Printing, no one cares.
Let's talk about printing. Let's have an actual discussion about it. Printing is when the outline or shape of a gun becomes visible through clothing. It doesn't necessarily mean that a person looking at it can readily tell it's a firearm. I find that the phrase printing is usually used to end discussions. Someone will recommend to a gun owning friend that they conceal a larger and more capable gun for self defense. They will present a case for doing so, listing the advantages of larger handguns and citing the shortcomings of the smaller pistols. The friend will agree with these points, but explain that they just can't carry the larger gun because, "It prints." It's almost a verbal smoke bomb designed to escape any further conversation. After all if the gun prints it can’t be carried right? It does raise legitimate questions. How visible is too visible? And how much of a guns outline can be seen before an average observer recognizes it for what it is? The real concern for someone who chooses to carry a firearm is what are the potential consequences of being discovered.
There are certainly social situations in which discovery is of greater concern than others. In some environments such as church, a party, or a wedding one may wish to keep the fact that they carry a firearm private from their social circle. Additionally such social events can determine one's wardrobe necessitating a more discreet choice of firearm. Also I often speak with carriers who wear their gun at work, but don't wish for it to be known to their customers or employers. These are environments where being found to carry a gun could realistically lead to social or financial consequences. (Shoutout to D) These are also situations where we are interacting with people who know us and may actually pay attention to our appearance. What about everyday locations such as the restaurants, the theater, or the mall? Often I hear people express that they are concerned about their firearm being noticed in these environments. They insist that they can only carry tiny firearms lest they be discovered due to printing. When I hear these concerns I often fail to see the logic behind them.
First, given how situationally unaware most people seem to be I doubt that most people would notice a concealed firearm, even if it was badly printing. Second, I fail to see what consequences they are concerned about even if someone did notice. Here in Georgia, the law is pretty favorable to firearms carriers. Nothing prohibits you from carrying on private property, police cannot demand to see your firearms license just because you carry a gun, and "No Guns Allowed" signs do not carry any force of law. Assume someone spots you with a gun on private property and takes issue with it, the most they can ask you to do is leave. If they decide to call the police nothing obligates you to stick around. The consequences of discovery are legally non-existent.
I suspect that the self imposed awkwardness that comes with being asked to leave a venue or forced to speak to a law enforcement officer is what gives may firearms carriers what I like to call "Discovery Anxiety." I believe that many firearms license holders see carrying their firearm as getting away with something that society does not approve of. They will post endlessly about their 2nd Amendment rights online, but are terrified at the thought of someone spotting the gun in real life and expressing disapproval. They are so paralyzed by this anxiety that they refuse to carry any firearm unless they can make it practically invisible. Luke and I both discussed when we first began carrying handguns. We both remember well the feeling of carrying a gun and constantly wondering if anyone noticed. We also remember quickly realizing that no one ever did. With a few steps taken toward concealment our guns were practically invisible to those around us. Getting over one's Discovery Anxiety" is an important step in building the confidence needed to defend yourself.
Tired of hearing people try to rationalize decisions they made based on the fear of being discovered , Luke and I decided to run an informal experiment. We wanted to see if we could find any evidence to support people's concerns over printing in public. Luke and I called up one of our competitive shooting friends Eric and met at a nearby mall. The plan was simple. Eric and Luke would both walk a circuit through the mall while carrying the sort of double stack pistols that normally lead to complaints about printing. I would follow behind at a distance to observe. I would be looking at people in the mall as they passed and trying to see if anyone recognized the shapes under their shirts as guns, and if so how they reacted. I suspected they wouldn't. I believe that most people move through their environment with little to no awareness of those around them. Ironically most concealed carriers, especially when they first start carrying move through their environment certain that those around them are going to recognize the slightest bulge in their clothing as a firearm.
Luke and Eric both carry compact double stack 9mm handguns. Eric favors the Glock-19 in an inside the waistband holster just behind his strong side hipbone. Eric is a rather lean individual who wears normal fitting clothes and he can still make his sidearm just about disappear carrying in this manner. Luke stands quite a few inches taller and carries a P-320 C Sig Sauer in the appendix. I believe these two carry system choices are Ideal for my friends. You would be hard pressed to spot their weapons even if I told you they had them. In order to make things interesting we decided to make a few changes to their equipment. Instead of his 19, Eric holstered his competition gun a long-slide Glock-34 with a full size grip. Additionally he mounted a double mag carrier on his opposite hip. Under a thin yellow shirt the combination became hilariously prominent. Luke moved his Sig into an outside the waistband Safariland ALS holster on his hip and threw a t-shirt over it leaving a prominent bulge. Neither of these carry method are particularly discreet so we figured it would at least give the average citizen with an untrained eye a chance at recognizing the armed individuals in their presence. Before going in Luke reflected that on occasion he has open carried for short periods of time, and that no one had ever seemed to notice or raise the issue. I thought that was an interesting piece of anecdotal information of just how unaware most people are, but for the purpose of our experiment we kept the guns covered. After all this was a test about concealment not an open carry demonstration.
We entered the mall through the Macy's on its north side. Striding into the mall on a Sunday evening in the Fall I began to watch other customers eyes and faces. Looking for their reaction to the sight of the poorly concealed instruments of death that had been loosed into their idyllic environment I instead observed...nothing! The ones I observed tended to be clustered together in groups of 2 to 4. Floating through the mall with their eyes glued to their cell phones, most patrons seemed barely aware of the friends and family members walking with them. 5 minutes in and I had not seen a single glance cast towards my friends as I trailed them. In fact the only thing that seemed out of the ordinary enough to attract a glance was me with Luke's SLR camera strapped to my chest. Though keeping my distance I did continually photograph Luke and Eric from several angles that demonstrated just how poor their level of concealment was. I figured the people noticing me might notice the two I was photographing. They might see these two otherwise normal looking individuals being repeatedly photographed and take a closer look. Even those noticing the unusual amount of camera attention the two were getting, did not look close enough to spot the well printed guns on their belts.
Walking from the food court to the opposite end of the mall no one noticed either of our two carriers even as they became increasingly careless with their concealment. Letting their cover garments ride high and their muzzles peek out. We finally arrived at a shoe store where Eric decided to buy himself some new kicks. Anyone one who has tried on shoes knows how much bending over and reaching it involves. Despite a store full of customers, the only thing that anyone seemed to notice was my camera. Meanwhile, outside the store, Luke decided to lean over the railing like children typically do. He failed to notice that his Sig had become completely exposed. No one else noticed either. I'm relatively certain that the shoe salesman had to recognize Eric's Glock for what it was. If he did, he had no reaction. Whether this was out of professionalism or a lack of caring I can't say. I don't wish to assert that no one could possibly have noticed either poorly concealed firearm. If anyone did though they gave no sign of it. No police were called. No one tackled us. No one asked us to leave. No one pointed, stared, or gave us a dirty look. Having obtained nothing but a pair of shoes and some funny photos Luke and I left Eric in the food court with a pretzel and headed back to the truck. We weren't done yet.
Our purpose in this experiment was not to spark confrontation, but to observe reactions. Having failed to do so with a fairly large Glock and a holster designed for open carry we decided to ramp things up a bit. Luke replaced his Sig with his competition rig. A hand built 9mm CK Arms 2011 that rides about 3 inches off of the belt in a NERDxVEIL Solutions holster. It’s a system designed to provide speed, not concealment. Stretching his shirt over the holster Luke and I headed back in for a second run. We got an immediate reaction at the entrance from a woman seated on a bench in front. She spotted the gun under Luke’s shirt and her eyes went wide as saucers. She then noticed me walking after him with a giant camera and a stupid grin, and gave me a concerned look. I gave her what I hoped was a reassuring smile and continued inside. Walking across the mall's upper level a father with his family spotted the pistol as well. Among all the patrons in the mall he seemed to be the only one with any level of situational awareness. He immediately spotted Luke, noticed he was armed, assessed him, and seeing nothing else immediately concerning moved his family along towards the exit at the same pace they were traveling before. I frankly have a lot of respect for that man. He displayed a cool headed awareness of his surroundings that I would like to see from far more citizens. Heading towards the escalator a young man, who I would best describe as " Very millennial looking", walked passed Luke, stared straight at his gun, and then looked forward and walked straight ahead registering no alarm whatsoever. Moving down to the food court to join Eric and his pretzel, Luke was spotted by a fourth individual. The man was seated at a table over a meal and his eyebrows raised briefly at the sight of the obvious weapon. His eyes quickly returned to his food. His look wasn't one of fear, more a look of surprise at seeing something unusual or unexpected. After taking a few minutes of consideration he turned to Luke smiled and gave him a subtle nod as he walked off. The whole exercise was fun, educational, and frankly kinda funny. Luke had just carried a 3-pound handgun through a crowded mall and only 4 people had noticed. Their reactions, near as I could tell, had ranged from concerned, to non-responsive, to pleased. None of them had appeared panicked or offended.
As I said this isn't an article on open carry. I believe in the value of concealment. While I firmly believe that most confrontation resulting from someone spotting your carry gun are both unlikely to happen and easy to defuse and avoid. I do recognize there are many reasons to keep you gun covered and to carefully invest in gear and clothing that allow you to. Neither my friends nor I would normally choose to carry with the set ups we used for our experiment, but we also don't concern ourselves over every bump and corner of the gun that may show through our clothing. I took several things away from our test. First, people are far more unaware of those around them than I ever imagined. Second, many people upon noticing the presence of a gun aren’t the least bit alarmed and even seem pleased by the presence of an armed individual in their environment. Wearing a gun doesn’t immediately label you as the bad guy. Third, just because someone is uncomfortable with your firearm doesn’t mean you're due for a 911 call or a confrontation. Fourth even a poor concealment set up is far more effective than you might imagine. Not having your ideal carry holster with you isn’t an excuse to go unarmed. If you have to throw a t-shirt over an outside the waistband holster, go for it. I will now admit that that setup is far more effective than I once believed.
I carry concealed because it is polite, tactical and discreet. I prefer being polite and not exposing every law-abiding citizen around me with to the sight of a firearm. I appreciate the tactical advantage that keeping my gun hidden until I decide to draw gives me. I recognize the importance of criminals not being able to see my gun and single me out as armed. I wish that people that are nervous about carrying guns of a certain size would look more realistically at how likely there firearm is to be noticed. I also wish they would be more confident in exercising their right to carry a gun. Concealed carry doesn't mean we have to invest in tiny firearms that are barely more effective than a blade and wear them so deep within our clothing that they can barely be accessed, much less spotted. Good concealment can be achieved and improved by combining several elements. Choosing a practically sized handgun and combining it with a quality holster, maintaining a decent physical shape, and investing in clothes that fit properly. It can be a dangerous world out there. If you are going to go armed go well armed, and do so without fear.