Once you accept the basic idea of carrying in public, there’s really no great moral or ethical dilemma about carrying a gun while shopping. There are, however, some legal and practical considerations that are worth thinking about.
The Legal Issues
Let’s get the legal question out of the way first. When you receive your concealed-carry permit, the state will generally give you a list of places that carrying a gun is not legally allowed. This list of prohibited places varies a lot from one state to another. Many states (but not all) prohibit carry in bars and on school property. Some prohibit carrying at “public gatherings,” but the definition of “public gathering” will change depending upon the exact wording of the law. Most prohibit carrying in and around courthouses and other government buildings. If you don’t know what the law is in your state, it is well worth looking it up to find out exactly what is allowed; folks are often surprised by what is and is not allowed. See the Legal Resources page for more information, or surf past Handgun Law dot US.
The laws about carrying into businesses open to the public are not often as clear as they are about carrying in other places. In my home state of Washington, for example, it is legal to carry anywhere that it is not expressly prohibited by law. A business owner can choose to post his property, “No Firearms Allowed,” but such a sign does not have the force of law on its own. However, if you walk past such a sign while carrying, and the business owner finds out you are carrying, and the business owner then verbally asks you to leave, you must leave immediately or you could be arrested for trespass. Unless you refuse to leave when told to do so, you haven’t broken any laws. That’s not an uncommon way for the state to deal with this issue.
In other states, merely walking past a “No Firearms Allowed,” sign is itself a legal violation. In these states, ignoring that sign is against the law.
In Texas, the legislation about guns carried onto others’ property is found in the statute numbered 30-06. No Firearms signs are thus referred to as 30-06 signs!
Remember that laws are different in every state. In some states, if a business owner wants to post his property to prohibit concealed weapons, he must use a sign which has the exact wording dictated by the state. Sometimes the state even dictates the dimensions and placement of such signs.
Other states have other rules, sometimes surprising ones. It isn’t safe to assume that you can just carry wherever you wish, or that simply following “common sense” will keep you out of trouble. If you want to stay on the right side of the law, you must first find out what the law actually says.
Because the laws vary so much, it’s important to emphasize this point: You must be aware of your own state laws. Carrying a gun into some businesses isn’t legal in all states, and I would never advise anyone to break the law. You, and you alone, are responsible for your choices about when and where to carry. And you are the only one responsible if you ignorantly or deliberately break the law.
Come to think of it, I guess there is at least one moral issue here after all. If you live in a state where “No Firearms” signs do not have the force of law, do you obey the signs or not? Personally, I usually obey such signs. I figure that if a business owner doesn’t want my money, there’s no reason to give it to him. But I don’t get wrapped around the axle about it, and I don’t stand there squinting at all the teeny-tiny fine print plastered to the windows and doors of many businesses to figure out if I’m welcome or not. If they don’t make the rules obvious at a glance, I probably won’t even notice.
The Practical Issues
I’m not going to bother talking about grocery shopping or shopping for shoes. You can figure out on your own that these types of shopping probably do not present any special concerns. 1
Shopping for clothes is another matter. If you’re buying clothes for concealed carry, you really need to try them on while you are wearing the gun. How can you do that discreetly? How can you keep your firearm concealed in a fitting room, or keep it safe while trying on different clothes?
There’s No Place Like Home …
Let’s discuss the coward’s way out first: you can use your own home as your dressing room. This sounds a bit odd, but actually has a lot to recommend it. At least one older lady of my acquaintance has shopped this way for many years. She explains, “With my bad knee, it just hurts too much to try on clothes at the store. At home, I have a comfortable place to sit down while trying things on. And I can take my own time without feeling rushed.”
To do this, you pick out clothes in your usual size, purchase them, and take them home. Try them on at home. If they don’t fit, or don’t conceal the gun easily, simply return them to the store with the tags still intact.
When you try clothes on at home, you can easily find out if the clothes will work with the rest of your wardrobe, or if the garment will work with different guns or carry methods. You also have a lot more freedom to be a contortionist in front of the mirror, checking to see if the gun prints or shows in any other way. And you aren’t faced with the awkward question of what to do with your firearm while you are half-clothed.
Obviously, this plan only works if you shop somewhere with a good return policy. And it only works if you know what your usual size is. And it only works if you live close enough to the store that going back to return stuff that doesn’t work isn’t a huge hassle. But if none of these things are an issue for you, it might be the best choice — especially when you are just getting started with concealed carry, and are still in the jumpy phase. 2
Fitting Room Basics
But let’s say you’re out and around, and come across a really cute outfit that just has to be tried on, right now. And you’re carrying a gun on your belt. Can this really be done?
Of course it can!
First word of advice: don’t worry too much. You are carrying within the law. You aren’t doing anything illegal or “bad.” Be confident.
If possible, snag the handicapped dressing room stall. If someone in a wheelchair comes along, you can surrender it. But in the meanwhile, the plus is that there’s almost always a bench to put your stuff on so you won’t have to put it on the floor or balance your trousers and holster precariously hanging from a hook. The other plus is that handicapped stalls are usually a little bigger, so you can get at least some distance from the mirror without leaving the stall.
Being able to check the mirror without leaving the stall is important because you don’t really want anyone to see your firearm as you move and twist in front of the mirror to make sure the gun is well concealed.
If you cannot get into a handicapped stall for some reason, grab the one at the very end of the hallway. Fewer people will walk past your stall if it is at the end of the row, which means less chance of getting caught by a casual glance. It also means that your belongings will be more secure if you have to step out of the stall to look in the mirror.
Why Not Unload?
Avoid any stall next to a mom shopping with her 3-year-old. Little kids have this amazing ability to see through walls (well, under them, anyway) and are entirely too likely to comment loudly upon what they see.
You should never take your gun out of its holster in public unless you’re planning to shoot someone. If you need to try on pants, pull the holstered gun off your belt, set it on the bench, take your pants and belt off, pull on the new pants, then pick up your belt and the holstered gun and check how they fit with the new pants. Whenever I set down the holstered gun, I like to drop a piece of clothing on top of it immediately, just to reduce the risk of someone spotting it.
If there is no bench, I usually grab an extra piece of clothing from the rack, something I’m not going to try on. Then instead of hanging up my old jeans, I plump them on the floor with the holstered firearm inside, and toss the spare clothing on top of the pile so that no casual glance under the door can give me away. After I pull on the new clothes, I fish the gun out of the pile to make sure it will work with the new outfit.
Alternate plan: carry a tote bag. Place your holstered gun into the tote bag while you are changing.
Now for the very obvious note about security. Do not leave your firearm unattended in a dressing room, even for a deci-second, no matter how well you’ve got it smothered underneath other stuff or jammed in the bottom of your bag. The risk simply isn’t worth it.
Mirror, Mirror, On the Wall …
So you’ve just tried on a new outfit, and it’s comfortable and attractive enough that you’re thinking of buying it. Now you need to check to see if it will work for concealed carry.
Pants: Check to make sure your carry belt will fit through the belt loops. 3 If it does, and you carry IWB, pick up your holstered gun and make sure there’s enough room inside the waistband for both of you. With the holstered gun in place, bend over and tie your shoes. Do a couple of deep knee bends. Sit down and stand back up again. Still sure there’s enough room in that waistband?
Blouses and cover garments: Place the holstered gun on your belt and adjust the garment however you intend to wear it. Stand squarely in front of the mirror. Check to make sure the gun’s shadow cannot be seen through the fabric. Does the garment fit loosely enough over the gun area that you’ll be able to move naturally? Are there any odd-looking lumps or bumps? Now reach toward the ceiling like you’re stretching. Does the garment ride up in a natural manner? Does the gun stay covered? Relax your arms and let them dangle at your sides. Did the garment come back down naturally, without needing to be tugged into position? Do the twist, swinging your arms from side to side. Does the garment need to be fiddled with in order to keep the gun concealed? Or does it move with you naturally? Move around a little — stretch again, scratch your back, then bend down to touch your toes. As you straighten back up, watch the mirror for any telltale signs.
- Well, except for the question of reaching your toes without printing while trying on shoes. Take your chiropractor’s advice, and keep your back straight. Oh, and keep your gun side towards a wall rather than towards the rest of the store. ↩
- Incidentally, the jumpy phase does wear off, eventually. You will always be aware of the chunk of metal on your hip, but the classic “Ohmigosh everyone’s looking at me!” feeling common to new permit holders does fade into the background after you’ve done this for awhile. ↩
- The belt-loop issue is the most consistently annoying concealed-carry clothes problem I’ve encountered over the years. Too bad I’m not a seamstress! ↩