Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Refuse To Be A Victim - Secure Your Home Wireless Network

(Oh No – You Mean My Wireless Home Network is At Risk?)

Part of what we teach as part of the NRA's "Refuse to Be a Victim" program is online security to keep you safe while on the Internet.  The most common type of home network these days is a wireless network.  Wireless networking allows for much easier setup without all that cable installation that we had to do to set up our home networks back in the day.   But wireless networking brings with it some added security concerns that you may want to consider.  From where I sit in my office on the second floor of my house, for example, I can detect at least five wireless networks from here.  And not all of them are secured networks.  Practically anyone can join an unsecured wireless network and surf to their heart's content.  This article is intended to give you some ideas on how you can make your wireless network a little more secure.
WARNING:  There is a lot of "geek-speak" in this article.  If it doesn't make sense, just email me and I will explain it to you.
So now that your wireless network is all set up, no worries, right?  I mean so what if someone in the ‘hood' steals a little of your signal, connects to your network and surfs for themselves.  The cable company won’t know and the bandwidth they steal probably won’t affect you!  Well – here’s the deal with that:  If anyone can get on your network and surf the web, then that means that they can also get to the files on your computer(s) if they are smart enough – and these days it doesn’t take much to hack into an unprotected system.  They are completely bypassing your firewall and they are now on the inside. Inside and free to get to all of your personal information, tax records, personal letters, email files, you name it.  

But so what if they aren’t after your stuff, but rather just want an Internet connection so that they can surf for free – or worse, like doing illegal things – gambling, porn, child exploitation, download some copyrighted movies….  And it isn’t just your neighbors – it’s those nasty little WAR drivers, driving around with laptops and programs like Net Stumbler or AirSnort, scoping you out so they can come back later and steal your signal or hack your systems.  Then they can make maps of where all the wireless networks are located and share with their buddies.  

Small business owners, you should really listen up here – there are liability issues:  Guess who get’s tagged when someone decides to crack down on illegal Internet activities through your service provider’s records or other means.  You do!  Current legislation limits the ISP's liability for illegal activities, and the account owner becomes the responsible party since your name is on the account.  There may be no evidence on your computer, because you weren’t doing anything wrong.  But all they know from their investigations it that the suspicious traffic came to and from the connection into your network.  And after you get your computer back (after months of forensic investigation) you will be in the clear.  But can you do without your computer for that long?  Worse yet, can you do without your data for that long?  Stealing your signal for free Internet access is one thing.  Using your network for illegal purposes is another – and since you have no idea what the attacker’s real intentions are, you really should be just keeping unauthorized users off in the first place.  So, let’s just nip this little problem in the bud and protect ourselves by using some of the built in features of the wireless equipment and our own common sense.

Your New Router/Wireless Access Point:

You have just purchased that new combo router/access point and pulled it out of the box.  They are all configured the same, meaning that they all have the same default settings for administrative passwords, router name, IP address ranges, and network broadcast names (more on SSIDs in a bit).  Immediately change those factory settings.  Every bad guy in the world knows that the default password for a Linksys router is “Admin” and the default SSID – the network name that it broadcasts is “Linksys.”  These settings change slightly depending on manufacturer, but they are similar, and more importantly, they are all well known.  In other words, if you have a router/access point right out of the box and you don’t change anything before placing it in service in your network, all the little WAR drivers will know it, and they already know the information they need to log in to your router and change its settings to accommodate their needs.

At a minimum:

  • Change the default password
  • Restrict which addresses can access your network
  • Encrypt to make your network a secured network
  • Change the default wireless network SSID
  • Disable wireless router management
  • Give your router a name

If they can’t get an address, they can’t surf:

Two addresses are important:  The MAC address (physical address), and the IP address (logical address). The easiest of the two addresses to restrict on your wireless address is the MAC address, by the way.  The MAC (Media Access Control) address is an address that is hard coded into the network card on your computer.  This is often referred to as the physical address.  You can configure your wireless access point so that only the MAC addresses in your approved list will be able to connect to your network.  MAC addresses can be very easily spoofed, however, but the attackers have to know the exact MAC address(es) listed in your access point authorized list in order to spoof the right one.  This isn’t fool proof by any means, but at least it will give you something a bit more secure than no restrictions at all.

The IP (Internet Protocol) address is the "" type address that computers use to communicate - often referred to as the "logical" address.  All computers on a network have an IP address if they want to communicate, especially if they want to communicate with your router to get to the Internet.  The IP address can be given to you automatically by what is known as a DHCP server (dynamic), or it can be hard coded (static) address.  If you use a router, by default your router is using its DHCP feature to configure these addresses on your computer for you.  If you are letting your router dish out addresses to your computers, then that means that they are likely to be available to anyone with a computer who can see your wireless network and “ask” for one.  This is simple – just don’t make any available!  Hard code all of your IP addresses into your computers, and tell your router not to make DHCP addresses available.  I set all of the addresses on my computers statically.   But one of the reasons this is a more complicated address to restrict is because using this method requires you to know something about IP addressing, subnet masks, DNS services, and default gateways.  Because of this complexity, many people do not use this method, but I'm a geek, so.....

If you do this also, you can go one step further and make the subnet mask for your network non-standard.  For example, many people at home use the private IP address range of 192.168.1.x.  The default subnet mask for this range is  If you only have a few computers in your network, you can change your subnet mask to something like  That mask will allow you enough address space for fourteen computers.  If you want more addresses, or need fewer addresses, you can adjust the mask you are using.  The added benefit is that even if the attacker hard codes in their own address to fit the range you are using, they have to guess the right mask or they won’t connect.

Encrypt your wireless traffic:

One way that eavesdroppers can find out things like passwords and other things that you would like to keep private is that they can “sniff” the traffic on your network and see it in plain text.  There are a variety of free tools out there, such as Ethereal, that allow people to see network traffic and get information right out of the very packets traveling across the network.  If you encrypt the traffic, however, it comes across as gibberish and they can’t see this information.  There are a couple of popular encryption schemes built in to home and small business wireless devices – WEP, WPA, and WPA2.  WEP, which stands for Wireless Encryption Privacy, is a slightly older and somewhat unsophisticated encryption scheme.  It is static, which means it never changes its encryption keys.  You would have to periodically define new keys or pass-phrases.  WEP is minimal security at best, but again it is better than nothing.  A newer wireless encryption for home users, WPA and WPA2 (Wi-Fi Protected Access) is a more dynamic encryption scheme, and is more secure than WEP.  The keys are dynamically changed during system operation, making it more difficult for someone to sniff your traffic and find out the pass-phrase used.  Not knowing the correct WEP or WPA keys and pass-phrases to enter into their computers makes even connecting to your network more difficult for the attackers as well.


The other thing that needs to be encrypted is your traffic between you and your router/access point management console.  In most home and small business routers, you simply use a web browser to log into and manage your router’s configuration.  The Linksys models (and most others) include the ability to select HTTPS (port 443) traffic between you and your router using an SSL certificate.  This will provide security in that eaves-droppers cannot see your router administrative password in plain text if they are using a program like Wireshark to “sniff” your traffic from afar.  Don’t confuse encryption with blocking access, however.  Anyone who types in the correct address for your router will be offered an SSL certificate, and they can choose to install it.  If they know the password, they can still get in.  What keeps them out is that they don’t have the correct password, and you don’t want to make it easy for them to obtain it.  This type of encryption keeps that password from being sniffed, and makes it more difficult to obtain.


Turn off the SSID broadcast:

The SSID is the network identifier that gets broadcasts by a wireless network access point.  As I mentioned earlier, a default setting for a Linksys access point SSID out of the box is “Linsys.”  You don’t need the SSID broadcast to connect because you can simply type in the SSID when you configure your computer(s).  If configuration gives you a problem, turn on SSID broadcasts, configure your computers, then turn the broadcasts back off.  The exception to this is earlier versions of Windows, such as Windows 98 and Windows XP without Service Pack 2.  Actually, there was a patch awhile back to ensure that Windows XP SP1 would connect without the SSID broadcast, but SP1 is about to become a non-supported product.  You really need SP2 and above (SP3 is the current Windows XP Service Pack Level) to take advantage of the Windows XP security features anyway.  But Windows XP is about to go end-of-life for security support (obsolete), so upgrade if possible.  Get Windows Vista or Windows 7 and you can really take advantage of much better security features.


Disable Wireless Management:

Disabling the ability to manage your router from a wireless connection will help ensure that people sitting out in the street stealing your wireless connection can’t get into your router and change settings.  You will want to have at least one computer that has a wired connection so you can connect to your router and perform configuration changes.  If you only have one computer, and it is a laptop, use the wired connection to connect directly to the router to do maintenance, and the wireless connection to provide your mobility and your normal day-to-day connections.

Additionally, you can ensure that “Remote Access” is turned off.  With remote access, you can come into your router from anywhere else that has an Internet connection.  I have mine turned on because I travel, and sometimes need to come in and make a change while I’m gone, in case the spouse or kids can’t get connected all of a sudden.  But if you don’t need it, the rule of thumb is to just turn it off. 

Other Security Measures:

Securing your wireless access points does not relieve you of the need to use other basic security precautions.  Just because you have a firewall doesn’t mean that a personal firewall program on each computer won’t do you any good.  I have my router locked down pretty well, but my personal firewall still alerts on, and blocks several inbound connection attempts.  Antivirus software, anti-malware software, and keeping your computer up to date with the latest patches are still important requirements. 
You play an important part in security too – if your personal firewall alerts you to something don’t just blindly say “Yes” to the event and move on, hoping for the best.  Question everything!  Just say NO!  You can look at your router’s logs to find suspicious activity so that you will know what further steps to take.  Look at the firewall logs for your personal firewall software also to find out who is trying to attack you, and what methods they are trying to use. 


Wrapping it All Up:

Wireless networking provides an easy and extremely flexible medium for setting up your home or small office network.  But remember:  your network traffic is now traveling through free space, there for the taking for the little WAR drivers and other eaves-droppers.  All kinds of things like passwords, personal data, and even access to the files stored on your computer is at risk.  Even the inexpensive router/access points give you a number of security measures you can implement to help keep you safe.  Nothing is fool-proof.  

This article mentioned some simple measures you can take to increase your chances of being safe and protecting your network.  Be sure to look into the specific configurations that your router/access point allows, and know what you can do with it.  Given enough time and effort, there is nothing that a hacker can’t break into.  But by securing your system you will more likely than not discourage a would-be hacker, and they will just move on to the other six networks on your block.  Don’t be a target – protect your computers, your network, and your data.

For more information, see:

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Getting Off The "X" - The Need For Tactical Training

I recently had the opportunity to go back for some excellent tactical training - low light pistol operator course at The Makhaira Group.  Excellent course - I highly recommend it.  So anyway - I’m not sure exactly what prompted the comment, but I recently mentioned to someone that I had just taken some formal tactical firearms training to refresh my own skills.  That prompted the comment: “Tactical training?!  Why in the world do you need tactical training?  You’re not a police officer or a member of the military special forces!”  That’s true.  I’m neither of those things.   And I’m pretty sure I won’t be gearing up to storm a hardened complex or rescue hostages any time soon.  But I am a “Sheepdog” - a concealed carry permit holder who loves his fellow citizens, and knows that I may very well be present someday in a crisis situation.  If I am present in such a situation (and the police are not), I want to make a difference and help preserve innocent life while waiting for the police to arrive.  Because of my commitment, I carry a concealed firearm for self-defense nearly always (except at work and when I’m in the shower).  I have made the commitment to protect my family, my neighborhood, and the members of my church.  That being said, I then also have an obligation to be proficient and have the ability to be as effective as possible if the opportunity for using my firearm in self-defense presents itself.  And to be honest, standing on a line in front of static paper bulls-eye targets in no way represents the types of situations encountered in real-world self-defense crisis situations.

The obligation: First, let me say this about the requirement for training: I do not believe it should be mandated by law.  The obligation to be proficient in firearms handling is a moral obligation, and each person needs to make the decision for themselves as to what level of training they think will give them the proficiency they need for their particular circumstances.  But if I am going to be a "Sheepdog" - one who is willing to be present in a crisis situation and I am armed, I then I feel that I have the duty to not be the cause of harm to others or myself.  If I freeze up, hesitate, or simply don’t know what to do, my chances of causing more harm are much greater.  This can lead to a whole variety of legal implications for me, or even more serious physical and emotional implications for all those present at the scene.  My goal then is to render aid to others, preserve life, protect the innocent, stop any imminent violence by the bad guys, and be an effective resource for the police who eventually arrive to investigate.  Again, I submit that performing proficiency training that involves standing on a line and shooting at static paper targets in no way prepares me to do any of the above.  But if I am engaged in a training regimen that teaches the concepts of moving, shooting, communicating, and making sound, decisions, my ability to be effective and prevent further harm greatly improves.  Tactical training provides just that environment, plus it provides a multitude of "stresses" that static target shooting does not provide.

"The sheep generally do not like the sheepdog. He looks a lot like the wolf. He has fangs and the capacity for violence. The difference, though, is that the sheepdog must not, can not and will not ever harm the sheep. Any sheep dog who intentionally harms the lowliest little lamb will be punished and removed. The world cannot work any other way, at least not in a representative democracy or a republic such as ours." - LTC Dave Grossman, "On Sheep, Wolves, and Sheepdogs"

Enter a piece of terminology we in the self-defense circles fondly refer to as “getting off the X.”  If someone is attacking you, and you stand there like a statue, you will get injured or worse - shot.  It’s as simple as that.  But if you move and make quick, decisive actions, your chances of winning the fight and avoiding injury are greatly increased.  And if you can get the bad guy to “stand on his X,” then you further increase your chances of winning and stopping the attack.  The “X” is the place that gives an adversary static predictability.  In that case the person on the X might just as well be a paper target – easy to hit, and sure to be injured.  Your goal is to stay off of your “X” and put the bad guy back on his.

(Example Tactical Training Course Activities)

So what is out there in the way of tactical training, and what does the term “tactical training” actually entail? Tactical firearms training, hand-to-hand (or “empty hand”) training, and sporting competitions all lend themselves well to this idea of tactical training to address immediate threats. The word “tactical” simply implies trying to make decisions to help meet an immediate or short term goal. The immediate goal in this case is that of stopping a bad series of gravely harmful events. Tactics nearly always involves movement, quick decisions, and having contingencies. Tactical training does not always mean donning forty-five pounds of web gear and playing Rambo. Receiving tactical training means training for a variety of events and environments, and with a variety of methods, skills, and tools.

Tactical Firearms Training: If you’re going to carry a gun for self-defense, you need to be able to deploy it beyond the paper targets at the pistol range. This can (and should) involve a variety of formal training environments where actual experts in this field of study are there to give you real-world insights. In Northern Colorado, we have one excellent resource at The Makhaira Group. Gunsite Academy (located in Arizona), Front Sight (located in Nevada), and Suarez International (various training venues) are all excellent examples of well-renowned and affordable firearms training venues to help you sharpen your tactical skills. The key here is formal training from experts in their field. Get a professional set of eyes (not your well-meaning buddy) on your techniques and use the guidance of a disinterested third party to improve your tactics through professional instruction, and honest criticism and opinion.

Hand-to-Hand Training: Often referred to as “open hand” training. You may not be able to draw your gun, you may not have your gun with you (shame on you!), or the firearm may just not even be the appropriate level of response. Tactics involves a variety of tools. Knowing how to stop an immediate threat through a variety of means, even your own body, is an important aspect of being willing to be that “Sheepdog” in a crisis situation. If you’re going to step up to help out in a crisis situation, you’re going to get hurt. That’s a fact. This type of training will not only help build skills to employ various empty handed defenses, but will help condition your body to be ready and will help make it “hurt” less. See your local health club, self-defense school, or other types of activities in your area. There are a variety of video courses that you can take, but the actual physical practice is irreplaceable.

Shooting Competition Activities: There are a wide variety of firearms recreational and sporting activities that lend themselves well to the idea of thinking on your feet and practicing tactical movements. IDPA, defensive pistol, and even steel challenge competitions fit right in with this category of training. Many shooting ranges even offer “combat leagues” and other dynamic events. Here in Northern Colorado, the Northern Colorado Rod and Gun Club hosts International Defensive Pistol (IDPA), Defensive Pistol, and Steel Challenge matches monthly. Participation is open to the public, and participation fees are minimal (usually $10 dollars). Not only are these events dynamic, but they are well attended, and you can meet many others who are trying to build up their skills and you can share ideas.

Professional Reading: You heard me right! I know reading doesn’t sound very “tactical.” Do some homework and find out what’s going on out in the real world. All those “armed citizen” reports and such are chock full of real-life examples where someone defended themselves successfully (or tragically not), and have some very detailed descriptions of what was done right, what was done wrong, and lessons learned for improvement. Learn from others. Monthly magazines from professionally written sources such as the US Concealed Carry Association (USCCA) and the National Rifle Association (NRA), for example, have sections devoted to reporting on these incidents and can provide valuable insight into what others went through. Those publications also have a plethora of well written articles that talk about holster and concealment techniques, equipment suggestions, and additional training ideas.

Regardless of how you choose to do it, you need to “get off the X” and make additional training an ongoing endeavor. Tactical skills tend to diminish rapidly as they are largely a matter of muscle memory and ingraining behavior so that it becomes second nature. To keep skills sharp, you need to continually practice and get training in updated techniques. Getting off of your X may mean being able to putting bad guy back on his X in a crisis situation. There are no points for second place in this game – you need to be in it to win it.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

The Decision to Become an Armed Citizen

Choosing to be an armed citizen takes a lot of thought and preparation, not to mention the right equipment:

Why are there no mass
shootings at firing ranges?
What is it that makes a normal, every day computer geek who lives in a small town decide to carry a concealed weapon? After all, the town I live in is not an extraordinarily high crime area. I live in a good neighborhood and work in a fairly secure building. I have a family, two dogs, a bunch of mundane hobbies, and I don’t purposely hang out in dangerous areas. I have never personally witnessed a crime, and have never been the victim of an armed criminal. Although I have noticed that the local mall, even in this small town, seems to attract the dregs of society that hang out there with nothing to do except size up other people and decide who to harass – but that’s another part of the story.

A decision to carry a concealed weapon, after all, carries with it an awesome responsibility – why would I decide to be responsible for the myriad of issues that comes with it? By deciding to carry a concealed weapon I have decided that I am willing to take a human life if necessary. I have decided that I am willing to be put in the position to quickly decide in an emergency situation whether or not to run, shoot, or even if my decision will be the correct (and legally defensible) one. Finally, this decision carries with it a notable change in lifestyle.
But despite all that, I made a conscious decision to carry a concealed weapon. In this article, I would like to document and share my decision making process with you to help you understand what makes a normal citizen make such a potentially life changing decision. This article will chronicle the decision making process, the social responsibilities of carrying a concealed weapon (as I understand them to be), and the significant lifestyle changes that one goes through once getting the permit and carrying a firearm.

Making the Initial Leap:

First, I’ll tell you a little bit about the “how” of my decision making processes. This is not, or certainly SHOULD not be an easy decision. In my case, it took a great deal of thought, prayer, research, and certainly training. Thought and prayer in this decision were the easy part. I felt that if I placed my trust in the Lord’s hands, that He would guide me toward the answers – and I believe He did. Faith that God designed us to be responsible for certain aspects of our lives, self defense being one of them, led me to what I believe is the right conclusion about carrying a weapon during my daily life.

For the research, I consulted many sources, among which being the National Rifle Association, the U.S. Concealed Carry Association, and various other Internet discussion forums. Then, there are numerous blogs, discussion forums, and news sources documenting the many instances where an armed citizen was able to save themselves and others around them by carrying and calling upon their weapon.

For the training, I relied partly on my prior experiences handling firearms, which told me that constant training is always needed. It started out as a venture to take my spouse to a basic pistol course, to get her familiar with firearms, and to pick up new insights on concealed carry for myself. From there, training evolved into regular visits to the range, getting involved in competitive shooting events, and constantly reading articles and books from noted authors on concealed carry and self defense. Training and gaining new knowledge about firearms and self defense is a daily part of my routine these days.

Now for the seemingly more philosophical yet most important part - the “why” part - of this whole decision process: It has become painfully clear to me that even in a small town like the one in which my family and I live, there are still bad people who wish to do others harm. We still hear about home invasions, store robberies, people getting robbed in their own driveways, and various other violent crimes, right here in our part of the state! A major city with noted gang activity is not far away – it is only a matter of time before the criminals get bored and decide to take their show on the road. And because I have a spouse, children, and two dogs, all of whom I love very much, I am willing to protect them. My willingness to protect them includes using deadly force if necessary.

The Philosophy and the Reasoning:

My willingness to protect my family goes beyond a mere philosophical need to prove that I am a good person and provider, however. I believe that I have a personal responsibility to protect them and provide for their safety. This responsibility is found in Biblical teaching, and further rooted in my own beliefs. The Supreme Court has made it perfectly clear that the government and police have no obligation to protect us as individuals (a noteworthy example being the 2005 case of Castle Rock versus Gonzales).  In a more recent case in Madison Wisconsin, a young woman (student) was slain.  She had called 911 but her call for help was ignored, the 911 operator hung up, and police were never called to investigate.  So I am responsible for myself as an individual, and for my family as individuals. I accept this. I am perfectly willing and able to take on this obligation and do my part.

Why do I carry a
concealed weapon?
THIS is why!
But I feel this obligation even transcends my obligation to just my family. Research has shown that areas that have more armed citizens experience fewer violent crimes. The more armed citizens there are the more uncertainty the criminals have. Who is carrying a weapon and who is not? This dramatically increases the criminal’s risks of being stopped, injured, or even killed during the commission of their crime. Studies by people such as Dr. John Lott have shown that an entire community is safer because of the population of people who carries concealed weapons. In fact, even noted anti-gun advocate and University of Pennsylvania professor David Mustard has had to admit that citizens who carry do not add to gun violence and do in fact make their communities more safe:

"When I started my research on guns in 1995, I disliked firearms... My views on this subject were formed primarily by media accounts of firearms, which unknowingly to me systematically emphasized the cost of firearms while virtually ignoring their benefits. I thought it obvious that passing laws that permitted law abiding citizens to carry concealed firearms would create many problems. But research has convinced me that laws that require right-to-carry permits to be granted unless the applicant has a criminal record or a history of significant mental illness reduce violent crime and have no impact on accidental deaths."
Source: "Culture Affects Our Beliefs About Firearms, But Data Are Also Important," 151 U. Penn. Law Review, 1387, 2003
I want my family to be safe, but beyond that, I want my entire community to be a good and safe place to live.  If my carrying a concealed weapon contributes to the uncertainty and uneasiness that the criminal vultures feel about committing crimes in my community, then I am not only perfectly happy with that, but I feel that I am part of the solution and not just a passive bystander to a greater threat.

The Practical Side of Carrying a Weapon:

By the way - this isn’t by any means meant to be a recipe for others to follow. My strategies won’t work for everyone. And there are far greater numbers of experts out there who can tell you more about tactics, training, and self defense than I could ever hope to. Rather, I hope to give some examples of some things that have helped me, and to help you decide for yourself what will work best for you.

So now that I have made this decision, how does it affect my daily life? Surely, one doesn’t just strap on a gun and go walking around. There are certain places an armed citizen can and cannot go, and certain things an armed citizen has to do a bit differently than before. As I mentioned before, the decision to be an armed citizen affects not only the person who is armed, but practically everyone around them. There is still a lot of fear and apprehension about guns out in the community. Some people believe in the right to be armed, but simply choose not to be. Then there are others who don’t believe that citizens should have guns at all, as well as those who are morbidly afraid of firearms. The latter is a result of lack of education (about firearms) and misinformation from a biased media in my opinion, and I will speak more to that in a later segment in this series.

Oh, What to Wear:

A recent cartoon I saw on the Internet depicted a person who was carrying a concealed weapon making the statement: “Having a concealed weapon is like wearing Power Rangers underwear; both are very cool, but you don’t dare show anybody.” There is a lot of truth to that. Having a concealed weapon, in my opinion, means that it stays concealed – period! There are a variety of reasons, not the least of which is that we keep our handguns concealed primarily because it keeps the bad guys guessing and gives us the element of surprise. Secondly, quite a few states have “shall issue laws for concealed carry permits, but not all of those states have “open carry” laws. This means that if you have a concealed firearm, it must stay concealed, lest you be arrested for public menacing. And finally, firearms just make some people frightened. I submit that those fears are irrational, but those fears are very real to those people; why put them through needless worry and stress? They have every right to feel as comfortable in their surroundings as we do. And their worry and stress tends to lead to unwanted attention drawn to yourself, and perhaps the requirement to explain yourself to law enforcement when those more frightened people freak out and call the police.

Wardrobe decisions are just something that has never plagued me before. I was in the Navy for twenty years – my daily attire was chosen for me. After leaving the service, I have been mostly a jeans and t-shirt kind of guy. Even when I am at work, jeans and a decent sport shirt or polo shirt are considered appropriate for my office. But carrying a concealed weapon means that your attire has to support concealment. Flaunting a weapon for the reasons that I have already discussed is just not something that I want to do. Colorado is an open carry state, and I have a permit, so either way I am covered. But the fewer people who know I am carrying the better. In fact, when I took my daughter to the mall recently, she had no clue I was carrying my handgun. Concealed means concealed – it’s as simple as that for me.

The particular handguns that I carry at the moment both seem to be most conducive to being holstered. They are fairly small (compact, but not sub-compact), but I feel I can retrieve them from a paddle holster on my hip better than some of the other types of holsters I have tried. And I tried several holsters before making this decision. I have a few other holsters that I try from time to time. As moods change and clothing changes, so too can the holster if needed. 
My main carry gun, the Bersa .45 UC, is large enough, however, that an in-waist-band holster scheme doesn’t seem to feel very comfortable at all. The paddle holster keeps it fairly high on my hip, but I still need to wear a long shirt or sweat-shirt to keep it concealed. I just bought some long shirts and leave them un-tucked – voila! Seems to work well in cooler weather, but in the summer I have to change that strategy a bit. Concealment vests are a good idea, but the looks of some of them on a person seems to scream out “Hey! I’m carrying a gun!” I found that a photographer's vest is a good choice as photography is a popular hobby in these parts. A small fanny pack works well when I go to the gym or am wearing sweats for a long walk or something.  Sweats and exercise shorts don't usually have pockets, so it is perfectly normal to see someone in such attire wearing a small fanny pack for carrying wallet, iPod, keys, etc.

What About Other Gear:

The type of holster and how to conceal were really the biggest decisions I had to make. Once I chose the best way to conceal my firearm so I could comfortably carry it around, the big issues were over. Beyond that, however, there are other things that I feel are necessary. Being in the information security biz, the term “defense in depth” is a large part of my daily vocabulary. Securing information takes a variety of tools to keep networks, computers and data safe. Self defense is really no different. A firearm is not always going to be the best or only method for defense from an attack. 

There are many types of attacks, and there are many types of defenses. Criminal attacks are not the only attacks. And certainly there are people who feel bold enough to get in your personal space because they are angry for whatever reason, but they aren’t really intent on committing a violent crime. I live in an area with lots of wildlife. We have foxes in the neighborhood regularly. Bears and mountain lions have been known to come down out of the mountains, as have coyotes. There are stray dogs as well. For example, at least twice in recent weeks while walking my dog, some stray dogs have attacked me and one other person near me while I was out. My dog is small, so I picked him up, and kicking the attacking dogs was enough to send them off. On a walk the other day, a gentleman and his dog were attacked by a large dog, and the dog drew blood. If I had not turned around to retrieve a forgotten item from the house before the walk that would have been my dog and me getting attacked. But had that happened to us, would drawing my weapon and shooting the dog been a viable solution? Certainly not! It was simply a case of a large, strong dog getting away from its owner. A good shot of pepper spray would have likely turned the dog away, and the dog would have lived. The owner would have been upset, but that would have been their problem. When animal control showed up, I think they had enough to worry about explaining how their big dog got away and attacked someone.

The point is that a firearm is not always the best or even most responsible defense. Shooting a dog or their owner, or even just shooting an obnoxious jerk that is getting in your face, for example, will probably land you in jail. But using the amount of defensive force commensurate with the attack is usually considered reasonable and prudent. If someone refuses to get out of your face and is getting close enough to be a threat, a shot in the face with pepper spray may do the trick. A potential attacker approaching in a dark parking lot may be scared away when a tactical grade flashlight is shined in their eyes, temporarily blinding them. I don’t care how “bad” you think you are – someone flashing a tactical grade flashlight in your eyes gives you pause to think about what else that person might also be carrying. So carrying other defensive tools might also serve as a deterrent in that it says that you are prepared and willing to act – and escalate your actions if warranted.

Having multiple tools at your disposal is a wise decision. So for that reason, besides the firearm, I carry other items such as a cell phone, pepper spray, a knife, and a flashlight. I consider these items the absolute minimum. And the beauty is that these additional items are relatively small, and I don’t have to feel like I am carrying a hardware store around in my pockets. Even if I am in a place where I cannot carry a gun for legal or other reasons, the other items are usually acceptable and legal.

By choosing the right types of self defense items, you will also have useful tools to deploy in multiple ways. For example, a good defensive flashlight and certain types of pepper spray come in the same shape and size of a kubotan stick. These can then be easily used to jab into bony or fleshy parts and inflict a great deal of pain in a close-in encounter. Surefire, for example makes flashlights which have a crenellated strike bezel which can also be used as a close-in striking tool to inflict injury and pain. A good tactical flashlight will help you look inside and underneath your car in a poorly lit parking lot, and will also temporarily blind someone who is approaching you.

Having defense in depth provides a greater deal of security than simply replying on one single tool – just as you have many tools to do all your household chores, so should you have many tools to provide for your safety.

The Mental Side of Being an Armed Citizen:

And NO – I am not referring to anything even hinting of those of us who carry having mental illness, being a mental defective, or any such nonsense.  In fact, all of the gun owners and CCW permit holders I know are at the top of the list of the most mentally and emotionally stable people I know.  Having acute awareness and mental abilities is a key factor in the persona who carries a concealed weapon.  Mindset is an important ingredient in self defense, and being mentally prepared for the worst is a part of my strategy.  Thinking about the various scenarios and knowing what actions I will take is one of my most valuable weapons.

In the following sections, I would like to focus one of the most valuable self defense weapons available – the human mind.  And while I am by no means a psychologist or expert of emotional well being in any way (I am a computer geek, after all), I do know that being aware, mentally prepared, and decisive in action is a key ingredient to survival.

Situational and Environmental Awareness:

In all honesty, I feel that a significant part of our society is made up of unaware, self consumed individuals.  For example, I ride a motorcycle – and I can’t begin to tell you the number of times I have been cutoff and almost hit by people on their cell phones or engaging in other activities while driving which distracts them to the point that they can’t even pay attention to what is going on around them.  These people can’t stop for simple stop-signs, and even by one woman I observed was eating a bowl of cereal (I’m not kidding) while driving her minivan.  Some people seem to always be on their phones, and the funny thing is, they don’t really seem to be talking about anything earth shattering.

Then there are just those who seem to be looking at their shoes all the time, or are obviously in another place while they are out and about.  I have a name for these people:  they are simply the “unaware” of our society.  Unfortunately, the criminal element is aware of these people as well, and they have their own name for them:  “Victim!”

In my refusal to be a victim or to allow myself to be caught unaware by some piece of street scum who is looking for his next victim, I am chosen instead to be aware of what’s going on around me.  I wish I could offer some advice on how to train yourself to do this, because for me it just comes naturally.  I was in the Navy, and spent a great deal of my time on the flight deck, and working around aircraft.  Our saying was:  “Keep your head on a swivel.”  To this day, I find myself being aware of everything around me.  I was fortunate; this is part of the incidental training that I received due to my profession.  For those of you who need some training in this arena, I suggest you read “How to Win a Gunfight:  Gaining the Half-Second Advantage” by Tony Walker (ISBN 0-7414-4341-4.  This wonderful book is full of insights on how to become more aware, and how to practice some of the other elements of self defense.

Stress Relief and Physical Fitness: 

I read somewhere that anger has no place in the life of someone who carries a concealed weapon.  That really struck me as profound.  One of the wildest stereotypes that the anti-gun people have of us is that we will get angry and go on a wild shooting rampage.  Well for one thing, multitudes of studies have shown that the “wild west” and “road rage” aspects of regular citizens carrying concealed weapons has never come to pass.  In fact, the more articles I read, the more I am convinced of something I already believed; law abiding citizens who carry weapons tend to be more polite and avoiding of situations that would illicit an armed response.  If someone is unhappy with me, I simply nod and walk away.  They may call me names, and they may insult me.  But that is just something that I have learned to live with over the years.  Getting into any type of altercation, armed or not, has just never been worth the outcomes.

So what does one do to get rid of the stress and anger?  We all get angry, we all get stressed.  And in the case of having to walk away from a situation, it is likely that pride and dignity will suffer to some extent.  For me, physical fitness plays an important part of that stress relief.  I’m not a spring chicken any more, so going to the gym regularly helps to relieve stress, but it also helps to add longevity and quality to life.  In fact, one of the other aspects of self defense is agility, stamina, and the ability to gain (as Tony Walker puts it) that “half-second advantage.”  An hour in the gym and I feel totally different and recharged.

But since I’m mentioning stress relief, there is another technique that my wife and I use for stress relief:  going to the range!  And no, I’m not talking about taking along effigies of our most hated co-worker or anything like that.  We participate in a weekly shooting league at our favorite indoor pistol range.  Each week, the targets are varied, the distances of the targets are varied, and the scoring is varied.  For about an hour a week, we go to the range, the shooting scenario unknown to us until we arrive, and we spend that time concentrating on those targets and getting the best score that we can.  During that time, we are thinking of nothing else!  All thoughts of our hectic work day have literally vanished, and we are all consumed in having fun at the range.  We share ideas on shooting techniques, we meet new people, and we enjoy talking with the proprietors on the gun shop.  This relates to physical fitness also because we are practicing new and varied ways to shoot, different types of targets, and shooting at different ranges.  In other words, we are getting a frequently changing look at the dynamic of shooting and practicing with our weapons.  We go home and talk about the evening at the range and just enjoy the fact that we have yet another activity that we enjoy doing together.  Having that aspect of my life in solidly good shape allows me personally to put everything else into place as well.
Thoughts While Out and About:

So what am I thinking about while out there running my daily errands?  Mostly on my minds is how to be as completely invisible as possible.  I want to be the person that no one notices.  So to that end, I don’t go out of my way to attract attention, and I certainly don’t go out of my way to give any clue that I am carrying a weapon.  What this means is that I am careful about how I get out of my car, lest my firearm be exposed, and I am aware of what other types of people are in the area.  For example, if a mother and her young children are in the area, I especially don’t want the youngsters seeing my gun.  I know that some people are afraid of guns, no matter how much we have proven that there is nothing to be afraid of, and I don’t want anyone needlessly feeling afraid or uneasy around me.  So for those reasons alone, I am very cognizant of making sure that my concealed weapon is just that:  concealed!

A very important part of my thought process is in knowing where I can or cannot go if I am carrying a firearm.  I know that some establishments don’t care either way, while still others adamantly refuse entrance to holders of valid CCW permits if they have weapons.  So essentially, I do the best I can to know who has what policy, and to respect their wishes.  But I will say this about the establishments who refuse to allow law abiding citizens to carry their concealed weapons into their businesses:  I won’t give them my business period.  But it’s not because I think they possess some liberal, anti-gun mind-set.  It is specifically because they have made the statement that I am not welcome to use my chosen method of self defense while on their premises.  If I or my family were to be in one of these types of places, and an armed gunman appears, they are disallowing me the means to defend myself.  They have no intention of providing for my protection while I am there, however, as seen by the lack of armed guards in any of these places.  Additionally, my state law makers have made it clear to me that I cannot hold them legally liable for damages, death, or injury if I or my family is harmed in their “gun free” zone.

Constantly on my mind when I am out and about is an awareness of other people, particularly who are the “good guys” and who are the “bad guys.”  I try not to be judgmental, but let’s face it:  you can just tell sometimes, who are the average citizens walking around, and who the lower forms of human existence are.  Going to the mall, for example, it is painfully obvious who the vultures are because you can see them sizing up everyone, following people around, and in general looking like they have no purpose in life other than to find their next victim.  This is the same behavior seen on nature channels when the jackals are sizing up their next meal.  It is just obvious, sometimes, that they aren’t there to do their shopping and leave – they just seem to be there perpetually as if that is their place of employment.  Well, perhaps it is.  I’m suspicious of everyone, and I spend a lot of time observing people.  Unless you are completely unaware of your surroundings, you kind of have an idea who you can (mostly) ignore, and who you need to keep your eye on.  Being aware is to be prepared, and being prepared means you are watching them more closely than the rest.  The best thing I try to do is just avoid the places where these maggots seem to congregate the most, but sometimes what you need is at the place where the vultures hang out:  The shopping mall and Wal-Mart seem to be the two most likely places where the dregs of society can be found here in my small town.

Wrapping It All Up:

So for these reasons, and more, I have decided to become an armed citizen. As you can see, such a decision requires a lot of thought, and for many people like me, is not an easy decision. But now that I have made the leap and obtained my permit, I have now stepped into a new life. In the next article, I will talk about how some of my daily wardrobe habits have changed to accommodate my carrying a concealed weapon, and the types of other things that I have to think about carrying. But as you will see, I don’t look on any of this as a burden or an inconvenience. I look at this as a necessary part of life as an armed citizen.

To me, carrying concealed means just what it implies. I don’t want anyone to know I am carrying a firearm, or any other weapons for that matter. It is important to me that the bad guys don’t know who is carrying – it keeps them guessing. And I know that there are a lot of frightened people out there who freak out at even the mention of firearms. Why put them through undue stress? In fact, as I am sitting here typing this from a public coffee shop, none of the people here have a clue that there is an armed citizen in their midst – and I intend to keep it that way. I’m not going to change their minds about the benefit of being armed in the time of our brief encounter – so why try? Why go through having to explain to them that their fears are irrational and that they are safe as kittens around me? It just isn’t worth it, but it is worth avoiding the situation altogether.

Beyond the act of concealment, I consider self defense to be a matter of employing the right tools for the job. That is why I carry a variety of self defense items such as cell phones, a knife, tactical flashlight, and pepper spray, and of course - my wits.

As you can see throughout this article, I have tried to illustrate that I do indeed consider being an armed citizen to be a serious and awesome responsibility.  These aren’t the ravings of some “gun nut” who just wants to be able to carry his “toys” everywhere.  This is the mindset of a free man who values his and his family’s safety above all else.  Self defense is a basic human right.  I owe it to my family to live a long life and provide for their well being and safety.  This is my responsibility, not that of the government.  I don’t want to rely on anyone else to carry out those responsibilities which are mine alone, but at the same time I don’t want anyone thinking that they have the right to take my abilities to perform my duties as a responsible citizen away from me.  The founders of our country made it clear that we were endowed these rights by our Creator, and that idea is still valid today.  Technologies have changed, and the population of criminals has increased from their day, but what was spoken then is still valid now.  My right to defend myself and my family is absolutely and unequivocally non-negotiable!

"The only power any government has is the power to crack down on criminals. Well, when there aren’t enough criminals, one makes them. One declares so many things to be a crime that it becomes impossible to live without breaking laws."

- Ayn Rand