You’ve never quite gotten around to doing it. There were always reasons, good ones. But you kept thinking about it, and perhaps someone urged you to at least get a CCW (concealed carry of weapons) license so that you would have it “just in case.”

You’ve had the safety training, and some range practice. You have the license. Realizing the value of a gun for self-protection, you finally took a major step you never thought you’d take: you got your own gun!

The gun sits safely at home except when you take it to the range to practice. It no longer feels like a strange, incomprehensible, dangerous, unpredictable machine. Instead, it is more like an electric drill — something you’ve learned how to use but only use occasionally. It doesn’t have the easy familiarity of your car, your microwave, or the other machines you use every day.

The thought of carrying it with you on a daily basis is daunting, and somewhat uncomfortable. Whenever the subject is raised, you have one of those “good reasons not to” handy. Maybe you’ll get around to trying it. Someday.

Join the club! You’re not the only person to take her own sweet time about deciding when, and whether, to carry a gun. In a recent short, unscientific, survey of a bunch of my gun-toting friends, it turned out that virtually all of us, myself included, was slow to go from firearms owner to firearms carrier. On average, I’d say it takes a couple of years (in the absence of a compelling reason such as a death threat).

Why so long? Two of the typical reasons are lack of confidence in your ability to judge a lethal force situation, and not being sure you could carry discretely and comfortably. Let’s examine them in detail.

1. Lack of confidence in your ability to judge a lethal force situation. This is only natural, even if you have had some training directed specifically at personal-protection issues. How do you know you won’t cause a bad situation to become worse? Isn’t it safer just to leave the gun at home?

No, it isn’t safer, just easier to rationalize.

The truth is, the more options you have for responding to trouble, the safer you really are. This is why police carry half a dozen different kinds of equipment with them, plus all the knowledge and skills they have in their heads and hands.

People who are good, moral, concerned folk are reluctant to do anything that might, even inadvertently, cause bad things to happen. It is _because_ you are a good, moral person that you take seriously the responsibility of owning and using firearms. And it is precisely because you are good, moral, and concerned that you will, if you have to, trust your judgment and be willing to stand behind that choice.

2. Not sure you can carry discretely and comfortably. This is a biggie. The fear of “flashing” the gun accidentally, or, horror of horrors, somehow dropping it on the street in front of terrified onlookers, is the stuff of nightmares.

This is made worse by the fact that novice carriers feel the gun is prominent, even when it is not. I can guarantee you that the first time you carry a gun concealed, you will be absolutely sure that everyone around you can see it. You will feel as conspicuous as a giraffe at a antelope convention.

I can also guarantee you that, if you take reasonable precautions, the gun won’t show. After all, how many times have you noticed someone on the street carrying a concealed gun? Never, right? And since CCWs are legal in your state, it is a virtual certainty that you have, possibly frequently, been in the presence of armed civilians. If they don’t stick out of the crowd like a giraffe, you won’t either, even though you will feel like you do.

So, what makes it easier to take that first step? How can you join the antelopes without feeling like a giraffe?

1. Carry on an experimental basis. Without making the commitment to being an “armed person” at all times, try it occasionally. Don’t start with your place of business (assuming you are allowed to carry there), try just going on a short errand during the weekend.

In fact, start by carrying an empty gun! Yes, I mean it! Not only is it lighter than a lead-loaded counterpart, it completely relieves you of the mental responsibility for dealing with the lethal force aspects, and lets you concentrate on the purely practical details of concealment.

Remind yourself that you are doing the experiment just to test the “discrete and comfortable” part of the equation; your plan, for today, is to react to any confrontation in exactly the same way you would react if you weren’t carrying the gun. (When you do get around to an experimental day that involves carrying the gun loaded, remind yourself that, in most situations, the right thing to do if you are carrying a gun is exactly what you would do if you weren’t carrying the gun. That is, flee, and summon help. Just because you are carrying a gun doesn’t mean you are required to use it.)

Don’t expect it to feel right or natural at first. Massad Ayoob tells men that when they first carry a gun, it will be like the first time they carried a wallet in their hip pocket. “Do you remember feeling like a boy attached to a wallet, rather than the other way around?” he asks, and always gets nods of understanding from male audiences.

Well, ladies, do you remember the first time you wore a bra? How about the first time you drove the family car alone? The first time you fired a gun? The first time you rode a horse? The first time . . . you get the idea. First times are almost always awkward and uncomfortable, most of your attention focused on the newness of the experience.

That _will_ go away with time, but be aware that if you only carry occasionally, each time will feel like the first. In order to get to the state of being truly comfortable with a gun in public, you must carry frequently enough for it to become a habit, not an exceptional, unusual occurrence.

This is not to say that you should carry daily right from the start. The occasional approach has much to recommend it — I’m only reminding you that if you choose to enter the water by degrees, you should expect that it will take longer for you to be comfortable in it.

At the end of those “experimental” days, take stock of your attitude and feelings. Did carrying the gun make you want to shoot people who didn’t deserve it? (If yes, check into the nearest mental health facility. If no, join the rest of the mature, peace-loving folk who just happen to go around armed.) You will undoubtedly find that you were more aware of your surroundings because you were conscious of the gun; that heightened level of awareness makes you safer. Did you find yourself thinking of “what if” scenarios, planning out what to do in various situations? That’s how you can train yourself to use, or not use, your gun, as the situation warrants.

The most important thing is that, if you continue beyond a few “experimental” days, you have in mind situations in which you would absolutely, positively, use the gun. Not for protecting property, mind you, or for interfering in situations where it may be ambiguous who is the bad guy, but by this time you should be ready to accept the full responsibility for owning and carrying a firearm. You know you will use it only if the alternative is death or grave bodily harm. You finally trust yourself to use the gun even more responsibly than you use your car.

2. Expect to try several holster/gun combinations. I wish I could say that there is an easy way to figure out what holster and gun is right for you, but there isn’t. Comb the gun magazines, this one especially, of course, to find equipment that seems reasonable to you.

Unless you are expecting to be attacked, start with a holster that maximizes concealment, even if it minimizes time to draw. Holster purses and fanny packs are good in this regard; so is the Kramer Confidant (an under-shirt with an under-arm-holser).

Remember that although leather belt holsters aren’t returnable, many holster purse manufacturers allow you to return their product if you are not pleased with it. This means you don’t have to judge a holster purse entirely from photographs! Since even your current favorite purse probably wouldn’t look too good in a catalogue, don’t wait for a perfect catalogue or ad photo of a holster purse – you can order whatever seems vaguely within your parameters of function and style, and return anything that does not meet your expectations!

You might also need to try several guns. What is comfortable on the range can be a real drag to carry around all day. Don’t succumb to the temptation to find the tiniest, lightest gun available — it will be a poor caliber for self-defense — but do experiment with various guns of at least .380 caliber in your local gun store, and find one that won’t make you list to one side when you walk.

Finally, remember that if you try concealed carry for a time and then decide you need more training before being comfortable with a gun in public, that’s great! Put the gun back in the range bag, and start saving up for a really good training course.

If you haven’t gotten around to carrying in public even once, that’s OK, too. You might think about whether there are some circumstances that would allow you to make your first foray into the armed world without feeling unbearable conspicuous. Perhaps just driving around without getting out of the car? Perhaps going to a gun-owning friend’s home, and straight back again? Perhaps going to one store where you don’t usually shop?

You can create an opportunity that isn’t too threatening, and that lets you experiment with your CCW one part at a time. By experiencing the concealed carry lifestyle in tiny stages, you will be better prepared to make an informed decision about whether you want to adopt it.

This article was reprinted from Women&Guns magazine, Jan-Feb, 2006, Copyright © 2006, Lyn Bates