An excerpt from the USCCA’s Concealed Carry Guide.

In a world that seems to get more dangerous every day, a little forethought can go a long way in defending your loved ones.

Many honest citizens know that when seconds count, the police are minutes away — at best. These people take responsibility for their own safety and choose to carry concealed weapons for the protection of their own lives and those of their loved ones. They are not vigilantes. They are not cowboys or wanna-be cops. And they are certainly not wanna-be killers. They are people like you and me who realize that life and family are worth protecting in a dangerous world, and they want to have a fighting chance should crime come unbidden to them. By doing so, they protect not only their own lives but also the lives of those around them. They do this by being deterrents to those who would do them harm.

Armed Citizens

Before 1987 (when Florida laws set the standard for allowing shall-issue carry permits), criminals knew it was very unlikely that their would-be victims were armed. No more! With the majority of states now being shall-issue — and with more citizens carrying guns for protection on more American streets — criminals cannot know who is armed and who is not. This deters criminals and contributes to a decreasing trend in violent crimes nationwide.

While the missions of the police officer and the armed citizen are different, guns in the hands of trained citizens can be just as effective against sudden attack as guns in the hands of trained police. The difference is that the responsibly armed citizen has the gun he or she carries immediately at hand when danger strikes and need not wait minutes or even hours for help to arrive. Most honest cops will tell you that most of the time, when they are called for help, they arrive after the danger has passed.

Violent crime has gone down in the United States for the last several decades, while the number of guns in civilian hands has gone up. But there is still more than enough violent crime to give the prudent citizen cause for alarm.

Violent crime is still a real threat that can strike anyone — anytime, anywhere. The latest statistics from the FBI (2015) show there were 1,197,704 violent crimes reported nationwide and an overall increase of 5.3 percent in that number for the first six months of 2016. These numbers are hard for some of us to understand, but that is because we are rational, law-abiding members of society. We are the sheepdogs that have to help protect our loved ones, our friends and even complete strangers from the wolves out there.

Personal Protection

Facing the prospect of criminal attack, many citizens choose to arm themselves with handguns for the same reason police do: to protect themselves and others from deadly danger. Handguns are more convenient for full-time carry than rifles or shotguns. Especially when considering modern ammunition, those handguns can be effective for defensive purposes.

There are other options for personal protection, such as martial arts, knives or less-lethal devices (such as OC pepper spray and noisemakers). Such devices are sometimes less effective at quickly and decisively stopping an aggressor, and they have the added disadvantage of needing to be used at close-contact range if they are to be effective at all. By contrast, a gun delivers a powerful deterrent blow from a safer distance than a knife or pepper spray can. In the face of a potentially lethal attack, the No. 1 goal is the protection and survival of the innocent. That’s you, someone you love or another innocent person.

Is the Armed Lifestyle for You?

Who do you tell about your defensive handgun? While some people might be understanding and supportive, others might not share your enthusiasm for carrying a firearm for personal defense. They might be uncomfortable, or even offended, by your carrying in their presence. Others might be unable to keep from talking about it and drawing unwanted attention to the fact that you’re carrying.

It’s usually a good idea to focus on the word “concealed” in the phrase “concealed carry” and choose to tell very few people that you routinely carry a pistol on or about your person almost every time you walk out your door. Your spouse or significant other will certainly know, and close friends might know, but you should keep the number of those in the know as small as possible. Most people don’t need to know that you are carrying a gun, and if a situation arises where its use is needed in their presence, they will find out soon enough.

This gives rise to another important social consideration of carrying a gun: What should family and friends do should you need to use your gun when you are with them? Unless you and they are properly trained in advance of the event, their presence can needlessly complicate things at best and lead to possibly tragic results at worst. The short answer to this problem is: The one with the gun is in command. You should intend to only draw your weapon in dire emergencies — when there is no other choice except to use the gun or see yourself or other innocents die or be seriously harmed. Your spouse, children and close friends should know to do what you tell them in such situations and to get out of the way and under cover and stay there until you tell them otherwise.

After a Shooting

Another important topic is your social contacts after a defensive gun use and any subsequent confrontation with the criminal justice system. You’ve defended your life with a gun, and the police have you in custody. Your one phone call is to your spouse. Does he or she know what to do in that situation? A full discussion of this topic, though of vital importance, is outside the scope of this survey report. But it is of such importance that it should commend to your attention the serious, deep and frequent study of the legal aftermath of a defensive shooting.

For now, give serious and sober thought to what you will do in the immediate aftermath of a defensive shooting. For example, what should you say when you call the police? Do you need to call an attorney? Should you ask your attorney to come to the scene? Probably most important is: Do you have an attorney lined up ahead of time that you can call as needed? The very worst of all possible times to look for a lawyer is when you are sitting in a jail cell after successfully defending your life with a gun. You need to think about it now: when you are calm, when your life and freedom are not in jeopardy, and when you can take your time and evaluate your options.

You should study the products on the market designed to aid you in this very situation (including paying legal fees) and choose the one that best meets your needs and your budget.

It’s a harsh reality to face, but there will likely be legal expenses associated with even a righteous shooting. Are you prepared for that inevitability? Are you willing to risk everything — including your freedom and your family’s financial future — simply for doing what’s right? You shouldn’t have to and, fortunately, you don’t have to. The USCCA was created for this very reason: to help educate, train and protect responsible American gun owners.

Read the full version and learn more about concealed carry in the USCCA’s Concealed Carry Guide.