When we talk about printing in the gun community, we don’t mean heading to your local OfficeMax.
Concealed carry printing is when the outline of your gun can be seen through your clothing. While it’s not usually a big deal, it can be problematic if you’re uncomfortable with people knowing you carry and can get you into some legal trouble depending on your local laws.
While it’s impossible to ensure that you’ll never print while concealed carrying, there are certain precautions you can take to significantly minimize how often it occurs and how obvious it is when it does happen.
So, let’s talk about what printing is, how serious it can be, and how to avoid it.
What is Gun Printing?
Printing is when the outline or bulge of your concealed pistol can be seen through your clothing.
Most of the time, printing occurs through a T-shirt or other lightweight top, though it can happen when you wear other types of clothing as well. The tighter and thinner your clothes, the more at risk you are of printing.
Even if you’re wearing a loose-fitting shirt that doesn’t reveal your weapon while you’re standing in front of a mirror, walking, sitting, or bending over can cause printing no matter what you’re wearing, which is something to be aware of.
Okay, but how big of a deal is it, really?
Is CCW Printing Bad?
The idea of someone noticing your concealed handgun can be nerve-wracking, especially if you’re new to CCW. It can be hard to relax when the gun on your hip feels super obvious to you, and you can’t help but wonder if everyone around you can see it too.
Luckily, the vast majority of times, no one will notice if you’re printing a little bit. It’s kind of like those days when you accidentally spill mustard on your shirt and walk around all day thinking everyone is staring at it, thinking you’re a total dork, only to find out that NOBODY noticed it until you pointed it out. Yeah. It’s kind of like that.
Most people in the general public aren’t looking for a gun under your shirt, and unless it is ridiculously obvious, they probably won’t notice you’re printing. If they do see something under your clothes, they’ll probably chalk it up to being a phone, keys, a chunky belt buckle, or … something, but their mind probably won’t automatically go to a pistol (unless you’re dealing with another gun enthusiast who will likely recognize it).
Geauga Firearms Academy trainer Neil Nemetz says while it’s natural to be concerned about CCW printing, especially as a beginner, as long as you’re following the law, there’s nothing to be worried about.
“No one can see your gun, and if they can, it’s not the end of the world. Even if it just briefly comes up for a second, don’t panic,” he said in a video. “You’re a law-abiding citizen, you’ve followed your state and local laws, you’ve got your permit, everything is fine, relax.”
However, like many other topics in the gun community, there is some controversy surrounding whether printing is a real problem or not.
While, yes, many experts say there’s no reason to be overly concerned about printing, there are plenty of people in the firearms world that argue it is a big deal. The whole point of carrying concealed is to carry concealed, right?
The most obvious reason why printing would be an issue is if you’re in a situation where you don’t want the people around you to know you’re carrying. Whether you’re out at dinner with your aunt who doesn’t like guns and you don’t want to have that conversation, or you’re at the grocery store and don’t want to frighten people, you want to know that your concealed weapon is actually hidden.
And rightfully so. Being out in public and having someone notice your firearm can lead to an awkward encounter at best and an incident of public hysteria at worst. (We’ll talk more about what you should do if someone notices your pistol later in this article.)
But, one of the most important reasons your firearm shouldn’t be visible is because it puts you at a tactical disadvantage in a defense situation. If the bad guy already knows you have a gun, you lose the element of surprise. Not only that, but it puts you at risk of someone trying to take your weapon, which we don’t have to tell you is at the top of the list of bad things that can happen while you’re carrying.
Firearms instructor Mike V. wrote in an article for Everyday Carry Concealed that not only can gun printing make you a potential target, as most criminals will try to take out their biggest threat (i.e. you) first in a situation like a violent robbery or mass shooting, but it will likely put any criminal on edge and could cause an otherwise non-violent crime to escalate.
“Printing while you concealed carry puts any would-be assailant on guard. It’s unlikely the situation will end up in your favor if you reach anywhere near your firearm,” he wrote. “However, an undetected concealed firearm gives you a distinct advantage. Criminals are less likely to fear, react, or prepare for, something they don’t know exists.”
Finally, regardless of where you personally stand on the debate, printing can get you into some legal trouble in certain states and circumstances. We’ll talk a bit about that next.
Is Printing While Carrying Illegal?
Unfortunately, there is no one easy answer as to whether concealed carry printing has any legal repercussions. Every state has different gun control laws and regulations, and, in some states, different towns and cities do too.
The only way to know for sure whether your printing concealed carry gun could get you into legal trouble is to read up on your local gun laws. (If you’re concealed carrying, you should be doing this anyway!) You can find some helpful information about the different gun laws across the country through the NRA’s Institute for Legislative Action website.
As a general rule, though, most “shall issue” states, meaning states that grant concealed carry permits, also allow open carry, though that is not the case everywhere (again, check your state to be sure). According to USA Carry, in these states, as long as you have a CCW license, you will likely have no legal repercussions to worry about when it comes to printing since it’s okay to carry a firearm openly.
However, in states where open carry is NOT legal, printing could be a problem. While the odds your printing enough to be considered open carry is pretty slim as long as you’re actually doing what you should to keep it low-profile, it’s definitely better to be safe than sorry.
It is also important to understand the difference between printing and brandishing. Some people fear that if their gun is printing, it could be interpreted as brandishing. Brandishing, the act of intentionally showing your weapon to someone to scare or threaten them, is a serious crime when done outside of what the law deems appropriate (again, all states are different here, so read up).
While yes, it is possible that someone could accuse you of brandishing your pistol if it is printing under your clothes, it is not the same thing and is unlikely to result in a brandishing charge as long as you’re careful to follow the law (in most states, that is. Once again, check your local laws. We can’t stress it enough!). But, as always, it’s better to be safe than sorry in situations like these, and avoiding printing altogether can help keep you out of any potential hot water.
Okay. We get it. We want to avoid CCW printing when possible. But how can you tell if you’re printing or not?
How Do You Know If You’re Printing?
So, you’ve gotten dressed, slipped your holster and gun into place, and done your mirror check to make sure your pistol is safely tucked away under your clothes. And then you go to sit down, walk, or bend over, and now you have no idea whether the people around you can see the outline of your firearm, especially if you carry behind you in the 4-5 or 7-8 o’clock position.
So, how can you tell if you’re printing so you can do something about it?
The unfortunate answer is that it’s impossible to know 100% of the time with absolute certainty that you’re not printing. (Even if you DO do a backbend in front of the mirror trying to check from all angles.)
Frustrating, we know.
Luckily, there are some things you can do to minimize your risk of printing to feel more confident and comfortable with concealed carrying.
How to Conceal Carry Without Printing?
If you’re worried about printing, there are a few things you can do to help minimize the risk of other people noticing your gun. If you consider the five “C”s of concealed carry – carry position, clothing, cant, compact, and comfort – you will be well on your way to a successful and print-free experience. Let’s take a closer look at each of these five steps:
One of the most important factors when it comes to avoiding concealed carry printing is choosing the correct carry position for your body and lifestyle. For example, you wouldn’t want to carry at the 3 o’clock position if you’re trying to conceal an IWB holster under a T-shirt; it would just stick out too much.
Appendix and 4 o’clock are some of the easiest positions to conceal, depending on your body type. For some tips on discovering the right carry position for your body type, check out our article on the subject here.
If you’re unsure which carry position would be best for you, try out a few until you find one that works.
Obviously, the clothes you wear have a lot to do with how much you print. That little black dress you look so cute in might be your go-to for a night out, but it won’t do much to conceal your Glock 19 (especially for us bigger guys, amirite?).
When you’re choosing clothes to conceal carry in, there are a few important things to keep in mind.
First and foremost, you need a quality gun belt. Unlike regular belts, which sag under the weight of a pistol and holster, quality gun belts are durable, stiff, and even stylish! Having a proper belt setup can go a long way in ensuring your carry system is comfortable, effective, and actually concealed.
At Vedder Holsters, we have a variety of high-end gun belts, including a leather option and several nylon choices. Check out our collection of gun belts here.
Next, looser clothing is always better to prevent printing. Patters, layers, and clothing accents also go a long way. In the winter, wearing a jacket is a surefire way of avoiding printing, though it’s important to be prepared if you’re going someplace where you might take your jacket off.
For a deep dive into the types of clothes that are good for concealed carry, check out our article here.
Invest in an Adjustable Holster:
It goes without saying that having the ability to adjust the angle and height of your holster goes a long way in helping you find that sweet spot when it comes to concealment.
One of the most essential adjustable features to look for is adjustable cant. Changing the cant of your holster allows you to position your firearm at an angle that is the most comfortable and concealable for you.
Another important feature is adjustable ride height. This allows you to move your gun either deeper into your waistband or so that it can sit higher up. This can be handy when you need to adjust the height based on the clothes you’re wearing (i.e., you might want your weapon to sit higher when wearing tighter pants and a looser shirt and vice versa).
All of the IWB holsters we sell here at Vedder Holsters come equipped with adjustable retention, ride height, and 30 degrees of cant in each direction, allowing you to comfortably conceal carry in any situation. Check out our entire collection of holsters here.
Carry More Compact:
One of the most obvious things you can do to prevent printing is to carry a smaller gun. While yes, you can successfully conceal a full-size pistol, finding something a little smaller will make the task significantly easier.
Subcompact and compact guns are smaller and lighter and just as effective as your beloved 1911 (and you don’t have to wear an overcoat in July to conceal them!).
Comfort is Key:
Yes, physical comfort is hugely important when it comes to concealed carrying, but mental comfort is arguably even more critical.
You may be wondering how comfort can help prevent concealed carry printing. Well, constantly thinking about and agonizing over whether your firearm is printing or not will only cause you to check on it all the time. Whether you’re wriggling around in your seat, adjusting your clothing, or reaching around to touch your gun, you’re only contributing to the problem you fear.
Once you learn to figure out how to place your weapon in a physically comfortable position when you put it on the first time and stop constantly worrying about whether or not you’re printing, you will be free to go on with your day, not making adjustments every two minutes.
Again, how does this help with printing? Touching your gun and adjusting your clothes all day is likely to cause printing, not fix it. Trust that you did a good job when you put your pistol on and did your print check in the morning. And don’t touch it again unless you have to.
What Should You Do If Someone Notices Your Gun?
The last thing you want to hear when you’re concealed carrying is, “hey, he/she has a gun!”
Whether your shirt rode up to reveal the grip of your handgun, the angle you’re sitting at caused your firearm to print in an unmistakable way, or someone caught a glimpse of your pistol under your jacket while you were reaching for your wallet, having someone notice and/or point out that you’re carrying is a nervewracking experience.
No matter how careful you are, sometimes mistakes or extra-observant people happen (I mean, props to them for their situational awareness skills, but dang!). In the event that someone has noticed your gun, what should you do?
First, remain calm. So long as you haven’t done anything illegal, there’s no reason to panic. Freaking out, getting angry or defensive, or running away will only make you look guilty or threatening (which is obviously the opposite of what you want!).
Next, you want to do your best to de-escalate the situation. Calmly re-conceal your weapon and tell the person or persons accusing you that you have a concealed carry permit and that everything is okay. Stay polite, and keep calm. Keeping your cool will hopefully help everyone feel more relaxed. Ideally, you can then move on with your day.
If you’re asked to leave by a store manager or owner, it’s best to do so quietly and not cause a scene. Sure, it may be unfair, but in most states, businesses can ask you to leave for any reason, even if they don’t have a sign posted that bans guns in their establishment, according to the USCCA.
If the police have been brought into the situation, once again, stay calm and collect. When officers arrive, they will be assessing the situation and won’t know your side of the story at first.
“When police are involved, they arrive on the scene not (yet) knowing the facts. Everyone is suspect, guilty, and innocent all at the same time until the details are sorted out. As a result, the person who ‘reports’ an incident may hold the opening hand,” firearms instructor Tom McHale writes in a USCCA article.” [The fact] that you were simply going about your business won’t be known until much later.”
If you find yourself in a situation where you know someone is calling 911 to report you, it might be a good idea to get ahead of the problem and call the police yourself to explain your side of the story before they arrive to help prevent the situation from escalating any further, McHale suggests.
“We can’t provide specific advice on every possible situation, but what we can say is that information supplied to responding authorities calmly and factually can go a long way to prevent a potentially dangerous overreaction,” he wrote.
You may be noticing a theme here: staying calm is your best defense in the event someone sees your gun. Your next best protection is knowing the laws where you live, as even a simple mistake could be interpreted as brandishing. Know your rights, and be prepared to calmly and rationally handle the situation as best you can. Holding a concealed carry insurance policy may also be a good idea, especially in states that aren’t so kind to concealed carriers, which could come in handy if you need a lawyer to defend you.
Concealed carry printing occurs when your gun can be seen underneath your clothes. While it’s not necessarily illegal in most states, it can get you into hot water in some situations.
Legal issues aside, some concealed carriers aren’t concerned about printing as they believe most people won’t notice it so long as it’s subtle. Others argue that “concealed means concealed,” and if you’re going to conceal a weapon, it should not be visible as that defeats the point.
Regardless of which side you take in the debate, a quality carry setup can help reduce or eliminate the issue altogether. If you are looking for belts or holsters, check out some of our Vedder Holsters products here. Like everything we sell, our holsters and gun belts are covered by a Lifetime Warranty and a 30-day money-back guarantee.
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