I took a new-shooter friend to the range last week to introduce her to firearms. Before we left I wanted to do some holster work, so I stepped off the concrete platform onto the grass and positioned my holster on my hip at my normal two o’clock carry position. My friend watched me and quickly asked me in a rather alarmed tone “aren’t you afraid you’re going to shoot yourself in the leg by carrying your gun there??”
Some people may have teased her about her reaction and inexperience, but I knew better. It wasn’t long ago that I made the very personal decision to body carry, even though I’ve had my concealed weapons permit for a few years now. It was my friend’s exact reaction today that could explain why it took me so long to migrate from carrying in my purse to carrying on my body: I was honestly afraid I was going to accidentally shoot myself just carrying it around. When I had discussed this fear in the past with “the boys” at my local trusted gun shop and practice range, they laughed at me more than once, and I thought I was probably the only one to have this fear (or at least to admit it). But apparently I was not.
The truth is, I carried a gun concealed in my purse for nearly two years before I made the decision to body carry. I felt I was well protected at long as I had a properly made concealed carry bag with a built in holster (one that covers the trigger) with zippers that allow for easy access, and if I carried it cross-shoulder for security. However, I hated having to keep track and have my purse ON ME at all times. At restaurants I had to sit down with the purse on my body, which was uncomfortable and certainly looked odd to observers. I don’t like to announce I’m carrying, so it was always awkward to answer when my friends or acquaintances would ask why I just didn’t put my purse down. I certainly couldn’t hang my bag on the back of my chair, or put it on the table where it could be grabbed, or even hang it underneath the bar where it could also be snatched. When I would go to someone’s house, where it was expected I should put my purse down, I couldn’t comfortably do so unless I was absolutely sure there were no children around or anyone else I didn’t know very well. When I would walk down crowded city streets, I was always worried it could easily be snatched. I decided I had enough to worry about in life (or in the event my purse was ever stolen or compromised), that I didn’t want to add a gun to that mix.
But more convincing than theft was when I took my first tactical training course, which included hand-on-hand real-life scenarios. I quickly realized it was unlikely I could react fast enough to grab my purse, unzip the zipper, place my hand on the gun, draw, clear the bag and get a bullet on target before I indeed became the more likely target myself. Just WAY too many steps for my peace of mind, and the more realistically I thought about it, the more it simply didn’t make sense to me. That is when I decided to body carry, and that is when the real struggle began.
Selecting a really nice carry purse was easy. Finding a good holster that fits comfortably around the waist and allows the gun to be concealable yet easily accessible (even with a small .380 caliber) was next to impossible. And as I followed posts on some of my favorite Facebook groups and online forums, I realized very quickly that I wasn’t alone at all. This is a struggle of just about any woman who decides to body carry, and the struggle is real.
Yet even after I found a good working holster and a position on my waist that works for me, there was the whole issue of wardrobe that I wasn’t prepared for! I live in Florida, and most of the year what works without my gun on my waist does not seem to work WITH my gun on my waist without printing (the outline of the gun showing through).
So after about a year of exclusively body-carrying my gun, here’s what I’ve learned so far (trust me, I’m SURE I will always be learning, so stay tuned for updates):
1. When I first got my gun, I was SURE I was going to shoot myself in the feet (or thigh, or abdomen) every time I sat down or got up. I’ve come to learn that guns just don’t “go off” willy-nilly, and if you have the gun properly holstered and the trigger properly covered, it simply won’t happen.
2. When I first started carrying, I was SURE everyone was looking at me and KNEW I had a gun (I must have had a very guilty look on my face). I’ve come to learn if you’re not looking for it, you’re not going to notice it. And even if you are looking for it, I’ve gotten very good at concealing it.
3. I thought I only needed to bring it with me some of the time (when I went into “bad” neighborhoods). I’ve come to learn bad things can happen anywhere, any time. I live in a very nice neighborhood, and in the past year shots were fired by someone’s abusive ex-boyfriend at the very “safe” grocery store I shop in several times a week, and a woman was carjacked just last week less than two miles from my home – not to mention the Orlando nightclub massacre just a few miles away. Sadly, just yesterday one of our county’s police officers was shot dead just outside of WalMart, and the suspect is still on the run, armed and dangerous. Now I carry almost everywhere it’s legally allowed, all the time, even if it’s a “quick run” to the convenience store.
4. I thought carrying my gun in a purse would be fine, after all my purse is always with me when I’m out. I’ve come to learn, my purse is much too dangerous of a place to keep my weapon (and I don’t even have children). When I’m in my car, my purse is usually on the seat next to me or on the passenger floor. I can’t tell you how many times I had my window open or stopped to get gas and had the horrified realization that my purse/gun was basically unattended. Or how often I found myself in a restaurant with nowhere to put my purse that it couldn’t be picked up and stolen by someone – so I had to sit there with the straps around my neck and the purse on my lap. Even with me carrying the purse cross-body, the likelihood that someone would steal my purse was much, much higher than someone stealing my gun off my person. I now wear my gun on my waist whenever I’m out of the house.
5. I thought I would always be uncomfortable wearing my gun on my person. After all, it’s a large, stiff, inflexible object constantly shoved on my waist. I’ve come to learn that, like most things in life good and bad, it just takes some getting used to. After a month or so of wearing it every day, I’m now uncomfortable NOT wearing it, almost like I’m missing a part of me if it’s not there.
6. I thought once I was in my home, my gun was “safe” to take out (and put on the counter). When I get home, I typically unload – putting my purse, keys, bags, whatever on the kitchen counter. When I first started carrying, I would take my holster off and put it right up there next to my purse and keys. I’ve come to learn that’s not safe. First of all, people come and go in my house at times, and where I laid my gun is not always top of mind. Neighbors pop in, solicitors come to the door, the UPS man rings, repairmen come and go. Life can get distracting. Not to mention that fact that I may be in another room and someone breaks into my home and WHAM, now THEY have my gun! Now, when I get home, I immediately put my gun in a safe, secure and concealed place.
7. After I made a decision to body carry, suddenly my entire wardrobe needed to be re-assessed. I didn’t realize how many tight and/or somewhat see-through things I owned! I live in Florida, and we wear single, light layers almost all year round, and suddenly linen could no longer play a leading role in my wardrobe. Neither could tight jeans and body-hugging shirts. But that’s okay because I’ve come to learn that vanity isn’t nearly as important as my personal safety and security. Even this past New Years Eve, when I really wanted to wear something short, tight and sassy with high heels, I reconsidered and opted instead for jeans, a thick leather belt, a flowy shirt and flat boots. I walked the busy downtown streets a lot more comfortably and confidently than I otherwise would have. I’m on a quest to find conceal carry clothes that I still love, but to some extent I’ll probably have to sacrifice some cuteness for security most of the time.
8. When I first started carrying, I thought my regular range practice was enough. I had been consistently going to my local indoor range for the past couple of years since I bought my first gun and encouraged others to do so as well. I’ve come to learn that while the skills I practiced there helped improve my grip, my stance and my accuracy in a highly controlled environment, it wouldn’t help me at all if I had to draw from my holster – the physical mechanics and time to action just don’t compare. So I joined a private outdoor range where I could learn to properly draw from my holster (without sweeping myself or anyone else) and where I could practice that skill frequently. I’m also now incorporating drawing from my holster at home (gun unloaded, of course), because I know muscle memory and instinct may help me the most when I need it.
9. When I first started doing holster work, I thought that was enough to help me prepare for almost any situation I may encounter. I soon learned that it doesn’t prepare me for the reality of how I may react during a real-life encounter. If you haven’t read it (or want a refresher), read my past blog post “Tactical Training: What I learned…and More Importantly What I Forgot” and you’ll understand that practicing in a highly controlled environment, while important and beneficial, does not necessarily predict how you’ll react and handle yourself in a real-life scenario.
10. When I first starting carrying, I bought a conceal carry purse, a conceal carry belt bag, and a fancy suede holster that, together, could handle just about any conceal carry outing I may take. I soon learned that it may take awhile to find the right holster that works best for me. Six holsters and two belly band/corsets later, I think I’ve narrowed it down to one kydex holster worn on a leather belt that seems to work best and is quite comfortable. Fortunately, I’ve found some active social media groups where I can buy, sell and trade holsters (CC Holster BST on Facebook is a good one) with other women having the same struggles. I’ve also learned that holsters are an extremely personal decision and what works best for one person does not necessarily work for another.
It’s been an interesting couple of years since I decided to conceal carry a firearm, and I’ve learned so much about myself, the people around me, and more. I know that my learning will never stop, so I will continue to try new things, continue to educate myself and most importantly continue to train and practice. My next project is to determine what, if any, insurances I should be taking out in the event I may ever need to fire my weapon (or use something else) to protect myself or family in self defense. I found a good starting article here and will keep you updated on my thoughts and decisions in case it can help you as well.