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7 Steps to Getting My Concealed Carry Permit in PA

I shot my first gun on April 7, 2019. That same year, I shot my first pistols – a full-size 9mm, a .22 revolver, and a .380 sub-compact. For his own peace of my mind, my boyfriend wanted me to carry a pistol. But I wasn’t yet comfortable with handling one, let alone carrying one concealed. If you want your lady to get her concealed carry permit or you’re a woman who’s considering whether a concealed carry permit is right for you, I recommend doing what I did. 

1. Learn Firearm Safety

No matter how long you’ve been around guns, you can never learn too much about safety. Every time you handle a firearm, follow the four basic firearm safety rules:

  1. Treat every firearm as it if’s loaded
  2. Keep your finger off the trigger until you’re ready to shoot
  3. Don’t point a gun at anything you aren’t willing to shoot
  4. Know your target’s surroundings

Embarrassing story – when I went to purchase my pistol, I flagged the dealer. He handed me a pistol to check out, and I pointed it right at him. He gently explained to never point your gun at someone, even if it’s not loaded. The most embarrassing part? I already knew that.

No matter where you are, who you’re with, or what firearm is in your hands, never point it at anyone or anything you already willing to shoot. Treat every firearm like it’s loaded.

2. Get Comfortable With Rifles

Though this may sound like an unnecessary step if you only want to own a pistol, learning to shoot a rifle was easier for me than learning to shoot a pistol. With a rifle, you can use your shoulder to handle the recoil and balance the rifle on a table or even a stand if you want to. You have a scope to help you aim, and the recoil on a smaller caliber gun like a .22 is super easy to handle.

I’m so grateful I learned how to use a rifle first because that helped me get comfortable with guns – with the recoil, with the loud crack of a shot, with loading and dropping a magazine. Once I was ready to try a pistol, I was already comfortable with many of the features and with handling firearms, so learning how to handle a pistol with just my hands was less of a challenge.

3. Buy a Low-Caliber Pistol to Practice

In Pennsylvania, you don’t need a special permit to buy a pistol. As long as you can pass a federal background check, you can expect to walk in and out of your local gun store with a pistol in hand in roughly 20 minutes. 

That’s exactly what I did.

My boyfriend had been trying to talk me into a .380 for a while as I enjoyed shooting that much more than the 9mm. He even offered to buy me my first pistol as a gift. This is legal federally as long as there is zero intention of repayment. Doing favors, or a barter for something like a lawn tractor or car is still considered payment and is therefore illegal. After months of bringing up the .380, he said “babe, even if you get a .22 I don’t care, as long as it’s something you’ll practice with”. We checked the hours for his favorite shop in PA and out the door we went.

On March 7, 2020, my boyfriend and I walked into the store and spoke with the dealer about what I was looking for. Though you may initially believe smaller is better, I actually wanted a bigger pistol. This is because a smaller pistol will generally have more felt recoil. Your pistol should feel comfortable in your hand, and you should be able to get a good grip on it. Ask to hold multiple pistols to figure out what grip size and angle feels better to you.

A good dealer will also show you how each pistol works – how to load it, drop the magazine, and turn the safety on and off if there’s a thumb safety. Whether you want a pistol with a thumb safety or not is up to you. For many, a thumb safety can simply be another step to remember and can inhibit your ability to act quickly in an emergency situation. However, if you practice enough, turning the safety off before you shoot becomes muscle memory. So again – it’s all about your preference.

A warning: If you’re a woman walking into a gun store with a man, the dealer may ask whether you are buying this firearm for yourself. Ever heard of the girlfriend loophole? Unfortunately, some men attempt to use their girlfriends to obtain firearms illegally.

Your boyfriend or husband should never ask you to purchase a gun for him in your name because he’s unable to purchase one legally or pass a background check. This question will also come up on the 4473 you will fill out before making your purchase. 

I chose a Ruger M&P .22 for my first pistol. I could get a good grip on it, I liked the size, and I knew I could handle the recoil because I’d shot a .380 before. I could also rack it, which I couldn’t do with the larger caliber pistols. Keep in mind that a .22 isn’t ideal for self-protection. A 9mm is the minimum most experienced shooters recommend for concealed carry. However, this doesn’t mean you can’t start with something easier to handle like a .22LR or .380, get comfortable with handling the gun, and then buy your 9mm when you’re ready for something that will hit harder.

Buds Gun Shop will ship directly to your local FFL.

4. Purchase Proper Ear Protection

My boyfriend and I use Walker Electronic headphones, which amplify normal sounds but cut out when the gun goes off to protect your hearing. These headphones are super convenient, comfortable, and the battery life is great. You’ll no longer have to worry about yelling to your shooting partner or anyone surprising you. In fact, you may even feel like you’re hearing is enhanced.

My boyfriend was at the bench on his rifle getting ready to shoot. 10 feet away I could hear every word he said on a very windy day. I can’t recommend these headphones enough.

5. Practice With an Experienced Gun Owner 

Since the .22 was my first pistol and I hadn’t spent much time handling them, I first practiced with my boyfriend, an experienced gun owner. He helped me learn how to rack the gun, aim it, and hold it to effectively stabilize it. The .22 has very little recoil, so even someone who is 5’1” like I am can handle this pistol with the proper training. 

Much of your ability to minimize recoil comes from your wrists and shoulders. Tighten your grip on your pistol until the gun is shaking, then ease off until it’s not. This is the grip with which you want to hold your pistol to fire it for reduced recoil. Use your shoulders, too. I found when I activated the muscles in my shoulders to stabilize my pistol, my aim was much more accurate, and the sights returned to the target much faster.

Limp-wristing a semi-automatic pistol may cause malfunctions, so a proper grip is mandatory. Getting proper training as early as possible may stop bad habits before they even start.

We bought paper targets that allowed me to track where I was hitting and how I needed to adjust my grip and aim. Your accuracy may also be impacted by your trigger pull and how far your finger is across the trigger. The latter in particular surprised me. Apparently, I had my finger too far across the trigger, which was causing the pistol to pull to the right. Once I adjusted the placement of my finger on the trigger, my shots were much more precise.

Alternatively, you may want to participate in a course to learn how to best handle your firearm. In some states, this may even be a requirement. Even if you aren’t required by state law to take a firearms safety course, you may want to take one to ensure you can be the most responsible gun owner possible. 

Whenever you’re practicing, make sure you’re following every gun safety measure. Build up to loading and racking faster and faster as you get more comfortable with your pistol, but don’t worry about speed when you’re just getting started. Always remember, “slow is smooth, and smooth is fast”.

6. Apply For Your Concealed Carry Permit

Once you get comfortable with your first pistol and you feel ready to carry – or at least ready to buy your next handgun – complete your concealed carry permit. This can be downloaded and printed online. The length of each permit varies from state to state, along with wait times, but here in Pennsylvania, the form was only two pages and required just two references. Your references can’t be family members, and the form doesn’t specify that they need to be gun owners. 

I completed my application and took it to the local sheriff’s office on July 24, 2020. There, they took my application, the application fee (which was just $20), and snapped a photo of me for my permit card. After this, I was told to expect my permit within the coming weeks if I was approved.

My permit was issued on July 30, 2020, and I received it on August 5, less than two weeks after putting in my application, I received my permit in the mail. Your card will be accompanied by a letter that lists places where you are not allowed to concealed carry. After this, you are allowed to carry concealed in your state! Some states also allow you to open carry if you have this permit. It’s your responsibility to know the laws in your local area. Ignorance is never an excuse in the firearm world.

Be sure to look up reciprocity with your state if you intend to travel with your pistol. While federally legal to pass through any of the 50 states with an unloaded and safely stored firearm, certain states like New York will say stopping for gas is no longer passing through. Handling a firearm in New York as a Non-Resident is a felony and nothing to mess around with. Know the laws in any state you may be passing through as well as the laws at your destination.

7. Buy Your Carry Gun

Unless you already purchased the gun you want to conceal carry, now is the time to do so. There are plenty of great handguns for women, along with holster options. I don’t recommend carrying a pistol in your purse if you can carry it on your hip or thigh instead. A purse is easy to steal and your pistol can fall into the wrong hands, or worse, be used against you. Instead, find a holster that works well with you and the clothes you tend to wear.

For example, if you tend to wear form-fitting dresses as I like to do, then you may be better off with a thigh holster over a hip holster. But if you prefer jeans, then a hip holster can be a great, convenient option. As long as you don’t print – meaning your gun doesn’t show through your clothes – go with the holster that works for you.

Personally, I have my eye on the Full Conceal Glock 43. I love that this is a pistol I can have loaded with one in the chamber and all I need to do to use it is unfold and snap the handle into place. It also eliminates the risk of the pistol firing when I don’t want it to, such as by accidentally hitting the trigger while pulling it out of the holster.

Of course, the more you practice with your pistol, regardless of your holster choice, the less you need to worry about these risks.

And that’s it! That’s how I got my concealed carry permit as a PA resident. If you’re looking to get your concealed carry permit or you’ve already obtained yours, tell us about your experience below!

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