By April 20, 2012

How to Tell Someone You Can See Their Gun

There’s a coffee shop within short walking distance from my new job. I go there about four or five times a week with my co-workers, and it’s a nice joint in a nicer part of downtown.

Now, Minneapolis is to the rest of Minnesota as Northern Virginia is to the rest of Virginia, for my pals who still live in the Commonwealth. Minneapolis metro has a few pro-gun people, but for the most part people are fearful and ignorant of guns up here. The rest of the state is more accepting. It’s a lot like Virginia, except with more people.

So anyway, my co-worker and I were heading out of the coffee shop yesterday when I surveyed a young man. He was in his mid-20s, and comfortably stretched out in a chair reading his iPad. He had attire typical with people his age who work downtown: nicer jeans, brown casual shoes with a street sole, and a plaid shirt with snaps. His hair was brown and fashionably scruffy.

The only unusual thing about him was the black leather holster peeking out from his right hip.

Here’s how I determine if I tell someone I can spot their gun and how to tell them.

Why should you say something?

We have a saying in the civilian defense community: “concealed is concealed.” That means that if you’re carrying a firearm and you’re attempting to conceal it, then it needs to stay hidden. It doesn’t do anyone any good to see the outline of your pistol under your clothes, or to actually see your firearm. Back in 2008 I wrote an article about common dangers to revealing your concealed firearm that we don’t usually think about. Even though I’ve gone over 15 years carrying without being spotted we should help out our brothers and sisters who aren’t as sneaky as they think they are.

People’s behavior changes when they see a firearm. They get nervous, even if it’s a bunch of police officers with their sidearms. Back home I would frequently see Bail Bondsmen (bounty hunters) with their pistols on their hips. Parents would pull their children in closer. Adults would anxiously skitter around the bondsmen. Kids would become curious, or frightened, or both.

It’s a lot of attention we want to avoid, and it’s not safe, either. Don’t give a bad guy the knowledge there’s an armed person in the room, and certainly don’t give them an idea where a firearm is in case they want to make a grab for it.

Any time a citizen carrying “concealed” gets spotted it makes things more difficult for the rest of us. Society needs time to adjust to the idea that civilian carry is responsible and safe. Catching the hem of your shirt on the butt of your pistol is not responsible, and may not be safe. States with longer histories of citizen defense have proved that concealed carry weapon (CCW) laws don’t cause “wild West” situations where people are shooting it out on the street. I think the responsibility of most citizens with CCWs has helped other states pass their own CCW laws. The country is becoming more logical and more permissive about carry. Don’t blow it.

Should you say something?

I start with “always,” and work backwards from there to determine if I will say or do something. Here’s my decision tree:

  1. Are we in a crowded place? If so, I am more likely to not say something. If a discussion starts I may not want it to be around a bunch of people.
  2. Does the person look like they will react negatively? Some may be combative or defensive if you point out their mistake. “I have a permit!” a guy once said to me sharply, stiffening up. “Me too,” I said with a smile, “and let’s keep that between ourselves.” He relaxed, but you should be careful how someone may react to you busting them. If you don’t feel comfortable pointing it out, don’t. Not everyone with a concealed firearm is doing so legally, and drawing attention to it may make for a tense situation.
  3. Is the person alone? I’m more likely to say something if they’re flying solo. If someone is with a companion, pointing out their firearm may put them in an awkward spot. The person(s) they are with may not know about the gun, and then that can be a tough conversation to have. Also, if the person postures up and becomes defensive, it may be easier to diffuse the situation without the presence of peer pressure — or “backup” if someone gets really pissed off.
  4. Are we in a non-permissive environment? An NPE is a place that does not allow firearms. Examples include a business with one of those stupid “no gun” signs on the door, or a school, or government building. Use your best judgment on what to do. The proper response may range from pointing it out, to calling the authorities and giving a description. Use your head here.

At the end of this list I usually have a good idea if I should address the situation or not. Let’s review our coffee shop patron:

  • The coffee shop was busy, but not crowded. The gentleman was seated in an area with three tables, only two of which were occupied including his. Verdict: say something.
  • Unless he was an undercover cop, the guy seemed to be a regular person. I forgot to mention: if you point out to a plainclothes or undercover officer that he’s “showing,” they may get offended more than a civilian will. They’re supposed to be professionals, and pointing out that they aren’t may make them hostile. Be careful.

    Anyway, in this case I felt that the man was approachable. Verdict: say something.

  • He was sitting alone, so no danger of embarrassing/outing him in front of someone else. Verdict: say something.
  • I am not sure if the coffee shop has a no-guns policy or not, but it wasn’t stated on the door. Verdict: say something.

How to tell someone you can see their gun

  1. Approach them slowly but casually. Don’t make sudden moves. Doing so may make the CCWer nervous, and may draw attention from others. Stay at a usual, casual pace.
  2. Smile. Not one of those creepy “hey kid do you want some candy” smiles, but a “you and I have something in common, so don’t get bent over what I’m about to say” smile.
  3. Speak softly, and apologetically. Resist the urge to reward yourself for spotting someone, and definitely try not to sound judgmental. Remember about people potentially feeling defensive and embarrassed? Sounding like the school teacher from Peanuts will not help you here. Be kind. We’re all in this together.
  4. Be brief, and don’t discuss yourself or your own CCW situation. Remember, the person may or may not be a law enforcement officer, may or may not be carrying legally, and may or may not be a “good guy/gal.” Drop knowledge and move on.
  5. Don’t discuss what happened until you’ve left the area. My co-worker wanted to know why I spoke with a stranger, but I waited until we cleared the building to do so. I didn’t want another patron to overhear, and put the other man in a weird spot. Quiet as it’s kept.

“Pardon me sir,” I said with a smile. I had my left hand slightly extended in front of me in case something happened. I waited for him to look up.

“You’re printing,” I said, with a very slight nod. I like this phrase because the word “printing” is one used in the concealed carry community to describe when a piece of clothing is tight against a firearm. Printing provides an outline of the firearm, and is the most common way to expose yourself.

If the person I’m talking to understands and responds, I feel that they are more likely to be “legit.” If they stare at me like I just spoke to them in Japanese, I am more likely to get the fuck out of there.

“Oh!” he said sharply and about two tones too loud. He immediately tugged at the bottom of his shirt, and concealed his holster.

“Have a good one,” I said, and walked away slowly. I didn’t say anything about being more careful, I didn’t ask why he had a gun, I didn’t do anything but tell someone I could see their gun and then moved on.

Telling someone that they’ve exposed their firearm is a delicate thing to do, but I think it’s helpful and necessary as more and more citizens carry. Until someone has enough experience, it’s easy to accidentally reveal yourself doing normal, every day things — like reading a Web site on an iPad at a local coffee shop.

Stay safe out there everyone, and use your best judgment.

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