice of American Law Enforcement
Police Magazine
Law Enforcement Technology
The Firearms Instructor
Tactical World
Concealed Carry Magazine
Concealed Carry Handguns

Books published

Holsters for Combat and Concealed Carry
The 1911 Automatic Pistol
The Handgun in Personal Defense
The Illustrated Guide to Handgun Skills
The Hunter and the Hunted
The Gun Digest Book of Personal Defense
The Gun Digest Book of the 1911
The Gun Digest Book of the 1911 second edition
Dealing with the Great Ammunition Shortage
Commando Gunsmithing
The Ultimate Book of Gunfighting
Preppers Guide to Rifles
Preppers Guide to Shotguns
The Accurate Handgun
The Mission of Cheaper Than Dirt!'s blog, The Shooter's Log, is to provide information—not opinions—to our customers and the shooting community. We want you, our readers, to be able to make informed decisions. The information provided here does not represent the views of Cheaper Than Dirt!

Comments (29)

  1. Mr. Campbell, I’m new to the blog world. (56 years old) I’ve just had the privilege of reading your article on conceal carry and personal defense. I found it to be foundational and inspiring. The topic of CCW and the 2nd amendment reflects the world we live in. My dad spent 26 years in the military, with most of that as a small arms instructor. My experience with firearms was from the military prospective. Taking the life of another human being must be reconciled through the purpose and conviction of a soldier’s duty to God, country and family. Sadly, the violence that exists in American society now, requires consideration of the unthinkable. I find myself frustrated by the insufficient training available to the general public. My CCW course was given by an active duty LEO with 25 years on the job. It was scary. No one shot more than 50 rounds. Mostly from 22caliber weapons supplied by the course instructor. There was no discussion about the body’s chemical reactions to a life and death threat. Very little discussion about active shooter situations, balistic’s or raw firepower. Overall it was a broom job to get people qualified for there CCW permit. After reading your article I’m encouraged that someone is aware of the need for complete training. I’m ashamed of the NRA’s lack of attention to the need. Many NRA certified instructors are incompetent. My frustration is compounded because those with a platform are not pushing for more comprehensive training programs. I had to take a 4 week course to drive. You or someone with a platform like yours should concider lobbying the NRA, GOA and others to finance actual training programs instead of three gun comp’s. There should be levels of training that provide legal protection from certain prosecution in the event the unthinkable happened. If CLO’s/LEO’s can’t be everywhere to save people. I would hope you might concider it’s time for some adjustments in the system. The type that would allow the citizens greater liberties with corresponding responsibility of course. Everyone carrying is not on equal footing. Thank you for wisdom, please continue to share it.

  2. I understand that you are responsible for any shots you fire, even “warning” shots. And I typically agree that you shouldn’t pull your gun until ready to use lethal force. However, situations are also rarely textbook.

    I live near Memphis TN where an estimated 100 “kids” were filmed attacking, beating and stomping a few innocent kids and at least one adult in a local shopping center parking lot, just for “kicks.” (No pun intended). It is also worth noting that this was not in a “bad area” of town.

    From one cell phone video that was taken, you could clearly see one kid stomping another kid on the ground while at least 20-30 kids were watching and cheering him and others on in the background. In another segment, you can see an older man on the ground, seemingly unconscious.

    After seeing the news report, I mentioned to my wife, that although our entire family has permits and carries concealed-what could we do against close to 100 (or even 50 or even 30) in a mob-like state as captured in the video.

    Would we use lethal force to stop the primary attacker in order to save the life of the innocent individual he was stomping? Would we fire a few warning shots from our limited capacity handguns and hope it would encourage most to run? Would we do nothing to ensure our own safety, due to the high number of assailants? I should also add that even though the individuals in the mob didn’t appear to be armed with handguns, they were still clearly “armed” by their numbers against 3-4 innocent and unarmed individuals. And clearly a life threatening situation for the victims.

    We generally agreed that it would be worth the potential legal ramifications to fire a warning shot or two in order to hopefully startle and scatter the mob, or even the majority of the mob. If one or two warning shots could cause even 30 or more to run, it would still be the most efficient use of two shots we could think of.

    And now months later and well past the initial outrage of the event, and even though I know that it would open us up to other potential legal problems (discharging a weapon in the city etc.), it seems that it would still be the best option available at the time in this type of situation, where the numbers are against you but you need to save innocent kids from being beaten and stomped.

    Discharging a weapon is aways a difficult choice and each situation is different, so there can never be hard and fast rules regarding what to do. This is just a small part what makes law enforcement jobs so difficult.

    Watch the video and decide what you would do in this situation. Google it or use the link below to the local newspaper.

  3. While this article is great, it does not cover home defense. When I got my first CCW permit in Oregon, they taught us all the same rules but also stressed that if you could avoid using your gun, do it. They also taught us about home invasion.. If you could get out of the house and call the police do it. They talked about a escape scenario and that using your weapon was always the last resort but, if you pulled it be ready to use it..

  4. Insights appreciated and well taken, especially the part,…….” Those motivated by profit will run at the sight of the gun. Lesser thugs will do the same. The psychopath will not.” I live rural , and in my retirement years (from heavy equipment op /repair), I work security and storm water control on private land managed for timber production. I open carry my trusty m9 for the opportunity of putting the fear of god into some of my 4 legged friends ( black bear, fox, bobcat, occasional mountain lion) that are in the process of learning that where man lives, there can be easy food. ( They wouldn’t agree, but it’s for their own good. ) Meth head gorilla pot growers are my main pain. The saying.. ……..”when seconds count, the law is only minutes away” …….is an understatement in my case. I work alone and cell service is little to none. ( I should probably carry vhf.) Quiet avoidance has been my best defense so far, but experience shows that’s not always dependable. I’ve only been shot at once,…..probably just to scare me off,…but in that case it worked pretty good. I was glad to have the sheriff follow up with that hornet’s nest. That’s been a few years ago, and I’ve been more careful since. I have to say, Their motive is profit, but I promise you,…at least some of them WILL shot you. I happens around here every year. You could argue the term psychopath applys in their case, and you might well be right. Well hidden motion sensor “trail” cameras help me a lot toward keeping track of both man and beast in the woods, and I’ve got a lot better at tracking. Still,….screwing up just once could cost me big time.
    I have a lot of respect and appreciation for those who take on the responsibility of daily ccw. If there was any justice, their related expenses would at least be tax deductable. I can protect me and mine well enough without ccw, and I wouldn’t be much contribution since I’m seldom around many people. My interest in training would mostly to be better acquainted with the law, then decide what was appropriate for me from there. Thanks for the info and tips.

  5. Dewey states it correctly.
    A warning shot will probably serve to convince the adversary that you are not serious. It isnt done. That shot could go anywhere. You might need that shot later. If the adversary doesnt see ‘i will shoot’ in your eyes you are lost anyway and if you are not willing to shoot you have no business carrying a firearm. The handgun is the last resort. Those motivated by profit will run at the sight of the gun. Lesser thugs will do the same. The psychopath will not.

    1. Bob
      In the news last week in Texas a woman was arrested for firing warning shots at her husband who had a restraining order against him, she faces fellony charges. Morel of the story, when you have to pull the gun be totally prepared to use it. Do not shoot unless as last resort and don’t show it and threaten that is brandishing and also causes the carrier problems as well. Carrying a gun has many responsibilities and really is not to be taken lightly.

    2. George, as of last September, you can now legally show your weapon in any situation where you are justified using force. Agree very much with the rest of your post. In close quarters, you don’t want to show that gun unless you are going to fire it. And, as you note, the law does not have a “warning shot” provision; that’s called unlawful discharge of a firearm within the city limits.

    1. I was thinking of something short of, or preliminary to double tap, center mass. With 10 or more rounds in the mag, what’s the downside of wasting one on a warning shot,….conditions permitting, of course. A slap in the face with the shockwave of the muzzle blast can have a sobering effect toward a rethinking of a negative agenda that doesn’t require body bags. I don’t know much about ccw training, but was wondering if and when warning shots, or shots to disable are recommended procedure. If I have to live the rest of my life knowing I killed someone, I want to know it was…..last resort.

    2. I would never fire a warning shot. One thing to remember is the firearm is to be used as LAST resort. A warning isn’t your last option. I’ve taught my family and friends that the gun stays in the holster and hidden until deadly force is required. Once the weapon comes out it is immediately used center mass. Trying to wound when you have that much adrenaline is begging for a miss. Not everyone will be scared away by a warning shot. It will trigger the fight or flight response in the criminal. It would probably cause the flight reaction but the life of me and my loved ones is not worth the risk! But, the gun is still LAST resort.

    3. Why are you firing your weapon? It is to stop a threat. If you have time to shoot arms and legs was your life in immediate danger?

      A warning shot could just get you killed. Drawing your weapon with sights on the target means shoot to stop the threat. No warnings at that point.

      Plus when you are in that situation you aren’t must thinking about that.

    4. I agree with the others on this. If you want to send a message, call Western Union. A firearm is (usually) not a signaling or communications device. It is a weapon. If you’re not in danger of immediate criminal violence, you probably don’t need to be using it (yet). If you are in danger of immediate criminal violence, you need to have the conviction to use it without further hesitation. If you can’t bring yourself to make that decision, then you probably shouldn’t be carrying a concealed pistol for defense.

      Like most of us, I’ve never had to use a weapon to defend myself, so like most of us I’ve also had to rely on the writings and teachings of those who have, and the following is what they’ve taught me. “Shoot to wound” is a dumb concept that only makes sense in fiction. “Shoot to kill” is another phrase that’s usually bandied about by someone who has never used a gun in self-defense. If I need to shoot someone threatening me, or if my attention is lax and they’ve already begun assaulting me, my goal is survival. The best way to do that is to put bullets in them until they stop threatening me, and usually that means shooting them until they hit the ground. Not to sound callus, but I don’t care if they live or die. I want them to stop attacking me…if they live great, I’ll see them at the trial. I certainly won’t be administering a coup de grace while they’re no threat to me on the ground. The times I’ve seen that go to trial did not end well for the shooter. If they die in the course of me stopping them, well it’s called “lethal force” for a reason. Shooting to wound implies marksmanship and knowledge of anatomy and ballistic trauma that most of us lack in an academic setting, let alone during an actual gunfight. Shoot center of mass (or a failure drill…two to the body, one to the head), and shoot until your attacker stops attacking.

  6. This article and comments have been very educational but I’d appreciate if someone would cover why non lethal use of a firearm is so frowned on by those knowledgeable with ccw issues.

    1. In addition to what others have said, consider that while it may be legal to discharge your firearm in defense of your life, a warning shot technically is not defending your life. Law enforcement could conceivably charge you with illegal discharge of a firearm within the city limits. Not to mention, that bullet has to go somewhere, and you are financially and legally responsible for where it goes, regardless of whether you had cause to fire.

  7. A good article, but does not emphasize that if you are committed to conceal carry your education/training does not stop with getting your CHL. Situational, Active Shooter training or the basics of a proper draw technique, plus many other classes are all necessary for a truly concealed carry lifestyle.

  8. Good article. Have had my permit for 5 years now. Class instruction was very good. UNDERSCORED the tremendous responsibility of carrying a concealed weapon. As a former sworn firefighter, who was shot at several times while on the job (low rent district) I deceided to get my permit when I retired and moved to a state which allows for weapons carry. My personal view is my weapon is for that special situation, which I hope never happens, where an individual deceides to create a situation which would make national headlines and once again stir the pot on gun control. Long and short of it when it is the last resort to save my life or another innocent person(s) from harm.

  9. Most of the points you make are very valid, though I’ll disagree with three:

    The first is your implication that violent crime is pervasive, epidemic and inevitable. Statistically (and often practically, if your first brush with violent crime is your own murder) violent crime in America is a once-in-a-lifetime prospect for the average citizen. If it were a frequent occurrence for the average citizen, we wouldn’t be having this discussion, and gun-control advocates would appear even more obviously out-of-touch. Police manning has gone down in the recent past, but violent crime has been on a downward trend since the 1990’s. As you point out, the “police as bodyguards” paradigm is faulty, and we are our own keepers when it comes to self-defense, as is explicit in the term. But decision to apply for a CCW permit should be made not based on an inaccurate picture of violent crime inevitably finding you, but rather on the more level-headed basis of risk management. The odds of an individual being victimized by violent criminals in any given year are roughly 1:250…those long odds are why the strategy of denial works, at least in the short-term. The consequences of being targeted by violent criminals however, are quite often catastrophic, and should be taken in to consideration. You don’t need to pad the numbers with the entire criminal population (to include non-violent criminals…a concealed weapon won’t do much to protect you from drug addiction, identity theft or mail fraud) to justify the decision to carry concealed, just acknowledge the potential consequences of not carrying versus the relatively small investment in time and money needed to carry effectively.

    “The true winner in a lethal situation is often the one that uses verbal judo to control the situation and dissuade an attacker without using lethal force.” If you’re talking about using awareness, avoidance, de-escalation and deterrence, then I agree with you. These techniques are at least as important in self-defense as is the use of the concealed weapon itself. Your statement however seems to imply talking is a skillful substitute for self-defense. Non-violent techniques are preferred, but they will not always be effective or applicable. They are an adjunct to self-defense, and not always an alternative. As Gen. James Mattis put it; “…there are some assholes in the world that just need to be shot.” I’m not implying that violent self-defense is the default response to conflict, but I am pointing out that “verbal judo” won’t always work, and shouldn’t be presented as the best possible response. Especially in rare mass shootings, there is little or no opportunity for de-escalation. I do understand the instructional value of presenting students with as many tools in the toolbox as possible, to avoid the phenomena of “when all you have is a hammer, every problem starts looking like a nail.” But I prefer a balanced approach, pointing out that awareness, avoidance, deterrence and de-escalation are also tools in the toolbox. There are instances however, where time and conditions won’t allow for anything but direct action, and I’d like to avoid a CCW permit holder getting shot because he incorrectly thought that talking his way out of a confrontation was the preferred method just as much as I’d like to avoid a CCW permit holder perpetrating an unjustified shooting.

    “The handgun is not there to assert your will or to keep you from getting your butt whipped.” I agree with the first part of the statement. As CCW permit holders, we are not cops, nor are we armed interveners. A concealed weapon should not be viewed as a license to mouth off with impunity. I should be held accountable for any confrontation I initiate or escalate, but that’s not how you phrased it. For criminal violence not of my own doing, keeping me from getting my butt whipped is EXACTLY why I carry a concealed firearm. Or are you suggesting that violent criminals unmistakably telegraph lethal versus non-lethal intent early in the criminal act? I can’t tell beforehand if a violent attack is intended to be lethal, so you’ll have to forgive me if I err on the side of caution. Defending myself from a violent criminal attack should be justified without first having to unerringly determine lethal intent. As former Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. put it; “Detached reflection cannot be demanded in the presence of an uplifted knife.”

    These last two comments remind me of Mark Glaze from MAIG (though not the body of your article, of course), who delusionally thinks that self-defense with a pistol is only justified when first threatened by a criminal armed with a firearm. Disparity of force (other than firearms) is a very appropriate concept when deciding when you are in danger of death or great bodily harm, and when deciding to use deadly force to defend yourself or those around you. More succinctly, if somebody comes at me swinging an axe handle, I’m not waiting for an explicit statement from the perpetrator outlining his intention to kill me, nor am I going to follow Mark’s denialist suggestions to use my fists or try and talk my way out of the beating. In that instant, awareness, avoidance, deterrence and de-escalation have failed, and violence is imminent. The only choice left is to either submit to the violence, or to respond with managed violence to defend myself and those around me. I think we all agree that for these scenarios, the latter is the better choice.

  10. I received my concealed carry instruction at the Front Sight Training facility. After the training I remember thinking, I know I can do this now. After lots of practice and experimenting with different inside the waistband holsters, I felt like I could make this part of my daily activity. Now I am ready, but hope that I will never have to use my skills. Self-defense is my responsibility, no one else will be there to save me. As you said, training is essential if you are going to carry a handgun.

  11. Excellent article Mr. Campbell. I would like to thank you for you service also. It was great learning from your personal experiences. I started carrying this year at age 56 and am trying to position myself around respected gun owners, on-line professionals like Rob Pincus and Michael Martin and my local NRA members who actively support the Second Amendment. I believe it’s never to late to learn but seek out the best and most reliable. Situational awareness.

  12. Very informative article. Like many of us who read these blogs, we hope at all costs never to have to use a firearm in self defense. Handgun courses are essential for those begining to carry a concealed weapon as is firing thousands of rounds of practice through your chosen weapon. The one thing that is lacking in firearm courses by instructors, courses given by some states to obtain a CWP, and rarely stated in articles as above, are what is the best course of action after you discharge your firearm in self defense. What you do in those immediate few minutes after could save you from being charged either with a crime and/or thousands of dollars in legal fees. There are some excellent books by various authors that provide some insight into this topic.

  13. Your comments are right on the money. I got my first Indiana CC permit in 1976 and finally opted for a lifetime permit about 5 years ago. Over the course of the last 38 years, while, thankfully, I’ve never had to use deadly force, I’ve had 3 occasions where the mere presence of a handgun prevented a crime. To me, that’s the best possible outcome — where everyone walks away alive.

  14. I took the Concealed Carry in Grand Prairie, Texas it was a great
    class but did not discuss buying your first gun. It would really have
    helped. I wouldn’t have made several mistakes.

  15. I have been working in the COP program Code Blue for five years now, and you’re right on the mark with everything you’ve mentioned. Being in the program, it’s made me more aware of the budget constraints and other imposed, or resulting problems, facing the department in a rapidly developing area of our large city. Places around me that were farm land just a few years ago, are now airports, shopping centers, schools, and new homes and apartments. The city promises low to no taxes to entice businesses to re-locate from other states, so each time I leave the house, I find new streets, buildings, etc, within a three mile radius, and with all this growth comes crime. Irionicly, the only time I can’t be armed, is while patrolling the neighborhood. The purpose of the program however, is to be the eyes and ears for the police, and I understand that, it’s just an interesting point. After all the years of hunting, my wife and I opted for the Florida license class, as it was cheaper, the renewal was less frequent, the class was only four hours, and we didn’t have to bring a gun to class, fire a gun, or even own a gun, I suppose. The only thing about having the Florida licence is that I still have to wait ten minutes for the NCIS background check, while all my Texas neighbors don’t, with theirs. Now, if I could just find a couple of suitable holsters for an XDs w/Crimson Trace Laserguard. The gun is new, and the laser takes up room, so perhaps it won’t be long before there are some quality styles on the market. Otherwise, I may have to turn to a custom maker. Like you said, it’s a commitment, not a fad. Your post was spot-on. Thanks, and thank you for your service.

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