As the ‘right to carry’ spreads across the United States, many law enforcement agencies and police officers express their unease — and for some, outright alarm — at the idea of citizens carrying concealed weapons.
In an effort to disseminate useful information that would be of benefit to law enforcement, let me talk about this issue from both sides of the fence so to speak.
As a former law enforcement officer, I have had to address concealed carry issues as part of my regular duties. In Colorado, where I live, guns are as natural a part of life as putting on your pants and hat. It is not uncommon to see a rifle or shotgun in the rifle rack in the back of any pickup truck window.
I live in one of the best parts of the country for deer and elk hunting. Come hunting season and we have literally thousands of hunters coming to Colorado to hunt. I never worried about contacting individuals where the guns were in plain sight. Without fail, the people contacted were forthright and honest in their manner and deeds. When I would ask if they had any handguns, they would tell me where they were and what they had.
Philosophically, I support the right to carry for anyone who can exercise the responsibility for proper care and awareness. I have found, by and large, that citizens who do carry concealed are very pro-law enforcement and would be very willing to come to your aid if you were in the middle of a fire fight. This can be good and bad but I try never to forget that they are supporters of law enforcement, not felons. This is a BIG difference.
Here are some thoughts to share with your personnel when they have to contact citizens who may be carrying concealed.
• People who have gone through the process of getting a concealed carry permit are, in general, law abiding citizens, not felons.
• Do not expect them to know the letter of the law or the interpretations of the law in various districts—they will have a general idea what the law states
• IF THERE IS PROBABLE CAUSE to treat someone who may be carrying a concealed weapon as an armed criminal, by all means do so — however, when you make a contact with a CCW, proning them out wouldn’t be my first option without digging a little deeper
Here are some more thoughts to consider.
Manner of Dress
Concealed carry folks and cops seem to go to the same tailor — generally speaking, most will not look like dirt bags. They are generally conservatives in viewpoint and tend to dress the part. Many are professional people who will be more neatly dressed. They don’t generally have the crotch of their pants at knee height or wear their baseball hat cocked at a ridiculous angle.
The discriminating CCW carrier also falls prey to fashion just like cops do. The “tactical look” is in. Look at the various brands of advertised tactical gear and clothing or concealed carry wear. Study the brand names and learn what the clothes look like. Felons don’t generally go for this look but CCW carriers and many cops do.
I look for “tactical carry” vests — such as 5.11 Tactical, Blackhawk, Concealed Carry Clothiers or other “brand name” items — along with some sort logo baseball hat, long sleeved shirt, side cargo pocket pants or jeans with sturdy, lightweight, and hiking footwear to complete the “uniform.”
Colder weather finds CCW carriers wearing jackets and windbreakers — unzipped jackets can be an indicator of concealed carry in cold weather.
They may or may not be wearing some sort of sporting goods or gun manufacturer logo.
Oakley or similar impact resistant, higher profile eye wear in daylight rounds out the basics.
In hot weather, some will have a shirt hanging over the belt line to conceal an in the pants holster. Any sort of outer garment in hot weather or the shirt hanging out over the pants is cause for further scrutiny.
Concealed carriers generally wear holsters! This is a key point. Most felons I have known or have heard about won’t carry a firearm in a holster. Also common are fanny packs. These two things alone can be a big tip off that you are not dealing with a felon. Day planners, briefcases, backpacks are less common but available. Study the gear catalogs and remember the look of those products.
Off duty cops will also wear the above many times. Look at the shoes. In my area, if they are black, nine times out of ten they are either a cop or a security guard. Areas with military personnel have other indicators to look at.
Look at the belt line. Are they even wearing a belt? Look at the belt and the buckle if they are wearing one. Gun belts are generally a bit thicker and most times wider than a standard dress belt. Web belts with hard core buckles, 1.5” thick leather belts with strong buckles are indicators of concealed carry.
BlackHawk has a dress belt that is 1 ¼” that simulates a smaller dress belt. Look at it. There are only a couple of styles and colors. They have some sort of reptile skin pattern.
Look for bulges on one side of the body which you can see under clothing. Some wear a T-shirt over their gun and it will bulge conspicuously. Bulges in the pocket for the small autos or revolvers are something to look for. Look for bulges when they bend over and the butt of the gun may stick out slightly.
I don’t know of any CCW carriers that carry a gun in the hood of their sweatshirt like felons are known to do. I do know many that carry one in a jacket or coat pocket. Look for the sag on that side.
Look at the hem line of long pants, one side may droop more if the gun is pulling that side down. If carrying an ankle holster, it will bulge the inner part of the pant around the ankle.
Deep cover carry around the groin (and elsewhere) will be hard to pick up visually, particularly when dealing with a small gun. Only a pat down search will reveal it.
Watch for accessories — CCW’s carry the same gear as cops. An expensive folding knife in the pocket, a Surefire flashlight, and even magazine pouches are all indicators.
Are they right- or left-handed? Most carry the gun on the strong side of the body. What side of the body is the wrist watch on (if you can see it)? Right handers generally wear the watch on the opposite hand. This will tip you off on where to look. Is there a cell phone that you can see? What side are they wearing it on? If not on the strong side, then maybe there is a reason for the off-side carry? Possible indicator.
Important note: Don’t stop looking when you find one gun. Look for a second gun, as well as any number of knives, pepper spray, or other weapons.
Most concealed gun carriers have nothing to hide. They are generally not evasive in their speech or mannerisms. They may be nervous, but they are generally forthright in their dealings with law enforcement. If you ask them if they are carrying a handgun, they will most likely tell you. The law in many areas demands that they tell you upon contact.
Don’t expect them to share this information with you on contact though. Some will be nervous enough to forget to tell you or just hope to get through the contact without you noticing. This may be true on car stops for traffic infractions — a technical foul, but not a deal-breaker for me personally.
Being around cops will make many gun carriers nervous. They become self conscious about carrying their gun and will demonstrate that nervousness by their body language. You may key into this as being suspicious behavior. I would suggest evaluating further before you make an assumption.
Off-duty cops have a bad habit of not really concealing the gun well. They don’t seem to mind that it will show or that people may notice and take alarm. After all, they are cops and not bad guys right?
Lawful concealed gun carriers also feel as if they are the “good guys.”
I once had a driver/bodyguard for a foreign dignitary during a car stop come out of the car quickly and come rapidly my way while reaching behind him to his right rear waistband. I had already drawn my weapon at that threat indicator, and when I commanded him to stop he was suddenly acutely aware of his faux pas.
He was in a hurry to get the dignitary to a meeting and wanted to establish his bona fides with me ASAP. In his mind, he was a “good guy” and didn’t realize what he had done when reaching for his wallet while rapidly coming out of the vehicle toward me. Remember, they don’t always think ahead or have rehearsal training in how to interact with law enforcement.
Again, this demeanor will show upon contact if you are a uniformed officer contacting an off duty one. Smart idea to carry the badge next to the gun if you are going to advertise that you are a cop.
Be aware that there are “concealed carry” badges for sale out there that look similar to cop badges. Really check to see what you are looking at and check other forms of ID as well.
I would expect there will be forgeries out there as well. Know what the concealed carry license looks like from your area and see if you can get photos of concealed carry ID cards from other areas of the country. Other forms of ID to compare with the concealed carry ID would be helpful such as driver’s license, etc.
Among the things that I look for when evaluating a potential gun carrier are various forms of evasive behaviors
• Looking away or avoiding eye contact when talking to them — this is suspicious to me and is not in the manner of a law abiding gun carrier
• Moving away, getting out of sight when they see a uniformed officer— again, suspicious to me
Behaviors not typical of lawful CCW carriers
• Challenging to fight
• Gang style clothing and manner of dress.
• Gang signs and posturing
• Belligerent attitude unless provoked
Obviously there are many others but I am sure you get the basic picture.
This is normal behavior and/ or indicators from most of the gun carriers I see, cops, CCW carriers and other gun carrying personnel carrying discreetly.
• Shifting of the clothing — such as hitching up the pants, moving a jacket in place, pulling a pant leg over something, etc. — especially when getting in or out of a vehicle or getting up from sitting
• Not zipping up a jacket when it’s cold out
• Touching the area of clothing over the gun with any part of the forearm, elbow or hand
• Checking out their surrounding constantly — the head on a swivel
• Stopping with back to a wall
I’m not quite sure whether this is a subconscious affirmation of protection or self conscious behavior. I just know they do it. Again, only the highly trained and disciplined ones don’t do it.
Stances or Postures
A bladed stance upon contact — combined with manner of dress and demeanor — would be indicative of concealed carry. Many will do this without realizing they are doing it. I don’t really see it as aggressive behavior. They are just being cautious like you or I would be.
Sometimes a CCW carrier will touch their fingertips to each other in front when contacted. They often have a more alert, balanced stance than the typical, sitting-on—the-heels, slouched back posture of the average person. A perception of “readiness” will be conveyed to you quite clearly.
Education and Public Awareness
Rather than seeing CCW as a necessary evil, I would look upon it as an opportunity to work with your citizens. In talking with CCW carriers in my courses I have had numerous opportunities to get their point of view on this subject. By and large, they are very pro-law enforcement and will go out of their way to help you should the need arise. I treat them with respect and as a resource.
Law abiding citizens do not expect to be treated like a felon — nor should they be. They will be angry if you prone them out, spread eagle them against a wall, or take their firearm from them without just cause. Good point to remember: A little thought and common sense goes a long way here.
When I made contacts with suspected concealed gun carriers, I would first position myself to advantage and then ask if they were carrying a firearm. If they replied in the affirmative, I would then ask them not to touch it and tell me where it was. I would them have them put their hands away from it during the time of the contact if it was in public. I would not disarm them unless there was demonstrated cause and/or I was going to arrest.
On traffic stops, I would ask them to keep their hands on the steering wheel at all times unless I asked them to do something. If I needed more from them, I would ask them to remove the firearm, after I have stepped back, and then get out of the vehicle so I can finish the contact. A pat down search is appropriate after they have left the vehicle.
I don’t expect them to be experts on the law. Most will understand the gist of it but may get lost on certain points.
In some parts of the country, it is legal to carry a handgun within the confines of your vehicle while traveling. If you ask them to get out of the car however, they are now “carrying concealed” and it’s you who has put them in this position. They may be flustered or nervous and not know what to do. I advocate education, not enforcement, under these circumstances.
If they grossly violated provisions of statute, then it is your call on what to do. There is a culture and custom that exists in every area of the country on what is expected on both sides of the aisle — law enforcement and the general public. It is largely unwritten, but definitely there.
If it was a traffic or other violation combined with being under the influence of alcohol or drugs, then you have a couple of problems to deal with. Disarming is appropriate without letting them handle the firearm as soon as it is safe for you to do so. Proceed as per your usual policies, putting them in a position of disadvantage and controlling the arm on the side of the gun when you take it from them. Make sure you deal with the gun safely when you do take it.
Obviously, hostile behavior should be treated just like any other felon contact.
Consider having a pamphlet made up that explains concealed carry in layman’s terms instead of dry legal prose. Have a question and answer section of the most commonly asked questions that you will get. When you make a citizen contact with a CCW, give them a pamphlet.
Keep in mind that though they carry firearms, CCW permit holders don’t expect to be treated like felons when contacted for minor infractions or otherwise. A little care and consideration goes a long way in avoiding unnecessary conflict.