So, you are thinking on carrying a gun for defense.
Good idea, but there is a whole lot more to carrying a defensive firearm than just buying some gun recommended to you by someone at a gun store, strapping it on, and going about your business. The first step is getting your mind right.
Memorize these four rules, please, and you will never have a firearm related accident.
1. Treat all firearms as if they are loaded.
2. Keep the muzzle pointed in a safe direction.
3 Keep your finger off the trigger until you are ready to shoot.
4 Know your target and what is beyond it.
You can copy this photo and keep it handy until you learn the rules.
It is my opinion that people have the right to defend themselves or their loved one’s from death or harm. You need to make up your mind, if in fact push comes to shove, could you shoot and kill another person to save a life. If you believe so, the next step is to learn, without question, the law and especially how it applies to deadly force. The last thing you would want to do is to take a life when that was not the only option, and you are in the wrong. Lawfully this is important, morally this is paramount. If you have made it this far, you are through the hardest part.
I believe the best place to begin to learn the law is a reputable concealed carry class. Make no mistake, your concealed carry class is the very beginning of the journey. A word of advice from someone who is a firearm instructor and teaches concealed carry, be sure the concealed carry class is not the first time you fire a handgun . You don’t have to be an expert but take some sort of introduction to handguns class, trust me. Even if you plan to open carry, the concealed carry class is full of good information you should know before you carry a sidearm.
After you have taken and passed your class, it is my opinion to continue to learn the law, now as it pertains to lawfully carry. This will be a continuous effort as laws change, can be reinterpreted, and updated. It is your responsibility to be well versed in the current laws.
Next comes seeking out sidearms you are comfortable with and gaining some experience with them. Your best options for this is to lean on friends you have that are familiar with handguns and ask for opinions. All gun owners I know have no problem with helping someone get started. Go to the range, try as many as you can, and decide what you feel like is your best option. Another good option is to find a gun store that has a range and rents handguns. You can get some good advice from the local gun stores, and usually avoid the big box stores for advice. The first time in a gun store can be a bit intimidating so bring a friend that is knowledgeable or at the very least educate yourself as best as you can.
Here is a good article by our own Robert Hathaway Buying your first handgun for self defense
You can, for sure, acquire a handgun before you decide to take a concealed carry class and have it with you to take the class. Once again, be sure you have a familiarization with handguns before you go to your concealed carry class. You have a lot of options of guns, styles, auto-loaders or revolvers, calibers, and so forth. We all have a budget, and reliable handguns can be had reasonably. There are things in my life I do skimp on, such as paper towels or laundry soap, but when it comes to a tool I may need to defend myself, that is not where I would cut corners.
Now, you have a new sidearm you are comfortable with and are somewhat familiar with. You have passed your class and are all done, well not even close. This is not where I get into the gun and caliber debate. I will offer this advice, stay with a reputable brand of firearm and reputable defensive ammunition. In my educated opinion the .380 Automatic is the smallest caliber I would use for a defensive handgun, unless you just cannot learn to shoot that and have to go to smaller caliber. A lot of that will depend on the gun though so try a few before you commit. The .380 Auto on your person is infinitely better than the .45 Auto at home. Many say, carry the biggest caliber handgun you can control. Keep this in mind as you become more proficient and comfortable with firearms, guns that may have been intimidating to you when you got started might not be now.
Your next step should be more instruction. Find firearm instructors and learn what sort of classes they teach. They can also guide you in what directions you should go. In between instructions you should be at the range honing your newly learned skills. Shooting is a perishable fine motor skill. It takes instruction as well as perfect practice to gain proficiency. I don’t mean to harp on being proficient with your carry gun but, God forbid, you ever have to call on your skills to defend yourself you better be able to hit what you are aiming at and not hit what you are not aiming at. An instructor I know says, every round fired in defense has a lawyer attached to it, so you better be justified and skilled. My concealed carry instructor told me the more classes you take the better it looks for you, attempting to prepare yourself if you do have to defend yourself.
If you carry concealed, you need to be sure your sidearm is, in fact, concealed. Reaching or stretching can expose your sidearm, and if someone sees that and freaks out, as some do, no good can come from that. Even if you keep your gun concealed, be sure not to print. What I mean by print is the outline or your carry rig shows against your garment. Wearing a tight solid color short and a large gun is bad for this. Inside the waistband holsters tend to print less than outside the waistband. Shirts with print, stripes, or anything to break up the silhouette of the gun tend to work better.
One good step against this is using a quality holster designed for discreet carry and a dedicated gun belt that holds your holster securely. Also, a quality holster will cover the trigger and keep the gun safe. So, once you have your gun secured safely on your person, leave it the hell alone. If you constantly touch or adjust it, you can call attention to yourself.
It will take some time but you will get comfortable carrying and it will get easier. During this time you should still be hitting the range, taking classes, and maybe shoot some local matches. Whatever round you decide upon, be sure to familiarize yourself with how that round shoot and preforms. That will also ensure your sidearm is reliable with that round. Self defense ammunition is expensive so shoot enough to be sure you and your gun are reliable with it.
Over time, undoubtedly you will buy other guns to carry. Some folks have smaller guns for summer carry and others when they can dress warmer and carry larger guns.
I know I spoke mostly about concealed carry, as that is what I prefer but I will touch on open carry. Personally I prefer to carry concealed, I think of my carry pistol as my ace in the hole. I have zero issues with open carry but if confronted with unpleasantness the obviously armed man will draw the attention of the threat. Such attention could put the person open carrying at a greater risk than the one with the hidden Roscoe. I also get that open carrying helps desensitize the general public when seeing real guns. So, both options have their benefits and drawbacks. A note on using the photographers vest to conceal a handgun, while a great idea, unless you are actually a photographer on assignment you may stick out. We have jokingly referred to such vests as the “shoot me first” vests.
Now these people that show up in restaurants with loaded shotguns and muzzle the crowd while trying to show off helps nothing. Look I am as pro gun as the next NRA member but out in public with people whom I have no idea about their level of training handling firearms in an unsafe manner, that makes all gun owners look bad and forces the hand of many business owners. If you depend on your business to feed yourself and your family, do you want 5% of your patrons who are exhibiting unsafe gun handling scare off 95% of your patrons and you loose your business. Now if you are one that carries a sidearm on your hip, and are responsible about that, you and I are all good.
I realize that is a lot of information on carrying a defensive gun, and it is not a definitive guide but it will give you a very good idea of what carrying a sidearm entails.
You can also look at the ballistics test we have done for handguns