In an increasingly uncertain world, personal safety is frequently discussed and debated. One term that often arises in these conversations is “concealed carry.” What is concealed carry? Concealed carry is the practice of carrying a weapon — typically a handgun — in a hidden manner, either on one’s person or in close proximity. And in some states, this isn’t something one can just decide to do; it requires a specific legal document known as a concealed carry permit. A concealed carry permit or license is a legal authorization that allows an individual to carry a concealed weapon in public.

Definition and History of Concealed Carry

Concealed carry typically refers to carrying a handgun in a way that isn’t visible in casual observation. However, it can also refer to other weapons, such as knives or stun guns. Some concealed carriers may employ a cover garment like a suit coat, jacket, sweater or even a T-shirt worn untucked to conceal their firearms. And some concealed carry positions or holsters allow the carrier to keep a handgun nearby at the ankle or off-body entirely. The location and concealment of an everyday carry gun will depend on the skills of the shooter and the sophistication of his or her load-bearing gear.

Carrying concealed firearms in America has grown significantly over the past two decades. In the formative years, states generally adhered to English common law, which prohibited the concealing of weapons. Throughout the 19th century, gun control laws continued to be passed. The laws governing carrying a concealed weapon can be clear as mud and vary from state to state. For example, one state permit once specified the barrel be concealed, while another state statue specified that the handgun must be in a holster but gave no further explanation. Despite early restrictions, changes began to emerge in the late 20th century, with the shall-issue era taking root in the 1980s. And today, 27 states allow permitless carry.

What Is a Concealed Carry Permit?

A concealed carry permit is a legal authorization that allows an individual to carry a hidden firearm, either on-body or in close proximity. They can be called many things, such as a concealed weapon permit (CWP), concealed carry weapon (CCW) permit, concealed handgun license (CHL) and more. The laws vary widely from state to state, with some states not requiring a license or permit at all and others demanding individuals to demonstrate a specific need for a concealed carry permit. Some states also require permit holders to complete a firearms safety course before carrying a concealed weapon.  The majority of states, however, have shall issue laws, allowing any law-abiding citizen who meets the qualifications to be issued a permit. It’s important to note that not all states recognize permits issued by other states.

Learn the process for obtaining a concealed carry permit in your state.

Safety and Training

It is important that anyone who makes the decision to carry a firearm — open or concealed — be familiar with his or her gun and the laws where he or she is carrying. As an example, there are penalties for exposing a handgun in some jurisdictions. And most cities and states don’t allow weapons to be carried into government buildings. You can learn more about the laws specific to your state in a Concealed Carry & Home-Defense Fundamentals class.

Before carrying concealed, those new to the habit should practice wearing their firearms while walking, sitting or other parts of the daily routine. Be sure the gun is not visible under your wardrobe as well. This is referred to as printing. It’s also key to wear the appropriate holster and belt so as not to need to obviously adjust your setup. While it’s unlikely (but possible) to lead to legal trouble, a poorly executed everyday carry system does give away the hidden element of concealed carry.

We must also address why we carry concealed. Many choose to carry a concealed handgun to ensure their safety and that of loved ones. Others may carry for professional reasons. Choosing to carry a concealed weapon is a significant responsibility that should never be taken lightly. A firearm is a tool of last resort, intended to protect life in situations where no other options exist. As such, it is crucial that anyone considering carrying a concealed weapon undergoes the appropriate training.

Training isn’t just about learning to shoot accurately; it’s about understanding when and how to use your weapon responsibly. This involves learning the laws in your state regarding concealed carry and self-defense, knowing how to safely store and maintain your weapon, and being able to respond appropriately in high-stress situations. Mental preparation is a critical aspect.

Carrying a firearm changes how you must approach various situations. It requires a heightened level of situational awareness and a commitment to avoiding conflict whenever possible. Before deciding to carry, ask yourself: Am I prepared to take a life if necessary to protect myself or others? This is a question only you can answer, and it’s one that requires serious thought. If you choose this path, commit to continual learning, practice and responsibility. Your life and the lives of those around you could depend on it.