The surging popularity of brace-equipped AR pistols and short, handy “firearms” like the Mossberg Shockwave and Remington Tac-14 and Tac-13 has seen more and more shooters getting interested in the idea of carrying a “long” gun around as part of their EDC, either on their person or in their vehicle.
The idea of a civilian keeping a long gun close at hand away from home is nothing new. Frequently in years past those of us who grew up in the South and in smaller rural communities all across America would regularly see a pickup truck’s rear window adorned with a rack complete with a rifle or a shotgun in it. Occasionally you will even see an example of that today.
More often, today’s truck guns when they are present are carried differently, typically stashed out of sight beneath a seat or in a specialty vehicle safe.
Though for civilians the handgun will invariably remain our primary firearm for defense outside the home, in these increasingly uncertain civil times or in the aftermath of a major disaster, keeping a long gun close at hand but not in your hands makes sense to some. But is it a good idea? Does keeping a long gun nearby when outside the home have any merit for a civilian?
In this article, I’ll discuss the implications and ramifications of carrying long guns outside the home and some tips for doing so should you ever decide to.
Table of Contents
Why Carry a Long Gun in the First Place?
This topic can turn into a furball and quickly depending on your perspective on open carry, long guns in the public sphere and realistic threat assessment and other things.
Turns out it is a highly contentious topic and folks are quick to turn to invective and monkey-dancing over it. Not without cause, as shooters are nothing if not passionate about their perception of the “right” way and best practices.
That all being said, I am going to do my best to lay out the basis for what I think are the appropriate times to be carrying a long gun about outside your home or off your property and the right way to do it.
So, the fundamental question is, as a civilian and not an armed professional, why would you want to carry a long gun at all? That part at least is simple: long guns are far more effective tools in gunfights.
Long guns have power, range and accuracy in abundance over handguns. If I knew was going to get into a fight, I’d sure as hell want a long gun. All handguns have over long guns is they are easier to carry, conceal and maneuver in tight spaces.
So we understand and agree that long guns have major performance benefits over handguns and that alone makes them attractive to defensive minded shooters. So why would I carry one out and about?
There is the rub: on paper, you’d do so to ensure you had the best tool for the job if you needed to shoot someone that needed shooting. In practice, you will have very, very few good reasons to do so in normal times.
Typical Reasons to Carry a Long Gun in Public
In times of tremendous unrest or in the aftermath of a major disaster or some other massively disruptive event that sees you genuinely worried about attacks from throngs of people, you may have a case for it.
You can look to the L.A. Riots of 1992 for a great example. Such instances of that magnitude are mercifully rare in America. What is sadly not quite as rare and is another possible justification are mass killer attacks in public places.
Often bundled together with a nebulous fear of terror attacks common to this era, some people advocate preparation against such instances as the number one reason why one should have a more capable weapon than a pistol handy.
The reasoning goes that if one is near but not involved in such an event when it happens you can retrieve your long gun from your vehicle, or even produce it from your carried bag, and use its superior capability to advantage over the killers, who are probably similarly armed.
A variation on that train of thought is that if one is involved directly in the attack and, somehow, manages to escape or otherwise fight their way clear of it then you may retrieve the long gun from the vehicle, return to the scene of the attack (presumably still in progress) and then engage the bad guys.
I’ll be frank, here: the chances of either of those eventualities playing out like that (in the highly unlikely event that you are directly involved or near such an attack) is extremely unlikely. I mean vanishingly, exceedingly unlikely.
Here’s why: in instance number one if you are not immediately threatened by such an attack and do not choose to escape (assuming you have no one you are responsible for endangered) you should probably get your head checked. You are not doing anyone any favors by risking your own death.
Remember, you are a civilian in civilian attire, not a uniform. If you think you are going to whip out any gun, to say nothing of a ling gun and move about the scene of an active killer event willy-nilly and not get engaged by another well-meaning civilian gun carrier or responding cops you are crazy. Do not become a casualty.
But let’s look at the second instance: you are involved in such an attack, and either have your small long gun with you, or have it in your vehicle, and decide to put an end to the killing and hopefully save your own skin.
The fact of the matter is your first and best chance to do that is with the gun you have immediately available, i.e. your handgun.
The time you would take to withdraw and retrieve a long gun from your vehicle or deploy it from its bag and get it into gear is far longer than it takes to draw a pistol and get to work. If you are going to solve the problem you are going to solve it with the tools you have at hand or not at all.
Pulling your compact long gun from a bag is just slow, running all the way to your vehicle and all the way back to put it to use is bordering on fantasy. Once again, calls will be piling up fast for police response, and arriving units will only see “random dude with gun” at the scene. Bad, bad idea…
Even if you, for moral reasons, were to tell me that you could not stand by and let something like that happen unopposed. You have the training, tools and grit to at least try. Okay, then. Bravo. I can understand that.
I still cannot conceive of a set of circumstances where, as a civilian in a public setting, the long gun is the best, or even plausible, option. As I said, you will either be solving the problem right away with your handgun, or wasting time, even if it is a handful of seconds.
Those seconds probably mean more death, yours or someone else’s. Those seconds mean responding units get closer and closer to the scene, guns in hand and amped up. You see where I am going with this..?
Perhaps if one was just climbing into their car and, perchance, saw some jocked-up would be killer start opening up on a place while he moved inside you could, conceivably, whip out your long gun and get him before the situation could go completely pear-shaped one way or the other. But again, what are the chances?
And not for nothing the rest of the time, if you are carrying the long gun in your backpack or in your vehicle waiting for this fateful circumstance to arise, the gun is vulnerable to theft either way.
Yep. Any luggage you carry may itself be the target of a mugging. Anything at all in your vehicle is vulnerable to theft, even things locked inside the trunk or a secure container. The vehicle itself can always be stolen, along with everything in it.
Do not discount the liability of a lost gun, no matter how it should occur. You must weigh that real possibility against a highly tenuous benefit of keeping the long gun “ready” for whatever it is you are imagining.
More Realistic Reasons to Carry a Long Gun
There are several good, realistic reasons why you would carry a long gun in public, but only one of them is one that would take place during normal, peaceful times. But no matter why you are carrying the long gun in public, it will be best to keep it out of sight, and out of mind. I’ll tell you how best to do so in the next section.
The first and most common reason is you are simply moving from your dwelling to your vehicle with the long gun. Maybe you are going to the range, to a training class or on a trip. It does not matter.
Even in highly permissive gun-friendly areas where you trust your neighbors and everyone is on the same sheet of music values-wise, it is never a good idea to advertise the presence of the gun.
You may trust your neighbors, but do you trust any visiting family or friends they have? Do you trust any delivery drivers and other strangers?
Do you trust the unknown car full of burglars who are casing the neighborhood looking for such indicators of a successful job? No?
Then keep it to yourself. I advocate against packing your guns around in the open or in obvious weapons cases.
Another valid reason to be toting a long gun around in the public sphere would be in the case of something like major societal upheaval, or the aftermath of a disaster where you are evacuating or forced to flee.
If doing so on foot, or if the time comes to abandon your vehicle, having a long gun with you and out of sight can be a major advantage.
Contrary to popular conception, an openly carried gun is not a universal deterrent. Sure, there are some would-be scumbags who will be swayed from attacking you because you are visibly armed, but if obvious guns were a deterrent we would not have so many police officers getting waylaid. They carry guns openly too, and still regularly tussle with some bad dudes.
Please, please bear in mind that the gun may be the thing that provokes the attack! Some criminals will want the gun itself, and there have been plenty of recorded incidents in which open-carriers had their guns swiped from them or were held-up for their guns. You don’t want to advertise, again, until it is go-time.
In any but the first circumstances things are clearly Not OK in your area. Seriously so, and for that reason it makes plenty of sense to keep a more powerful and capable weapon very close at hand.
Even if you do not anticipate trouble between point A and point B, the ability to discreetly move a long gun around without it being completely obvious to anyone who should cast his eyes your way.
So what are the best ways to move a long gun around and do so in a way that does not scream “I have a big gun here”?
Options for Discreet Carry of Long Guns
Your options for carry of long guns are limited based on the size of the gun. You can often reduce your size envelope by disassembling the gun ala an AR-15, if possible, but some guns even fully stripped this will not save you much room.
Of course disassembly also means the gun is in no way ready for quick use, something to consider if the gun is intended to be used defensively.
A smart solution for most is to get a smaller gun; the aforementioned braced “pistols” have made compact long guns of every kind over-the-counter available for almost everyone, and for guns so equipped, while perhaps a little goofy or awkward looking, they provide no disadvantage whatsoever when it comes to use.
Another added benefit these guns have compared to NFA items like SBRs or SBSs is they are cheaper, owing to no ridiculous bureaucratic hoop-jumping fees and taxes and they also require no permission slip from the BATF in order to cross state lines. That’s a win no matter how you look at it.
If you have one of these compact guns, “pistol”, SBR or short-barreled shotgun, you can get away with a much, much smaller case or bag than you could with a traditional rifle or shotgun.
Traditional options are things like gym bags, tennis racket or other sports equipment bags, guitar cases, and other “non-gun” luggage. These all work and do effectively hide the fact that there is a gun inside, but problems arise when it they are carried anywhere but their normal environments.
Why is that guy carrying a tennis racket bag, here, now? For anything but short hops in and out of your house, these bags may in fact arouse suspicion.
One thing that will rarely if ever arouse suspicion in most environments is a simple backpack, especially one that is not overtly military or tactical in appearance. There are plenty of civilian sporting and general purpose packs that will easily contain a small long gun and extra ammo.
Even better, quite a few purpose specific bags exist on the market today to allow one to keep the long gun completely hidden on your body while also setting you up for as quick a “draw” as possible. Of this new breed of pack, the Grey Ghost Gear Apparition is probably the most well known and one of the best.
Most of these bags are designed around their cargo, and have features like hidden zippers or privacy compartments to help minimize tells that the bag is more than what it appears to be.
Others are essentially little more than an “aggressive mimicry” shell designed to appear innocuous but are all business on the inside, designed to allow the carrier to deploy the gun into fight mode quickly, and then furnish ammo as a fight goes on.
Both have their merits: the former is ideal as an all-purpose bag, one that allows you to use the backpack as a backpack, even open it up and pull things out of it, while keeping the gun and ammo hidden from anyone who may be watching.
The latter is good for situations where you suspect danger could be imminent, and need to get the gun into gear as fast as possible and fight from the pack.
Either, designed properly, is a great solution for carry of a compact long gun. Some packs, many of which are more overtly military or tactical in appearance, can actually accommodate large, fullsize long guns internally by means of an integrated scabbard.
The guns are drawn from these in a similar manner to drawing an arrow from a quiver, and can be quite fast with practice. These scabbards can often be equipped with a cover to hide the gun from sight, but only the truly dense would believe you are carrying something other than what you are in one.
Of this type, Eberlestock makes many, and they are all very good packs if they are something you desire.
In the next section I will offer my recommendations for backpacks of various makes that will serve you well the next time you have need to keep a long gun hidden in public.
Discreet Bags and Packs – Our Top Picks
Grey Ghost Gear Apparition SBR Bag
One of the best of its kind on the market. The GGG Apparition bag looks for the entire world like your typical tall, body hugging hiking pack, complete with waist belt.
The slender coffin shaped zippered panel hides a customizable loop-lined interior with tie down straps for your gun.
Aside from the built in magazine and admin pockets you can place any hook-lined pouches anywhere along the interior panel.
An integrated rainfly cover keeps the pack dry in rainy weather an extendable “tail” at the bottom of the bag accommodates slightly oversized guns.
Comes in several eye-melting bright colors (the better to fit in among other packs) and black. Made to typical Grey Ghost Gear quality, which is to say, excellent.
A winner, and one of my favorites. Pricey at about $230, but definitely worth it.
Eberlestock Secret Weapon Pack
If upon viewing this pack you get a strong sense of déjà vu, you aren’t wrong. The Apparition bag above looks suspiciously similar to this one, but this is no copy: the Secret Weapon has been around longer than the Apparition.
Putting all that aside, the characteristics of both are quite similar, but the Secret Weapon deviates in a couple of important ways.
One, the Secret Weapon is not lined with loop, but it does have MOLLE webbing inside for adding additional pouches. Two, and far more important, the Secret Weapon makes use of a “top layer” public compartment for things like a laptop or tablet, admin gear, etc. and second private compartment that holds the gun and ammo.
I greatly prefer this setup because I can still get into the pack for anything I want without tipping my hand should I need to.
Like all of Eberlestock’s packs, this one is expensive by layman’s standards, around $300, but is feature rich and very well made. Includes a rain cover, but no extendable tail.
5.11 Select Carry Sling Pack
For carry of very compact long guns (7 ½” bbl.) the 5.11 Select Carry pack is a slick option.
A sling pack offers the ability to quickly pull the pack to the front of your body for easy access while wearing it, and to this innate capability 5.11 has added a quick open triangular panel.
Inside, the voluminous 15L compartment is completely lined with MOLLE and a hold down strap for your firearm. By adding in ammo pouches in the proper orientation, the bag becomes a pseudo chest rig, allowing you to load as you go.
Not the biggest or the best for hauling items unrelated to guns, but in its category a very capable bag at a decent price. Look around right now and you can find these as cheap as $45 or so.
Vertx EDC Commuter XL Slingbag
Another sling pack, this one by Vertx. The Commuter XL affords you plenty of room with two compartments.
One that is loop lined to accept their own Tacigami organization pouches and accessories, and another which is equipped with built in pouches for admin and utility items.
One thing I really like about this bag is its integrated ergonomic pull-tab for fast access to the interior.
Overall this bag can carry around a 24” gun, so very short barreled or folding stock weapons are your best choice. Extremely high quality, and another good candidate for a bag that you can access while still keeping the gun hidden.
Eberlestock Gunslinger II
A large backpack with an integrated scabbard. This pack is overtly tactical in appearance, comes only in tans, greens, black or camo and is covered stem to stern in MOLLE webbing.
But, if you need plenty of capacity and way to carry a rifle internally this is your pack.
A fold out tail and extendable top cover can carry something as large as a .50 caliber rifle with scope attached.
A waist belt and excellent padding make this a comfortable pack for long hikes and heavy load bearing.
A framed version is now available for those who prefer it, though the original has an integrated “soft” liner that lends it a fairly rigid back panel. Spendy, but an excellent choice for those with a particular set of requirements for carrying a rifle.
Carry of long gun into a public space is never something that should be done lightly for any reason, and whenever it is done keeping the gun out of sight and attention off of it is always a good idea.
If the gun is to be kept on you, a specialized pack that can hide the entire gun is a good idea, and with the right combination of weapon and bag it can be deployed surprisingly quickly from a compact package. Low profile carry of a long gun is achievable, but is useful for civilians only in very specific circumstances.
Charles Yor is an advocate of low-profile preparation, readiness as a virtue and avoiding trouble before it starts. He has enjoyed a long career in personal security implementation throughout the lower 48 of the United States.