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October 31, 2011
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Richard Fairburn Law Enforcement Firearms
with Richard Fairburn

Concealed carry: What and how?

Last month, I discussed the ‘where and when’ of carrying a concealed firearm when off-duty or retired. Now, let’s discuss some related issues to — what to carry and how to carry it.

Unless you are one of the few who can always land a head shot under stress, I think a .380ACP sidearm is the minimum power level that qualifies as enough gun for concealed carry... and more is better. Reliable .380 models from Kel-Tec, Ruger, and S&W are the small pistols I most frequently see in use by off-duty and retired cops, but there are several other brands worthy of your consideration. These little pistols conceal easily in a pocket or ankle holster and ladies carrying one in a purse can almost lose it without securing it in an interior pocket or “holster.” When “deep” concealment is important, such as when you are wearing shorts and a T-shirt in the summer, one of the little polymer-framed .380 pistols is a top choice.

Stepping up to the 9mm round opens up a huge selection of concealed carry candidates including many from the same brand names we carry as duty guns. One of the smallest 9mm pistols is the Kahr Arms PM9 or their slightly less refined — also lower cost — CM9 model (see the sidebar review). This 9mm pistol is only slightly larger than a .380, will hide in the same modes of carry, and delivers more power.

Don’t Leave Home Without It
The key to concealed carry is to get used to having a pistol with you all the time. Never leave home without it because you will never know when you’ll need it. As I write this, we all heard of the young, off-duty Winnebago county (Rockford, Illinois) deputy sheriff who shot four punks during an armed robbery at a pizza joint. Since he wasn’t carrying an off-duty piece, the cop had to wrestle one away from someone else to get in the fight — and fight he did!

We can learn two lessons from this story:

1.) Carry off-duty/retired all the time
2.) Don’t piss off young deputy sheriffs in Winnebago county, Illinois!

Personally, I prefer a pistol caliber that starts with the numeral “4” when I can conceal it, and there are some very small, lightweight pistols available today chambered for the .40 S&W and .45 ACP. Whatever you choose to carry, I highly recommend having at least one reload on your person – a spare magazine in your pocket for an auto pistol or a speed-strip of .38 rounds for a revolver. If you have pocket space, a small, powerful LED flashlight is worth adding to your gear list.

When I am wearing a jacket in cool weather, my trusty companion is an old .45 caliber Colt Lightweight Commander I had completely rebuilt by the Master Pistolsmith Richard Heinie. The LW Commander is, for me, the perfect “full-size” concealed carry option delivering maximum power and total reliability. There are smaller 1911-pattern pistols available, sized on the Colt Officer’s Model scale with a three-inch barrel, but the smaller 1911’s have a somewhat checkered reputation for reliability – if you have a good one, cherish it.

If you are a “gun nut” like me, you’ll probably need more than one pistol to suit your needs. For deep concealment I generally carry an S&W .380 Bodyguard. Yeah, I know it doesn’t start with a “4,” but it beats the hell out of a rock — or the bigger .45 I left at home. My in-between gun is a Kahr CW40, about halfway between the other extremes in both size and power.

I’m not ignoring revolvers, I cut my teeth on them. Just a few years ago I’d venture that well more than 50 percent of off-duty and retired cops carried a .38 snub-nosed revolver. While the short 5-shooters still sell like hotcakes, smaller semi-auto pistols have taken over the majority position in the concealed market among cops in my neck of the woods.

Keep it Concealed
When you carry off-duty or retired, your weapon should be well concealed. A sloppily concealed pistol can draw undesired attention or even mark you as a threat to anyone in the area intending mischief. If a bad guy spots your weapon they may decide to neutralize you first. With apologies to my friends who wear them, the “tactical pocket vests” used to conceal your off-duty weapon are so glaringly obvious they are called “Shoot Me First” vests by some trainers. Police ball caps, T-shirts and jackets may also draw unwanted attention to you. I prefer to be as non-police, low-profile as possible.

Holsters and Alternative Carry Modes
Several months ago Dave Grossi introduced PoliceOne readers to the novel Sticky Holster. I quickly got hold of one for my Kahr CW40 pistol and another for the S&W .380 Bodyguard with their Ankle Biter rig that adapts any sticky holster for ankle carry. The Sticky ankle rig for the .380 Bodyguard has become my default deep concealment rig, proving both solid and comfortable. Inside the waistband holsters have always been a good choice for flat, semi-auto pistols and a number of companies now make “tuckable” waistband holsters with a gap between the holster and belt hangers which allows your shirt to be tucked in over the weapon for deep concealment with even full-size pistols.

I recently got a Galco KingTuk rig which easily hides either my .40 Kahr or the LW Commander (it fits both!) when coupled with a loosely-cut, shirt. The body side of the King Tuk is very slick and it tends to slide down a little (tugging down your pants at the same time), but I’m still breaking it in – hopefully it will become more natural for me.

The 5.11 folks make an undergarment Holster Shirt which features a pocket under each armpit that will hold even a large-frame semi-auto pistol or revolver. In fact, the pockets are almost too deep for really small weapons like a micro .380. The form fitting undershirt (what some would call a muscle-mapping shirt on anyone but me) uses a mesh material over the pockets to help hide the shape of the pistol and a neoprene inner barrier, which keeps sweat away from the weapon while providing a little padding for comfort. Any under-the-shirt carry method requires you to unbutton or unzip the outer shirt to gain access. For us western-oriented folks, snap-button shirts are great for this use, or 5.11 makes covert outer shirts with hidden snaps or velcro behind fake buttons.

In case you haven’t noticed, our country is experiencing a period of extreme violence, despite a drop in overall crime rates. The number of police officers murdered each year is steadily rising and many incidents involve multiple police casualties – cluster killings. Often these events are an outright ambush, requiring extreme alertness and an explosive counterattack to stand a chance of survival. Active shooter events, with several victims being shot in rapid succession, happen almost on a weekly basis. The whole rationale behind the Law Enforcement Officer’s Safety Act (HR218) was to put more armed, trained people on the street able to protect both themselves and, in the appropriate circumstances, innocent citizens as well. I didn’t carry an off-duty handgun all the time when I was an active, sworn officer. But now, with a Retired Officer’s carry permit, I never leave home without one.

In a PoliceOne “The Ethical Warrior” column, Jack E. Hoban & Bruce J. Gourlie wrote of their epiphany that:

“Everyone in this place is a little safer because I am here; anyone in need has at least one friend because of me and my skills.”

I paraphrase their thought when I teach the sheepdog mentality, stating:

“Because I am here with my weapon and my training, nothing terrible can happen to these people. Not here! Not today!”

That is why Lt. Col. Dave Grossman calls us sheepdogs. I literally choked back a tear the first time I heard the colonel exhort in his famous Bulletproof Mind class:

“Brothers and Sisters, if you are frightened or hurt, come stand behind me … because this is far as the bastards are gonna get!”

Whether you are still an active officer or one of the hundreds of thousands of armed, retired officers, make this your motto: “Not here! Not today!”

We learn from each other — tell us what you carry and how you hide it.

About the author

Dick Fairburn has more than 30 years of law enforcement experience in both Illinois and Wyoming, working patrol, investigations and administrative assignments. Dick has also served as a Criminal Intelligence Analyst and as the Section Chief of a major academy's Firearms Training Unit and Critical Incident training program. He has a B.S. in Law Enforcement Administration from Western Illinois University and was the Valedictorian of his recruit class at the Illinois State Police Academy. He has published more than 100 feature articles and two books: Police Rifles and Building a Better Gunfighter.

Contact Richard Fairburn



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