The Alien Gear Holsters' Guide To Concealed Carry For The Total Beginner
Often enough, concealed carry is the next step for the total beginner after getting a handgun. You have the gun in the home, but you want to start taking it with you when you leave the house.
Let's go over everything you need to know to get started. There's a lot to learn, and we encourage you to learn as much as you can every single facet of concealed carry.
And there are a lot of rabbit holes to go down.
What we're going to go over in this guide is the basics, the foundations of what you're going to need to know and understand, what if any gear or anything else you'll need to get started, and briefly explain concealed carry permit laws.
Be Aware: any legal information or discussion in this guide isn't legal advice. It's a discussion of publicly-available information between adults. Seek legal advice from an attorney if you need it.
So, let's get started.
What Is Concealed Carry?
Concealed carry is when you carry a weapon of some sort in a concealed fashion. That could be a knife, it could be a collapsing baton, but the term has come to mean a concealed handgun.
The idea is to secure a handgun to your person (typically via a holster) and conceal it from view with your clothing. Done right, nobody knows you're armed.
The United States is rather rare in that we live in one of the few countries in which citizens are allowed to do that. There are a few other countries that do; South Africa and the Czech Republic issue permits to citizens without too much hassle, but it is a "privilege" rarely granted to the citizens of many countries.
However, it wasn't always so. For much of our history, concealed carry was mostly illegal but open carry was not. That changed in the 20th century, when a number of states passed laws that made it illegal to carry a gun in public unless you had a permit...that was impossible to get.
A few states changed their laws so the permit WASN'T impossible to get. Then more started doing so, until only a few states were remaining where the practice was to keep the general public from being able to get a permit to carry.
Why Should I Concealed Carry?
The reason a person should or should at least consider concealed carry is the same reason why many people have a gun in the home to begin with.
When seconds count, police are minutes away.
Police response times can be fast, but rarely fast enough to get to you in time when violence occurs.
In a perfect world, there would be no violence or failing that, police or other authorities could respond fast enough to keep anyone from serious harm. Unfortunately, we don't live in an ideal world and you may not be able to rely on anyone to save you.
According to the FBI, there were 1.203 million violent crimes in 2019, the latest year for which they have data.
That included 16,425 murders.
139,815 rapes. 267,898 robberies. 821,128 aggravated assaults. 1,117,696 burglaries that could have become robberies or something worse.
While the overall crime rate (including that of violent crime) is actually decreasing in the United States, it is higher here than most of the developed world.
Think about this: there are over 300,000,000 inhabitants of the United States. There are, according to the Law Enforcement Memorial Fund, just over 800,000 law enforcement officers. That's less than 1 for every 300 people.
Average police response times are said to average about 10 minutes, though that varies by area.
Do the math. If something really bad happens, there is a real chance they will not be able to save you. In other words, you might not be able to rely on police or anyone else being able to rescue you from a threat before they kill or seriously maim you.
A person carries a firearm to protect themselves in case of the gravest extreme, a credible threat to life and limb be it their own, that of a friend or family member, or that of someone nearby.
Just as you carry car insurance in case of an accident, or keep a fire extinguisher in the home, a gun is a tool to save lives in case of a worst-case scenario. It isn't likely to happen to you, but if it does, there may be no one to help you so you need to be able to help yourself.
Let's say you wanted to take the next step, from having a gun in the home to having a gun on you in case of that worst-case scenario.
How do you get started with concealed carry?
What You Need To Concealed Carry
There are only a few things you actually need to conceal a pistol, so the concealed carry shopping list is rather short.
First, if applicable, you need a concealed carry permit. Not all states require it, but most do. If your state of residence requires one, you must get your permit before you can start carrying a gun in public.
You need a suitable concealed carry gun. While there's a lot of discussion about what the right one is, the truth is you can conceal and carry almost any pistol. Even a full-size 1911 is not hugely difficult to conceal.
You need to get a concealed carry holster of decent construction. This is critical. A holster secures the pistol to your person; it's actually a piece of safety equipment.
To secure the holster, you also need a decent gun belt. This can get overlooked at times, but is no less essential. The belt is the foundation the holster sits on.
For your concealed carry gun, you need to purchase some self-defense ammunition.
Specifically, expanding ammunition such as a jacketed hollowpoint, semi-wadcutter hollow point, jacketed soft point or other expanding ammunition made for those purposes.
You also need to have clothing that works with your concealed carry gun, holster and belt, but that's fairly easily done.
What Kind Of Concealed Carry Gear Should I Get?
There's lot of choices on the market for every single item you'd need on your "concealed carry checklist" of sorts. There's no one right answer...but there's probably some really good choices for you.
Any handgun that you can conceal on your person, that is reliable and that you can shoot safely and accurately is a good concealed carry gun. Maybe that's a 1911, maybe it's a Glock 19, maybe it's a S&W Shield or Sig P365, maybe it's a S&W Model 19.
A holster has to be comfortable to wear, but must also safely retain the pistol. You should also test it out BEFORE carrying with it by doing some practice with the holster at a range. You should be able to draw the gun easily, reholster it safely, and be able to do both repeatedly.
A gun belt needs to support the pistol, the holster as well as keep them anchored in place. It's no good if you're having to constantly tighten your belt to keep the gun up.
A concealed carry permit must be valid and on your person at all times. In a wallet is good.
Complimentary EDC Gear For Concealed Carry
When it comes to other stuff you want to have when you concealed carry, there are a few EDC items that are good to have...but maybe aren't the most necessary.
A compact flashlight is an excellent accessory. Flashlights are useful in and of themselves, but can also be deployed in case you have to shoot in a low-light environment.
A knife is also a common accessory. After all, they don't run out of ammo, and you can't really open boxes with a gun. You'll get some strange looks in the office, that's for sure.
A lot of elite tactical trainers will tell you it's a good idea to also carry a portable IFAK in case medical assistance is needed. Typically these contain some bandages and a tourniquet, if not more. If you intend to, please take emergency medical training to learn the proper use.
Additional magazines and/or ammunition is a good thing to consider. Almost no self-defense shootings - meaning those involving a civilian - involve a reload of any sort. Some have involved emptying of a low-capacity gun such as a revolver or a 1911 pistol, however.
The need for capacity in a carry gun is and has been overblown, but more is better than none. Whether you want to keep a spare magazine on you in case of exhausting supply or in case of malfunction is up to you. If so, make sure to get - and train with - a quality mag carrier.
Again, it's completely up to you if you want to carry any of these things along with your concealed carry gun. All of them are a good idea to have.
A Brief Overview Of Concealed Carry Permits
One of the first things you absolutely have to have before you start carrying is a concealed carry permit. Part of the modern theory of concealed carry, which we'll cover later on, is that of the Law Abiding Citizen, being one of the good guys.
That means being on the side of law and order, which includes getting a permit.
Without boring you with too much legalese, let's quickly go over what you need to know about concealed carry permits.
In the broad strokes, anyone who can legally purchase and possess a pistol can get a concealed carry permit. Most states also require you to get some training of some sort, though the exact nature of said training varies from state to state.
Every state in the union except for Vermont issues concealed carry permits, though some states make it harder to get one than others! Vermont is a constitutional carry state, meaning a permit is not (and never has been) required and therefore doesn't issue them.
In some states, the training requirement is just a basic gun safety course like NRA Basic Pistol or even a state-approved hunter's safety course. Others have a specific curriculum.
Some states require a live-fire portion and a qualification shoot, others don't.
Some states offer tiered licenses, including a basic permit and enhanced permit. The enhanced permit will typically require a longer training course.
Be sure to check your state and local laws. While we can deal with generalities to give you an idea of what it will be like, your experience is going to depend on where you are.
Usually, you'll have to provide proof of completing state-required training and you'll need to be fingerprinted. Sometimes you have to get the fingerprints done elsewhere, or it may be done at the police station you're applying at, whichever the case may be for you.
The permit process is fairly simple. You go to the relevant issuing authority - typically, it's your local police or county sheriff, though sometimes it's the state police - fill out some paperwork, get fingerprinted, pay the application fee and turn it in.
At that point, the issuing authority conducts a background check, while you wait for the background check to clear.
Once the background check is done, you'll be notified of approval or denial and can go pick up your permit.
That's the basic process.
Do I Need A Permit To Concealed Carry?
For the most part, yes you need a permit to carry a concealed weapon. However, there are some exceptions.
Almost every state allows a person to carry a gun in and around their home or place of work without needing a permit. Typically, it is also allowed to carry a gun (concealed or openly) if engaged in what is usually termed "lawful outdoor activities" like hiking or fishing.
Then you have the constitutional carry states.
Constitutional carry is the colloquial term used for permitless carry, meaning that certain states allow anyone to carry a gun, concealed or openly, without needing a permit so long as they aren't legally prohibited from possessing a firearm.
Almost all constitutional carry states also offer permits if anyone wants to get one, which is usually sought for the reciprocity purposes.
Most states recognize and honor the concealed carry permits of some or all other states. In other words, if you get a permit as a resident of, say, Ohio...you can also concealed carry in Indiana, and Indianans can concealed carry in Ohio as well. That's concealed carry reciprocity.
If you live in a constitutional carry state, it's up to you whether you want to do that or not.
With that said, it is generally the case that you need a permit to conceal and carry a pistol outside of the home or office. While residents of constitutional carry states don't have to, it's still a good idea to have one for reciprocity purposes.
Once You Have Your Permit: How To Concealed Carry
How to concealed carry? It's pretty simple, really.
You put on your holster, insert your gun and conceal it by draping clothing over the gun. Then you head out the door and get on about your day.
The quality of your concealment - meaning how well the gun is covered - mostly depends on how your cover garment, be it a t-shirt, a polo, a button-up or a jacket - drapes over the gun.
What you want to find is a spot where the contour of your body creates a space between you and your shirt. This creates a sort of dead space where the gun and the holster can sit and not imprint through the garment and create the tell-tale bulge of a concealed weapon.
Classically, this is somewhere at or behind the hip. For some people it's closer to the front pants pocket and others it's closer to the wallet pocket; you will have to find what the right spot is for you.
If you appendix carry, the gun will sit in the front of your waistband. Just like for people who carry strongside, there is a sweet spot somewhere between your pocket and your waistband button where your shirt will easily cover the gun.
However, what you also have to find is a spot where the holster is comfortable or at least comfortable enough for you to wear it all day. This is important, as you'll be wearing it for hours at a time, so you have to be to able put up with it.
It definitely pays to purchase a comfortable holster. Don't overlook it; a lot of people wind up not carrying because they can't stand their holster, and selectively carrying...kind of defeats the purpose.
As to clothing, any relatively loose-fitting clothing works very well. You don't have to look like you're wearing a tent, but be aware that you may have to go one size up in pants. Avoid slim-fit pants and shirts, or if you dress to impress, avoid Italian cut suits.
That's more or less how you get started. You get the gear you need, hopefully some training, and a permit and you're ready to go.
However...that is far from the only thing you need to know.
Theory Of Modern Concealed Carry
Another thing to be aware of is the theory and philosophy of modern concealed carry and the gun owner in modern society.
There are certain concepts, certain principles, that are common to the gun owning community and to people that concealed carry on a regular basis. This is sometimes referred to as parts of the "concealed carry mindset."
The concealed carrier is a law abiding citizen.
We understand, respect, follow and are on the side of the law. We are not law enforcement, and a concealed carry permit isn't a badge. We act within the letter and spirit of the law...and we therefore must have some knowledge of it.
The concealed carrier is not cavalier or irresponsible with firearms. While some errant people are, we all strive to be competent and safe with our guns.
To be safe, we must respect the destructive potential that guns have and act accordingly. We must carry in a safe manner, store guns in a safe manner, and during range time (hooray!) shoot in a responsible manner.
To be competent, we must train.
Take training courses from qualified instructors. Practice when possible, with both live fire as well as dry fire.
Do you have to put in the same amount of time as elite competitive shooters? No. But you do have to establish a practice regimen and stick to it to have the skill needed to save yourself if you have to.
The idea is to have the means and ability to confront danger, not to BE the danger due to recklessness, negligence, or incompetence.
Responsible people don't go looking for fights. A concealed carry gun is not an equalizer to help you win petty disputes. It's a life-saving tool for when a specific type of worst-case scenario is occurring.
It's like a fire extinguisher in case of fire, or life insurance in case you die but want your family to be taken care of financially. Carrying a gun doesn't make you an amateur police officer, it isn't a means to exert your will over others. It's a means to save your life if/when you have to.
If everything goes right, no one will ever know you were armed.
A Word About Concealed Carry Guns: Hardware Is Overrated, Software Makes The Difference
Guns are great, but people put too much emphasis on the hardware. The reality is that concealed carry guns are just tools.
It's how well you are able to use the tools you have that makes the difference. If you can't hit the broadside of a barn, it doesn't matter if you have a Glock or a handmade 1911.
If you're competent with a pistol, if you have solid foundational skills at handgun shooting, it also doesn't matter if you have a Glock or a handmade 1911 because you'll get the hits with darn near anything.
It's one thing to be into guns and shooting as a hobby, whether that's collecting or just enjoying going out and plinking or punching paper at the range. But a lot of people in the gun community insist on a great number of things being important that just aren't.
It doesn't matter if a gun has a manual safety, if the shooter is proficient with it. It doesn't matter if a gun is a double/single action pistol, if the shooter is proficient with it. It won't matter if a revolver has only six shots in the cylinder, if the shooter trains is proficient with it.
"Can you make the gear you have work" is all that matters. If you can't, you need to learn how or get gear that does, and that's all there is to it.
People also make a bit too much of the ammunition as well. The reality is that any bullet of decent construction, properly placed, is effective. There are plenty of different brands and bullet designs that serve very well for the purpose.
When it comes to ammunition, placement matters most. Get a decent hollow point, but remember that where you put it has more to do with whether or not you can put a threat down.
Concealed Carry Practice: Use It Or Lose It
After you've gotten the permit, the gear, maybe taken a training course or two, it's up to you to hone and maintain the necessary skills to save your own life if you should have to.
Shooting skills are perishable. Just like fitness. If you don't walk or run or bike, you're going to decondition. If you don't lift, you'll lose strength. If you don't shoot, your ability to hit the target WILL deteriorate.
It is only through repetition that we can become good at anything, and how we stay that way.
It is also the case that HOW you practice matters as well as THAT you practice. Concealed carry skills involve more than just hitting the target. So you must practice in a different manner than mere target shooting.
Practical Shooting Skills
The kind of range work you need to do for concealed carry is not target practice. You have to practice practical shooting. Train how you'll fight, as the saying goes.
That means using the gear you'll be wearing on the street (normal clothes, your normal gun, your carry holster) and shooting practical drills - typically the draw-and-shoot variety - that either are the exact skills you'll need in a fight or help build on them.
Mag dumps are fun, but they don't do you any good.
For the total beginner, it's helpful to take a defensive pistol course or two, if not get some private instruction. A weekend or two or a few hours with an instructor won't make you suddenly competent, but what they will do is teach you how and what to practice.
If you're starting at square one, what you want to focus on is execution and efficiency. Yes, you want to develop speed, but that comes with repetition and confidence. Focus on doing things right without wasting time or effort, and speed will come.
Putting in the time practicing, using both live fire and dry fire, is the best way to give yourself a better chance of being able to save your own life. A bit of sweat in training is better than bleeding in a fight.
Do you need to commit to shooting practice only, and make that your entire way of life, living like some sort of concealed carry monk?!
Of course not. An hour or two of dry fire every week, or even just a few minutes a day does a lot of good. Getting to a range for live fire practice every week or two is also good. And remember, you can practice the draw and the first shot dry firing at home.
On The Home Front: Safe Storage
Part of being a responsible gun owner and carrier is safely storing your guns when not in use.
If it isn't on the hip in a holster, it should be in a secure space and that does not mean a drawer or a cabinet that can be easily opened. One of the most frequent causes of accidental shootings is children who got a hold of a parent's or grandparent's gun.
Make sure you have some means of safe storage, whether that's an actual gun safe, concealment furniture, or even a simple lockbox. Make sure the keys are in a hidden location; children often know where keys are stored.
If you aren't carrying your gun or using it (maintenance or dry firing) in the home, it should be locked up.
Concealed Carry And The Workplace
You may be able to conceal and carry at work, or you may not be able to, depending on what company policy is.
You may also not be able to, period, due to the nature of your job. Mechanics and other tradespeople who spend hours on their back or in awkward positions...may find daily concealed carry too impractical.
Make sure to read the employee handbook, and determine for yourself what (if any) policy exists regarding carrying in the workplace. If there is no policy, that may mean fair game. If there is a policy against it, you have a couple of options.
First is running the risk of getting caught. Second is to leave your gun in the car or at home. After all, running the risk of getting caught is putting your employment at hazard. Some people choose to, some people do not. You have to decide that for yourself.
If you decide to leave your carry gun in your car, get and install a car safe. Not a holster mount, get an actual car safe. Typical examples are a compact lockbox with a steel tether cable for attaching the safe to the brackets under your car seats.
This much is up to you; everyone has to make the best decision they can for themselves. However, if you do start to conceal and carry, this is something that you will have to reckon with.
Concealed Carry In The Car
Concealed carry in the car introduces a few interesting wrinkles.
First you have the legal aspect; state laws may or may not mandate how you can carry in a vehicle.
Second, you have the access problem. You may not be able to easily access your pistol while seated and belted. What are you supposed to do?
Third, what do you do if you have to leave the gun in your car?
As far as the legal aspect, most states typically mandate that a concealed handgun has to be - this verbiage is pretty typical - "concealed on your person" or otherwise secured. In other words, you can't just put the gun in the console or the glove box.
Check your state laws. Some people prefer to keep the gun holstered, and others use a holster mount to secure the pistol while driving while having fast access.
As far as access, this is a training issue. A holstered gun on or behind the hip will be hard or impossible to get to while seated, but you can create space for access while leaning forward. Make sure to practice creating space to get to the gun.
For storing the gun in your car, get a car safe. Again, most are a compact lockbox with a steel tether cable, but this provides some secure storage that is a lot less susceptible to theft.
Gun-Free Zones: Is There Anywhere I Can't Concealed Carry?
Gun-free zones are created by either state or federal law, and most by volume are state laws.
It's also the case that the relative seriousness of concealed carry in a forbidden area depends on whether it's a public or private location.
In a public place where you're forbidden from possessing weapons, having a gun there is a crime and you can do jail time for it. In a private location...you can be considered to be trespassing, but technically only after you've been discovered and asked to leave.
Federal law forbids carrying a gun in federal buildings such as federal courthouses, offices, prisons and the like. This also includes ranger stations in national forests and national parks.
Post offices are also gun-free zones, but since the post office occupies this weird space where it's kind of a federal agency but it's also not...it's unclear as to how much weight that holds legally.
State laws also designate certain buildings and locations as gun-free zones. It is incumbent on you to read your state and local laws and learn what they are.
Typically, you can't concealed carry in school zones, though most states allow for license holders to have a gun in their car. Most courthouses are typically gun-free zones, polling places can be gun-free zones, libraries are commonly off-limits, as are municipal office buildings in many cases.
Mixers go well with alcohol (especially a little soda water, muddled sugar and an orange slice if you're having some rye) but guns do not. The typical rule is that you cannot be served alcohol if you're carrying. Further, you shouldn't drink if you're carrying.
Like driving, yes that means "just one." Don't drink and drive, don't drink and handle loaded guns. If you have to use it, your competence and judgement WILL be called into question and guess what impairs judgement like crazy?
State law also varies as to restaurants and bars. Some states don't allow guns in bars and taverns - businesses that primarily serve alcohol, but may also have food - some don't allow carrying guns in any establishment that serves alcohol, and some don't forbid carrying, but do forbid being served.
Again, this varies from state to state, so you need to find out what locations are off-limits in your state of residence.
I've Started To Concealed Carry...Now What?
Again, concealed carry is not like becoming some sort of Gun Fu Monk. You haven't joined a secret society. You're exercising a right that you had all along, and you're just adding a bit of extra stuff that you take with you when you leave the house.
That stuff is a life-saving tool that's only meant to be used in the direst of circumstances, and a storage vessel (the holster) to keep it securely in place on your person.
However, the thing is that tool has significant destructive potential, and with great power - as we learn from Spiderman - comes great responsibility.
You must know the law of self-defense, and act within its boundaries in letter and spirit. A carry permit isn't a badge. A concealed carry permit doesn't give you permission to get into stupid fights and settle them with a gun.
You must respect the destructive potential of a firearm. Therefore, you have to carry and handle guns in a safe, responsible manner.
Plenty of people have accidents or otherwise do stupid things with guns. Sometimes it gets themselves or someone else hurt. Sometimes it gets somebody killed.
Don't be one of those people.
When gun owners do everything right, nobody knows and nobody notices. When one of us does something wrong, it can make headlines, and every headline is ammunition for gun control advocates to say "See?! This is why the public needs to be completely disarmed!"
Don't be one of the people that gives them more fodder for their authoritarian agenda.
You need to know what you're doing. Get some training. More guns are great, but you'll get a lot more out of paying for more training or more ammunition for practice instead.
Practice with your pistol and gear. A gun, ammunition and a holster give you the means to defend yourself if necessary, but training and practice give you the ability to do so.
It's the same idea as when you start to drive a car. When you get your license and your first wheels, you have gained abilities you didn't previously have, but you must also be responsible and safe in its use.
Be safe, and be responsible. Now get to the range.