You just got your concealed carry permit—congratulations! It’s normal for new carriers to be a little uncomfortable, mentally as well as physically, with the idea of carrying a gun all day. This feeling fades with time and experience, but there are a few things you can do to shorten the learning curve and get more comfortable with your concealed-carry gun.
Get More Trigger Time
The more range time you spend with your gun, the more it will feel natural to handle it safely. If your range allows you to draw from the holster and shoot, you’ll get real, hands-on, live-fire practice that mimics real-world conditions as closely as possible. However, many ranges do not allow this, so spend plenty of time at the range shooting, and then do some dry-fire exercises at home.
At-home draw practice is essential, too. Doublecheck that the gun is unloaded and that you have a safe direction, then practice drawing from your holster in your street clothes. This will quickly reveal any problems with your holster, your carry position or your wardrobe, and frequent practice will increase your comfort level with the gun.
Find the Right Holster
To be more specific, you need the right gun/holster combo. You probably already have the gun, so you’ll want to put some time into finding a holster that keeps the gun secure while keeping you comfortable. It’s amazing the difference the right holster can make. I find the standard 4 o’clock position, where the gun sits behind my strong-side hip, to be the most comfortable and easy to conceal. Some women prefer appendix, where the gun sits directly below your belly button, or other positions like between and below the breasts in a bra holster, on their ankle or boot, or under their armpit in a shoulder holster or belly band. I do not personally recommend small-of-back or purse carry for safety reasons, but purse carry can be done correctly if you are hyper vigilant about your purse at all times.
Unfortunately, there’s really no way to try out holsters to find what works before you buy, so you might go through a pile of rejects before you find one that works for you. Most concealed carriers have a box or drawer of holster rejects gathering dust at home.
A good holster covers the trigger guard and holds the gun securely as you move. Hip holsters are inside-the-waistband (IWB) or outside-the-waistband (OWB). IWB are easier to conceal, as OWB holsters must be covered by a jacket or vest in order to stay hidden from sight.
Dress the Part
There’s no getting around it: You might have to modify your wardrobe in order to conceal a firearm, especially in hot weather. Skin-tight shirts too easily reveal what’s underneath. You most definitely do not have to wear baggy clothes, but slightly loose-fitting garments will make concealment (and drawing) easier. I find that dark shirts or shirts with a pattern also tend to camouflage the outline of a gun better than light, solid colors.
In the winter, hiding a firearm is much easier, because our clothes are bulkier and we’re usually wearing coats, jackets, sweatshirts or other layers. Be sure you practice your draw at home in winter clothing so you’re not caught fumbling to find your gun under your coat in an emergency.
You’ll also want to start wearing a good, solid belt if you don’t already. It will support the weight of the gun and holster and make drawing safer and more reliable. Even if you find belts uncomfortable, you’ll probably find that a quality belt makes carrying a gun an easier, more comfortable experience.
Know What to Do
Read the information that came with your permit and familiarize yourself with where you’re allowed to carry and where you are not. Knowing your rights and local laws will give you confidence wherever you carry your gun. Have a plan for what to do with the gun if you have to enter a non-permissive environment. If you’re running errands and have to run into the post office (where guns are prohibited), how are you going to safely remove the gun and securely store it in your vehicle?
Also have a plan for going to the bathroom with the gun in public restrooms. My advice is to keep the gun in the holster, keep one hand on the holster, and lower it along with your pants when you use the ladies room (but not low enough that someone could see it under the stall). Taking the holster off and sitting the gun down is a little gross, and it increases the chance that you’ll forget to put it back on when you leave.
Get Out of Your Head
Now for the mental part of carrying: When you first strap on a concealed firearm, you’re likely to be paranoid. People can see it, can’t they? I’m printing, aren’t I? Oh my gosh, they’re all looking at me! Everyone knows!
Relax. You’d probably be surprised to learn how little attention people pay to random strangers on the street or even acquaintances at work, at the grocery store or in a restaurant. No one is looking at you —everyone you pass is wrapped up in their own head, worrying about their own business.
Even printing, which means the outline of the gun is visible under your shirt, isn’t the end of the world. Most of us have lumps and bumps, and who’s to say that lump under your shirt isn’t a cell phone, a medical device or something else? Of the very few people who might notice a bump under your shirt, even fewer of them will think, “that’s a gun.”
I was once given some excellent advice about getting over the paranoia: “No one will notice a gun except the ones who are looking for it, and those people are on your side.”
Stop Touching It!
This is a tough one, but you have to stop fiddling with the gun and your cover garment. Constantly fluffing out your shirt, hiking up your pants or shifting that lump on your right hip are dead giveaways that you’re carrying. If you truly need to adjust the gun so it’s more comfortable or more secure, you probably need a better holster or belt, or you need to try a different carrying position.
The fluffing your shirt thing is a natural tendency—your way of casually making sure your shirt isn’t sitting too tight on the gun. Most people will think nothing of it, but try to get out of this habit. It does nothing but draw attention and keep your mind occupied with “who can see it?” thoughts.
All of this will get easier the longer you carry. If you’re really nervous, wear the gun around the house in your holster for a while to get comfortable with the feeling. You can even carry the gun in public unloaded on a few trial runs to help yourself get out of your head.
After a few weeks, carrying concealed is likely to feel like second nature. Keep hitting the range and practicing unloaded draw and dry-fire drills at home, and your comfort level will only grow. Before you know it, you’ll feel uncomfortable if you’re not carrying your gun.