The 3 C’s of Carrying a Handgun: Comfort, Concealment, and Capability

Over the better part of the last decade, I’ve had the privilege to share my opinions on handguns with folks who were considering their first gun or trying to figure out how to get started with carrying a handgun. I can’t pinpoint exactly when I started having those conversations, but I can say the frequency of those conversations has significantly increased since I started this blog. At any rate, recent conversations got me doing a bit of reflection on the topic. While spending some time rereading some older blog posts on the topic and even some old email exchanges, I started noticing a few patterns that I figured would be worth mentioning and sharing.

Pretty much every single conversation on this topic touches on three different aspects: comfort, concealment, and capability. I’m going to start referring to these aspects as the 3 C’s cause that’s a lot easier to type. While these aspects come up, each conversation tends to focus on one of these. The focus of the conversation seemed to be because of an individual’s priorities and preferences, or because the individual wanted to improve upon one of these aspects.

Before exploring further, I’m going to take a minute and attempt to define these aspects in the context of this discussion. Comfort and concealment are pretty straight forward. Comfort refers to how much or how little physical discomfort a person experiences while carrying a handgun throughout the day. Concealment refers to how well a handgun is concealed. Capability on the other hand is a bit overloaded, but can be summarized as an individual’s self defense capability. The reason I say capability is overloaded is because it has several significant sub aspects that play a critical role including how easy the handgun is to shoot, the handgun’s capacity (including extra magazines), how easy the weapon is to draw, how safely secured the firearm is, and so on. I suppose it could be my bias towards optimizing capability when it comes to what I carry that makes me point out these sub aspects and neglect to mention I could think of a few sub aspects of comfort and concealment with a bit of additional effort, but I think that will be self evident as this discussion continues.

Okay, cool. We have established the 3 C’s. So what? Well, here is the thing. Optimizing one of the C’s generally means compromising with the other two. It’s a simple concept, but the implications are fairly profound. Let’s explore that.

I’ve already mentioned my tendency to optimize for capability. To me that means, being able to carry the VP9 equipped with an RMR in a full kydex holster with a couple of extra magazines. This is the handgun I am most proficient with that offers the largest capacity compared to the other handguns I have access to. To be clear, I haven’t completely thrown out comfort and concealment. In fact, I’ve even made some concessions when it comes to capability in order to achieve the minimum comfort and concealment levels I want. For example, while I would prefer to carry the VP9 with a weapon light attached, I haven’t found an IWB (inside the waistband) holster that supports a weapon mounted light and conceals well enough in my opinion. At the same time, I’ve made some compromises in my carry method for the sake of comfort. In terms of capability, I find that my draw is faster and more consistent when my IWB holster is positioned over my appendix versus my strong side. At the same time, given my body size and shape, I have yet to find a comfortable way to employ the appendix carry method and as such carry on my strong side.

I hope that by sharing my preferences and reasoning behind how I carry illustrates how the 3 C’s come into play and how compromises are made as the dial on one of the 3 C’s is turned.

I completely understand that some folks prioritize some of the 3 C’s differently. As such, I’m going to explore what implications those different optimizations may mean.

Comfort is very important for some folks and there are several ways one can optimize comfort. For example, one could opt for off-body carry as this is arguably the most comfortable carry method while allowing for a very high level of concealment. However, this approach makes some enormous compromises when it comes to capability even though it may not be apparent to some folks at first glance. While off-body carry does allow a person to comfortably conceal a larger firearm and therefore create the illusion of having a high degree of capability, it creates challenges when it comes to drawing the firearm and getting into action quickly. It also creates a retention problem in the sense that one has to be hyper vigilant in terms of retaining the object the firearm is secured in. In fact, I could argue this actually compromises comfort when it comes to certain activities such as making use of lavatory. Regardless, the retention and draw issues are, in my opinion, far too risky to consider off-body carry as an option.

Limiting carry options to on person methods, optimizing for comfort generally implies either carrying a smaller and lighter handgun or opting to open carry. The former compromises capability while the latter compromises concealment. The recent market growth in small framed high capacity pistols seems to support my opinion that the majority of folks prefer not to open carry. While some of these guns, like the Sig Sauer P365, the Springfield Armory Hellcat, and the Smith & Wesson M&P Plus, are quite shoot-able given their small size and modestly high capacity, they still require more recoil management and don’t quite have the same capacity than their duty sized counterparts.

My intention is not to convince folks who value comfort above the other two C’s to re-prioritize. I simply want folks who prioritize comfort to be aware of what that implies.

Concealment can also be the top priority. Optimizing for concealment generally implies either carrying a smaller and lighter handgun, opting for a different carry method, tolerating additional discomfort, or a combination of any of these. However, the compromises made for the sake of concealment are more context dependent than the compromises made for the sake of the other C’s. What do I mean by this? When tweaking the concealment dial (or simply attempting to maintain the current setting), the discussion or thought process generally involves the concept of dressing around the gun. Not to mention consideration must be given to one’s personal style, build, the permissiveness of the environment, and the day’s activities. In certain situations, we can dress around the gun. In other situations, it simply isn’t an option. Remember concealment isn’t just about keeping the firearm out of sight, it’s also about not standing out like a sore thumb and essentially advertising the “concealed” firearm to the world. In other words, don’t be that person wearing the heavy winter coat to conceal the hand cannon in the OWB (outside the waistband) holster at the beach in the middle of summer when everyone else is essentially half naked.

So that’s it. Those are the 3 C’s of carrying a handgun. As simple as they are, the way they interact is complex and, in my opinion, why it’s a constant topic of discussion for folks who are new to carrying a handgun and also for folks who have been carrying a handgun for a long time.

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