Proper Carry Etiquette
“There’s an etiquette to carrying a gun?”
I’ve heard this quite often. And since I’ll be writing a series of articles for TKB covering the basics for newbies, a good place to start would be to talk about why social awareness is just as important as situational awareness.
A common misconception about gun owners is that we can’t wait to use our guns on someone. Nothing could be further from the truth. Something I always hear is “guns are for killing and I believe killing is wrong.” What if I told you gun owners feel the same way? I have guns for the same reason I have first aid kits and fire extinguishers: to protect and preserve human life. It follows then that if someone is serious about the safety of themselves and others, they would act in a manner that reflects these beliefs.
You are a reflection of the gun community when you are carrying whether you like it or not. (Particularly now in the age of social media where it only takes seconds for someone to post photos/videos on the internet regardless of the context.)
The entire purpose of concealed carry is that nobody knows you are armed- your gun is just another tool you always have with you. The best way to accomplish this is to carry regularly. The more you are used to your gun, the more natural your actions become. This feeds into Gray Man, which is a concept you want to practice when you carry. Brands or flashy clothing are good ways to get noticed. Acting like a tourist in an area you’re unfamiliar with is a good way to get picked out by criminals. At the very least, it’s a good way to put a social barrier between yourself and others because you’re signalling to them that you’re an outsider.
One of the biggest mistakes people make is wearing an NRA logo, something endorsing gun stuff, or something overly military/safari/tactical looking. These are a dead giveaway that you are armed. Having an NRA sticker on your car or hanging up those edgelord “trespassers will be shot, survivors will be shot again” signs outside your house will encourage criminals to break in because they know guns will be there. You’ve just made your property into a target for them. (They just need to wait for you to sit down at a restaurant to enjoy your meal before they do a smash and grab on your car or home, since social media can make it easy to verify your location if you’re unaware of your settings.)
Gray Man isn’t simply dressing down, either. You must understand your social presence. Your race, age, looks, job, etc are all going to factor in. Ex: Football (soccer) jerseys are nice for me because it’s a typical run of the mill Latino attire and it’s baggy enough to conceal a lot. It’s very normal here in Texas where Latinos are more prevalent than whites. Alternatively, a collared work shit that I leave un-tucked, jeans, and a baseball cap are also pretty common Latino attire and are acceptable in many places. Nobody wonders what I’m doing there because I don’t look, act, or sound out of place. I’m just another joe going about his day-to-day life, which is exactly how I want it.
Formal clothing is another thing to consider. A blazer or plain (or simply patterned) polo shirt will cover most compact pistols, go with almost any outfit, and be acceptable almost anywhere. People react less dramatically and more respectfully towards people who are better dressed. There are many sociological experiments to back this up (such as this one and this one). Though if you want an article from reputable gun folks on formal clothing, this Lucky Gunner article is a good one.
Notice the polo shirt for casual. Polo shirts are a good fallback for how to dress, similar to blazers.
Being “gray” extends to more than just your clothing
With a little effort, I can pass myself off as one of any number of races and look like I belong anywhere. People don’t need to be a protean like I am, that’s not what this is about. The point is to better understand your social presence and be less of a target for unwanted attention. The authorities shouldn’t look at you like you’re some unsavory individual; they should view you as a model citizen. For example, if you are a senior citizen maybe you want to use a shotgun with wooden furniture on it for home defense- It would look like just some old man defending his home. If you are a black man, don’t use a Desert Eagle or anything else that would make you look like a gangbanger, since people do have a tendency to judge and stereotype. This might not seem like a big deal, but if you ever have to use your firearm you are going to be put under a magnifying glass. Going all MOLON LABE edgelord and carving something like “you’re fucked” on your gun can have some backlash in court. While this won’t make or break a case usually, you want to avoid anything that stands out for the same reason you wear a suit or don’t want a tattoo where a judge can see it. A court case will be full of people who weren’t there to understand the context of the situation and you are going to be under a great deal of scrutiny. Things that shouldn’t come into play, certain biases that people have, will certainly come into play for a defensive discharge.
This article from Massad Ayoob about trying to match continuity with your local law enforcement is worth a read: Police Ammo For The Rest Of Us? (I would also highly recommend picking up Massad Ayoob’s book Deadly Force: Understanding Your Right to Self Defense) Similarly, Paul Harrell has done some good work on this as well. This video here on how local law enforcement might perceive behaviors is a good example.
The biases in court are accentuated by the fact that judges, prosecutors, and the jury usually have woefully little experience with firearms and criminal behavior. For example: Someone ought to be using a semi-automatic, intermediate caliber rifle with large capacity magazines most of the time. You and I know that it isn’t to shoot the person more. It’s to manipulate the gun less, as simpler is better for a high stress scenario. But will the people on jury duty know that? They tend to believe gun myths like spraying Teflon onto your bullets will make them magical cop killing bullets that penetrate any armor, or that a scope will instantly turn any gun into a sniper rifle. It’s important to keep this in mind when putting attachments onto your firearms. This isn’t to say you shouldn’t use a red dot sight or whatever- just don’t add a bunch of unnecessary “upgrades” like some people do with their Swiss Army Knife AR-15 builds. There are always two fights: the one for your life and the one for your freedom. Anything superfluous that would risk either is an extremely unwise decision.
And on that note, a tip for all the newbies: If you see someone with a Punisher skull, don’t listen to a single word they say unless you’re at a comic con. (I also immediately dismiss anyone who carries lockpicks in their EDC because there’s a 150% chance their experience is little more than watching zombie movies. You can usually tell who those types of people are though.)
Social awareness extends to more than just yourself, too.
Knowing your presence and role is essential. However, with the infinite variables of the real world, one must be able to assess and reassess situations as well. Let me give you an example:
Person A is hip to be square- he’s a WASP (White Anglo-Saxon Protest) who lives in a homogeneous gated community and maybe shoots a gun on the range once a year. He gets squeamish at the sight of profuse bleeding, broken bones sticking out of your skin, or similar injuries.
Person B is prison hardened notorious B.A.D. with teardrop tattoos running down both eyes. He is probably huffed up on drugs, as well, and those are inhibiting his pain receptors.
When dealing with Hip To Be Square, you’ll probably never have to use lethal force for any problems he could give you. And if you do have to shoot him, he’s likely going to be susceptible to a psychological stop. Because guns are so scary for him, he’ll probably be so focused on “I’ve just been shot!” rather than the actual gunshot wound. Plugging him with a .32 ACP would likely produce the same reaction as plugging him with a .44 Magnum.
When dealing with Notorious B.A.D. you shouldn’t bother with talking to him. Avoid trying to talk him down, and just don’t even talk to him at all. A dude like that should immediately set off your creep alarm. Giving him a reason to focus on you is no bueno. Furthermore, unless the bullet hits his CNS or spine, he’s not going down with just one shot regardless of caliber. Your gun should sound like a jackhammer until he leaves you alone.
Obviously, these two men are not on equal footing. For starters, a focus on “stopping power” is irrelevant, because there are so many more variables you need to focus on that the ballistic coefficient of your snowflake +P+ load isn’t going to matter. (Shot placement and the nature of the target matter infinitely more.) But, these men come from entirely different backgrounds and are entirely different people. This means you will invariably have different kinds of interactions with them.
In order to become a more responsive and intuitive self defender, one must better understand what kind of social environment they are in.
Something I would implore anyone looking to get involved with the self defense community is to make contact with local law enforcement. You shouldn’t be some random person who pops up on their radar when something happens- you want them to know you are a responsible citizen who is invested in their own safety and the safety of others. Reach out to your local EMS department, they often provide first aid training in exchange for volunteer work or working part time. Many firemen are volunteers as well in America, maybe treating them to lunch or cooking a meal for them at the station will help you get on their good side.
So, what else do I take away from all this?
Understanding how to utilize people’s preconceived notions instead of getting screwed by them is not only a very useful skill in many situations, it can be very empowering for some. There is a science behind attractiveness. Charisma has very little to do with looks- it’s in how you present yourself. Smile more, develop a nice firm handshake, get proper posture, speak from the diaphragm with confidence, EYE CONTACT, walk with purpose… All of these are going to be more useful to your everyday situations than a 9mm and operator beard will.
My only other input on this aside from Gray Man and social responsibility is not to be a mall ninja. It might be obvious for some, but the goal isn’t to be a badass- it’s to make yourself as useful as possible. Unless you’re in a gang area or combat zone bullets are very low on the list of “things that will be useful in many scenarios”
Here is what I recommend as priority for your EDC:
-First aid kit & tourniquet
-Empty handed skills & verbal judo
-Flashlight & multitool
-Some sort of intermediate force multiplier such as OC spray
Unless you need a gun immediately (as in concrete situations such as a disgruntled ex looking for you, not “what if” scenarios) focus on those first, gunslinging second. I’m not saying that being able to shoot well is a bad skill. However, being able to shoot like Jerry Miculek won’t do a lick of good for someone who has a flat tire or is bleeding profusely. You must be realistic in your skillset and your EDC.
Massad Ayoob is the big one here, but for more references:
Garand Thumb – Of course I’m linking to GT because I used his picture at the start of this article. Very professional without all the operator bullshit, if Garand Thumb does a video on it there’s a 99% chance it’s a quality item.
Lucky Gunner – Obviously I’m always promoting Lucky Gunner and their work. Their constant efforts to bring more knowledge to the gun community, free of cost to all the new gun owners out there, is one of the reasons I was inspired to start putting knowledge out there as much as possible. And if it makes any difference: I buy from them fairly frequently as well. Lucky Gunner has run some excellent articles on concealed carry such as this one and this one.
This article here is an excellent entry from ITS Tactical
Are you on Twitter?
There’s only so much one can teach online. However, these are some great people to talk to on the subject of duty/defense oriented shooting and EDC:
Phil – A former cop and self defense instructor, he always is someone to talk to if you have questions about the law, self defense, or just general wellness.
Dominic – They are a good instructor with a lot of calm mental fortitude. They is a pornstar though, so NSFW.
Rummy – This guy has a ton of resources available to him and a lot of understanding about ballistics, he also encouraged me to get my start working in the private security sector and he is currently a reference on my resume.
BFT – This gal shot at the gun range I used to work at, who I have a ton of respect for. She is also going into EMS work (update: she is a paramedic now)
Jarv – He has verifiable rifleman and TCCC experience. He lives in Canada and works with security and lawyers, so to anybody from the Great White North who has questions about guns this is the man to talk to.
As usual, I’m supporting charity.
Always plugging Warrior’s Heart, as I’m going into EMT as a career (update: I went into the security sector full time, trying to volunteer in EMS and SAR as much as I can). Warrior’s Heart helps veterans and first responders alike who struggle with PTSD and addiction. I do not fault extremely traumatized and damaged people for turning to drugs or alcohol. I don’t condone it, but it’s a natural human desire to seek a form of escapism. The problem lies in the piss poor way addicts and mentally ill are treated in this country. Tom Spooner is doing the good work.
Hero Hunt is another charity that works to help veterans and first responders struggling with trauma.