Concealed carry may seem daunting and a bit overwhelming. It doesn’t have to be. This beginner’s guide to concealed carry will provide you with the necessary direction to get started.

Building Skills for Concealed Carry

Prior to buying a firearm, obtaining the right education and training in concealed carry fundamentals is paramount. You need to be able to safely handle the handgun in all aspects — loading and unloading, firing, clearing, and cleaning — along with a commitment to stay familiar with it.

Find a qualified concealed carry instructor.

It would certainly be nice to have your own personal Yoda, guiding your steps, introducing you to important concepts and teaching you in all the ways of concealed carry. But not everyone has easy or immediate access to a great mentor. Thankfully, there are a lot of great resources out there (thanks, in part, to the USCCA). But there are a lot of bad ones floating around too. So dig a little, and find reputable sources of information. Ask a lot of questions from a lot of different people, and then weigh all those answers carefully.

Do your homework when choosing a qualified concealed carry instructor. There are instructors who have been to a lot of schools and do the job the state says they must. For your growth and knowledge, your instructor should be an active or former peace officer with street experience. This way, you not only get value for your money but also gain insights from their practical knowledge.

It is best to attend the concealed carry class and select your carry handgun based on your dedication to training, your comfort with the action type and what you learn about manipulation. A reputable trainer will have a variety of demonstration handguns on hand, while less-reputable trainers will not.

Select your trainer carefully.
Find a USCCA Certified Trainer Near You

Concealed Carry Checklist

Start with a reliable handgun checklist. It will save you much time, money and embarrassment — and could even save your life.

Selecting the Right Gun 

So how do you choose the best concealed carry handgun? You’ll find that just about every choice you make will be a compromise or a trade-off between size, recoil, power, concealability or even training. So the right gun for you might not be the right gun for your spouse, your mother, your sister, your son or your friend. The right gun for you, ultimately, will be the one you can use effectively, safely and proficiently. And sometimes that takes a bit of trial and error.

What really assists with the selection of a handgun is that most ranges also sell guns and have guns you can rent and try before buying. Locate a gun shop with a good reputation and find a handgun that is the right size — not the largest or smallest — and the right price — neither the most expensive nor the cheapest. No one buys a new or used car without test-driving it first, right? The same should apply to purchasing a firearm. It’s a much more serious purchase, so, if possible, take advantage of renting the one you are interested in before buying it.

Ideally, you should fire the pistol for function at the range to confirm its reliability. A $100 .22 or a 30-year-old, unreliable Llama pistol isn’t something you should trust your life with. Consider using the Glock as a baseline. While you can certainly spend more, you won’t find better reliability, and opting for something cheaper might result in disappointment. Expect to invest between $400 to $600 for your handgun.

Opt for a caliber, like 9mm, that you can control effectively with training and practice. Avoid the .40 self-loader and small-framed .357 Magnum revolvers, as even experienced shooters often struggle with these. A quality .38-caliber revolver, such as the Ruger LCR, is never a bad choice.

Ensure that the type of gun you choose is versatile enough to be carried in various concealed carry positions, including inside and outside the waistband, on the ankle, in the pocket, in a fanny pack and so on. This versatility allows you to make fewer adjustments to your wardrobe to accommodate the gun. The gun should adapt to your wardrobe, so unless you have a larger frame, that means selecting a smaller-sized handgun.

Have patience when choosing the right gun. Narrow down your selection to two or three guns … then walk away. Read some reviews about each, and make notes about what you like and dislike. Then make your choice. After you’ve searched, tried and tested the possibilities, you’ll know when you’ve finally found the one that’s most suitable for you.

When you’re ready to make the purchase, there are certain steps to be aware of when buying a gun to ensure the transaction goes as smoothly as possible. Make sure you qualify federally to own a gun, and check your state gun laws by visiting You’ll need to complete ATF Form 4473 if you’re purchasing the gun from a federal firearm licensed (FFL) dealer. Don’t forget to bring a photo ID to the gun store either. Also, the store will run a National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) check. 

Choosing the Correct Ammo

Be sure to purchase the correct caliber of ammunition for your new gun, which is marked on the frame, slide or barrel. Do you want to end up with a box of ammo you can’t use because you bought the incorrect caliber? Once you purchase the ammunition, few shops will trade ammunition with you.

Make sure to use good-quality full metal jacketed (FMJ) loads in semi-autos or plain lead or copper-jacketed, round-nose bullets in revolvers. Ammunition for .38 and 9mm calibers is generally more affordable than larger calibers, and they are two of the best calibers for concealed carry.

Select a defensive load that reliably functions in your firearm and that you can effectively control and employ. Avoid the temptation to use the latest exotic nuclear-tipped specialty ammunition, and steer clear of ammunition with overly aggressive names like “Death Ray,” which may convey the wrong intention, such as killing rather than simply stopping an assailant. Prior to carrying it, always test-fire any defensive ammunition you purchase.

One question you might be wondering is how many rounds is enough to stop a deadly threat? It can vary depending on the situation, caliber and other factors.While opinions differ, firearms-related studies and data can provide some guidance on the choice of firearm caliber and the number of rounds needed to stop a deadly threat — whether psychological or physiological. Assuming that it is physiological, larger calibers and higher capacity firearms clearly are at an advantage.

Basic Handgun Maintenance 

Proper everyday carry gun maintenance is essential to extend the useful life of your handgun. Your concealed carry weapon is a critical tool that could potentially save your life, so it should be treated with the care and attention it deserves.

Extend the life of your handgun with proper maintenance.

First and foremost, begin with the gun’s owner’s manual. Read it from cover to cover … then read it again. Safety is covered extensively — as it should be. The owner’s manual is included for a reason.

Before firing a semi-auto pistol, it should be properly lubricated. This typically involves applying lubricant to the long bearing surfaces where the slide rails meet the frame, as well as a drop on the barrel hood and the cocking block. The amount of lubricant required may vary by design, so it’s advisable to follow the manufacturer’s recommendations.

It’s essential to learn how to field-strip your handgun for regular maintenance. This isn’t a detail strip involving the trigger action. Field-stripping involves removing the slide, barrel and recoil spring for cleaning. Keep in mind that the procedure for field-stripping may vary among different handgun models.

Cleaning your pistol after a trip to the range is relatively straightforward:

  • Remove powder ash from the bore, breech face and chamber. 
  • Spray the trigger action to free trapped powder residue. 
  • Use a copper brush and then run a cotton patch through the bore until the patch comes out clean. 
  • A cleaning kit is not expensive and should be suited to the specific handgun you are using.

 How often should you clean your gun? It depends on various factors, including how often you use your firearm and the type of gun you own.

Essential Gear

Selecting the right gear poses its own set of interesting problems. There’s a lot of neat stuff out there, but it’s important that you winnow your selections down to what you need now and decide what can wait until later.

Ask yourself questions such as: How are you planning to carry a gun concealed? Are you planning to carry on-body or off-body? Where will you keep your firearm? Will you be practicing a lot? The answers to some basic questions like these will help you identify your immediate gear requirements.

Get cleaning supplies up front, no matter what other purchases you choose to make, since it’s imperative that you keep your gun clean and in good working order.

For range work, a good quality set of hearing protectors and eye protection is mandatory. Don’t go too cheap. You will thank yourself later for purchasing the best you can afford.

Some pistols include two or three magazines, others with only one. You’ll need at least three magazines. Make sure to keep them on your body — one in the pistol, one on the belt and one back at home.

There are thousands of holsters to purchase from countless manufacturers, and it might seem impossible to choose the right holster. Keep in mind that a concealed carry holster must do three things: hide the handgun (a holster is no good to you if it allows your handgun to become exposed to the public and gets you into trouble), keep the handgun secure if a scuffle ensues and keep your handgun reasonably accessible. Never purchase a shapeless, formless fabric holster that relies upon body compression for retention. Don’t put a $500 handgun in a $5 holster. Your holster selection should involve some research and perhaps some trial and error.

You must use a gun belt with a sturdy strap, loop and buckle or the holster will not function properly. The frame, buckle and bar needs to be capable of supporting the weight of the handgun.

Keep your everyday carry gear simple and avoid unnecessary extras.

What to Know Before You Concealed Carry

There are significant factors to consider before you decide to concealed carry that go beyond your choice of firearm or firearms instructor. Keep reading to find out what these factors are.

A False Sense of Security

A concealed carry gun is merely a tool in a broader self-defense strategy. Developing situational awareness is far more likely to sway the odds in your favor. Without awareness, knowledge of how to use the tool, and, most importantly, self-defense education and training, carrying a gun is about as valuable as landing on the Normandy beaches with an accordion.

A firearms instructor will emphasize that a self-defense encounter is vastly different from shooting at the range. Ideally, the instructor will instill a sense of awareness about how little you know regarding real-life criminal encounters. That’s a good thing, as it will motivate you to think and train accordingly.

A Commitment to Everyday Carry

While everyday carry is a good idea for several reasons, some newly minted concealed carriers quickly tire of carrying a firearm at all times as they go about their lives. Frankly, it’s a pain. You must change your dress code, whether that’s dressing for cold weather or dressing for warm weather. For women dressing for concealed carry, it can be challenging to balance fashion and functionality. Carrying around the additional weight of a firearm can be uncomfortable. Training with your everyday carry gear is necessary, and you’ll have to adapt for places where carrying isn’t allowed, like schools and government buildings.

Consequently, some individuals choose to carry their concealed firearm only when they perceive they are going to “more dangerous” places. However, this is not a wise approach. Criminals get to pick the times and locations for crime, not you. They decide whether to commit armed robbery in a coffee shop, mass murder in a theater or rape on a jogging trail. If you were genuinely capable of pinpointing where you’re more likely to face an attack, you would never go to those places in the first instance.

Concealed carry is a 24/7, 365 days a year commitment that requires dedication and sacrifice. Make sure you are fully prepared for this before you decide to embrace the concealed carry lifestyle.

The Consequences of a Self-Defense Incident

You may be the ideal conceal carry student, dedicating hours to studying and comprehending the laws regarding the use of force, self-defense, Castle Doctrine and firearms. However, what happens after a self-defense shooting might not unfold as expected, even if you were in the right. Unfortunately, you might find yourself having to defend against a criminal action. Even if you’ve done everything by the book, you still might lose everything.

If you are compelled to defend yourself from a deadly threat, there will be legal implications to consider.

In the unfortunate event that you have to use your firearm in self-defense, which results in harm or the death of an aggressor, it’s entirely possible that you’ll end up in jail. You may also spend your life savings and more on criminal defense. Additionally, you might become the defendant in an equally expensive civil liability lawsuit.

Just ask Jay Rodney Lewis. He got entwined in an aggressive driver road-rage incident. The other car, full of partygoers, was driven by a repeat felon with a blood alcohol level 2 1/2 times the legal limit. A fender bender ensued, and the felon approached Lewis’ car and started beating on the windows.

Lewis drew his .380 and issued warnings, at which point the group backed off. He got out to inspect the damage and was attacked again. Lewis called 911 and the entire incident was recorded. Lewis was heard issuing 11 distinct warnings to “get back” before he had to fire a single shot. Police arrived and arrested … Lewis.

On his $32,000 salary, Lewis wasn’t able to afford the $22,500 bond fee — much less the $225,000 total bond. As a result, he spent 112 days in jail awaiting trial, at which point he was exonerated. During his unplanned jail time, he lost his savings, his apartment, all of his possessions and his job.

This real-life scenario demonstrates why concealed carry insurance is vital.
USCCA Membership can help responsible Americans prepare for before, during and after a self-defense incident.

A Serious Decision

The tragic story mentioned above happens more frequently than you’d think. You might face an aggressive district attorney who wants to set an example. You might live in a self-defense-unfriendly state or city. There may be confused witnesses. The bad guy’s family might sue for wrongful injury or death. Many things can, and do, go wrong even though the victim does everything right.

Concealed carry is a significant decision with potentially life-or-death consequences. Make sure to treat the decision of whether or not to carry with the seriousness it warrants.

This article is a compilation of previous blog posts authored by Bob Campbell, Beth Alcazar, Scott Wagner and Tom McHale.