Concealed Carry 101: A Comprehensive Guide

Concealed Carry 101: A Comprehensive Guide

Carrying a concealed firearm is a personal choice, one that an increasing number of people are making. As political and social unrest continues to grow, more people from all walks of life realize that they want to take their personal protection into their own hands.

Woman being trained on using a handgun

An increasing number of US states are enacting laws permitting concealed carry. If you’re considering carrying a concealed firearm or would like to know more, this article is for you!

What is concealed carry?

Concealed carry is the term for carrying a firearm concealed in a holster, handbag, briefcase, or vehicle. Most of the time, the term concealed carry, or CCW (concealed carry of a weapon), refers specifically to carrying a handgun in a holster worn beneath your outer clothing or in a pocket. A CCW firearm needs to be out of the view of a casual observer. In some jurisdictions, you may be fined or cited if you allow your concealed firearm to be seen during everyday activities.

Man pulling 9mm  handgun from concealed carry holster

For much of the 19th and 20th centuries, many US states required a special permit if their citizens wished to carry concealed firearms. Today, 27 states specifically allow permitless concealed carry of a gun (if you are over the age of either 18 or 21, depending on the state). Additionally, 42 states have Right To Carry laws, meaning they allow lawful, non-prohibited persons to carry concealed firearms without a permit or a state-issued permit.

Technically, all 50 states allow some form of CCW with the proper permission or license. However, several states and cities have made obtaining a permit so difficult or expensive that they have effectively banned concealed carry for all their citizens.

Read our in-depth article to learn the differences between concealed and open carry and the pros and cons of each.

What you need to know before getting started in CCW

Before you start carrying a concealed firearm, you need to consider a few key things.

Have a Clear reason for carrying a concealed firearm

Carrying concealed comes with many caveats. You need to understand why you want to carry a concealed firearm. The reasons can be simple, or they may be nuanced. You may want to be able to defend yourself against a physical attack. You might be concerned about protecting your family, loved ones, or even strangers. You might wish to exercise your constitutional rights. You might be worried about wild animals, such as bears, cougars, wolves, or feral dogs. It might give you peace of mind.

Man pulling gun from concealed carry holster

There are many reasons for carrying a concealed firearm, and you may subscribe to one or many. However, it’s essential to know those reasons for yourself because there are a lot of potential hassles, annoyances, moral issues, and legal problems related to carrying (and, most notably, using) a concealed firearm. We’ll go into them below.

Understand the legality of CCW where you live

The second primary consideration you should thoroughly examine before you carry concealed is whether it’s legal where you live. We’ll go into more specifics in a separate section below. Still, it is your responsibility to fully understand the legality of CCW in your local jurisdiction and your state. CCW laws can and do change, and your local law enforcement officers may not even be aware of the latest updates to the law.

Man filling out oncealed carry permit for handgun

If you want to carry a concealed firearm, you need to research and learn whether it’s permitted in your area, whether you need a specific CCW permit or training, and also be aware of the varying laws when you travel.

Carrying a concealed firearm is a serious commitment

Carrying a concealed firearm isn’t quite the same as taking other items, such as car keys or chemical spray. Guns are inherently dangerous, similar to a chainsaw or other power tools. They can potentially cause lethal harm to others or yourself if misused. It is not something to be taken lightly.

If you choose to CCW, you must increase your awareness about potentially sketchy situations. Can you avoid questionable behaviors and areas? Can you ensure you won’t mistakenly leave your CCW pistol around where a child or other unauthorized person can get it? Are you willing to commit your time and money to regular, productive practice at the range with your CCW firearm? If not, you should probably reconsider carrying a concealed firearm.

Also, it would be best to consider how you feel about possibly having to shoot someone. Morally, are you willing to take the life of another person?

Female pulling concealed carry handgun out of purse

A firearm isn’t a magic wand or talisman against danger

This is another important consideration before engaging in concealed carry. What we mean by this is that carrying a gun doesn’t magically solve any problem. It isn’t a talisman against evil, projecting an invisible shield around you and repelling bad guys. It doesn’t make bad things stop happening. It doesn’t prevent bad people from potentially trying to rob, harm, or kill you. And even if you are forced to use your CCW firearm to defend yourself or someone else, it doesn’t mean your gun is guaranteed to stop an attack or prevent harm to you.

Unlike in the movies, when people get shot, they don’t often drop dead instantly. Depending on multiple factors, including physical build, psychology, internal ballistics, and your ability to place accurate shots on target, an attacker may not be immediately stopped when shot. There are many recorded instances of violent attackers being shot multiple times, including fatal injuries, but continuing their attacks and harming or killing victims before the attackers succumb to their wounds. If you are forced to shoot an attacker, you must continue defending yourself until the threat is no longer present.

Pros of carrying a concealed firearm

The primary advantage of carrying a concealed firearm is that it allows you to, you guessed it, have a gun on your person should you need it. CCW doesn’t attract unwanted attention from bystanders, law enforcement, or potential criminals. When you carry concealed, you’re just another person doing regular things. If you do it right, concealed carry is entirely unnoticeable by casual observers and has no impact on how anyone treats you. (When you’re armed, you should work hard to avoid volatile situations or escalating arguments, but that’s another issue.)

In the rare instance that you may come under threat of death or serious bodily harm from an attack, having a CCW firearm and the skill to use it can make the difference. There are also many instances of law-abiding concealed carriers stopping crimes in progress, saving people’s lives, and preventing crimes from escalating. The presence of a law-abiding citizen with a gun can be a real deterrent for some criminals.

Video: 12 Must Know Concealed Carry Tips

Downsides of carrying a concealed firearm

There are some downsides to choosing to carry a concealed firearm. Some people don’t want the responsibility or the liability of carrying a potentially lethal weapon. Lugging a couple of pounds of steel, plastic, and wood around daily can be annoying and uncomfortable. You may have to change your wardrobe to accommodate your method of CCW carry (more on this below).

And you must always remembered to keep your CCW gun out of the reach of kids and anyone else. If you often lose your keys, phone, or wallet, CCW may not be for you. Bad things can happen if you get complacent and lose track of your firearm.

Another downside of carrying a gun daily is that it’s possible to forget you have it. This may seem unlikely, but it happens more than you might think. Multiple incidents have occurred where people attempt to enter the secure part of airports, courtrooms, federal buildings, schools, or other secure locations and forget they have their CCW guns on them. This can have potentially expensive and embarrassing results and may even result in criminal charges.

Concealed carry usually requires specialized equipment

Some people feel comfortable slipping a small revolver into a jacket pocket or purse without a holster, but it’s almost always better to place your CCW firearm into a holster. This helps protect the firearm’s mechanism from dirt and debris that might damage or render it inoperable. It also keeps the firearm oriented correctly for a proper draw stroke and protects the trigger from accidentally being pulled.

Depending on your choice of CCW method, other specialized equipment, a belt, or clothing may be needed, in addition to a good holster. Let's review some of the main types of CCW holsters or carry methods.

The five primary methods of concealed carry and their pros/cons

Generally, there are five main categories or methods for CCW, each with advantages and disadvantages. Let’s go over them briefly.

Outside the waistband (OWB)

OWB or outside-the-waistband carry is traditionally the most common firearm method. In this style, a holster is affixed to the user's belt outside the pants, skirt, or waistband. If we picture an overhead, downward view of a standing person and imagine the face of a clock superimposed over the picture, the person’s nose points at noon. The right shoulder is at 3 o’clock, and the left is at 9 o’clock. In OWB carry, the firearm is usually carried between 2 to 5 o’clock on the right side of the body. The most common location for an OWB CCW holster is about 4 o’clock, just behind the hip bone. (This assumes the person is right-handed. A left-handed person would typically OWB carry on the left hip, around 8 o’clock).

Outside the Waistband Concealed Carry

Some advantages of OWB carry include relatively easy access to the firearm (after you sweep the cover garment/shirt/jacket out of the way), easier reholstering, and commonly available holsters.

However, there are some potential downsides of OWB carry. Using this method, your holster and firearm can be harder to conceal since they aren’t tucked inside your pants or waistband. With OWB, you must always plan and wear an additional cover garment, such as a jacket, vest, or unbuttoned shirt, to conceal your CCW rig. If you lift your arms to reach an item off a shelf, for example, your cover garment can lift, and passersby might see the bottom of your holstered firearm against your hip, which can be a problem.

Also, accessing your OWB firearm with your weak hand can be difficult or impossible, depending on your size and flexibility.

Inside the waistband (IWB)

In inside-the-waistband carry, the holster is typically located similarly on the body to the OWB style discussed above. Still, the holster and firearm go between the user’s body and the pants, outer garment, or waistband. The gun/holster is tucked inside the skirt or pants, concealing most of the holster below the belt.

Man pulling out concealed carry handgun

This has obvious benefits in concealment, and most popular IWB holsters also have optional tuckable tabs or hooks that allow the wearer to tuck a shirt or blouse over the upper part of the firearm, completely concealing it but allowing a relatively rapid draw once that outer garment is pulled up and out of the way.

Using the IWB method, a person can carry a concealed firearm on the beltline without an additional cover garment, vest, or jacket.

Video: Beginner's Guide To IWB Holsters For Concealed Carry

Disadvantages? Well, stuffing a gun and holster (and potentially a spare magazine pouch) between your body and your pants/skirt means you’ll probably need to buy your clothes a size or two larger than typical to allow for that extra girth. Some people don’t like the feel of a Kydex, nylon, or leather holster rubbing against their skin all day, so you might also need to allow for an Under Armour-type base layer.

Also, it can be more challenging to reholster a drawn firearm into an IWB holster. Depending on the design, you might need to remove the holster, insert the gun, and reinsert the whole rig inside your waistband. Additionally, the IWB style of CCW provides the slowest draw of the three main types in most cases. And reaching your gun with your weak hand (in the case of injury to your strong hand) is similarly difficult to the OWB method.

Appendix carry inside the waistband (AIWB)

Appendix carry has become extremely popular over the past 8-10 years for various reasons. Originally called 1-o’clock or 12-o’clock carry (due to the placement of the holster/gun directly below your navel), the term appendix carry has become ubiquitous lately. You may feel uncomfortable pointing a loaded firearm—even holstered—at your groin, mainly when seated. Some people won’t even consider carrying an appendix for this reason. One bullet to your femoral artery and it’s lights-out forever.

Video: How to Appendix Carry Comfortably

However, some people feel that the advantages of AIWB carry outweigh any downsides. It's extremely quick to draw from a good appendix rig, particularly if your hands are starting in front of you in a conversational stance. AIWB allows easy access to the firearm, holster, and mag pouches for either hand. Safe, careful reholstering is possible since you can thrust your hips forward, drip your chin, and look the gun into the holster. For slimmer people, particularly those who spend much of their day on their feet, appendix carry can be very comfortable. Since the gun and holster are located near a, shall we say, more private area, it's unlikely that casual contact will reveal that you are carrying a gun, which can sometimes happen with OWB/IWB rigs.

Downsides include potential safety issues, especially when using Glocks or other handguns without external safeties. AIWB carry can be extremely uncomfortable, particularly if you pack some extra pounds with your CCW gun or spend a lot of time seated.

See our complete article for an in-depth view of appendix carry.

Pocket carry

Pocket carry is exactly what it sounds like, carrying a firearm in your pocket. This can be either in a pants pocket or jacket/vest pocket. It’s highly recommended that you use a pocket holster rather than just dropping your gun into a pocket. A holster keeps the butt/grip of the gun oriented upward so you can grasp it quickly and correctly. As noted above, a holster also helps keep lint and dirt out of the action of your gun, and prevents the trigger from being pulled if you bump into something.

Video: How To Pocket Carry a Pistol

Pocket carry is the most convenient form of CCW, and you can pocket carry a light, small firearm in almost any clothing, including lightweight gym shorts, jeans, etc. Another advantage is you don’t have to worry about a special belt to hold a larger OWB/IWB/AIWB holster, and a good pocket holster setup doesn’t show the shape of a gun in your pocket. You can lift, bend, move, run, and jump without any worries about your CCW firearm coming loose from a waistband holster. And you can easily place or remove your holstered pocket carry gun from your pocket if you go somewhere firearms are prohibited.

There are some significant downsides to pocket carry, the foremost of which is the slow speed of the draw. Getting a gun safely out of your pocket almost always takes longer than drawing from the above belt-carried methods. Also, you lose the use of one of your pockets since you should never carry any other items in the pocket you use for CCW pocket carry. Lastly, pocket carry necessarily limits you to smaller firearms since you can’t stuff a full-size pistol in your pocket.

Unconventional or off-body carry

There are differing opinions on this type of carry, but we are going to combine unconventional and off-body carry into one category. Unconventional CCW refers to things like ankle holsters, fanny pack holsters, PDA/cell phone holsters, bra holsters, and belly bands. Off-body carry refers to carrying a firearm in something that is not actually connected to your body, like a backpack, briefcase, handbag, or purse.

Female putting concealed carry handgun into purse

All these carry types have their issues and are not recommended for a primary CCW gun. However, in some cases, they can be appropriate as long as you understand the caveats. The advantages of the deep-concealment type of holster, like a bra holster, belly band, or ankle holster, are that there is a very low probability of your firearm being noticed by the public. Concealed, in this case, means very concealed.

The advantages of off-body carry include convenience and comfort since you don’t have to change your wardrobe. Additionally, you may be able to carry a PDW (personal defense weapon) like a foldable PCC (pistol-caliber carbine) or even a small rifle in a backpack.

Video: Pros & Cons of OFF-BODY CARRY

The downside of deep-concealment CCW is that it’s much slower to access your firearm and can be uncomfortable. For off-body carry, since you’re not in direct control of your firearm, there’s a much greater chance of theft or loss of your firearm (or leaving it lying around where a child may access it). In general, off-body carry is not a good idea, and unconventional carry is not preferred where one of the conventional carry methods can be employed.

For more details, see our complete article on the best CCW holsters.

The best concealed carry guns

One of the most commonly asked questions is: What’s the best concealed carry gun? That kind of question can be useful, but in order to make an informed decision, the answer has to be a bit flexible. There isn’t any one BEST concealed carry gun. There are dozens or even hundreds of firearms that might be suitable in a CCW role, depending on your preferences, physical characteristics, skill level, budget, body type, hand strength, local ordinances, and more. The best gun shops and shooting ranges can help you make an informed decision as to what might be the best concealed carry gun for you.

We will make one or two key points on this topic, however. First, a small, light, short-barreled revolver is often recommended as the best concealed carry gun, especially for newer shooters. The logic behind this recommendation is that a snub-nosed revolver is relatively simple to operate, usually reliable, and can be quite affordable, in addition to being somewhat compact.

However, in our view, a small, light revolver is probably the worst choice for an inexperienced shooter, particularly one with smaller hands or issues with hand strength. They are painful to shoot, have poor sights, have limited sight radius, and the trigger pull is often 12 pounds or more. Add to this the fact that they are usually quite wide, making them uncomfortable to carry compared to the slimmer semi-autos. If you carry a small, light revolver like one of the Smith & Wesson J frames, be sure to practice regularly and work on your hand strength to make effective shots quickly. We’d consider these to be expert-level CCW guns.

Over the past five years, there has been a revolution in CCW pistols, and the new micro-compact double-stack 9mm pistols are taking over the market. These small, slim, light pistols, in the same category as the excellent SIG P365, have hit the sweet spot for concealability, capacity, shootability, and reliability. Their small size makes them easy to carry, but it also means they can require some additional skill to shoot effectively since recoil can be sharp and their diminutive size means there’s not a lot to hold onto.

Check out our full article for some recommendations and details, but the best way to determine which gun fits your hand (and budget) well is to visit a local gun shop or range that will let you try them out.

The bottom line is any reliable handgun can be an appropriate choice for CCW in the right circumstances. It will be up to you to determine your priorities, preferences, and budget. The best CCW gun will be one you find comfortable to shoot regularly since regular practice is key for developing skill with a firearm. And the best CCW for you will allow you to make rapid, accurate hits on your target. This is important because you are responsible for every bullet that leaves the barrel of your gun.

The trend of concealed carry laws

We mentioned earlier that the overall trend is toward more US states allowing permitless concealed carry, or issuing CCW permits to their residents. This is a good thing, in our view, as it means more people are taking their own security and safety seriously, and this is supposed to be the land of the free, after all. However, several states, counties, and cities, usually in the large-population metro areas like California, New York, Boston, Chicago, and the like, have been trending toward tighter restrictions on lawful firearms ownership.

It’s important to familiarize yourself with any new gun laws for your state, and make sure you are in compliance. If you’re not happy with your local laws and ordinances, work to change them.

Promoting responsible gun ownership

One advantage of the growth in pro-concealed-carry sentiment is that it promotes responsible firearms ownership. As more people become interested in CCW, gun ownership becomes more common and normalized, and people feel more comfortable discussing it with their friends and family.

Whether or not you feel that people should be required to obtain formal training before they are allowed to carry a concealed firearm, we think getting some training is probably a good idea. As with driving, riding a motorcycle, skiing, riding a mountain bike, lifting weights, rock climbing, or diving, shooting is potentially dangerous, and getting some training from a knowledgeable source is a good thing.

Another positive is that concealed carry encourages deep familiarity with your firearm, its operation, and any issues that it may have. As you train and practice to become proficient with your CCW firearm, you become a safer, more responsible firearm owner. Not to mention, you might gain a fun new shooting hobby!

Check out our detailed article for an overview of the requirements for owning a gun in your state.

Store your firearms in a Liberty Safe or Handgun Vault

Whether or not you decide to carry a concealed firearm, if you have guns, you need to keep them secure when they’re not in your direct control. A handgun vault or gun safe from Liberty is a good way to prevent unauthorized access, theft, fire damage, and even environmental harm from mildew and rust. Check out our interactive online catalog, or visit a Liberty Safe dealer near you.


*Made in the U.S.A. from U.S. and Global Parts.


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