Cover, Concealment & Defense

By Jim Gilliland

Handgun being loaded with a magazine

The difference between cover and concealment is very ingrained in every good infantryman. Unfortunately, in the standard household, the concept is convoluted and misunderstood. It doesn’t help that we’ve seen our favorite action movie stars avoid hundreds of possible wounds because they simply dove behind some typical household item. This, in almost every occurrence, is entirely false. There are few things in your home that will stop a fired projectile. To understand this, we need to break down the difference between “cover” and “concealment.”

Defining Cover

Cover can conceal as well as provide ballistic shelter. Cover, in this context, is simply something that can stop the penetration of incoming fire, keeping you safe behind it. Concealment, however, usually just keeps you from being seen.

While serving overseas, I was in a two-way shootout when I noticed one of my soldiers finding his sights, then not shooting with a pained look on his face moving back to his cover. When I asked what was going on, he stated there was an enemy fighter shooting from a corner of a building, but before he could shoot back, the guy would duck behind some barrels. I looked toward where he was describing, and sure enough, the enemy jumped out, fired a burst and disappeared behind a stack of 55-gallon drums. I aimed at the drums and put a dozen or more rounds in them, spreading them out a little to better effect the area behind. When the shooter didn’t come back out, I looked at my guy and said, “It’s concealment, not cover.”

Just like in this scenario, knowing the difference can determine life and death for both shooters involved in a self-defense situation. Shooters usually greatly underestimate how far—and through how much—ammunition can penetrate. Although there is a vast difference in pistol cartridges and rifle cartridges, as well as between bullet designs, the average home defense handgun chambered in 380 Auto, 9mm Luger, 40 S&W or 45 Auto will easily penetrate several interior walls. But those same rounds are generally greatly affected by wall studs and tile. Appliances like refrigerators, ovens, washers, dryers, and even car doors are not always enough to stop these pistol cartridges when shot directly, and none of these will stop standard loaded 223 Rem. or 308 Win. Knowing this is paramount in deciding how you will use a firearm in your home or even your vehicle.

Making A Plan

Long story short, the more you put between you and an incoming projectile, the more survivable the scenario. Take this into consideration when laying out your home defense plans, choosing engagement areas that are not only strategically important, but also provide the greatest degree of protection for you and your family.

Remember that just because you are concealed does not mean you are safe. Learning what typical firearms are capable of is one of the most empowering and responsible things you can do as a gun owner—and one of the most overlooked. Knowing your limits and the limits of your firearm will make you better prepared for whatever you might face.