Concealed carry or open carry: Which is better?

What is better concealed carry or open carry? Captain Jim Pope makes his case on why concealed weapons are better.

By Captain Jim Pope, Columbus Police Department, Columbus, GA

USA – (AmmoLand.com) – Let me begin by stating this article is written from the perspective of a 30 year veteran police officer, but the topic is whether non law enforcement (NLE) citizens should carry concealed or carry openly.

Officers have some considerations and obligations that NLE do not. We could not just “opt out” of shooting scenarios for example. We have to engage. That is not a cheap shot at NLE.

Honestly, if you have a Colt .380 and observe what appears to be numerous gang members with long guns in a running gun battle with what appears to be other gang members, your only logical option is to become an excellent witness and I advise you to exercise that option.

If not, your epitaph should read “Died from an acute failure of their fight selection process”. If you’re dropping your child off at day care and observe some maniac shooting children, of course any decent person would get involved if they were armed, maybe even if they weren’t and just accept the risk. So, some situations are certainly different than others.

Police have to deal with both law and departmental policies pertaining to carry of a firearm that can and often are more restrictive/burdensome than state law for NLE. Police generally are required to identify themselves by name and badge number if some inquisitive citizen sees them wearing a gun while in plain clothes and begins to ask questions. If the incident turns into an arrest, police have to follow all department policies, laws and court decisions as far as how they effect that arrest.

I wanted to get this out of the way up front and acknowledge differences and also that I have never carried routinely as a NLE. I have policed since age 21 so that is an experience I have never had other than when hunting or maybe going shooting which isn’t exactly the same thing. I often carried a .38 with snake shot in addition to my long gun. When you hunt in the deep south, the snakes are often out even in November.

The basic principles that I am going to discuss will apply to NLE and LE equally. It is only some of the rules and regulations in the background that might differ.

The goal for both NLE and LE in these situations is:

  • Survive and help others survive.
  • Take out the bad guy when warranted or arrest if feasible.
  • Do so in a manner that affects the least amount of people in a negative manner and in that order.

That being said, I acknowledge up front that I have only carried a handgun routinely after I was a sworn officer. At least that’s my story and I’m sticking to it

I believe the most tactically sound method of carry for a handgun for NLE is concealed. I always carry concealed when off duty or obviously if working under cover and I believe that NLE should for many of the same reasons. I carried while walking down the aisle to get married, in the delivery room for the birth of all three of my children, and typically when I walk to the mailbox and when I cut my grass. That should give you some idea of how often I carry; always. It should also give you some idea of the amount of time I have involved in carrying a concealed handgun (over 30 years) and the variety of circumstances I have been involved in by doing so. I don’t think it would be appropriate for me to chime in on this if that were not the case. I have devised a class on concealed and off-duty carry and taught it to many officers as a certified police instructor for the State of Georgia. If you live in a state that only allows open carry then shame on that state, but by all means, obey the law. Now, on to the discussion of why.

I think concealed carry is the better answer. Here are my short list of reason why.

  1. The Element Of Surprise
  2. The Ability To Opt Out of a Fight
  3. Avoiding The Bubba Gun Factor
  4. Avoiding The Nosy Citizen
  5. Avoiding Officer Or Citizen Error
  6. Conceal Carry Advantages

1) Conceal Carry Advantage: The Element of Surprise

Let’s say you and your family are eating in a restaurant and someone comes in to rob the business at gun point. There are so many factors to be considered. First, your family is present. Second, if they are not actually shooting anyone, rather than you start a gunfight and potentially have lead flying around in a room full of people, you might just want to be a good witness. Even though you might actually think before you shoot and actually hit what you aim at, there is no guarantee the suspect will do the same. I grant that if you are in a seated position at a table, especially at a booth, most people would not be able to see or even if they could see, would not notice if you were carrying openly or not. But, why take that chance if the goal is to stack the deck in your favor.

Think of it as a check off list and you want as many blocks filled in as possible to keep you alive. What if the suspect(s) take a few minutes to case the area before beginning a robbery and determine who they need to kill first because they view them as a likely threat? Why give them a potential advantage over you?

Let’s say you walk in to a business and step right into a robbery in progress while you are carrying openly. A couple of things will happen: one the bell on the door that many businesses use to know when people come in will ring and bring all attention directly to you. Even if there is no bell, the motion, the door itself opening, the noise, etc. will still bring all attention directly to you. That is, you the guy with a gun in plain view on your hip. Two, you have now either created a shoot-out or a hostage scenario depending on the suspects mindset. It could have all ended quietly with no one actually getting hurt but you changed all of that. I’m not saying you’re the bad guy or that you did it intentionally but this is a reality if you are going to carry in plain view.

This is why most police while in uniform will never walk into a bank.

If God forbid, you end up in an active shooter scenario, ideally, you would want to send at least two rounds toward your primary adversary before they have any idea that you brought a gun to this fight. (I say primary because there may be more than one and you have to decide who is primary.) You want to stack the deck in your favor. This is not about a fair fight. This is about survival and also about eliminating the threat by whatever means necessary in order to save lives including yours. One more check box filled in.

If your weapon is concealed, it may very well give you the full element of surprise. You pick the most opportune moment to engage the threat if the situation will allow that. I do acknowledge that the situation may not allow that. The possibilities of what could happen, how many suspects, what they are armed with, etc. are unlimited.

That being said, the element of surprise would never work to your disadvantage in the concealed carry or open carry debate.

2) The Ability to Opt Out of a Fight

This is a continuation of the “Element of Surprise” for the most part. You cannot opt out if they know you have a gun unless they’re just a really friendly criminal that is willing to take the time to order you face down and take your weapon from you. That is a position that none of us would ever want to be in and furthermore it really wouldn’t be your decision to opt out. You were forced into opting out.

As mentioned above, there is a time and place where your most logical option is to become a really good witness. If you bring a gun in plain view you may void that option. Whether you wanted to be in the firefight or not, the suspect(s) may decide you just joined the opposing team.

3) Avoiding The Bubba Gun Factor

Living in the deep south, I can tell you all about Bubba. Bubba was raised around guns and has been hunting since he was probably 11 years old. That isn’t the problem in any way. Bubba’s mindset, lack of common sense and lack of tactical skills is the problem. Bubba is a blabber mouth and thinks that everyone likes to discuss their favorite gun out loud in a crowded place. You could be minding your own business eating with your family in a restaurant and Bubba sees your gun. Bubba will either walk over or even worse talk loudly from several tables away and proceed to tell you that what he carries is better, how good he is with it and why. This conversation could go on for several minutes. You have now gone from only Bubba realizing you’re carrying a gun to the entire restaurant knowing including anyone that might be about to hold the place up, do a mass shooting, etc.

The suspect(s) has now identified his two primary threats and his first two kills.

4) Avoiding The Nosy Citizen

The nosy citizen is very different from Bubba. These are often New England or California type transplants that think anyone with a gun has ill intent. You can recognize them by the sweater tied around their neck or the peace sign on the back of their Mini Cooper. They often have no idea that many states now not only allow but encourage open carry or concealed carry or they are blinded by their hatred of guns in general. They will come up to you and begin a conversation about how they don’t like the fact that you have a weapon, their children are in danger with your mere presence, and how you should reconsider what you’re doing. Your first inclination is to point them to the nearest Interstate that goes North. (For those Northerners and left coasters that understand the 2nd Amendment, I grant you an official pardon and offer an apology for that comment.) They will go on and on about the evils of guns and violence. As with Bubba, everyone within hearing distance now knows you have a gun and even those not in hearing distance have probably noticed this person standing at your table talking to you which has now drawn attention to you.

As for me, I prefer to blend. The less attention the better.

5) Avoiding Officer or Citizen Error

This one gets a little complicated to explain. Let’s say you’re in the same restaurant scenario and someone decides they want what’s in the cash register really bad and they have a gun. They start to rob the place, you get involved and actually talk the suspect down, spook them or whatever and he runs out the door. There were no shots fired, nobody hurt. Whether you go after him or not is another discussion for another time.

Unknown to you, another law abiding armed citizen was in the back of the restaurant. They didn’t see anything but heard the commotion and decide to help. By the time he runs to the front of the business, all he sees is you holding a gun. He assumes you’re the robber and you assume he’s the accomplice that you overlooked. This could end badly. Yes, you could have re-holstered but in plain view. It may not lead to a shooting in that case but it will certainly lead to a few very uncomfortable minutes for both of you.

If this new entrant to the process has his finger on the trigger like so many people would, we all know it takes only a few pounds of accidental pressure to fire the weapon and this person may have no formal training and every adrenal gland in their body has now been activated. All of this might have been avoided by carrying in and/or re-holstering to a concealed position if the situation allowed that.

Let’s say you’re in the same scenario with the robber and you decide to try to stop the robbery. It turns into a shooting and you do a righteous shooting of the suspect. What you didn’t know is that the police were already coming in one of the other doors. All they know is they responded to a silent alarm and now they have shots fired and you are the one they see holding a gun.

Once again, this could end badly. Worse case, they end up shooting you. Best case, they order you down on the ground at gunpoint. Being the good guy, you comply although very pissed and embarrassed about it. By the time they have you cuffed, searched, take your weapon and finally figure out who is who, they have wasted 5 minutes of your time and their time.

If the suspect did have an accomplice, they are certainly long gone by now. I grant that you probably would not re-holster immediately after firing because you don’t know if there are others involved so it may make no difference in this case but it would be nice to at least have the option of re-holstering to a concealed position. Then, you could at least tell the officers who you are, what you did, why and which hip your weapon is concealed on. The whole situation is far less threatening to everyone involved. The fewer negative outcomes, the better.

Concealed Carry or Open Carry Disadvantages, Maybe …

Conceal Carry Draw Time

I realize in movies, especially old westerns it all boils down to draw time. No one ever misses unless they’re shooting at John Wayne. So, the winner is the fastest draw because they die instantly when hit unless they have to say something cool just before they die. The truth is that draw time is rarely the real issue in a gun battle. I have been to so many shooting incidents I couldn’t even begin to count them. I do not ever recall one where draw time was clearly an issue as to who won the battle.

That being said, in many instances one participant was no longer talking so we may never know the real truth of how the shooting went down.

In close up robberies of individuals it very well might turn in to a situation where one second could make the difference. If someone already has a gun on you at close range demanding your “stuff” and you decide it is in your best interest to go for your gun for whatever reason, I grant draw time would be very relevant at that point. I recommend a distraction or a push, shove, sweep, etc. with the other hand as well if you draw.

If you are waiting for the bad guy to be distracted, to look away, etc. whether it’s close range or not I grant again, draw time is a relevant factor. In all probability they will see the movement you make and the only obvious advantage you have at that point is a second or two you gained by waiting for them to be distracted or to at least not have their full attention on you. But in the end, it still boils down to more about bullet placement and bullet selection. I will always argue the point that bullet placement and bullet selection hold a lot more water than draw time at least 95% of the time.

If you have the slightest bit of tactical thinking and you carry concealed, you will practice drawing and firing from a concealed carry position and also re-holstering to that same concealed position. Don’t under estimate the importance of practicing re-holstering under stress. I’ve witnessed a few officers fire accidentally with simunitions and on the firing range with live ammo including while trying to reholster. When you add stress to the situation everything changes.

With the issue of draw time, it is reasonable with practice to allow for a draw from a concealed position to be no more than 1.5 seconds slower than from an open position. More practice means faster draw and you could easily reduce that time.

That being said, a bullet travels a long way in 1.5 seconds so I understand that many will consider this a huge disadvantage.

Heat, Sweat, General Level of Conceal Carry Comfort

Common sense would dictate and my experience has clearly shown me that it can be very hot and at times down right uncomfortable carrying concealed. When it’s hot, it doesn’t take long for the sweat to build up between the grip and your bare skin (if you’re carrying on your hip). After a while you feel like the gun is literally stuck to you. Then if you’re doing a lot of walking, the grip is constantly rubbing against your bare, sweaty, hot and now irritated skin. You get the picture.

Some guns are obviously better suited for concealed carry than others. My Kimber 1911 with coca bola grips begins to feel like sand paper very quickly.

I have found my Glocks to be far more comfortable under these conditions but there is nothing like the feel of a 1911 on your hip other than maybe in your hand. Sorry, I digress.

If you pocket carry such as I occasionally do with a Colt Pocket Light .380, it may not be touching your skin but it does get hot very quickly. If you sweat too much it will begin to print more through the clothing. Ankle rigs work fine but I’m a cargo shorts kind of guy even in the winter.

If you’re a long pant kind of guy, go for it. I’ve carried a back-up on duty this way for over 30 years.

If you’re into what I call “super concealment” such as Thunderwear Holster or something similar, you better get ready to sweat like a pig and depending on the type of pant, the amount of belly fat you carry and the particular gun, a lot of folks may just think you’re really happy to see them based on the bulge in the front of your pants. I’m not a big fan of this method unless you are going to carry a really small and thin semi auto. I also have issue with the ability to draw from this type of rig but we can discuss that another day/another article.

If you carry with a concealment T-shirt such as UnderTech UnderCover, it works but the draw in my opinion is again an issue and I admit I have never carried this way so maybe I’m not the best to criticize or praise it. If you wear an actual shirt over it, the draw then becomes a daunting task. If you wear a sport coat or vest the draw would obviously be easier. It would really be no different than carrying in a shoulder holster other than the tilt of the weapon being different from the typical shoulder rig.

It seems like it would be hot to me if nothing else because you have to wear another shirt, vest or jacket over it. I’m about the hottest natured person on the planet so to the average person that may not be a major issue.

Concealed Carry or Open Carry Final Thoughts

Regardless of your decision, concealed carry or open carry, I believe you will be better off with a gun than without one under any condition. That being said, there are definite issues that come into play when you carry open that you might never have to deal with if you carry concealed. I’m not bringing this up to deter you from doing what you think is right in these scenarios. If you feel the need to get involved, do so. We need more armed citizens to get involved in these type situations. I am actually all for it. I just want everyone to realize that it may not be as simple as you think. Murphy’s law is very real especially when it involves guns. Your intentions can be perfectly honorable and you end up getting in a situation that turns out really bad for everyone. It could all be prevented by simply carrying in a concealed position and/or re-holstering to a concealed position if/when the situation allows it. Then, once police arrive or the other citizen in the back of the business appears, things could be worked out in a lot more orderly fashion without each party fearing the other one was about to kill them.

Source: Ammoland.com

Author: Greg Raven

Trained with Chuck Taylor. What else is there to know?