The Problem With Concealed Carry

Yesterday my wife and I were having lunch at a favorite local restaurant. We live in the southwest so green chili breakfast burritos and burgers were on the menu. We had just started our meal when an old cowboy walked into the room. He was probably in his seventies, lean and somewhat frail because of his age. Wore a gray beard, a black hat, western shirt, jeans, boots and what looked to me like a large caliber revolver strapped to his right hip in a black leather holster with a thumb break. He was seated quickly after a short friendly chat with the wait person. No one seemed to notice or care about the gun on his hip.

I was carrying a Ruger LCP II, appendix, in a minimal kydex holster. The place was full. Looking about I wondered, not for the first time, how many other people – not just men – were also armed. No way to tell. I know one woman who lives here, a gray-haired stone church lady who always packs a .38. Another cowboy, younger than the man in the diner who works on his own small ranch, always carries a colt out in the open. Goes well with his work boots and spurs. No one seems to find this odd either. There was the UPS guy who delivered to the bakery one morning sporting a Glock on his hip. A few of the more liberally-inclined diners were a bit taken aback, but it was not a big deal for most everyone else.

Carrying a pistol openly in my state is completely legal. Even so, in some locales it will generate more trouble than it is worth. Try it in Denver or Boulder and you will be certain to not only receive hostile looks but also a visit from the law. I suppose they might question you and perhaps emphasize that open carry is not a good idea but I think they can't make any kind of legal case against you for it. Personally, I don't intend to find out. I'm just too old to put up with the certain hassle and notoriety. I'll just keep my firearm under wraps and my license on my person.

Having to carry concealed is the result of social pressure and fearful people. One of them said to me two days ago, "I don't like guns." Well, there are many things I don't like that are perfectly legal but I don't try to apply social or political pressure to stop them or prevent them from happening. The message was not "I don't like guns.", but, "You are morally at fault if you do like guns, and, consequently, you have to stop liking (owning, carrying, etc.) guns."


Just, no.

However, attitudes like this have driven legal gun owners toward concealed carry and prevent most folks from carrying openly even when it is legal and one's right to do so. I occasionally strap on my 9mm black scary gun out in the open and go about my business around our small town, just to keep things a bit in balance. The problem with concealed carry is that it hides our right to keep and carry firearms. If you see someone out and about packing a Glock on their hip you don't have any doubts or confusion about where that person stands on gun rights. You may encounter another person who is also packing a concealed gun, but you have no way to know that, or that person's attitudes toward guns. So, I'm thinking that on occasion, practicing open carry can be a good thing. Educational even.

One of my friends, who is has an absolute horror of guns, seeing me walking by with my 9mm on my hip, called out something about did I think I was protecting myself? I replied, "Yes, and I'll protect you too." His only response after a pregnant delay was, "The pen is mightier than the sword." Lame. I could have said, "Stick and stones will break my bones but hollow points expand on impact." But I didn't. Probably wouldn't know what a hollow point was anyway.

The other problem with concealed carry is that one is forced to find a good holster that can be concealed while functional, secure and safe. And, most importantly, comfortable. Why comfortable? Because if it is not, you won't carry it often. You will end up leaving your firearm at home on the day you really need it. How do I know this is true? Because Murphy's Law exists for a reason. So, the only prudent thing to do is to wear your gun whenever you go out, like you click your seat belt every time you go out in your car. Why? Because bad things happen whenever they happen. The Boy Scouts were right. Be Prepared.

So, that shouldn't be so hard, finding a secure, safe, accessible, comfortable holster that will adequately conceal a firearm. Right. If you don't know already, you will soon find out that concealed carry results in a phenomenon called holster accumulation syndrome, HAS. If you start to conceal carry you will end up with the proverbial box of holsters. Many holsters. Too many. The reasons are many but in my experience they often come down to these.

OWB (outside waist band) holsters are usually more comfortable than IWB (inside waist band) holsters but, given that they hang off your belt, they are not a concealable as the IWB variety. You have to cover the OWB holster with a loose shirt, a vest, jacket or coat, otherwise the firearm will "print", meaning it's outline will sometimes be visible through the covering garment. OWB holsters and guns don't generally play well with T-shirts for example, or with thin sweaters in the colder months. Now, you might be surprised at the amount of printing you can get away with. Most people are not looking for a gun hidden beneath your shirt, so I have worn rather large handguns OWB under a loose-fitting t-shirt with few people being the wiser. Those who might have tipped to the notion that I was carrying were probably carrying themselves or just didn't care. But you can't count on that. So, you buy one that seems good enough for the job. But after a while, maybe a short while, you don't like it. Gun rides to high or low, or the cant is wrong. Sticks out too far. Uncomfortable. There are lots of reasons. So, you get another, different OWB, maybe adjustable and even somewhat padded. This eventually ends up in the box too. 

So, the next choice is to use an IWB holster that keeps itself and the gun between your pants and body. This usually calls for a light undershirt to keep the gun and holster from contacting your bare skin. So, now you will have some kind of bulge in your waistline which must also be disguised. And, you have a heavy piece of metal and other stuff like leather or plastic hanging on your belt and pushing into you as you sit, stand and walk around. Not comfortable.

This one also goes into the box and you opt for one of those hybrid, leather and kydex models, complete with adjustable clips, hardware and an allen wrench. It's even bulkier and larger than the last one and really hard to get on and off. The clips are good but tend to get hung up on certain shirts or sweaters. In the box.

You will read that some holster makers and reviewers say things like, "I forgot it was on me.", or, "I didn't know I was carrying a gun." Bullshit. No one "forgets" they are carrying a gun. If they did they shouldn't be allowed to go outside alone. And, yes, you do know you are carrying especially when that big holster and heavy gun press into your side, stomach or ribs when you move, sit or stand. Please. Get real.

So, IWB carries the conundrum of concealment and comfort. You can't have them both. What I suspect is that you can find a holster system that will provide an acceptable level of both but nothing is going to give perfection in concealment and comfort. Regardless of what the advertising materials, videos and internet reviews may say.

This leads me to the conclusion that a person needs to find two holsters that will provide comfort, security and concealment for both OWB and IWB carry. There will be times when OWB can be adequately concealed by shirts, coats, etc. and times when IWB is the best solution given the circumstance and garment requirements. 

I am constantly on the look out for high-quality holsters that will provide these options. Presently, I am looking at Stealth Gear and Alien Gear holsters as innovators that have gone beyond the ordinary answers to this issue but with different technologies and solutions. I am in the process of requesting holsters from both organizations to test, carry in my normal routine, evaluate and report on here. Stealth Gear's equipment looks good and has a reputation of being well made and comfortable. However, one would have to get two holsters, one OWB and one IWB and they aren't cheap. In fact they are significantly more expensive than similar designed holsters. Are they worth the extra money? Would they stay out of the HAS box?

Alien Gear has announced a very innovative and new holster "system", the Shape Shift. One can get a system in one box that will built up into four different holster carry systems: two OWB and two IWB configurations. This for about the same cost as one expensive holster. The question is, will it work well enough to supplant two holsters of similar design, OWB and IWB?

Somewhere there is the holster, or holsters, that work so well, I can empty out my HAS box and just get on with life in the concealment lane. Time will tell.