Whatever you call it, a gun permit, a carry license, license to carry (LTC), concealed carry permit, or a license to carry concealed weapons (CCW), chances are that it is shiny and new, not something you have had for years.  Legislatures in many states have recently instituted new CCW laws, or loosened the restrictions on old ones, so that now it is possible, in many states, to obtain the right to carry a concealed firearm in public.

If you are new at this concealed carry business, you are probably feeling the weight of the responsibility it imposes even more heavily than the weight of the gun itself.  I hope you never entirely lose that feeling.  Carrying a gun in public is one of the most responsible things you can do, _if_ you take those responsibilities seriously.

What responsibilities?  There are basically three: safety, concealment, and competence.

Safety first.  Last.  Always.  Nobody suspended the rules of gun safety just because you aren’t standing on a shooting range.

It is more important than ever to keep the gun pointed in a safe direction; this is not usually a problem if you have a good quality holster, but you have to be particularly alert to safe directions when putting your gun into your carry holster, and when taking it out again.  Once in the holster, any direction is ok, as the design of the holster will ensure that the trigger cannot be pulled while the gun is holstered, so you don’t have to remember not to point your purse at anyone, if the gun is in a good quality holster made for in-the-purse carry.

Always keep your finger off the trigger until you are ready to shoot.  You may find yourself in a situation where you feel it is imperative to draw your gun, but you don’t need to shoot it, yet.  Always keep your finger off the trigger when you draw, and, unless you need to shoot immediately, keep your finger off the trigger, even while you bring the gun up and aim it.  When you do move your finger to the trigger, you still have the option not to shoot.

Always keep the gun unloaded until ready to use.  At least this one is easy.  By definition, a defense gun must be ready to use at any moment, so it must be loaded whenever you have it with you.  If you carry a semi-auto, there should be a round in the chamber; you can’t count on having enough time, in an emergency, to safely draw, then safely rack the slide to chamber a round, then aim and fire if necessary.  Modern revolvers are safe to carry fully loaded; if yours is so old that its only safe condition is hammer down on an empty chamber, it is time to get a new carry gun.

Always be sure of your backstop, and what is beyond.  This takes on a whole new meaning on the street, doesn’t it?  You can help to prepare yourself for the worst by spending a few moments now and then considering the places where you normally go, from the hallway of your apartment building to the stores where you shop and the streets near your favorite movie theater.  What directions are safe?  From which directions might someone try to attack you?  Where could you take cover?  If you had to shoot, and the bullet either missed or went completely through your assailant (it has been known to happen), where would it end up?

Concealment.  In most places, carrying a gun means carrying concealed, and you can get in tremendous difficulties, including being arrested and/or losing your firearms license, if you let your gun show in public, where it understandably frightens people.

You must choose a gun and holster combination that ensures that members of the general public won’t be able to stare at your Seecamp, peek at your Python or gaze at your Glock.  Concealed carry is much more of a challenge for women than for men.  There are lots of suggestions in this magazine.  Study them carefully, and be prepared to try a number of different options before you find what works for you.

Competence.  Ah, yes, this is the hard one, isn’t it?  Actually it is not as hard as you think.  You should get good quality instruction that is specifically oriented toward defensive gun use (for example, it should include instruction on how to draw from concealment safely), you should benchmark yourself against whatever courses of fire are relevant (the ones police use, for example, which are sometimes published in various gun and law enforcement magazines), and you should get enough practice to maintain your skills.  How much practice?  That varies from person to person, but 2-3 concentrated practice sessions at the range per year is probably about the minimum.

You can supplement your live fire range work with occasional dry firing at home (with appropriate safety procedures in place), and with awareness practice every single day.  This is just as important as firing your gun.  It keeps you alert, keeps you thinking tactically, and actually helps you see trouble coming in time to avoid it instead of having to use your gun to deal with it.

But there is another aspect to “competence” in addition to awareness and the skill to hit what (or who) you aim at.  That is judgment.  Many new CCW holders are tortured by the question, “Will I make the right decision?”

Just the fact that you formulate that question, and worry about it, shows that you are a responsible person who is concerned about doing the right thing.

Perhaps a few facts will help to reduce that level of tortured unrest to something bearable.  The following comes from Skip Gochenour, the director of the American Tactical Shooting Association.

“Each year in the United States armed citizens kill 2.5 to 3 times as many felons in lawful and justifiable use of force encounters as do the police.  In these incidents, police kill innocent parties about 11% of the time.  Armed citizens make the same mistake about 2% of the time. Police mistakenly kill innocent citizens five times more often than armed citizens do in justifiable use of force incidents.”

Think hard about that.  Armed private citizens make many fewer mistakes than police when it comes to shooting people!  Why?  Well, for one thing, private citizens who are on the spot when they are attacked, have a much easier job of sorting out the good guys from the bad guys than do the police arriving in the middle of a scene full of participants they have never seen before.

Trust your judgment.

Skip says that another way, “Good men [and women] avoid causing harm to other [people] unless compelled to interrupt violent wicked deadly conduct.  Be assured that because you know right from wrong, you will make the right and moral decision should evil come your way.  It will be clear and obvious.”

The final thing you can do to develop and maintain your competence is to keep on learning.  Take classes, to learn new skills and refresh old ones.  Read books and magazines like this one.  Keep thinking, and asking questions.  Stay safe.

This article first appeared in the Mar-Apr 2000 issue of Women&Guns magazine.  Copyright (c) 2000 Lyn Bates