Pistol Packin’

By Jim Higginbotham

Several commentators have offered various “rules to a gunfight” lists. While they vary in length they all begin with a universal rule – “Bring a Gun”. While that is not the only thing important to surviving a lethal encounter, it is certainly arguable that it is a top priority. It is amazing how few people understand this concept or at least take it to its logical conclusions.

Unbelievable as it seems I have encountered people who actually choose to go unarmed or “underarmed” (carrying a more convenient weapon of questionable caliber), explaining that they do not frequent “bad” places or live under circumstances that make an attack likely. They insist that if they were going to such a place that they would indeed carry a better weapon. This of course is sheer folly. If you know you are likely to be in a gunfight (and you are not compelled to go by some overriding reason) then STAY AWAY from there! And if you can’t, then take a rifle or a shotgun.

The purpose of the pistol is to be there for those situations which you cannot predict or in which your activities preclude you having better weaponry at hand. Even the best defense pistol is not a sure fire thing when it comes to stopping violent attack and that’s when it is well used.

This then is the rule – always have your pistol within easy reach ( unless some legal reason precludes it ). It will do you no good to have a pistol in your car when the criminal predator grabs you on the way to it from the mall (a substantial percentage of armed robberies happen at your car door). Also leaving a pistol in a car unattended is not a good idea because it may soon end up in nefarious hands. For the most part, this means wearing it in a holster and now we finally get to the subject of the exercise. What do we look for in a holster?

First, it must be reasonably comfortable, since if it is not then you will find yourself leaving your pistol at home or in your car. This means you will have to chose a holster and position of carry which allows normal activities such as walking, bending, lifting, sitting and so forth without the pistol rubbing or poking uncomfortably on your body.

It addition it of course must be concealable for most normal use since we don’t make a habit of open carry, even though it is perfectly legal in many locales. There are many types of concealment holsters and, of course, their usefulness varies with the type of garment you are wearing. A little thoughtfulness in choosing your wardrobe can give a lot of flexibility on how you carry your weapon, extra ammunition and accessories. Loose fitting light jackets – like a “bush jacket” or a photographers vest – can hide a multitude of weaponry. I once gave a class wearing a summer weight vest and 2 hours into the class I asked the students to guess how many guns I was wearing. Some guessed 2 or 3 ( they knew there had to be some since this was a security class and the subject was spotting armed people). In fact I had on 11 handguns including 2 .44 magnums, 4 .45 autos, 2 10mm autos and a variety of .357s and even a .410 gauge single shot. Even after being frisked no one caught a .45 auto Officers Model, a .38 Chief’s Spl and a .22 pen gun. However I was a bit uncomfortable so this is a short term thing. A word of caution. Concealed carry is an increasingly popular subject in the media, photog vests, fanny packs and backpacks are becoming a “trademark” of folks that carry firearms concealed and are becoming an automatic indicator to some that the person wearing them is likely to be armed. There is nothing at all wrong with being legally armed, but the element of surprise is a powerful advantage to the defender. Try not to look like you are the aspiring gunman (or gunwoman).

A good guide as to whether the holster is concealable or not is that it tucks the butt of the weapon in against your body so that a finger passed between you and the stocks will touch both at the same time. If this is not the case then the butt of the weapon will “print” or cause a recognizable bulge – this is a bad thing.

Another area of consideration is security. No, I am not talking about protection from a “gun-grab”. First off, if your gun is concealed no one should know where it is to try to grab and secondly, any holster that is secure enough to prevent a snatch is secure enough to prevent a proper and rapid draw – eliminating its usefulness. The security I am referring to is that the gun is held firmly in the holster and will not easily fall out in case of strenuous physical activity. It is embarrassing to reach for your weapon and find that it was left somewhere laying on a car seat or dropped , previously unnoticed, back at McDonalds. It would be very fortunate indeed if embarrassment was the only thing it was. The holster need not have a strap or fastener to make it secure, though this is certainly an option. It can use any number of friction or passive holding devices which are overcome by the draw but not normal activity, even strenuous activity.

Another consideration is position. This is in addition to considerations previously mentioned of comfort and concealment. I strongly recommend against carrying your main handgun in a cross draw. The reason is simple. Lethal confrontations are likely to be up close and personal. The astute defender will position himself in a fighting stance, which means he leads a little with his weak side and balance his weight forward well before there is any need to draw his pistol. If his primary weapon is on his weak side he has to cross his body to get a grip on it. The assailant will not only see that he is reaching for a gun, he will be able to interfere with the draw by blocking or grabbing the arm, tying up the defender. On the strong side, which is away from the assailant, not only is the arm and gun protected by the body, the opponent may not be able to tell that you are about to produce a weapon, which could be factor in your favor.

This is not to say that cross draw is out of the question at all for a “backup” gun and that it has certain advantages which make this a desirable position for that gun. The main advantage is for drawing from a seated position, especially from an automobile seat with a seatbelt employed. It is also useable when seated at a table or desk (there you have a natural barrier to prevent the previously mentioned block). Cross draw is a little slower but not enough to be a major factor for the backup gun. Yet another reason to carry a backup in this position is that it is available to the weak hand for drawing in case the strong hand is injured or otherwise occupied. This is important as there is a high incidences of people getting shot in their gun or gun hand – perhaps it has something to do with focus in a fight.

Some people prefer to place their backup in the small of their back where it is available to both hands. This is viable but be warned if you place it directly over your spine you are risking a serious injury in case of a slip or fall if you land on it.

Of course shoulder holsters are often thought of since Hollywood seems so enamored of them. All I can say is they surely did not have to wear one for long. Most shoulder holsters do not get worn 8 hours a day, every day. They hurt! Especially with a reasonable sized gun but even with guns as small as a Chief’s Special. There are some exceptions but they are not very common and the best are out of production.

The question arises, inside or outside the waistband. Folks new to the concealed weapon field automatically assume that the former is more concealable and, to be technical, they are right. However, with the proper clothing the only part that is not concealed as well is the barrel and slide front of the pistol. There are quite concealable holsters, using minimal material, which print no worse than an IWB holster but which have the comfort of the OWB. This is mostly a factor of your personal build and clothing choices. A good “pancake” or “belt slide” holster is quite concealable if you garment is of sufficient length. The important part of the gun to conceal is the butt.

Naturally the holster should hold the weapon where you can get a firing grip on it while it is still holstered. Also it should cover the trigger guard in order to encourage proper safety habits – keeping the finger out of the trigger guard until the sights align on target is a very important safety rule.

Finally, avoid cheap “one size fits all” holsters. In truth just because a holster will accept a pistol does not mean that it actually fits. Purchase well made holsters of top rate material (used to we could say leather but some synthetics are coming along now) and one that actually fits your weapon. Well maintained it will serve you a lifetime – of course a poor holster will lead to a shorter lifetime!

This Month’s Quote:

” Among the many misdeeds of the British rule in India, history will look upon the Act depriving a whole nation of arms, as the blackest.” Mahatma Gandhi, from his autobiography.

Comments, suggestions, contributions? Let me know