You Just Purchased a Handgun for Personal Defense, Now What?
Here’s how to safely and effectively train for concealed carry and personal defense
If you’re reading this, you’re likely considering buying of a new handgun, or have already bought one. Good on you. You have your reasons for doing so, but most importantly, you’re taking responsibility for your personal safety and for the safety of those nearest and dearest to you. If statistics are any indicator, you’ve probably made the decision to purchase a pistol that is concealable, one that can easily be carried on your person, and one that can also be effective for home defense. That’s good. Your next purchase should be a quality belt and a comfortable holster.
Select the right holster
After purchasing a handgun, a holster and belt should be your top priorities. After all, you’ll need some way of comfortably concealing it. Wedging it in your belt doesn’t count. Holster selection can be a complicated process, even for experienced shooters. The style and size of pistol chosen, as well as individual body type all come into play when selecting the right holster for you.
Types of holsters can generally be narrowed into three categories; Outside the Waist Band (OWB), Inside the Waist Band (IWB), and Appendix Inside the Waist Band (AIWB). There are, of course, specialty methods of carry, such as shoulder, ankle, and pocket to name a few – but our focus here will be on the first three, as they are by far the most popular.
Outside the Waist Band carry is typically reserved for carrying larger-framed pistols that can be a challenge to conceal. This is a common method of carry for uniformed police officers and security personnel. This type of holster generally allows the quickest access to your pistol, however, it is the most difficult to hide. An open front cover garment, such as a jacket might be necessary for concealment when using this method of carry. I recommend using an OWB holster when learning to draw your pistol and for range use. It is also ideal for open carry, which makes sense when you might be out working on a ranch or farm, fly fishing remote water, or exploring the backcountry. Most OWB holsters are affixed to your belt utilizing either a quick attach/detach paddle or fixed belt loops constructed of either a high-strength polymer or leather. For right-handed shooters, the proper place to mount your holster is at about 3 o’clock (imagine your bellybutton is noon in this analogy) for righties, and 9 o’clock-ish for lefties.
Inside the Waist Band is by far the most popular method of concealment. Once you’ve mastered your draw using an OWB holster, Inside the Waist Band is easy to transition to. IWB holsters are placed inside of your waistband, between your under garment and your trousers. Many IWB holsters offer a tuckable option, allowing you to tuck a dress shirt or other top into your trousers, presenting a neat, clean appearance while also concealing your pistol. Belt mounting choices for an IWB pistol can get complicated, as there are a ton of options ranging from spring clips, to J-hooks, as well as a variety of loops, both soft and hard. Selection typically boils down to personal preference. Your choice of holster should be based on a balance between its ability to conceal your pistol and its level of comfort. If it’s not comfortable, you won’t wear it. IWB holsters are typically constructed of leather, kydex (plastic) or a combination of the two, which are known as hybrid holsters. Placement along the belt line for right-handed shooters should range between 3 and 5 o’clock, 7 to 9 o’clock for lefties.
Appendix Inside the Waistband holsters have regained popularity in recent years, and should be used by more experienced shooters due to the placement of your pistol in relation to arteries and lower extremities. This carry position allows the wearer to hide, not just conceal a much larger handgun than they typically can with other carry methods. As a right-handed shooter, carry the pistol at approximately 12:30. The channel between your right leg and groin this is where you want the barrel of the pistol to ride. Within reason, the longer the pistol barrel, the better the pistol stabilizes, especially when you’re moving around. Because our midsections are wider and flatter than our sides, this is an ideal place to conceal a larger framed pistol. Furthermore, our arms hang at 10 and 2 o’clock, which gives us full control over the pistol with both hands (this also aides in natural concealment). This style of carry leads to lightning fast draws, since your hands are naturally closer to the pistol.
Regardless of where you are at in your firearms carry journey, take the time to test and evaluate as many holsters as possible. You’ll likely end up with a shoebox full before you settle on the right one for you. Once you pick one, you should carry the rig for at least two weeks before deciding whether to continue using it or not–especially if that decision is comfort based. I’ve found just prior to the two week mark I completely forget about the rig as it wears in and my body acclimates to it.
Safety rules to live by
Once you’ve settled on your carry rig, it’s time to familiarize yourself with it. That means getting educated, getting some training, and practicing. Before you get started, let’s cover the four basic gun safety rules. Know them and live by them.
1. Treat all guns as if they are always loaded.
2. Never let the muzzle cover anything you are not willing to shoot.
3. Keep your finger off the trigger until your sights are on your target and you have made the decision to shoot.
4. Be sure of your target and what is behind it.
The fine print
Here’s the thing; you might get away with breaking one of these rules, BUT if you break two at the same time, unintended consequences will occur. Once a bullet is fired, there is no calling it back. You are fully responsible for whatever it impacts.
With the basic safety boxes checked, let’s talk a little about some concealed carry-oriented training tips. These can be practiced within the comfort of your living room, garage or basement. You’ll want to ensure you have an empty gun. Always remove the magazine and visually inspect it to ensure there are no live rounds in it. Next, retract the slide and lock it to the rear so that you can see into the ejection port. Visually inspect the chamber area and insert a finger into the chamber to verify that the gun is truly empty. Then make sure that all ammunition is safely secured in another room. Then and only then, should you begin dry practicing. Once you’re comfortable running through the following tips dry, try them at the shooting range with live ammunition.
Be sure of your target and what’s beyond it
As previously mentioned, you’re responsible for each and every round fired. Quickly make the determination to shoot or not. You need to know your target and what’s around it, because there might be something or someone in proximity to or in front of the intended target that you need to consider.
Find your stance
A good, forward-leaning, athletic stance is the foundation of consistent shooting. Your feet should be positioned approximately shoulder-width apart, with your non-firing foot a half step forward of your firing foot. For right-handed shooters, that means your left foot is forward of your right. This will also help with natural point of aim. Your upper body should be forward enough so that you feel weight over your toes and balls of your feet, and your knees should be slightly bent. Ensure your upper body remains erect, and that your forward lean is accomplished with your lower body and knees. You shouldn’t be bending at the waist when distributing your weight forward.
Clear your clothing
When the decision is made to draw, both of your hands should be working together to clear your cover garment if your pistol is concealed. If carrying on or behind the hip, use your support hand to lift your garment in an upward motion, and use your firing hand to begin sweeping your clothing in a rearward movement, completely exposing your holstered firearm. Don’t let go with your support hand.
If carrying appendix inside the waistband (AIWB), use your support hand to grasp a handful of your cover garment and aggressively pull upward toward your sternum (the higher the better). Place your firing hand on your pistol grip.
If carrying outside the waistband (OWB) without a cover garment, move your support hand toward your upper chest while simultaneously swinging your strong hand rearward toward your exposed pistol, elbow facing the sky. Place your strong hand on the grip of your pistol.
Full firing grip on the draw
Wrap your strong hand as high on the grip of your handgun as possible, with no space between the web of your hand and the tang of the pistol, and obtain a full-firing grip. A full-firing grip is when your hand is positioned in such a way that it does not require any additional movement or fine-tuning once the gun is drawn. The grip should resemble a firm handshake when folding your fingers around the front strap of the pistol.
Draw, or remove your pistol from its holster, in an upward motion. Once it clears the holster body, rotate the grip of the pistol downward, leveling your barrel horizontally in the direction of the target. Begin pushing the pistol upward and toward the target like it’s riding on an escalator, not up toward your chest like an elevator. Release your support-hand grip on your clothing and allow it to meet with your pistol once it appears in your lower peripheral vision, and drive both toward the target.
Solid support hand grip
The key to shooting multiple rounds quickly and accurately is an efficient support-hand grip. To obtain this, extend both arms toward your target and make a finger gun with your support hand. Point your support-hand finger gun at a 45-degree angle toward the ground. Open your support hand and use it as a clamshell, wrapping it around your firing-hand grip on the pistol; ensure that you do not change the angle of your support hand. The heel of your support hand should cover the exposed portion of your pistol grip, and your fingers should be as high beneath the triggerguard as possible. Your support-hand thumb should be pointed at the target, and your wrist should be nearly locked, relying on bone support instead of your tendons. This is your support-hand grip.
See your sights
If you’re able to attain full extension (i.e., your arms fully extended in front of you with your pistol pointed toward the target), your sights should be utilized. Always. When you have a good support-hand grip (as outlined above), the muzzle of your pistol will not flip up vertically but will recoil rearward. This equates to your sights traveling on a horizontal plane, which your eyes can track as they move throughout the cycle of operation. During rapid-fire strings, your sights will consistently return to position, allowing for quick and accurate follow-up shots.
Move toward cover
It is always a good idea to practice moving toward solid cover. Cover will not only offer some level of concealment, but it will also stop bullets. Good examples of this are concrete or brick walls, larger trees or telephone poles, and engine compartments of vehicles. When at the range, make time to practice shooting accurately on the move, both forward and laterally toward cover. Shoot from behind said cover in standing, crouching, and kneeling positions; paying careful attention to minimize how much of your body is exposed when engaging targets.
Carry a reload
Always carry a spare. Extra bullets on-hand are only one of the benefits of carrying a reload. Most malfunctions can be tracked back to faulty magazines. A quick remedy to this is out with the bad, and in with the good. Get that malfunctioning magazine out and get a fresh one in. Your feeding problems will likely be solved.
Index your magazine
A good rule of thumb is to carry your magazine(s) on your weak side and ensure the bullets are facing your belt buckle when positioned in a belt-mounted magazine pouch or pocket holster. When it comes time to perform a reload, drop your support-hand palm onto the baseplate of your spare magazine. Extend your index finger along the front of the magazine as you draw it upward and out of its pouch. Whenever possible, the tip of your index finger should contact the exposed bullet at the top of the magazine as a tactile indicator that the magazine does, in fact, have rounds loaded in it.
Everyone can point at objects with an extended index finger (this is a natural movement). This orientation allows you to point your finger, and subsequently your magazine, in the direction that it needs to go — into the magazine well. This should be so ingrained that you can reload even in the dark.
Cant your pistol
When it comes time to reload your handgun, pull it in front of your face. When retracting your pistol into this zone, your firing hand elbow should contact your lower ribcage and your elbow should be bent as if you’re at the apex of a bicep curl. You should be able to view your target through the triggerguard of your pistol, and the magazine well will be pointed toward your left pants pocket. In this position, the magwell will be open to accepting your reload. Press the magazine into the grip until it stops. With upward pressure on the magazine, use your firing hand thumb to sweep the slide release downward to close the slide and chamber a fresh round. If your firing-hand thumb is not strong enough or long enough to complete this action, utilize your support-hand thumb to depress the slide release. These two methods are the quickest, most efficient techniques to reload your pistol.
Be efficient in your movement
Move in straight lines. Excessive movement is wasted time and motion. When your pistol clears the holster, it should be riding an escalator toward your target until it meets your line of sight, not brought up to your chest and then forward in an L-shaped arch. The same is true with your reload: your magazine should be correctly oriented to the left of your center line, bullets facing your belt buckle (for right-handed shooters), and follow a straight line out of your magazine pouch or pocket and into the magwell of your pistol grip.
Print out these tips or save them on your phone and take them to the range with you. Utilize the information as a check list. Go slow and methodically at first. Speed will come. Remember, you’re creating neural pathways that will eventually allow you to accomplish these tasks at a subconscious level. Just like driving a car – you won’t have to think about them – you’ll just do them. As the old saying goes: perfect practice makes perfect.
Get some training from a professional that you’re not related to. That’s right, Uncle Joe who has been shooting for 30 years, or even cousin Bobby the local sheriff’s deputy should be avoided. At. All. Costs. Just because you own a guitar, doesn’t make you a musician. This is especially true for gun owners. Just because you’ve been shooting for 30 years doesn’t mean you’ve been doing it right, or even know what right looks like. The same goes for law enforcement; you might think that because they carry a gun every day, they’d be proficient at using it and can teach others what they have been taught. Nine out of 10 times—you’d be wrong. In all seriousness, I’d rather receive no instruction than bad instruction, and so should you. Bad instruction creates what are commonly referred to as training scars—the unintentional bad habits you have acquired during the course of your training. They will absolutely reduce your performance when you need it most.
I highly recommend paying for a two-day training course from a full-time firearms instructor who has a professional background in what they are teaching. Why two days? It’s all about programming. Two days is enough time to engross yourself in a curriculum, build a solid foundation, sleep on it and continue to build on that foundation the next day. You’ll feel great afterward and take away exactly what you need to continue honing your skills. You’ll be amazed at what you can learn and retain in a couple of days from a talented instructor. Many instructors travel the country and are likely to visit an area close to your home at some point during the year. Some of the instructors I would recommend seeking out are:
Dry and live practice
If you’re taking this journey seriously, try to handle your carry pistol daily. Even if it’s 10 holster draws from concealment (with the pistol empty, of course) before you step out the door to begin your day. It costs you nothing but a minute or two of your time. Go slow and steady. Practice obtaining that solid firing hand grip, present the gun and ensure your sights are not disturbed as you press the trigger to the rear. I like to aim at window locks and light switches. They’re small targets that require concentration. Extend the distance once you’re satisfied with your level of speed and efficiency.
Make it a priority to shoot live bullets at least once per week, focusing on marksmanship and validating your dry practice drills. Go to the range with a plan. It’s just like working out, you’re not going to lose weight or get stronger by going to the gym once a month. The same is true with shooting a pistol. It’s a perishable skill that requires maintenance to remain proficient.
Know the law
The laws governing the carry of firearms vary widely from state to state. Some have stringent requirements to even obtain a permit to carry, while others require no permit at all. The details are beyond the scope of this particular article, but I would encourage you to spend some time at the following links to better educate yourself about your state’s laws.
USA Carry breaks down concealed carry permit information by state. An interactive map is color coded for quick reference, or click on a specific state and it will tell you the type of permit, availability to non-residents, age restrictions, expirations, costs and processing times. Other links include State Police/Department of Safety, local and County Sheriff related pages, state concealed carry statues, local firearm forums, and a myriad of other interesting, applicable information.
The most valuable service this site offers are the frequently asked questions page broken down by state. All the information you need to know about obtaining a concealed carry permit is outlined here.
U.S. Concealed Carry, just as the domain name implies, is a CCW-oriented website chock full of pertinent resources. The CCW reciprocity map is interactive and is hugely beneficial should you travel out of state.
Laws pertaining to the use of deadly force and the criteria that must be met prior to its use are very similar across the country. You must do your own research and take a look at your local and state laws before stepping off your property while carrying your new handgun. Knowledge is power, and knowing how, and when, to use force is an absolute requirement. Anything less is irresponsible.
Any use of deadly/lethal force will be a life changing experience for all parties involved. With that said, certain thresholds must be met before lethal force should be considered a viable option. First and foremost, you must be able to articulate your actions and explain in detail why you did what you did. At its most basic level, the use of deadly force is generally justified if you reasonably believe that you or another person is in imminent danger that will result in serious bodily injury or death if not stopped.
Some states have what are known as Castle Doctrines, Castle Law, or a Defense of Habitation laws on the books. These are legal doctrines that essentially outline your rights, requirements, and thresholds that must be met before deadly force can be used against an intruder on your property or within your home, vehicle or both. Due to the broadness of these laws and differing levels of adoption by state, we won’t go into more depth here. Be sure to research your home state’s castle laws if they exist and know your rights.
Develop the proper mindset
When the topic of mindset and concealed carry comes up, most folks tend to parrot what they’ve heard others say about situational awareness and “keeping your head on a swivel.” They’re not wrong, but put into more simplistic terms that do not encourage paranoia—just be aware of your surroundings. If something doesn’t look right, it probably isn’t. If you suspect something is amiss, separate yourself from the situation or location as quickly as possible. Avoidance is always the correct answer. Pay attention to what people are doing around you. If you must look at your phone in a busy public space, place your back against a wall and frequently look up and check what is happening around you.
I’ll say it again: avoidance is always the best course of action. Don’t go down to the local riot just to see what’s going on. Put plainly, don’t unnecessarily place yourself in a position that might require you to defend yourself, or someone else with a firearm. Be smart, think quickly, and use good judgement. Always strive to remain level headed. Lastly, act like the responsible adult that you are.
I’ll leave you with a statement that has stuck with me for a decade, said by J.D. Potynsky of Northern Red Training. It went something like this: You must be aware of second and third order effects. When you flip another driver the finger, tell someone to shut up in the movie theater, or cut in to take a parking spot – have you analyzed the possible consequences? Are you prepared to respond even if it means killing someone? If you’re going to carry a gun, you must live a binary life. Mind your own business. BUT, when you or family’s lives are threatened and there’s no way out – then and only then, should you unleash a storm of violence.