“How does concealed-carry training differ for women?” As a firearms trainer at Gunsite Academy, when I was asked this question, the usual topics sprang to mind: Should we adapt our clothing to firearms or is it the other way around? Should we choose handguns that are best suited for us smaller folk? Should we carry in a purse (on-body carry is always better, but there are times…)?
I’ve worked with plenty of women in both mixed-gender and women-only courses, but my 20 years of teaching have included more male students than female, so my perspective on the differences in training women is informed by working with both genders.
What I’ve found is the training differences are not related to our strength, size or mechanical ability. Though these challenges may be in evidence, I’ve seen women overcome them all. And it’s not that there isn’t enough equipment designed for women. These days, plenty is made to accommodate us.
One of the critical differences, and indeed the biggest hurdle for women, is our mindset. More specifically, our traditions, our evolution and our societal mores that set many of us up with deep-rooted notions that run counter to good personal defense.
The biggest reflection of this is a reluctance to start carrying our firearms—and then to continue carrying. In every class, regardless of the gender mix, I ask how many students have concealed-carry permits. Hands are raised proudly. Then I ask how many actually carry. Hands fall. To the students’ relief, I don’t pry so far as to ask who carries daily. But when asked why we don’t all carry (aside from when it’s illegal), I hear a reluctance—especially from women—to carry one of the best defensive tools we have.
Let me address five of the most common excuses I hear:
“My husband carries.”
Good for him! Now, what about you? You are responsible for your own defense. Surrendering that fundamental concept also implies that you’re less vigilant when you’re with somebody. Yes, others may want to defend you, but you want to return the favor, right?
“He’s a better shot than I am.”
That might not be true, especially under stress. And even if it is true, it doesn’t take anything away from your skills or your ability to use them. The fact is, with some forethought, planning and even training, you are a far better team when both of you are able to defend. You double your powers of observation, information processing and defense. Plus, do you really want to be simply an extra body he has to protect? No! You are so much more than that!
“I’m not going into a bad area.”
Headlines of the last year alone should convince you that bad people do bad things everywhere. To put it another way, bad people often choose good people as their victims. Where do they look for good people? In good areas.
“What are the chances that....”
The chances are not zero, so why not be prepared?
“I don’t want to live/think like that.”
It is not paranoia. It is practical, intelligent and necessary to consider that bad things might happen. Do you carry a cellphone? Does it have emergency numbers in it? Do you have a spare tire? Do you have a fire extinguisher?
We must guard against allowing ourselves to simply feel safer and dedicate ourselves to truly being safer. That means taking full charge of our responsibility for our personal defense. No more excuses!
If any of these thoughts has ever crept into your mind, read and embrace the following:
l Being responsible for your own personal defense is not a when-I-am-alone proposition. It is not a when-I-think-it’s-dangerous choice. It is a 24/7/365 condition of being a responsible human being.
l If you can carry, you should, whether alone or with someone. You and whomever you are with should be full members of your team, not just part-time players. As such, maximize your capabilities! Define your roles and expect to use your skills to strengthen your team.
l That person you’re with may be the first target (especially if male), in which case, you could be your team’s last line of defense. Think and act like it.
Develop the Woman Warrior Within
Exercising your right to protect yourself makes you a more powerful version of yourself. Being a concealed carrier means being more prepared for the world. For those of you who realize these things, consider how you can be the best defender you can be.
All very well and good, you might be thinking, but how?
When I first came to Arizona’s renowned Gunsite Academy, much was made of us instructors having appropriate “command presence.” (Probably much was made of this for me, since I was the only female—a small and squeaky-voiced one, to boot.) This term, borrowed from the military, describes how one uses comportment to manage others. It includes everything: posture, movement, eye contact, voice and more.
You are someone who is capable of defending yourself. You have done much to avoid becoming a victim. If you believe it, your carriage will show it. Most students I know who, in their hearts, believe in their willingness to fight and have even the beginnings of training, have the bearing to show for it. I’ve seen them grow fast. They pay attention to their surroundings. They move with purpose. As we say at Gunsite, they don’t look like food. In a personal defense situation, having a demeanor that reflects a strong ability to defend yourself is a powerful part of your weaponry. Conversely, simply “having” a gun—but looking like you can’t or won’t use it—could be the death of you.
You may or may not have presence. But, happily, you can develop it. (Note: If you’re a woman, this doesn’t mean you act like a man. If you’re a man, it doesn’t mean you act like a drill sergeant.)
How can you improve your command presence? First, make the decision that you will fight for your life. Do it before you need it. Do it now. This is not something to be considered as you’re facing a life-or-death ordeal. And, as intuitive as it may seem, you must actively think through and then confirm that decision. While you may think that we all “want to live,” fighting for our lives is not automatic.
A key part of this is learning to use your voice. Not the “#voice” we see on social media. Your real one. It’s an important tool, and if you have one, it’s always with you. But, maximizing its effectiveness actually requires practice—like any other weapon. It’s not the same voice you use to shout at your partner or to flag down a taxi. And for women, it is not the slightly higher, taut sound that naturally comes when we unexpectedly shout out. Our command voice must be the biggest, baddest one we have, and it comes from deep within the core. A police officer and former Marine suggested I practice finding that voice while driving in my car—alone, preferably. The only way to develop it, he said, is to use it. He was absolutely right, and if you see me driving along looking like I’m digging deep and bellowing at the windshield, wave.
Train and Practice
Develop as much confidence in your ability to fight as you can. Get training from professionals. You don’t have to enroll in years or even weeks of training (though that would be nice). But, at the least, get formal, professional instruction from those who know how to deliver it. Fighting with a firearm is not intuitive, and being effective in that fight requires even more of you.
In my own ongoing efforts, I separate training from practice—training gives me the technology and the know-how, while practice hones my skills to deliver them. In other words, training is the “what,” while practice is the “how.”
Dry-practice your draw every morning. This is especially important for women, as it is rare for us to be able to carry in the same place every day. We can strive for that, sure, but there are times when we may have to carry in that (dreaded) purse, or we might have to use that belly-band/bra/etc. holster. So, before you go out the door every day, go through at least five dry presentations of your firearm, from wherever it’s going to be that day. Always observe the safety rules and, especially, ensure that your gun is unloaded. I always start at a very deliberate half-speed to make sure I execute each step correctly with the clothing and equipment I’m using that day. I want to reacquaint my body with the proper movements. If I’m satisfied, I then allow my body to gradually move to full efficiency over the next iterations.
Keep in mind that I’m not just practicing the draw; I’m actually envisioning needing to use my firearm every time I practice. Whatever your chosen defensive tool, you must wield it like you know how to use it.
In addition, I am not focusing on dry-firing (pressing the trigger). I am focusing on being able to present, or draw, the firearm, including getting it into a firing position, proper grip and all.
Do this with purpose. Personally, I do often choose to dry-fire—that is, press the trigger—during this part of my day, but the concealed-carry draw-stroke is the focus of my efforts. (Safety first: Always be certain your firearm is unloaded for any dry practice and aim at a safe backdrop.)
Consider your day and its variables. Where will you be? What defensive tools will you have? Are you responsible for only you? Will you be with other people? If you are with someone you might need to defend, have you already discussed what your actions will be in the event of a car accident/fire/crime? If not, should you discuss possibilities with him or her?
“What if?” is an everyday question. I try to stop and imagine a situation in which I need to use my firearm. Right now, I’m sitting in a camper in a nearly deserted public campground. Just before working on this piece, I took a brief moment to tell myself a story that included a vehicle of hostiles posing a threat. When would I begin to respond? What would I do first? What tools do I have at my disposal? You can imagine the many possibilities—and that is the point.
Engaging the mind, even briefly, with such visualization provides it with data that could end up saving the fractions of a second that can mean all the difference. Even better, it might help you to avoid a bad situation altogether. I cannot count the number of times such mental exercises have led to reassessing my seating choice, path through a store, arrangement of carry-on baggage and more.
Each of us has the right to self-protection. If you’re a concealed carrier, you have more options than others. Man or woman, we’ll always have differences in what we do and how we do it, but embracing this right means exercising it to the best of our individual abilities. Our mindsets matter.
Learn to use your tools, expect to use your tools and carry your tools.