There you are, minding your own business while perusing the latest issue of Hamster Cosmetology Quarterly at your local bookstore. Suddenly, you hear someone shout, “He’s got a gun!” Looking around to identify the danger, you realize that everyone in the teen fiction department is looking right at … you. Unknowingly, your shirt rode up over the grip of your handgun, which you dutifully carry in a quality inside-the-waistband holster. Now you’re the center of attention and perceived as a dangerous threat to humanity — at least to those who are in the store.

This scenario can and does happen. It might be at a bookstore, coffee shop, big-box store, movie theater, restaurant, public bathroom or on the street. Once I looked out my car window and saw a guy riding his motorcycle down the highway, blissfully unaware that his entire handgun was exposed as his shirt and jacket blew in the wind.

Know that no matter how careful you are, it’s possible that someone may “out” you. What should you do if someone sees your concealed carry gun?

A black Smith & Wesson M&P model 9mm semi-automatic pistol lying on a white tile floor with black grouting and parquet.

One of the more common “outed” scenarios is a gun falling to the floor in a public restroom. Rather than worry about how to handle the aftermath, maybe it’s better to plan for that possibility in advance?

Be Calm

Before we get into any specifics, the most crucial part of your response plan is to remain calm. Freaking out, shouting at the “outer” to mind his or her own business or running away are all terrible ideas. You are innocent. You are not a threat to anyone. It’s critical that you act that way and project that image. Especially in the worst-case scenario, when someone screams or calls for police, you need to choose the high road and take whatever actions you can to de-escalate panic.

The rest of your responses depend on the specific situation. In some states, an accidental glimpse of your firearm is an enormous deal. In other places, it’s not so much a legal issue as one of mitigating fear and uncertainty for those around you. Here are strategies to consider.

The Law

One of the most significant responsibilities that concealed carriers must face is knowing the law — in advance. It’s up to you to know what your state (or local) government has to say about the concept of brandishing. While we may think of brandishing as waving around a weapon like the bad guys in cheesy pirate movies, it can be interpreted as showing your gun inadvertently, even if it’s not in your hand. As ridiculous as it may sound, someone spotting you by seeing the outline of a handgun under your shirt — printing — or when your cover garment rides up to show a part of the firearm can be construed as brandishing. Yes, this is extreme and not at all fair, but if you live in a place decidedly unfriendly to concealed carry, it may be your reality.

So, step one is to know your laws and act accordingly. If it’s strict where you live in terms of penalties for your gun being visible, be careful. Really careful. Choose your carry method and covering strategy wisely.

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Nearby Observers

In a low-key encounter, you might be able to diffuse the situation by calmly stating something to the effect of “It’s OK, I have a concealed carry permit” as you re-conceal your firearm.

What you don’t want to do is run, sneak away or cop an attitude. Glaring at bystanders and telling them something like, “The Second Amendment is my permit, idiots!” probably isn’t a great strategy. You’re much better off being polite and nonchalant about the whole thing. People take cues from others. If folks are panicking, others will panic too. If those nearby (and you) are calm, so will they be.

A caucasian man's light plaid shirt has ridden up to reveal the black grips of a semi-automatic concealed carry pistol in a black inside-the-waistband (IWB) holster clipped to a black leather belt and tucked into the waistband of his blue jeans.

Sometimes the act of getting out of a car can cause a flashing situation like this one.

Business Owners or Managers

If the person who “outed you” has already approached employees or management of the business, you’ll want to proactively address whoever is in charge. It’s important to be calm and professional as you tell them you’re a concealed carry permit holder.

This is another area where knowledge of your state laws matters. In most states, a business can decide whether it will allow weapons on its property. Even if there is no sign posted, the company still may have the right to ask you to leave. If that happens, just go quietly. If there is a sign posted, it’s possible you’ve violated the law. Depending on your state, the consequences may be a simple trespass notification … or a felony that can result in revocation of your permit and even jail time. Be careful.

The Police and … 911?

If you get caught in a worst-case scenario implied by the title of this article, where someone is shouting and calling store security or 911 to report you, then you might consider a more proactive response. In this case, you may have already lost the ability to quietly explain that you’re a licensed concealed carry permit holder.

When police are involved, they arrive on the scene not (yet) knowing the facts. Everyone is suspect, guilty and innocent all at the same time until the details are sorted out. As a result, the person who “reports” an incident may hold the opening hand. If someone sees you and calls 911 saying that “some guy is waving a gun around and threatening people,” that’s the assumption that officers will have as they arrive. That you were simply going about your business won’t be known until much later.

In such cases where there is an overreaction, it might behoove you to place your own call to law enforcement to start filling in the picture of what really happened. We can’t provide specific advice on every possible situation, but what we can say is that information supplied to responding authorities calmly and factually can go a long way to prevent a potentially dangerous overreaction.

Whatever the situation, it’s important to remain calm and rational. Someone who sees your gun may be terrified. Whether you think that’s a ridiculous response or not isn’t relevant. What is relevant is that you act polite and professional. You know, like a law-abiding citizen would.