From time to time, the debate over “printing” (the appearance of a concealed handgun under a cover-garment, via tell-tale bulges, outlines, etc) comes around the internet gun community. Arguments are made for and against printing, discouraging or encouraging avoiding it. Of late, the trend has been to discourage concern over printing. Several articles and discussions in prominent groups have made quite a case that printing doesn’t matter. And they’re right. Printing doesn’t matter.
Except, when it does.

The most common arguments made in favor of ignoring printing are that either “no one will notice it” or “no one will recognize what it is”. This is most often based on the experience, among people who are lax about printing, of not having anyone call them out for carrying a gun.

The large failure here is that most people, in most settings, aren’t going to say anything to a guy with a gun. As we’ve learned from open carry demonstrators, the most effective way to stop communication between people in a public setting, is for one of them to visibly have a gun. So why would most people tell someone “Hey, I can see your gun…”?

The other failure there is that many of the guys saying “no one notices/cares/recognizes” aren’t themselves that aware. A lot of gun dudes aren’t exactly paragons of social skill, and tending to associate only with other gun dudes makes that worse. Running the mechanical 180-visual-scan and “watching the hands” isn’t the definition of good social attentiveness. Even if many of us weren’t socially challenged, no one is perfectly aware. It’s impossible. Being unaware that you’ve been noticed printing doesn’t, actually, count for a lot. Using that to argue for the position that “printing doesn’t matter” isn’t enough.

The next argument from the “it doesn’t matter” crowd isn’t that no one notices, but rather that it isn’t important if others see a bulge because they don’t know what it is. This may have some value, but I tend to think that even if they can’t identify it, the bulge can still matter.

In many work environments, an out of place bulge in clothing is going to be cause for notice. Simply because it’s different, and draws attention. With many workplaces having restrictive firearms policies, the eventual questioning of “what is that?” could have serious consequences for folks. Job loss alone can be bad enough, but in some places that could come with the potential for police involvement. The ghost of the event has the potential to follow someone as they try to find new employment, too.
Whether or not it’s realized, printing (even unrecognized) can have consequences elsewhere, too. Maintaining an active social life and carrying can mix very well, but that unsightly bulge above your ass can make that difficult. A lot of gun dudes are, in fact, men… and men are typically clueless as to the level of detail women (and interested men) notice. Particularly in regard to dress.

Any single man who has ever tried to up his sartorial game can tell you the difference it made in his interactions with the desired sex, when he put on nice shoes and a decent watch. That bulge above your ass? That’s gonna stand out just as badly as pairing your ratty Vans with a suit, to certain viewers.

The final, but by no means least important, consideration is the observation of your mohaska by the criminal element. A lot of folks blow this off, and ask “when did a thug ever even see a quality concealment holster?”, but that’s the wrong question. The right question is, “what do I lose if I’m identified as carrying a gun, by a criminal actor?”
Story time: I was 19 and in community college, working my way through various first responder classes and the beginnings of a psych degree. In an English class, I made a friend who we’ll call Antonio. In his early 50’s, Antonio was a long-standing and well positioned member of a 1% motorcycle club (or, outlaw motorcycle gang). An articulate and intelligent guy, who was working on business classes, Antonio decided he liked me and we often had lunch together on campus. I get along well with “dirtbags”, and enjoyed talking with him about New Mexico history, hunting, fishing, trucks, bikes, engines, and such topics in which he was well versed.

One afternoon, he asked if I could give him a ride over to an off-campus bookstore to sell some textbooks, in exchange for him buying lunch. Free lunch being one of the grails of college life, I agreed and off we went. When we stopped for lunch, he pointed out another diner and asked “You’re into this shit, what do you see about that guy?” The guy in question was wearing business wear, slacks with a tucked in shirt and tie. I didn’t see anything particularly notable about him, until Antonio prompted me to “look at his hip”, where the loops of a tuckable IWB holster were visible on his belt, along with a distinctive bulge. “C’mon vato, you gotta be sharper than that, you wanna get along in the world” was Antonio’s comment when I, finally, saw the gun.

I continued having lunch with Antonio fairly often until I transferred to university, and in that time the “spot the gun” game came up often. He was better at it than I was then, and I was the gun-nut. Antonio was a bad guy. We didn’t talk about it much, but he was honest about it when it came up. A bad guy who had survived as a criminal since he was a teenager. I have no idea how he’d score on a FAST-Test or Super Test, or what his ground game was like, or if he thought HiPoint was all a gun needed to be. It doesn’t matter: He was successful where others are not, and had the skillset required to reach the point he was at, transitioned from street soldier to decision maker getting a degree. And, he could spot a gun based on printing and tells.

A fairly common idea is that the gun is a deterrent: A criminal actor, upon seeing the gun, will avoid its bearer for fear of being shot. Reality is a bitch-kitty that’ll scratch you, though. Violent criminal actors aren’t strangers to firearms. Even better, unlike most gun owners, violent criminal actors aren’t strangers to having guns pointed at them, being shot at or, even, being shot. They aren’t afraid of guns. Antonio wasn’t, and said as much. He felt like being able to see a gun ahead of time simply gave him an edge, and he wasn’t the only dirtbag I’ve ever met who had this opinion.

Printing doesn’t matter. Until it does. And when it does, you’re going to have a lot on the line. Romantic success, the potential loss of income or career, or the potential of injury or death at the hands of someone who knew you were carrying and didn’t care except to come at you harder because of it. Today’s market for holsters, belts, and other support gear is truly the best it has ever been. There is a solution out there for you, and quite likely for the gun you already prefer carrying, that will keep you from printing. There are also a plethora of quality, compact, and yet capable handguns on the market currently if your full-sized gat isn’t going to work. Whether better holsters, belts, and pouches, or those things and a different gun, there is a solution for you out there if you try, and every reason to pursue it until you find it.