If you hang around the concealed carry crowd for long, you’re likely to hear about the issue of “printing”. That’s the informal term that describes when the the outline of a gun is visible through a garment even though the gun is technically covered. This is generally considered a bad thing, and many people will go to great lengths to ensure that their carry gun isn’t printing before they venture out into public.
I remember the first time I carried after getting my permit almost a decade ago. I stuffed a S&W snubby into the inside pocket of a heavy wool coat and went to Target to buy a birthday card for a friend. Even though there was no possible way anyone could see even the hint of an outline of the gun through that coat, all I could think the whole time was, “Holy crap. I have a GUN in my pocket! Everybody knows and I will be shunned from society!”
After having taught concealed carry permit classes for a few years, I learned from former students that this sentiment is not uncommon among first-time carriers. Assuming you carry on a regular basis, the paranoid feeling eventually fades and stowing a blaster in your trousers every day becomes as natural as getting dressed in the morning. But for most people, there is still a lingering desire to avoid getting “made” and having someone accidentally discover there’s a holstered pea-shooter underneath your shirt.
Motives for wanting to be armed discreetly will vary from one person to the next and could be for social reasons, legal reasons, or to maintain a perceived tactical advantage. There are a few different ways you could potentially be “outed” as a CCW-holder, printing being just one of them, but its one that a lot of folks tend to be very cautious about. Oftentimes too cautious, in my opinion, because it often leads to them carrying a smaller or less powerful gun than they should, or to not even carrying at all. Chances are, you have little to worry about, and here are a few thoughts to consider to help put your mind at ease:
1. It’s not as obvious as you think
If you’re worried that the slight bulge in your shirt is really obvious when you’re looking down at it, be sure to check in a mirror. From a couple of feet away, it’s probably barely perceptible. So unless you’re trying to carry a six-inch revolver in a spandex tank-top, a slight protrusion from the base of the grip that looks huge to your eyes when looking down at it will most likely blend in from the perspective of the people around you.
2. Nobody’s looking
With belt holsters being the most common method for concealed carry, printing is most likely to occur around the body’s midsection. Fortunately, in our society it’s generally impolite to stare at other people’s “crotchal region” and most people have a sub-concious aversion to letting their eyes drift toward staring at a strangers belt line. Even if your gun is blatantly printing, few people in public will ever notice.
3. Printing rarely looks like a gun
So let’s say you’re printing a little and somebody happens to notice something a bit odd about the way your clothes fit. The average person is not trained to automatically think “gun” when they see a little wrinkle in someone’s shirt. If they even give it a second thought, they’re more likely to assume it’s something mundane like a belt buckle, cell phone, keychain, or a beeper (that is, if your town happens to be perpetually stuck in the year 1997.)
4. Nobody cares
The only people who automatically assume that any object concealed under clothing is a gun are other concealed carry permit holders, and they’re certainly not going to give you a hard time. Okay, maybe some cops will notice too, but unless you’re acting like a complete moron, 99.9% of LEOs out there aren’t going to hassle you for a little printing. It’s unlikely, though possible that a “bad guy” might notice the lump under your shirt, but chances are he’s looking for an easy target and not interested in getting into a wrestling match with you over what may or may not turn out to be a gun.
5. Know the Law
In states where open carry is prohibited, it’s often rumored that any degree of printing is illegal too, even with a concealed carry permit. In reality, this is almost never the case. Since printing is not a technical legal definition, it raises the important question of what exactly qualifies as “concealed”. Laws vary from state to state, but in most places, as long as you’re making a legitimate effort to keep the gun concealed from the average untrained eye, you shouldn’t have to worry about printing. There’s a lot of overblown misinformation out there on this issue, so be sure to get your facts about state and local carry laws from a reliable source before making any assumptions.
6. Stop Touching It
If you’re overly concerned about printing, then you might be prone to constantly checking and adjusting your carry gun. More often than not, this will only serve to draw unwanted attention to your heater, not keep it hidden. As our pal Say Uncle is fond of saying, “stop touching it“. If you behave as if nothing is there, then most other people will too.
As always, a good holster and solid gun belt are key to maximizing the comfort and concealability of your carry gun. The setup should keep the grip of the gun close to your body to avoid excessive printing, and to keep the gun from moving around. Of course, you’ll probably have to “dress around the gun” to some degree, which may require going up one pant size, and avoiding excessively tight clothing. But with decent gear and some common sense, printing shouldn’t be much of a concern for the average legally armed citizen.