In my work as a firearms instructor, there are three assumptions I’ve found to be common among concealed carry licensees and applicants. Every week, I know I’ll hear various renditions of each one of these.
While these assumptions (and more importantly the behaviors that follow) generally serve the gun owner where convenience is concerned, they could also result in needless death or injury the day they find themselves the target of violent crime.
1. I only carry/keep the gun in my car.
While carjacking crimes seem to be frequent in the news, leaving a gun in the car exposes two vulnerabilities: The first is that car break-ins are common. Why risk having the firearm stolen? The other is that armed robberies—which are often deadly even when victims comply—are to be expected any place there’s a cash register.
Being aware of one’s surroundings and avoiding confrontations in the first place is heavy insulation against having to draw a firearm. But not having it at the time and place you may expect to need it is folly.
2. Practice? I’ve been around guns all my life!
Shooting well under stress is both a simple and difficult skill. A multitude of considerations must be processed in short order during a crime in progress: external circumstances, the draw, and successful, accurate operation of the gun.
Unfortunately, I have found in my classes that people who bring with them more past experience handling guns — often as a youth, a service member, or a hunter — sometimes show the biggest gap between confidence and performance. At the other end of the spectrum, some new shooters choose a carry system with so many safeguards that it would take a professional shooter’s schedule of practice to defeat those measures when the gun’s needed in short order. Both are recipes for failure.
Confidence is an asset in self-preservation. Over-confidence produces rounds that go somewhere besides the intended target. There’s no price to pay for that in a controlled range environment, but the same error in a public area could be devastating for both the person shooting in defense and anyone around them. Prospects are equally dim for the new shooter who hasn’t mastered a safe and fast draw, plus defeating whatever safety measures they chose like a mechanical safety or empty chamber.
Handling the gun—including the draw, defeating safety measures, clearing malfunctions, and dealing with less-than-perfect firing conditions—is not an inborn trait. Gun handling and marksmanship skills are honed by practice and fade with time. For most people including myself, “time” between top-shelf proficiency and imperfect technique is measured in weeks, not years. Having the humility to accept that your 4-H, hunting, or military history may not be enough to carry you without being bolstered by practice is part of successful self-protection.
3. The bigger the caliber, the better the carry.
Rigid adherence to a “bigger is better” philosophy is usually self-defeating when it comes to choosing a concealed carry gun for a simple reason: the gun the person will be led to believe they must carry will be too darn big to be comfortable. I find the “bigger is better” belief and the “I don’t need to train” philosophy often travel in pairs.
In case anyone forgot, a well-placed shot of any caliber beats a miss, no matter how big the caliber, every time. Don’t take that as advocacy for choosing a tiny gun. The smaller the firearm, the more difficult its manipulation and recoil can be, not to mention the low ammunition capacity.
No doubt, a few carriers will find a way to pack a full-size 45 on a daily basis. For the rest of us, whose body types or lifestyles won’t accommodate such a firearm, choices must be made and today’s market offers a rich selection.
To make the right choices, not only the firearm, but the carry system, must be considered with faithful daily carry, wherever possible, in mind. Then take the time to study various calibers. There is a library of gel block test videos online if that’s important to you, but at the very least, all carriers need to understand that grain weight and velocity have an ever-dynamic relationship when it comes to application.
Likely engagement scenarios should guide your choice of caliber and ammunition, which includes accounting for penetration and expansion traits of the projectiles. That “well-placed shot beats a miss” adage bears repeating in reference to ammunition. A .32 FMJ round, well-placed, has more so-called stopping power than a grazing wound by the latest brand of $1.50-per-round self-defense bullet. The smaller calibers benefits in practice sessions should be evident as well.
Our culture indoctrinates convenience as a virtue. Convenience mentality allows one to shun the labor associated with daily carry and practice. A shift in attitude toward carry, toward being as adept and constant at it as most of us are with our phones, is necessary if those who intend to protect themselves with guns are going to be successful when their life or that of another innocent is on the line.
It may not be he who originated the saying, but it was at a training event by Lt. Col. David Grossman where I first heard, “your lifestyle should be comforting, not comfortable.” With a gun as part of my daily routine for more than a decade now, I’ve come to understand that those two concepts can be complementary. It took trial and error to get there, and always takes regular practice.