Females and Firearms Series: How to Become Comfortable Carrying a Firearm

Do you carry a gun for self-defense? If not, why not?

Women have become an actively growing segment of the U.S. firearms market, and I have personally witnessed this increase myself. An increasing number of women seek out firearms education, training, ownership, and accessories, and I am thrilled at the diversity within the female population as well—a subject for another article, I’m sure.

A popular class I started offering in 2019 is called “Concealed Carry Options for Women.” I decided to offer this class after I noticed a plethora of products on the market for carrying that had no semblance of organization or way to understand what the overall pros and cons are for each product or carry method. I was also intercepting a heavy number of questions from women who were taking other classes from me, seeking information on the best way to carry concealed that would fit in with their various lifestyles and choices of clothing. Recognizing a need, I constructed the class with two objectives in mind: one, make it a safe space to discuss all things carrying-related for women specifically, and two, allow time for real products to try on, experiment with, and experience what drawing from concealed with a particular product was like (with inert blue guns).

How do I get comfortable carrying a firearm?

A variety of women have attended that class over the years, varying in levels of confidence, expertise, and experience. One of the number one questions I started regularly fielding surprised me, though. It had nothing to do with the type of holster, method of carrying, or type of firearm. The question was some variation of, “How do I get comfortable carrying a firearm?”

The question really intrigued me, even as a psychologist! I realized in my effort to address the “what” and the “where,” I never spent time talking about the true “how.” How do you become comfortable carrying a loaded gun in a concealed location? How do you overcome any psychological barriers that may be present?

Women's carry options class
Discussing the plethora of carry options with women in my “Concealed Carry Options for Women” class.

As I often do in my professional career, I thought about the true root of the question. What’s driving the reason for the student asking the question? There are a few obvious, but some not so obvious, reasons that I uncovered once I explored more in conversations.

Fear 

Fear is a big roadblock:

  • Fear of the gun itself.
  • Fear of it “going off.”
  • Fear of someone else noticing you are carrying.
  • Fear of doing the wrong thing or going where you shouldn’t.

Embarrassment

Women have had some profoundly deep messaging sent their way about not getting into trouble. Carrying a firearm is seen, by some, as engaging in a “naughty” behavior (expecting potential trouble), full of discomfort and shame.

Actual Discomfort

There are so many products out on the market that are truly a poor fit for women. Many of those products do not work with women’s lifestyles, clothing choices, and activity levels. Therefore, women often find themselves adapting their own style to the carry method, rather than finding a carry method that fits their lifestyle. This can cause actual discomfort if you are:

  • Carrying a bag you don’t normally carry, or
  • Wearing pants that are bigger than you are used to in order to accommodate an IWB (inside the waistband) holster, or
  • Wearing a belt because—let’s face it—not a lot of women’s regular clothing requires belts.

Note: The further into firearms training you get, the mentality, admittedly, is to adjust your lifestyle and clothing to accommodate optimal carry. However, I find that this is a psychological hurdle too high for many women who are already uncomfortable. I would rather see someone carry sub-optimally (but safely) first and work their way to an optimal carry position—than not carry at all.

off-body carry of a Sig P365 with a purse
How do you prefer to carry? Deciding how to comfortably carry can make a big difference in your likelihood to carry consistently.

Fortunately, all of that can be resolved through education.

I have encountered a lot of women who breathe a sigh of relief when I reassure them that all these worries are normal! The way to overcome these discomforts is through education.

  • Education about the mechanics of the firearm—no, it won’t just “go off,” but here’s why we need to cover the trigger guard.
  • Education about better carry methods that fit your lifestyle and clothing choices.
  • Education about the law, so that you are knowledgeable about where and when you can carry.
  • And finally, education and knowledge that you aren’t alone in making these decisions. 

One of the most important sections that I now incorporate into this class is the actual step-by-step process of getting comfortable carrying a firearm. Some women are legitimately terrified of carrying a loaded gun on their person. It’s a non-starter for them, and the answer is NOT “well, just carry it and get used to it” (which, unfortunately, I’ve heard uttered to women before).

Here is the advice I give that I have found works for many women—and remember, this isn’t for someone who feels confident already. This is for the person that is scared but knows that this is something they want to pursue because logically, it makes sense for their situation. Additionally, this all assumes that you have the right to carry in your location and you are aware of where you can carry—and where you can’t.

Step One: Find a good holster or carry method that works best for YOUR situation. No one else can tell you what that is. Make sure it retains the gun, covers the trigger guard, and allows you to draw the gun without the holster coming with it. Otherwise, just make sure it’s comfortable and can keep up with your activity level.

Step Two: Put the holster on. No firearm. No ammo. Just the holster. Belly band, IWB, carrying in your purse—any of those and many more options exist. Wear it around your house. See how it feels when you go up and down steps, turn corners, sit down, and go to the restroom. Does it still fulfill step one? Are you happy with how the actual holster feels? What are the pros and cons you notice? Once you feel satisfied that you are happy with the actual holster, proceed to step three.

Step Three: This next part is called using your gun “dry,” which means no ammo. None. Move any ammo away from you (consider putting it in a safe location in a different room), and triple-check that your gun is actually unloaded, which means remove your magazine and rack your slide three times while looking into the chamber to check for ammunition (or open the cylinder for a revolver and visually confirm it is unloaded). And hey, if you have trouble racking your slide, check out my previous Female and Firearms article on a better way to rack your slide. Then, insert the dry (empty) gun into your holster. Again, wear it around your house. How does it feel? Did it change anything about your perceptions of the holster? If physical—not psychological—discomfort sets in, go back to step one. If all is well, proceed to step four.

Step Four: Go live your life, with a completely dry (empty) gun in the holster. Obviously, make sure you are still being legally compliant, but otherwise, follow your normal routine. Run errands. Take the dog for a walk. Do that conference call if you work from home (check your employer’s handbook before you bring a gun to your workplace!). Read to your kids. Go to dinner with friends. You get the picture.

Always return to step one if you feel like something isn’t physically working for you. That being said, it is very normal to be uncomfortable, psychologically, when you first start carrying. It may feel awkward, you may feel like everyone somehow “knows,” and you may discover you have to move a little differently than you might have done before. All of that is totally normal and ok! This is why you are experimenting with just having a dry gun.

Note: always ensure you are following your state laws while carrying, which includes knowing what force of law exists behind “no firearms allowed” signs. This is not the purpose of the article, but there is often a difference between a business’s preference and the state law prohibiting you from carrying. Please consult with a knowledgeable person in your area.

Here’s where I share a comforting statistic with you: according to FBI estimates, more than 95% of the time someone pulls a gun out in self-defense, it doesn’t actually get used. The trigger is not pressed. 95% of the time, the would-be aggressor stops what they are doing and goes away because they are confronted with a difficult target that is willing to fight back.

In the majority of encounters, it doesn’t matter if the gun is unloaded. The bad guy won’t know that. If you look dedicated to pressing that trigger and stopping their actions, they are unlikely to start up a conversation with you about your ammunition or the caliber size. I would much rather someone have a gun (even if unloaded) and not need it than need it and not have it!

Now, the 5% is what can be worrisome, but that’s what Step 5 is for. Don’t move on to step 5 until you are comfortable with Step 4. This could take a few hours, days, weeks, or even months. You are on your timeline, not anyone else’s.

Step 5: Carry the gun loaded. If you need to break it down into a further step, I often tell women to put the loaded magazine on their person, but not load the gun. Then, try loading the gun (insert the magazine) but don’t rack the slide. If you did need to use it, a quick slide rack is all it would take—but make sure you practice that skill.

Get comfortable! If this is where you choose to stop, that is totally fine. This is the line that many draw for themselves because they do not want to carry a firearm with a round in the chamber. Again, that goes back to education—as long as you have the trigger guard covered, the trigger will not get pressed, and thus the gun cannot fire. But, again, if this is where you draw your line, that’s ok! This is not optimal for all situations but it is better than not being armed at all.

Once comfortable, consider racking the slide and putting a round in the chamber. If you feel uncomfortable with any of these steps, go back to the previous step and repeat it for longer.

woman carrying OWB
The ultimate goal is to be confident in your carry decisions.

Staying safe and protecting ourselves and our loved ones is a full-time job. But don’t let the fear of carrying stop you from being able to protect yourself with confidence. Work your way through the steps on your own timeline. Some may do all of this in the span of thirty minutes, and hey, that’s awesome. Some may do it in the span of a few days, weeks, or months. It’s going to be different for everyone, and no one can tell you to speed up. I can promise you this, though: it does get easier, more comfortable, less awkward, and more empowering. Stay safe out there—and I’ll see you on the range!

Known as “the eclectic one,” it’s probably easier to tell you what she hasn’t done. Meghan is an accomplished professional, consultant, wife, competitive shooter, researcher, writer, proud Army mother, and instructor. Her day job keeps her quite busy, but in the evenings and weekends, you are likely to find her outside on adventures with her horses, teaching a wide range of firearms classes, hosting shooting events, practicing fine art, and building a weird set of emergency skills that may or may not come in handy someday. There is no question she’s beneficial to have on a trivia team and is likely to be high up on anyone’s zombie survival lists. You can follow her on her Instagram account (@SmackRackandRoll) which is a play on words with firearms but also incorporates her former roller derby moniker from an internationally competitive team.

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