Carrying a gun for self-protection or for the protection of others is a very serious decision. There are many psychological, physical and legal factors that should be considered before anyone carries and handgun. Assuming you’re truly ready to carry and are looking for information, you’ve probably spent a few minutes searching the gun forums and blogs about the topic of open carry versus concealed carry of a firearm…you will probably agree that the search results are a little bit over whelming.
Many states, cities and municipalities have specific legal restrictions on concealed carry and open carry of firearms. Currently all but 6 states (Texas, Arkansas, Florida, Illinois, New York, and South Carolina) and Washington DC allow open carry of a handgun. Only 3 states recognize both open and concealed carry as part of our 2nd amendment right and do so without requiring any permit to do so (Arizona, Wyoming and Vermont). A good up to date and searchable resource to see what your states law requires for either carry method is Opencarry.com. My personal opinion is if you can legally carry concealed, then you should as the benefits of concealing far outweigh any possible drawbacks.
When carrying a handgun, there is always one subject that comes up: Comfort. Generally speaking, carrying a gun was never intended to be comfortable. As a user of both carry methods; wearing a gun with your shirt over it, or tucked in isn’t going to change things much in terms of overall comfort. Different carrying styles and equipment will however. And you basically have two options to address the comfort issue. 1) Dress and equip yourself around your gun, or 2) Buy a gun that fits within your existing clothing and body style.
A lot of people feel it’s more comfortable to open carry than it is to conceal carry their handgun. Personally I think this is more psychological than physical, as tossing your t-shirt over a holstered weapon isn’t going to drastically change the way you feel when carrying. There can be a lot of reasons for thinking concealed carry is less comfortable than open carry (i.e. you’re using the wrong gun to conceal, wrong holster type, wrong belt type, wrong clothing, etc). There are many different methods, holsters, and locations to properly carry a handgun and it really comes down to your personal preference as to how you’re going to carry. I’ll focus on the two most common types of holsters used (normally used at the hip at the 4 o’clock position) for both carry methods to keep things simple – IWB and OWB holsters.
IWB (inside the waist band) or “tuckable” holsters are usually very comfortable, and in my opinion, are even more comfortable and concealable than OWB (outside the waist band) holsters when worn correctly. The handgun is normally tucked far enough down into the holster that the grip or magazine-butt doesn’t protrude out, yet if concealed is still easily accessible with the upward tug of the shirt. Some feel if you’re concealed in this manner that you can’t get to your firearm fast enough. Honestly, I don’t think there is much of a difference between the draw of a concealed firearm versus an open carry one in this manner. If you can’t access your firearm quickly enough to deal with a threat, you’re probably either not dressed correctly, not using the right gun/holster combo, or lack the proper training…or possibly all of the above.
OWB (outside the waist band) holsters will provide a clear view to everyone that you are armed if carrying openly. You can use an OWB to carry concealed, but run the risk of printing or profiling your gun through the shirt. And could be more difficult to maintain compared to an IWB holster. Most people that you see who are openly carrying are using an OWB type holster.
Many gun owners feel that a visual deterrent (such as someone carrying a gun openly) will make the bad guys think twice about attacking them; but I feel it openly provides information to potential attackers that you are armed, possibly painting you as a hostile target WSHTF. It’s true that open carry will offer you uninterrupted access to your weapon if needed, but it may also offer attackers that access as well. Keep this in mind…according to the FBI in 2011, 72 law enforcement officers were feloniously killed in the line of duty, 3 of which were killed with their own hand guns. At times they have had to wrestle with criminals over and ultimately be shot with their own firearm. The surprise of a properly concealed firearm is your best friend in most life-threatening situation. More often than not, when you open carry, you’re only deterring normal people from wanting to be around you. You’ll want to keep these things in mind before open carrying. Regardless of which carry style you prefer, nothing beats proper handgun training and some all around situational awareness.
Now, it may be true that some folks can’t conceal properly due to their body type, maybe they’re either too skinny or they’re overweight – but I would say more often that not it’s really got more to do with the way the individual is dressed or has something to with their equipment. You should always try to dress around your firearm if possible, concealed or not, IWB or OWB. Tight jeans or shirts will not conceal well and will “print” your firearm, which could draw unwanted attention to you. In some cases printing could even cause you some legal problems. Improperly being dressed can also cause you life-altering weapon draw issues; therefore you’ll really want to avoid putting yourself into these situations by knowing the laws governing your location and by dressing smart. Remember, guns aren’t meant to be fashionable accessories.
I know a lot of people that carry a full size 1911 as their concealed carry pistol in an OWB holster configuration with their shirt pulled over thinking they’re fully concealed. Reality is it looks like they’re wearing Batman’s utility belt under the t-shirt. “Going big” when trying to conceal may not be the best idea here, not to mention the possible problems of carrying a heavy all-metal firearm close to your sweaty skin. There are many makes and models of fully concealable lightweight polymer handguns – many of which are designed specifically to be concealed (or to give as little of a signature if openly carried as possible) such as the Beretta Nano, Keltec PF9, Glock 26, Kahr 9, S&W Shield. The bottom line is that you’ll want to see what carry method and handgun works best for you, your body type and your particular situation. Become very familiar with your local laws and how they apply to you. Think this through carefully and do your homework as your life, or the lives of your family, may someday depend on it.