Packing Light, Packing Smart: Essentials of Concealed Carry

by R.K. Campbell

If you are new to concealed carry, you probably started carrying a large handgun and drifted toward a lighter model for comfort. Sometimes this makes sense, but if taken too far it reaches a point of diminishing returns. As the indomitable J. Henry Fitzgerald once remarked, "A man giving up a .45 for a .38 has gained a few ounces of comfort perhaps at the expense of his life."

This is good advice, but no one wishes to feel their pants drug down when engaged in mundane chores or recreation. We all would like a gun that is essentially unnoticed until needed.

Wife Carol and I enjoy a night of dancing as much as anyone. We also like to wander through parks after normal hours. We often meet nice friendly folks. Chance encounters of the rougher sort are not always precursors to violent action, and there are less than lethal avenues available in my muscle memory. But violent attacks do occur and dangerous dogs are a common problem. I am not willing to see a member of my family mauled because some inadequate type feels the need for a snarling, biting prosthesis!

Personal Carry
I prefer serious handguns, but after 30 years of packing a handgun almost daily I realize I can't always comfortably carry a 5-inch barrel Colt 1911. But I'm not going to carry a .25 auto either! I don't damn pocket guns out of hand. Antipathy would be a better description.

There are times when I am prone to stick something light in my pocket, but it will be a .38, not a .32. The need to have an accessible but undetectable handgun conspires against the goal, which is to carry a fight-stopping sidearm. As the cave man said, "Big rock is better." Stopping a dedicated assault with only a handgun is a challenging prospect. I am not taking the gun writer route of belittling a cartridge or two to boost my status. I want a cartridge that takes the fight out of the adversary-if the sights are on the right spot.

I prefer to err on the side of caution. This means .38 Special or above. Anyone who recommends anything less is doing the honest gun-toting citizen no favors. It you can't handle a .38's snub recoil, then carry a .22 and go for head shots.

Let me not make blanket statements, but consider the problem of carrying an effective handgun on a regular basis, and drawing and using it quickly and effectively.

Pack Smart
The guy who sometimes sticks a gun in his belt on the way to make a night deposit isn't the target of this article. The serious, concerned, religious gun carrier who carries his handgun on a 24-hour basis is addressed by this report. You can pack light, but you can pack smart. Economy of weight can be realized without giving up critical effectiveness. I have studied handguns for many years and fired most types available. The mystical properties attributed to some are not discernable by shooting. Some guns are practical, some are tactical.

We must keep the problem in perspective. Multiple attackers can be a problem.

When the chief bull signals, the bulls stampede. Or perhaps a shark-like feeding frenzy is a better image. A .32 auto doesn't cut it when facing multiple, motivated adversaries. We can't reverse-engineer the situation; we can't choose a handgun and hope it fits the situation. Consider the likely threat first.

Serious, imminent threat should be met with a long gun in hand, but the unpredictable critical incident must be met with a handgun. And the gun must be reliable above all else-you can't call a mulligan in a gunfight.

What's Best
Interest in concealed carry is at an all-time high. As a result, we have many choices in compact, powerful handguns and accessories. The best gun may be a revolver or semi-auto, but either will work. Both are available in snag-free, concealed hammer designs. Striker-fired autos such as the Glocks and Sigmas are true hammerless pistols. Smith and Wesson Centennial revolvers have geometrically-designed hidden hammers that are very size efficient. Hammerless design is not the only criteria, but a good beginning for true concealed carry.

And don't forget to consider your garments. The looser the cut, the less printing or bulges will be noticeable. Practice drawing the handgun and sweeping outer garments away in one smooth motion. With one hand or two the drill will become second nature.

Consider your movements made every day, and the type of gun and holster combination you carry. A well-fitted holster makes carrying more comfortable. A thin but well-constructed holster can make carrying a larger handgun possible. The thin but very rigid, well-boned holsters offered by top makers Bulman and Sherrick are among the wonder holsters of the decade. They work, and work better than most. These holsters and traditional designs such as the immortal Summer Special from Milt Sparks make concealed carry much more viable.

But in the end, outer garments dictate the mode and type of carry. True concealment depends upon the pursuits we engage in while heeled. After some time, I find my 1911 duty guns and Commander off-duty guns are supplemented by lighter guns. I still regard the Commander as a fine concealed carry gun, but comfort makes for a different course these days. The light part of smart carry is easy, but the smart part is more difficult. Discrete is the order of the day. You'll probably get by easier flashing your privates than flashing a 9mm!

According to holster maker and long time peace officer 'Wild Bill,' a dark holster with non-reflective snaps helps. So do double loops for comfort. His all-leather paddle offers multiple adjustment and immense comfort and more than a little speed. I like it a lot, and I am beginning to realize easy-on and off-holsters are more appropriate for civilians than cops, as there are so many restrictions on concealed carry in most states. Often, we leave the gun in the car, and carrying a holster sans the gun doesn't feel right.

I have carried off-duty guns that are more capable than 90% of the handguns I see carried as duty sidearms. The Colt Commander is one. But I have given a great deal of respect to the Officer's Model as well. The more I fire these little guns the more I like them. They make a lot of sense and aren't harder to handle, if any, than the Commander. Modern versions with the spring within a spring technology recoil less than older Commanders and are more reliable. A no lose situation.

As efficient as these guns are, they have an exposed hammer. Cocked and locked carry demands a certain mindset many of us don't wish to enter. The Glock and Kahr compact pistols are wonderful alternatives-light, powerful and reliable in the extreme. The Kahr may have more class and is clearly the purpose-designed compact. From its angled feed ramp to beveled slide, here is a gun designed from the start for concealed carry.

The cut-down Glocks are nearly as efficient, more proven, and hold more ammunition. If I were backing up a Glock, the Mini Glock is a clear choice. The Kahr is a fine stand-alone gun. The Kahr shows the gun valley can beat the Europeans at their own game. These pistols, preferably in .40 caliber, give the skilled user a high level of protection. To try it really light, we can carry our Mini Glock in a Fobus lightweight holster from Israel. Almost light enough to forget, the whole combo, loaded gun and holster, weighs hardly as much as an unloaded Commander .45.

Playing a what-if game is fine, but the better armament you have and the better you know how to use it, the more a threat is minimized. Accurate, reliable handguns in serious calibers give a fighting chance.

Control Factor
I am loath to go below the .40 caliber and see little use in choosing a 9mm over a .40 unless there is a serious recoil control problem. This depends on the standard you hold yourself to. The .40 kicks more than the 9mm. All of us can control the 9 better. Mini Glocks are fine guns but not in the same league as the Glock 23 and 22 in controllability and overall ability in skilled hands.

It is a mistake to choose one when a compact or full-size gun can be carried. But they clearly outclass the snub .38/short barrel .357 genre. They demand more practice for competence and perhaps a 9mm might bring the user to a higher level of competence quicker. To each his own; the occasional shooter will be better served with a 9mm.

As stated I am loathe to carry a handgun below .40 caliber, but sometimes circumstance dictates the choice. I have a couple of small, well-worn revolvers. They are .38 Specials. But don't let anyone con you with the "modern ammunition performance" argument for the .380 auto or .32 Magnum. Modern ammunition is better than in the past, but the same basic relationship exists. The .38 Special seems to have an advantage over the 9mm in short barrel guns, at least when the .38 is loaded with Winchester's FBI load.

My .38 is most often a backup, but I admit to primary carry in sultry weather. It's better than going naked but we can usually find a place for a compact .40 about as easily. Holster selection and careful searching of the body for a suitable hollow pays off.

Good in Conflict
Then there are the martial artists who strongly prefer the snub .38 or .357. They argue the revolver, with its large grip and short barrel, offers superior retention. The skilled martial artist realizes a gun-grabber has little to hang onto when attempting to gain control of a short barreled firearm.

In addition, a revolver can be placed against an adversary's body and fired repeatably. The auto pistol will choke if used in this manner. The revolver is the best choice for ankle carry, although the tightly fitted Alessi ankle holster is a powerful argument for a compact .40 on the ankle.

I don't have any confidence in the .32 auto, believing Maxwell Smart and his Bodyguard .38 represent smarter carry than Bond's PPK. The .380 is marginal at best, but it has its adherents. The PPK is smaller than any locked breech 9mm pistol. Its blowback action and slim lines allow a more compact pistol than the mini 9s. It is a tough call, but there are times when the .380 looks good for backup. But then, I ask myself what handgun would I wish in my hand if I were trapped in an elevator with an acid freak armed with a stiletto!

Sobering? It's for real. Cor-Bon's .380 JHP makes 1,100 fps from the PPK and the Kentucky State Patrol issues the PPK as a backup. I don't have much confidence in the .380, but they are easy to use well. Just the type of trade-off Fitz so eloquently warned us of.

Accessories are important, and make carry smarter. A Surfire 6Z light, a good knife-Boker's Specialist is my favorite-and spare ammunition make sense.

And modern, thermoplastic resins such as Kydex make for light, durable holsters. Remember the original reason we carry a handgun. To stay safe, to defend our lives. By choosing light, comfortable gear that can be carried on a 24-hour basis, you will be ahead of the curve-and armed when need be.

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