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S.O.P. (acronym) Standard Operating Procedure: a set of step-by-step instructions compiled by an organization to help workers carry out routine operations.
As a marksmanship instructor – pistol, rifle and shotgun for security officers and home defense – part of what I teach is my personal S.O.P. for carrying concealed. I have been carrying concealed since 1982, and I’m grateful to say I have never had a safety related incident or an unintentional discharge during all that time.
A caveat: I am not a lawyer nor am I a law enforcement officer. The guidance I offer is based on tactical and safety concerns, and addresses those who can legally possess firearms and acquire a concealed carry permit. It is the individual’s responsibility to be aware of local laws regarding firearms possession, carry (open or concealed), self-defense and use-of-deadly-force policies and regulations.
The first three rules in my personal carry S.O.P. are:
- Know the condition of your weapon.
- Know your target, know whats in front of your target, and know what’s behind your target.
- Never point your weapon at anything you do not intend to destroy.
“Condition of Weapon” means is the weapon “hot” (round in chamber) versus “cold.” That is, for a magazine fed pistol or rifle, is there a round in the chamber (hot) or is the chamber empty, requiring a round to be fed into the chamber before the weapon can be fired. I personally carry cold, as I do not perceive the immediate environment to be a combat zone.
Understood, situations can develop at the drop of a hat, but carrying cold is a risk I assume as a safety precaution, versus the odds of an incident requiring me to draw my pistol and immediately engage. If and when I ever do perceive circumstances evolving, I will chamber a round. As a precaution against drawing a “cold” weapon (in a civil situation), I train in drawing and chambering a round.
No single article or book-length treatise can address every single possible situation one may face requiring one to draw and fire their personal firearm. I have sought advice from attorneys and law enforcement officers, and have developed my self-defense philosophy and mindset accordingly. If a situation develops where a crime is being committed that is not threatening to myself, my family or others, then it is not for me to assume a vigilante role. My weapons are for self-defense, not law enforcement. The weapon is never to be drawn or even displayed unless the intention is the immediate use of deadly force. Also, be aware that firing a ‘warning shot’ may be perceived by law enforcement as illegal discharge of a firearm, perhaps even assault with a deadly weapon.
Entering and exiting vehicles while carrying can be challenging. Be aware that when taking a seat in a vehicle, certain models of pistol with trigger safeties are capable of engaging the trigger.
It has happened and damage can be done to more than your ego.
When getting in and out of the car, I often draw my weapon and place it within the center stand, where I have some packing foam to securely hold it, ready to draw if necessary.
Seek training and train often. Please be aware that in the United States there is no single qualifier for what makes a firearms instructor. There are all kinds of individuals who present themselves as instructors with various degrees of experience and formal credentials. A complete inventory of what comprises pistol, rifle and shotgun marksmanship for security and home defense is beyond the scope of this article, but I will offer some basic pointers:
The elements of pistol marksmanship are stance, grip, acquiring and maintaining Sight Alignment, and taking up a good Sight Picture throughout trigger press and follow-through. Proper Sight Picture is obtained when the aligned sights are put into their proper relationship with the target.
Proper Sight Picture
Sight Alignment refers to the proper relationship of the pistol’s front and rear sights. With post-and-notch sights: the tops of the front and rear sights are even, and the front post is centered in the rear notch.
Proper Sight Alignment
For developing focus, for targets I recommend 2” or 4” circles, or even 1” squares (the self-adhesive pasties available at gun shops and sporting goods stores to patch targets are ideal for this.) For developing instinctive shooting capabilities, I recommend human silhouette -type targets. A 1” white pastie may be placed within the “bowling pin” to enhance focus.
Human silhouette -type target
Dry fire is a good technique to develop focus. Using a 1” black self-adhesive pastie or similar target, go through bringing the weapon to position, taking a good sight picture and aiming at the black pastie, pressing the trigger, and then follow through; “Slow is smooth, smooth is fast.” This drill need not occur on a range, but absolute situational awareness is required; ensure your weapon is not loaded, and that no loaded magazines are present.
The watchword is safety first, last and always. The single most important drill one can train oneself on is making the weapon safe, and safe clearing procedures. Making the weapon safe on a range means de-cocking it – with a round remaining in the chamber – and holstering it (if in accordance with range safety rules) or completely clearing the weapon; slide to the rear, magazine removed from the weapon, and firearm resting on a bench with the empty chamber visible to the range safety personnel.
For safe clearing, I keep a bucket of sand in my garage as a clearing barrel. When I enter my home, I remove the magazine from my pistol, pull and lock the slide to the rear to inspect the chamber and magazine well before releasing the slide lock and either dry firing the pistol into the bucket of sand, or simply de-cocking the weapon, while keeping it pointed toward the sand. Ammunition is always stored away from firearms.
Lastly, in the United States we must be aware of the reciprocity nature of our carry permits. Mine is recognized in 33 states. When traveling through states which do not recognize my permit, I must be aware of local laws regarding firearms storage and transportation and conduct myself accordingly.
Sean Linnane is the pseudonym of a retired Special Forces career NCO (1st SFG, 3d SFG, 10th SFG). He continues to serve as a security professional on six continents.