A significant portion of Americans choose to keep a firearm on or about their person as they go about their day to day routine. Certainly many of them are believers in self-reliance, and especially when it comes to personal security. After all, when seconds count, the police are only minutes away.
To accomplish the task of toting a gun around people choose a method of carry that suits their lifestyle requirements. This mean the gun is carried on the body in holster or pocket, kept in a piece of personal luggage like a purse, pack or briefcase, or even kept their vehicle for one reason or another. The gun and its needed supplementary items like spare ammunition, holster and so forth often form the core of a person’s everyday carry items, or EDC.
Considering the importance of the firearm in one’s personal security plan, and its weight and bulk compared to anything else you might decide to carry on a daily basis, smart selection of both the gun and its method of carry is important to ensure first that you actually will carry it, and second that you are able to effectively employ it when the time comes.
In this article I’ll give you some opinions and ideas on firearm selection for most modes of everyday carry. On body, off body or in the car, we’ll look at them all.
Everything I’ll discuss in this article is presented in the context of civilians carrying a firearm for self-defense against humans. If you need to carry a gun for defense against dangerous animals, your needs may be different. Likewise if you carry a gun in a professional capacity, like a police officer or security guard, your primary modes of carry will mostly be chosen for you based on policy. You may still find much of what is presented useful for off-duty carry, however.
Additionally, my recommendations are all presented with an emphasis on concealment, not open carry. Open carry may be perfectly legal in your area but is very rarely the best approach, as the minor benefits gained in speed and ease of access pale next to increased visibility of the gun, heightening of your profile and weapon retention issues. Bottom Line: on your body or not, keep the gun concealed.
On Body or Off Body Carry?
The situation will dictate what you should do. If you have the ability to carry a gun on your body, you should, as a rule. You will have an easier time accessing the gun and doing it quickly. Speed will be a factor in a fight. You also will, generally, have less risk of being separated from your gun via loss of the item or luggage containing it.
There will be times where off body carry makes sense or is the default option. If your mode of dress or environment means a gun on your body would become conspicuous or be easily detected, but you have a briefcase, purse or something similar that belongs in the environment, you might consider that route.
What you should not do is use your car as your default storage location for your gun. Sometimes we must leave our guns in the car, but is never a good idea. Couple reasons why that’s so: first, cars get broken into regularly. If your gun is in your car, especially the passenger compartment in a glove box or console, and your car is broken into the gun is gone. Second, cars are not secure containers! They are very easy to break into and ransack quickly. Third, if your gun is not on you or very close it might as well be on the moon if you need it.
Leaving your gun in your vehicle without good reason is just laziness. I’ll detail those reasons and kinds of gun you may choose to keep in your car for specific purposes later in the article. Overall though, keep it on you and keep it loaded.
Considerations for On Body Carry
When carrying on your body, you’ll be carrying pistol and typically resort to one of a few locations for placement: beltline, ankle or pocket. Shoulder holsters are an option, but not a very good one all things considered and I do not recommend them. The location of the gun will be a major factor in determining what size of gun you can effectively conceal and draw from that location.
In general, you can carry a larger gun on your belt, a smaller gun on the ankle and only a very small gun in your pocket. There is some variation with the last two depending on the fit of your pants and the size of your pockets. If you are rocking a pair of painted-on skinny hipster jeans and a big puffy parka, you might have better luck carrying a gun in the pocket of the parka than on your ankle! Also, please don’t tell me you regularly wear skinny hipster jeans!
Broadly, if we have a choice we want to stay with a handgun in the compact or fullsize class, as they will confer more advantages over their smaller brethren by way of better handling and recoil characteristics. Guns in this size will typically only fit on your beltline or in a very large pocket. If you need to go with a dedicated small gun, like a subcompact or true pocket pistol, you will give up some handling, capacity and often ballistic performance to get it.
They are still viable for self-defense, but not optimal. Still, they beat having no gun by a huge margin!
Considerations for Off Body Carry
When carrying off body, the item or piece of luggage you use to conceal the gun will dictate what size of gun you can get away with. The perk here is you can often completely conceal even a fullsize gun easily. What is most important is that your concealment solution be either designed or modded in such a way that it will safely contain, secure and present the gun consistently for a glitch free draw.
You should not toss a gun into something and let it roll this way and that in a big mixture of a bunch of other knickknacks and little items that may impinge on the trigger. All you’d need would be to rip your bag open and try to draw the gun only to haul it out upside down and backwards. Or you toss your pack down only to have that little tube of chapstick run the trigger on your Glock and you or someone else winds up shot. Bad day; embarrassing and negligent.
Instead, whatever the gun is riding in, it is kept inside a dedicated compartment of the item, or is secured inside a holster where nothing will disturb the trigger. After all that is sorted out to your satisfaction, practice opening and closing your concealment solution at speed to make sure any fasteners and closures are not snagging or glitching from the added weight or bulk of the gun. This will require extra practice to perform quickly under duress.
Below is a short list of recommended handguns I, my associates and my students have enjoyed consistently good success with. For self-defense in the civilian context any of them are entirely adequate. I prefer and recommend autoloading pistols, but the old, trusty revolver is still more than adequate for most if it is given sufficient practice. Indeed, the humble snubby revolver can often be an ideal gun for ankle or pocket carry if that is your requirement.
As far as handgun caliber is concerned the current best choice is typically an intermediate caliber paired with a heavier-for-caliber projectile. Think a 9mm in the 124 or 147 grain range, or a .38 Special in 125 or 158 grain range. I know some of your .40, .44 and .45 fans are foaming at the bit already, but save your comments; no handgun is really, truly that powerful. All we get is different ranges of “adequate” compared to long guns.
For my money, I’ll bet on mild recoil, additional capacity and less expensive ammo (equals more training). You should carry whatever you like so long as you shoot it well. If you are carrying a gun that recoils too much to allow you to shoot it well, consider going down in caliber or up in size of the gun. Either will yield better control. You’ll need to determine for yourself if you can get away with carrying a larger gun depending on your circumstances.
The pistols below are grouped into size categories to better help you zero in on a likely solution for your needs. Most people start with knowing how and where they are going to carry the gun and select one from there.
Bigger Pistols (Fullsize and Compacts, good on the belt, off body or maybe in a big pocket)
- Glock Model 17 or 19
- CZ P07 /RAMI
- Beretta Px4 series
- Smith and Wesson M&P or SD series; K or L frame revolvers
- Ruger Security 9; GP or SP series revolvers
- Springfield Armory XD series
Smaller Guns (Subcompacts and smaller Compacts, good on an ankle and in some pockets)
- Glock Model 26, 42 or 43
- Smith & Wesson Shield; J frame revolvers
- Ruger LCR
- Springfield Armory XD subcompact
Tiny Guns (True pocket pistols, great as hold outs or deep concealment pieces)
- Ruger LCP
- Kahr PM9
- NAA Mini Revolver
- Beretta Nano, Tomcat or Bobcat
Considerations for Keeping Guns in your Vehicle
Though I admonished the concept pretty thoroughly above, I will offer my thoughts on the practice as I know there are self-reliant people who choose to keep a gun in their car at all times for whatever reasons, and because there is a growing segment of self-reliant people who have taken to the popular concept of a “trunk gun” or “truck gun”: this is a long gun, typically a carbine but sometimes a shotgun that is kept in the vehicle just in case it is needed, often alongside extra ammo and sometimes a supplementary go-bag with additional medical supplies and the like. More on that in the next section.
Regarding keeping a pistol full time in your car, if this is something you choose to do you must upgrade your car with a more secure container than its factory equipment. Purpose made steel locking boxes that fit under seats, or replace factory compartments are a great idea, and should be bolted in securely, no merely wired around a hard point or seat bracket.
Do not depend on the majority of “vehicle holsters” to hold your gun safely during a collision, and definitely don’t use a magnet for any mounting solution. The best place for a gun to be in a vehicle when you are occupying it (if not on your body) is in the center console or perhaps the glove box. Both are quick to access, and will conceal the gun from other motorists and passersby. Don’t forget to re-secure your gun in the hardened compartment before leaving your vehicle.
Keeping Rifle or Shotgun in the Car
If you are simply transporting a long gun in your car, the best place for it is out of sight in the trunk, or under the rear seats if possible. Long gun cases and bags are very conspicuous and will attract the wrong kind of attention. Keep it out of sight if you are not in the vehicle.
I am more concerned with individuals who choose to keep a long gun in their vehicle specifically for self-defense or some imagined supplementary capability to their EDC handgun. Context is everything. I f I am traveling out of state, or even several hours from home for an extended duration, I might toss a rifle or shotgun into my vehicle to have it handy in case, day of days, The Big One happens and I really, really need a long gun. If I am living under a significant threat of major civil disturbance, I might toss a bag with a long gun in the vehicle to supplement my get-home kit.
The other purpose I mentioned, keeping a long gun in your vehicle to supplement your EDC pistol is foolish for civilians. Here’s why: you will never, ever encounter a situation where you will have an opportunity to access your long gun to solve a problem that was not better solved by either A.) using your pistol, B.) getting out of there, or C.) withdrawing and calling the police.
The situation that advocates of this methodology will usually tout as justification for doing so will describe something like a typical active shooter scenario, one where they are confronted with a gunman shooting up a mall, school, whatever. In this scenario, the citizen will withdraw to their vehicle and then move back toward the active shooter to either engage them with parity if they too have a long gun or overmatch them if they don’t.
Lots of problems with this train of thought: first, under what circumstances is it better, when confronted with an active killer, to withdraw from the situation, jock up and then re-enter the situation versus handling it immediately with the tools at hand? Every second wasted is time the killer spends unopposed.
Second, assume police will be arriving to deal with the situation soon. When they arrive and you are running around with a long gun in hand, there is a very, very good possibility they will shoot first and ask questions later. There is absolutely no way they will be able to positively ID you as a Good Guy.
Third, if you have the opportunity to escape you should, so long as you have no one you are responsible for being left behind. Your loved ones are counting on you. Do not become a casualty. I cannot visualize a scenario where you will be confronted with an imminent threat, and have time to produce your long gun to deal with it. If you are confronted with a threat and do have time and opportunity to access your long gun, you should have time and opportunity to get in your vehicle and drive away.
Any scenario where the supplementary EDC “trunk gun” is valid for a civilian is so outlandishly unlikely to happen you should be more concerned with the possibility of the gun being stolen than having it actually solve a problem.
Remember, your guns don’t belong to you; they belong to whoever wants them the most…
Recommended Trunk Guns for Travel or Otherwise
Sigh. No matter what I say on the matter I know some of you have your own ideas and want to keep a long gun in your vehicle at any rate. Heck, some of you might even have very good reasons to do so! So in the interest of completeness I will be including my list of recommendations for long guns to keep in your vehicle for a variety of purposes. The least I can do is make sure you wind up with the right hardware.
Essentially, any long gun that you’d consider for defense is an appropriate choice to take with you on the road, but you can run into issues going state to state regarding safe and legal storage in your vehicle.
The major issue on using a long gun in or around a vehicle is length; even a 16” bbl. carbine is a lot of musket to swing around inside an F-150. Shorter barrels make a lot more sense, and even on the outer limit of their effective ranges most short-barreled rifles (SBR’s)or shotguns (SBS) will have more than enough range to handle any serious social call.
The big problem with short barrels is you have to ask Mother-May-I with the ATF, fill out the forms, pay the usurious tax and then frivol away months of your life to chop or install a short barrel on your long gun of choice. Onerously, you must also notify the ATF whenever you intend to cross state lines with it.
…Or you could instead choose one of the new breeds of over-the-counter legal, rifle-action-but-legally-a-pistol AR’s, AK’s, or similar guns. These guns come with a nifty arm brace that is not a stock, and bought as pistols are legally pistols no matter how rifle-like they may appear. No permission slips, extortionist fees, or legal hubbub to contend with so long as you don’t mind how the brace looks (you shouldn’t). Scattergun aficionados can achieve similar results with the new Remington TAC-14 series, uh, not shotguns, or the Mossberg Shockwave guns.
Another great advantage with these itty-bitty barreled blasters is their short overall length allows them to conceal handily in BOB or other innocuous bag, greatly reducing your profile should you need to move on foot with gun in tow. A visible long gun on your person will always draw the wrong kind of attention.
Do take care here that you do not attempt any homebrew install of a short barrel and pistol brace on an existing rifle or shotgun, as laws on reclassification of such an operation are byzantine and difficult to suss out. In essence, you cannot rip the stock of an AR, install the brace then pop on your 12” upper and call it good. You may very well have created an illegal short barreled rifle. If you are considering such an operation, contact a competent firearms dealer to advise you and go from there.
Rifles and Rifle-like Guns
- AR or AR Pistol
- AK or AK Pistol
Shotguns and Shotgun-like Guns
- Remington 870
- Remington TAC-14
- Mossberg 500 or 590
- Mossberg Shockwave
Required Secondary Equipment
- Discreet SBR/SBS Case
Choosing a gun to add to your EDC equipment is going to add significant defensive capability at the cost of weight and bulk. By carefully analyzing your needs and baseline day-to-day routine, you can select a firearm that will give you the best performance with the least drawbacks. On your hip, in a bag or in the car, a gun is often the best defense when you are attacked, but it must be close at hand to make a difference.
Charles Yor is an advocate of low-profile preparation, readiness as a virtue and avoiding trouble before it starts. He has enjoyed a long career in personal security implementation throughout the lower 48 of the United States.