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Concealed carry is all about discretion. You don’t want anyone to know you’re carrying a gun — unless you have to. But not every gun is easy to conceal.
To find the right one, look for a compact or subcompact pistol with a short grip and pair it with a good holster and smart concealed carry techniques.
The Problem of Concealability
If you’re in the market for a concealed-carry handgun, there are several essential criteria to consider. These include functional reliability — including with defensive ammunition — practical accuracy, controllability, and comfort.
However, there’s another criterion that you can’t ignore — concealability. This determines how well you can hide your carry gun under your clothing. But what makes a gun concealable?
Concealability is imperative for carrying a firearm discreetly. You must be able to carry the gun in such a way as to not disclose your armed status to bystanders or passersby. In some jurisdictions, this is mandatory. Everywhere else, it’s simply good practice.
If you’re carrying a handgun concealed, you’re choosing to retain the element of surprise and remain inconspicuous during your daily life. However, not all handguns are equally appropriate for concealed carry.
What Makes a Gun Concealable?
When searching for a concealable handgun, you need to avoid what’s called “printing.” A gun prints when it is visible through clothing. You’ll see this as a faint outline or pronounced bulge, depending on the extent. A person may not know precisely what it is, but they know that something is there.
It’s also one of the most immediately obvious signs you’re carrying a gun. You may think that a short barrel reduces printing, but that’s only true to an extent. If the handgun that you intend to carry has an unusually long barrel, that can decrease your comfort, especially in appendix carry.
However, the primary culprit of printing is the height of the handgun, measured from the butt to the top strap or slide. The longer the grip, the more readily the gun prints through clothing.
You can avoid printing in a few different ways, but the first is by choosing an appropriate firearm. Compact and subcompact handguns that have shorter grips are more easily concealed than their full-size counterparts.
The difference between the Glock 17 and the Glock 19, for example, doesn’t appear to be much, but it makes a noticeable difference in concealment. The compact Glock only sacrifices 2 rounds of magazine capacity, for 15+1 instead of 17+1.
However, as you reduce the length of the grip, magazine capacity continues to decline. The Glock 43, for example, is a subcompact handgun with a magazine capacity of a mere 6 rounds.
The subcompact Glock 26, which has a wider frame, accommodates a staggered-feed magazine holding 4 additional rounds for a total capacity of 10+1. The SIG P365’s engineers crammed the same number of rounds into a package roughly the same size as the Glock 43.
Holster Cant and Carry Position
Another way to reduce printing is to choose a holster that allows you to adjust the cant. The more the grip is angled upward, the less it prints through a T-shirt or cover garment. Ride height also plays a role.
You’ll also find that carry position matters. In an inside-the-waistband (IWB) appendix holster, the gun is nestled snugly against your abdomen and a shirt can drape over it. While strong-side carry is excellent, be mindful of the butt printing through a jacket or shirt.
How You Move
You should also be mindful of how you move throughout the day. If you’re carrying a handgun on your hip, IWB or OWB, bending over can expose the pistol. The simplest remedy here is to crouch or squat to reach for floor-level items.
For long-barreled firearms, you may consider a shoulder holster. However, that will also require a cover garment, such as a jacket or coat. It also complicates training and doesn’t provide the same level of access as waistband carry positions.
Balancing Concealability and Control
There are several essential criteria that a concealed-carry handgun must meet. Among these criteria are controllability and comfort.
As a handgun becomes more concealable, it becomes more compact and, typically, lighter. Reducing the length of the grip decreases the amount of surface area you can hold. Reducing the weight increases the severity of the recoil. Both factors can adversely affect your ability to control the pistol during firing.
A handgun for self-defense is necessarily a series of compromises. You need a weapon that you can carry comfortably and conveniently — one that you can draw and put into action quickly. That also limits how powerful the weapon can be while remaining manageable. The most concealable weapon either has to be less powerful or less controllable.
That’s why many gun owners opt for low-caliber semi-automatic pistols for concealed carry. Calibers such as .22, .25, and .32 are popular for this reason. Many shooters consider .380 ACP to the minimum caliber suitable for self-defense.
Many subcompact handguns are available in 9mm, including pocket pistols. These have snappier recoil than the lighter calibers, but most shooters still find it controllable.
However, the most powerful calibers — .40 S&W, .45 ACP, .357 Magnum, and 10mm — became uncomfortable to fire in lightweight, diminutive weapons.
Now that you understand what makes a gun concealable, you can begin your search for a suitable handgun. Some subcompact handguns with flush-fit magazines don’t offer enough gripping surface, but you can remedy that in some models by choosing a magazine with an extended baseplate. This will increase space for your little finger while also affording you one or two additional rounds of ammunition.
Explore Other Factors
Concealability is only one, albeit necessary, element. The gun you choose must also work consistently. You should verify that it reliably cycles full metal-jacketed target loads and expands defensive ammunition (JHP).
Exercise caution when considering ultra-lightweight pocket pistols and .22 Long Rifle, .22 Magnum, and .25 caliber in particular. These weapons are not always as reliable as .380-caliber and 9mm handguns. It’s also worth noting that rimfire is not as reliable in its ignition as centerfire.
Don’t neglect practice. Ensure that you can hit targets consistently with your weapon, and you can also access and draw it quickly.
Once you’ve found the perfect gun to hide under a shirt or jacket, you can carry your weapon with confidence that no one will notice. That allows you to retain the element of surprise and avoid startling bystanders or escalating arguments.