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man aiming a handgun
Many focus on gear with they think of self-defense with a handgun. The truth is, it all starts with the proper mindset. Richard Mann

The notion that people are ultimately the ones who are responsible for their safety is starting to take hold once again in this country. Americans are fortunate to have some of the best-trained law enforcement officers in the world protecting them. The problem is, none of us have one of those officers assigned to us 24 hours a day. Because of this reality, the concealed carry of a handgun is becoming more prevalent. More states are enacting laws to support it, some—with what’s called Constitutional Carry—even allow it without a permit.

All of this is a step in the right direction. But, simply owning a handgun is not enough. It might make you feel better and more secure, but in the event you need to use that gun, feeling better and secure won’t get you through a possibly lethal situation. You’ll need a holster to carry it, some skills, tactics, ammo that’s dependable, and most of all, the right mindset.

The Mindset on How to Conceal Carry

The true measure of successfully carrying a handgun for self-defense is not found in the type of handgun you have or the manner in which you carry it. In fact, it is not even found in how competent you are at using that handgun. The baseline foundation of successfully arming yourself for personal protection is your mindset. Without the right mindset, weapons will not help you.

Book cover of Principals of Personal Defense
Anyone seriously considering carrying a handgun for personal protection should read this book. Richard Mann

Yes, at the core of your mind you have to be willing to use lethal force to protect yourself and the innocent, but you also need to exercise sound judgment and awareness. Gunsite Academy founder Jeff Cooper very logically codified the basics of personal protection in his 1972 book, the Principles of Personal Defense, where he outlines these principals as: alertness, decisiveness, aggressiveness, speed, coolness, ruthlessness, and surprise.

But maybe more importantly, Cooper explains the color code system: A four-color categorization of personal awareness which provides a clear and simple mechanism for gauging the level of perceptiveness the situation requires.

  • White: A condition of unreadiness. You are relaxed and unaware; not prepared to take action. This is not an acceptable level of awareness to have when carrying a gun.
  • Yellow: Relaxed, not focused on a specific threat, but maintaining awareness of your surroundings. This is the minimum level of awareness to have when carrying a gun.
  • Orange: Aware of a specific possible threat. This does not mean you are going to take action, but you are ready if necessary.
  • Red: A state of action. The specific possible threat you identified has become an actual threat. It is now time to act with the appropriate response.

To survive a lethal confrontation, you’ll need more than marksmanship. You’ll need the right mindset. There’s no shortage of gravestones above those who could shoot well but could not or did not act. Before you even consider buying a handgun for protection, you need to read Cooper’s book.

How to Choose the Best Concealed Carry Gun

From a factual standpoint, the handgun you choose for personal protection is one of the least important aspects of the concept. Yes, it needs to work every time and all the time. It needs to fit your hand so you can effectively control it. And, it needs to fit your lifestyle. Beyond that, little else matters. There are so many handguns to choose from for a reason; it is mostly a matter of personal preference.

hand holding a sub-compact-edc x9w
The new sub-compact EDC X9S from Wilson Combat is a very controllable 9mm, that is ideally adapted to concealed carry. Richard Mann

That having been said, there are still some logical guidelines to follow. Full-size handguns like a five-inch 1911, Beretta 92, or Colt Python, are very hard to conceal, and the ultra-compact pistols are harder to control and shoot with precision. For most folks, compact or standard size handguns are the best choice. This includes guns like the Glock 19, Sig P320 Compact, Ruger American Compact, and if you have the money, the Wilson Combat EDC X9.

With smaller guns, there are some exceptions. Sig Sauer’s P365 is very compact but is also very controllable. So too is the Smith & Wesson Shield, Mossberg MC1sc, Glock 43, and Wilson Combat EDC X9S. (The Smith & Wesson M&P 9 Shield M2.0 Pistol & Range Kit is a great starter package and retails for only $479.00.) Small revolvers, like Ruger’s LCR and the Smith & Wesson Bodyguard, are light, concealable, and controllable unless chambered for the .357 Magnum.

Glock model 43
Because of its size and the fact that it is a 9mm, the Glock model 43 is well suited to concealed carry. Glock

When it comes to cartridge selection, you’ll enter a never-ending debate with regard to what is best or even suitable. The bottom line is that no one—including bad guys—wants to get shot with anything. The three most prevalent self-defense handgun cartridges are the 9mm, .40 S&W, and .45 ACP. The effectual difference between them is like the difference in Coke, Pepsi, and RC Cola. Select a handgun that fits you first, then the cartridge. If recoil is an issue, carry a .380 ACP or even a .22 Mangum. Having a gun is the most important thing.

Read Next: 25 of the Best Handguns Ever

What to Look for in a Concealed Carry Gun Holster

Carry methods are a critical aspect of concealed carry because if you are not carrying the gun, it is useless. The holster you choose should do three things: permit comfortable concealed carry, secure the handgun to you, and allow for swift and easy access. In fact, the way you’re going to carry your handgun should play a part in handgun selection; few of us are large enough to carry a Glock 17 on our ankle.

Versacarry Comfort Flex Deluxe
For an affordable inside the waistband holster, the Versacarry Comfort Flex Deluxe is priced right. Versacarry

Inside the waistband carry offers the most secure, concealable, and accessible option for most, and holsters like the Galco Royal Guard and Versacarry Comfort Deluxe are perfect for it. Outside the waistband carry will be the most comfortable, but also the hardest to conceal. For that, Galco’s Side Snap Scabbard holster is an excellent choice. Galco’s Ankle Glove is a fantastic option for ankle carry. However while easily concealed, wearing an extra pound on your ankle is more than most can comfortably endure.

Another option that was once popular, and that is now gaining traction once again, is the fanny or belt pack. This allows for very comfortable carry and meshes nicely with an active lifestyle. Galco’s newly released Fastrax Waistpac is a modern rendition of this style holster and one of the best available.

Galco fanny/waist pack
The new fanny/waist pack from Galco is well suited to someone who lives an active lifestyle. Galco

Select the Best Concealed Carry Ammo for You

Standing in front of the ammunition section in a gun store trying to select a load for your carry gun can be daunting. With so many options it’s like trying to select the best breakfast cereal. Ammunition for a self-defense handgun should be reliable and deliver a good balance of penetration and expansion to maximize the chances of incapacitating an attacker. Ballistically speaking, this means the load should deliver at least 12 inches of penetration and the bullet should expand to at least 1.5 times its original diameter.

Federal HST ammo
Regardless of the cartridge, Federal’s HST ammo is fantastic for self-defense. Richard Mann

For primary defensive cartridges like the 9mm, .40 S&W, and .45 ACP, look to loads like the Federal HST, Speer Gold Dot, Hornady Critical Duty, Remington Golden Saber or Black Belt, Sig Sauer V-Crown, and Barnes TAC-XPD. All of these are street proven. For lesser cartridges like the .380 ACP, Federal’s new Hydra-Shok Deep load is likely the best option, and for the .22 Mangum—should that be the only cartridge you can handle—Hornady’s Critical Defense or the Speer Gold Dot loads are a good bet. With magnum revolver cartridges, load selection is not that critical but for the lesser-powered .38 Special, the Black Hills Honey Badger load and the Speer Gold Dot Short-Barrel loads are two of the best options.

A small 22 magnum handgun
Elderly or weak shooters may not be able to handle recoil. For them a 22 Magnum revolver is an option. Richard Mann

The terminal performance of the ammunition you carry in your defensive handgun is important, but not as important as reliability. The ammo you select—regardless of its suspected lethality—must be 100 percent reliable in your handgun.

Concealed Carry Tips

If you’re going to carry a handgun for personal protection, there are things you need to know. You need to know the law—local, state, and federal. You need to fully understand and follow firearms safety rules. You need to know how to operate your firearm; you need to know how to run it, load it, and clear stoppages when they occur. And, you also need to know how to properly care for your gun. Additionally, you need to learn how to work with a handgun in high stress, self-defense situations. Let’s face it; you need training.

Two men in a handgun shooting drill
Good training is critical in helping you prepare for a lethal force encounter. Richard Mann

Gunsite Academy is the oldest and largest firearms training academy for civilians anywhere in the world. It is without question the best place to start. But, it’s also expensive. If you cannot afford to go, seek out a vetted local instructor. But keep in mind, you are not looking for an adventure camp. You need a teacher and a school that will help you develop basic gun handling and lifesaving skills. In addition to learning everything mentioned above, at the very least you need to learn how to quickly present your handgun to a target, align the sights, and deliver multiple shots into the vital triangle as fast as possible.

Handgun after 45 drill.
The Forty-Five Drill is a great test for the novice or expert who is carrying concealed. Richard Mann

How good do you need to be? You can never be good enough. You should always keep practicing and training. One drill to help you get better is called the Forty-Five Drill. Drawing from concealment, engage a target at five yards, with five shots, and try to keep all your hits inside a five-inch circle. The goal is to complete the drill—without a miss—in less than five seconds. It’s not easy, and less than 20 percent of police officers can do it on their first try. Work slowly at first, until you can complete the drill with no misses, then work on speed. A really talented shooter can perform this—miss free—in about 3.5 seconds. You’ll need a shot timer and they’re a great asset for all manners of firearms training.

Read Next: Seven Serious Concealed-Carry Handguns

How to Secure Your Concealed Handgun at Home

In addition to everything else, you need to consider how you will store the gun when you are not using it. You want to make sure no one who is unauthorized has access to it, and a great way to do that is with some sort of safe. Large gun safes like you use for hunting guns are fine but something more compact you can keep at your bedside might be better. And one more thing; you need a flashlight. It’s very likely that if you have to use a handgun for self-defense, you will need to do it in low light conditions. Keep a good flashlight with your handgun when it’s stored and when you are carrying it.

Crimson Trace flashlight.
A flashlight should be considered a mandatory accessory for anyone carrying concealed. Richard Mann

Joining the ranks of concealed carry is easy; all you have to do is buy a gun, some ammo, and a holster and hit the street. Legally carrying a handgun concealed, and being able to effectively use that handgun to save your life, is another thing entirely. You must obey the law, you must know how to run your gun, you need to be able to shoot, and you must—above anything else—have the right mindset. When it comes time to save your life, you will fight with your mind; the handgun is just one of the tools you will use.