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Texas CHL Tips - Practice Carrying Concealed:
An Interesting Perspective

"...Start packing without the mental discipline, and you will fail the 'ALWAYS' test...."

by: David Woodbury

Editor's Note: This article by David Woodbury is aimed toward those who have not yet reached a point of confidence to carry concealed even though they have a permit to do so. It is better to build up one's confidence even if one has to practice carrying a concealed mock weapon (if legally permitted in your area). No need for emails about how temporarily carrying a mock or empty weapon is useless. Never carrying at all due to lack of confidence in one's abilities is permanently useless.

It bears repeating: Practice handling and shooting your gun before you need to use it. But if you're going to carry concealed, practice CARRYING before you actually do it.

Always Deciding to carry concealed presents some interesting and important mental challenges. Besides always staying in practice, so you are always as safe as you can be in a crisis, there are many more demands on you, all of them preceded by the word "always". (And there are scores of other demands preceded by "never", but those are the ones we hear all the time.)

  • ALWAYS know where your gun is, both when it's on your body and when it's not.
  • ALWAYS know whether it's loaded, when it's on your body and when it's not.
  • ALWAYS know whether it's locked (or whether the safety is on, depending what type of hardware you're packing).
  • ALWAYS know how you can sit, stand, walk, and run so it won't bulge or "print" on you.
  • ALWAYS know how close you are to other people and whether there might be someone close by who would give you a spontaneous hug or a friendly pat in the wrong place.
  • ALWAYS, always, always.

These are things -- and I could add many more -- that you cannot forget, even for a moment.

Permit Today, Pack Tomorrow.

Yes, you can get a concealed carry permit and then immediately begin carrying when you've never, or seldom, done it before. But to do so requires a level of mental discipline that most of us don't possess the moment we start. You will make mistakes if you do it that way. Start packing without the mental discipline, and you will fail the ALWAYS test above. So I'm here to offer a handful of suggestions.

  1. Before you ever carry a loaded firearm, carry a single cartridge.

    Do it before you ever get a permit. Start with one, and see whether you can say positively that you are aware every moment where it is. Where is it while you're in the shower? While you're at work? While you're at the Post Office or in church? Where is it when the clothes you just wore are in the washing machine? If you slip up and someone finds out that you have it, so what? You can explain it any number of ways, and you don't need a permit.

    Then carry six at once, or whatever number would fully reload your magazine or your cylinder. This may be more important a skill than you think, because even though the idea of carrying a lone bullet is to make you accountable for carrying a firearm later, you'll also want to figure out how to carry extra ammo once you do start to go around armed.

    (I've found that the little Tyvek sleeve the bank gives me for my credit card holds six round of .38 or .357 neat and flat.)

  2. Carry a toy gun

    In the side-street toy shops you can still buy a near-life-size plastic revolver or a squirt gun shaped like a semi-automatic. Try carrying one of these concealed for a few weeks. If it's longer than your real gun, cut it down to match. Or, if it's just too weird to carry plastic, cut a notch out of a bush or small tree (or carve a block of wood) to something vaguely resembling the dimensions of the gun you may one day carry, and carry the piece of wood for a few weeks first. If someone finds out you have it on you, again, you can explain it any number of ways.

    If it's not your intention to carry a concealed firearm but, say, a tactical knife for personal protection, then modify this suggestion to something vaguely resembling the size and weight of that equipment.

  3. Carry an empty gun

    Once you are comfortable with the feel of carrying and the discipline needed to keep it concealed and safe, there's still a quantum mental shift from concealing a piece of harmless metal to concealing something that is instantly deadly. Carrying empty gives you the complete feel, but not the feeling. Once you start carrying for real, you're making two monumental adjustments: You need to get past the self-conscious stage with the real hardware, and you need to reckon the gravity of the choices you can now make. Notice I didn't say you have to do both at the same time.

    To get past the self-conscious stage, carry empty but on alternate days for a week or so. Do it one day, then think it over and adjust your habits the next day. Then carry empty for a week, maybe with the ammo in a pocket somewhere.

    The quantum mental shift doesn't come with the permit. It takes weeks of training in the military. Putting on the uniform the first day doesn't do it. It's accepting that every day, because of the choices someone else makes, you're ready to take a life. (And, as has been said in these pages so many other ways, if you're not ready to take a life, then you shouldn't be packing.)

The Consequences:

Even though I'm a Registered Maine Guide, even though I've hunted for 40 years, even though I'm an Army veteran, even though I've been a security manager (unarmed), even though I have long owned firearms of several types, I didn't make the transition instantaneously once I started packing a few years ago. I was accustomed to open carry as in hunting: slipping the safety off and on as I moved about, unloading in the open before re-entering a vehicle, and so on. When I'm armed for hunting, it's right out in front of me where I'm acutely aware of it and open to the world at the same time. And no one where I live gives any thought to seeing someone alongside the road lugging a shotgun or rifle.

But I didn't start out doing A, B, or C. Why? I just thought I was already so handy and safe with firearms that packing heat would be natural. And because of that assumption, here are a few things that happened to me once I began carrying daily.

  1. I forgot that the gun was on me. I had eventually found a way to carry that was so comfortable I didn't have the slightest discomfort to remind me it was there. The day it happened, I'm sure no one saw anything, but before I was sure I had to think about everywhere I'd been for the couple of hours that I had forgotten about it.
  2. I dropped it in public. The way I carried at the time, in an unbelted holster tucked in my pants at the small of my back, it left me vulnerable to slippage when I exited a vehicle. It had shifted in a way that, even though I still felt it, I didn't realize how loose it was. Again, no one saw.
  3. I left it in a desk drawer that others had access to, loaded and ready. This was really stupid, but I had to get it off me quickly and then go meet some people in another room for a time. I should have simply continued to carry it. The one person who'd have been most likely to find it never mentioned it, and would have been fine with it even if she had found it. But I wish I'd never subjected her to the awkwardness of the possibility.
  4. I forgot where it was in the house after I had gone to bed. After I dressed the next morning and went to get it, it wasn't where I expected to find it. I scrambled mentally to remember what had interfered with my routine the night before, and then I found it.
  5. While it was on me, I forgot whether it was locked. I carry a Rossi knock-off of a S&W .38 Chief's Special. It has a neat little screw in the back of the hammer that you set or release with a custom hex key. I was carrying, but sort of remembered that I had locked it the day before when I went to bed. (It's not the night security piece.) I sort of remembered that I had unlocked it the next morning, but in the middle of the day in question, in the company of others who I couldn't excuse myself from for at least another hour, I wanted nothing more than to check it. On the Rossi, if you can just touch the base of the hammer with a fingertip, you can tell whether it's locked.
  6. The very first day I started carrying, my employer sent me on an overnight trip. Alone in a motel room, I debated keeping it loaded and ready. I truly wondered, in fact, whether I might be a sleepwalker in an unfamiliar setting and not know it, or whether I could otherwise harm myself or others with it while not fully awake. I unloaded it to be more certain. The mental discipline for everyone here is to be sure what kind of sleeper you are before dropping off too soundly next to a loaded gun. Are you someone who does anything at all in your sleep that you've not been fully aware of while you're doing it?

These are examples of common challenges in mental discipline. But there was one thing that was probably harder to get used to than overcoming any of these six glitches. It was simply the astonishing realization at first that I was armed and potentially deadly. Not as deadly as driving distracted at 70 mph. Not as deadly as when leading people into the wilderness in November where someone in your party can decide to wander off and get lost, leaving you to find him before he freezes. But deadly if someone else chooses that I must be.

Carrying concealed, it took me a long time to get over the fact that I could drop a human being in two or three seconds, power I had never had before. If I were highly skilled in the manual martial arts I might have that feeling, but I also would have spent years getting used to it as my skills improved. When your skill is with a firearm, you're harmless one moment, deadly the next.

If you own a gun for self-defense, practice handling and shooting before the day when someone decides for you that it will matter. But if you're going to carry, practice carrying before the day when you decide for yourself to go about armed!

David A. Woodbury is a Registered Maine Guide with a B.S. in Wildlife Management who is winding down a career in Human Resources. His work has included responsibility for facilities security in the paper industry and in health care. He and his family live "north of the 45th parallel" in Maine. Much of David's writing, including work that has appeared in books and magazines, is found at his own website: www.DamnYankee.com.

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