My First Concealed Carry Mistake
Back in 1999, some mid-twenties drug courier decided to speed as he drove down a major street in my city. My city? Well, you get a sense of ownership when you are an overseer, a sheepdog...a cop. But I digress. Within minutes I had made contact with him under the glare of the flashing red and blues. As a cop, you develop a really strong sixth sense about some things and being a drug interdiction officer, my sense told me that this punk was transporting dope. Now, what does all of this have to do with concealed carry? A ton. You see, when I had this cool cat out of the car and was frisking him, my hand ran along a large object strapped to his ankle under his pants leg. Was it a concealed holster? Nope. It was a few ounces of pure, unadulterated cocaine.
You see, the second my hand hit the package of cocaine duct taped to his leg, he bolted like a jackrabbit with his ass on fire. Of course, being the young, buzz cut ass kicker cop that I was, off I went, chasing this loser up the road with visions of an NFL style tackle coming up in our near future. Unfortunately, within about 20 long strides, my dreams came to a crashing halt with the sound of my concealed weapon, my back up Colt Mustang II, bouncing down the shoulder of the road a few feet behind me, almost as if it were in pursuit too. That's right, my trusty back up gun had been concealed in an ankle holster on my left leg; the key word being "had" been.
Nothing gets your heart rate up faster than losing control of a weapon like that, well, besides not having a weapon like that when you need it. What do I mean? Well, losing control of a handgun will make your butt pucker like you are feeding it lemons. But, worse than that is being in a situation where you need the weapon (like walking into a robbery at a convenience store) and not having it at all. So, therein lies one of many issues facing those who would like to obtain a CCW Permit or a "concealed carry weapon" permit and actually carry a concealed weapon. The primary issue with carrying a concealed weapon goes by the name "responsibility" and it means that carrying a concealed handgun is just that-a huge responsibility. Oh, and usually a huge pain in the ass. But, more on that later.
Mind you, there are more issues ranging from comfort, legal considerations, effectiveness and so on. I can speak to this because I've been carrying concealed weapons for 26 years both professionally as a peace officer and since retirement as a private citizen with a CCW, or where I live, the Texas License To Carry or LTC. As such, I can vouch for the fact that making the decision to carry a concealed handgun can be a major pain in the ass, or the hip, love handle or whatever other parts of your body will reside around your concealed carry holster. Of course, holster manufacturers are constantly working to improve on all of the evil elements of concealed carrying, but they haven’t fully succeeded yet.
So where do we begin to discuss this matter? How about right in the middle. Literally, right in the middle, as in your waistband. You see, since we were kids, we were taught through TV and movies that everyone carries their handguns somewhere on the waist. The Lone Ranger carried his handguns there, TJ Hooker wore his there as well. Of course, there are a few exceptions, like Don Johnson's character in Miami Vice with his shoulder rig, Dirty Harry with his shoulder rig (and the Double 4 canon he so skillfully carried) or maybe even Doc Holiday in Tombstone. But, the majority carried weapons at their waistline. So it just seems natural that we would prefer that method to carry a handgun as well. Hopefully, you aren't going to be carrying your weapon in an old west holster like the Lone Ranger, so let's discuss some other options.
Outside The Waistband Holsters
One of the most common forms of concealed carry is what's called an OWB or Outside the Waistband holster. Now you may wonder how can an OWB holster be a concealed carry option if it is outside the waistband. And that's a good question. One easily answered by wearing a long shirt untucked or a coat or jacket over the OWB holster. Usually, to carry concealed like this, you need a belt to slide the holster onto, normally just a daily wear belt will suffice. Of course, there are so many options and considerations when carrying a handgun like this. For example, some holsters made for OWB carry hold the weapon high which makes it easier to sit down in the sense that the barrel end of the holster doesn't likely hit the seat when you park your backside somewhere, however, this also elevates the reach height when you draw the weapon, requiring more elbow bend.
Think about having to draw a handgun from a high ride or high rise OWB holster in a tight space. That could very easily present an issue as you may have limited elbow room. On the other hand, carrying concealed in a low ride or low rise holster makes the draw easier from the perspective of needing room to get that elbow bent and getting your meat hook wrapped around the grip. Clearly, the issue with this method of concealed carry creates a problem when sitting at the business end of your weapon of choice will likely meet up with some seating surfaces when you are sitting, especially soft seats like on a sofa or possibly some car seats. Another issue is that the lower ride of this style of CCW holster may possibly be seen by John Q. Public as it may sit lower than the bottom edge of your shirt or jacket.
What's the answer then? How do you carry an OWB holster without so many issues? One possible solution is to carry a holster that is canted forwards thereby allowing the weapon to be worn lower, yet not conflict with the seating surfaces. The cant isn't usually so dramatic that it interferes with your draw, however depending on things like your own arm length, flexibility in your wrist and such, this can be a great choice or a terrible one. For me, an OWB concealed carry holster with a slight to moderate forward cant is a good option. I personally prefer to carry concealed at the waistband and more specifically outside the waistband. The moderate forward cant of my one of my personal holsters works well as I still have good wrist and shoulder flexibility so the angle required to make a clean and smooth draw are still there. In time, this may change, but for now, it still works.
Something that works really well for many people is an OWB holster that has an “adjustable” cant. One example is the DeSantis Thumb Break Scabbard holsters. They come in a high ride version with three belt slots so that you can adjust them from a more vertical carry position to a more forward angled position simply by weaving your belt through a different slot on the holster. Of course, this particular holster has a thumb break and a tension screw that will help keep your weapon secure in the event of climbing, fighting or other similar situations. However, even with the canted positioning of your concealed handgun, this option isn't perfect for everyone. For example, people with extra body fat around the midsection may discover that the extra adipose tissue prevents an OWB holster from working very well. In other cases, a person with limited flexibility may have a challenging time grasping the weapon with a more aggressive forward cant.
Not all OWB concealment holsters have slots for your belt to feed through. There are some that have a large, generally curved portion that slides down into your pants leaving the holster portion outside the waistband. This variety is typically called a "paddle holster" and can be made from a variety of materials but are most commonly made from either leather or Kydex. These paddle holsters are excellent for those who prefer not to wear a belt or simply can't for any number of reasons. One real advantage of a paddle holster is the very substantial feeling that the holster is secure and not going to move or rock forwards and backward with the flex of the belt that a belt slot holster may experience. In other words, when you choose a paddle holster as your concealed carry holster, you slide the large, slightly contoured portion of the holster down into your pants (usually at the 3-5 o'clock position) while the holster stays outside your pants. Unless you wear super loose pants, this method is typically very secure and stable.
There are OWB holsters made for concealed carrying that look and function similar to the slide on holsters with the belt slots, yet instead of the slots, they have a snap on loops that you can affix to your belt without having to take your belt off. At first glance, this sounds like a pretty good way to carry a handgun and much easier than feeding a belt through slots, finding the right way to align with your pants belt loops etc, however, with that convenience comes some new issues. Think about it, now your concealed weapon is affixed to your belt with two snaps. If you are pretty easy on the holster, don't tend to get your holster caught on things like seatbelts, etc., then you may be ok. But, if you do have a tendency to get caught in a seatbelt or work in an environment where it's fairly easy to catch your holster on things (some construction jobs for example) then you may have issues with the snaps on the holster loops coming undone. Personally, I never cared for this type other than the rare instance where I needed the ability to put the holster on and off my belt quickly. Any holster that secures to your belt can move a bit as the belt flexes under pressure. The solution to that is to wear a good sturdy "gun belt" which looks like an average everyday belt but has less propensity to give and flex. Many of the holster manufacturers also sell this type of gun belt.
Many (but certainly not all) of these OWB holsters have some sort of retention system built in such as a thumb break, a tensioning mechanism or some other internal feature that helps hold the concealed weapon in the holster until you are ready to draw it. And, as many different methods there are to retain a weapon inside a holster, there is an equal number of opinions on what's best, what works, what doesn't, etc. In the end, you have to make a choice that feels right for you and no one other than some knows it all or wanna be Monday morning quarterback types can say too much about it. However, in order for you to make your best decision, you should have at least a basic understanding of the most common retention options on these concealment holsters.
A thumb break is essentially a portion of the holster that wraps up and over the backstrap or the end of the slide and secures on the inside with a heavy duty snap. Since the snap is located between the weapon and your body, access to it by anyone other than you is limited, however, it's placement lends itself perfectly accessible to your thumb while grasping your weapon to ready it for action. One quick thrust with your thumb and you've overcome the thumb break and can draw the weapon.
Some holster manufacturers of concealed carry holsters utilize more than one type of retention in their holsters. The DeSantis Thumb Break Scabbard holster also has a tensioning screw that creates tension on the weapon while in the holster, thereby making it less likely to fall free of the holster in the event that you (along with the holster) end up at any angle other than vertical. And yes, that can (and does) happen. On holsters like this, you can adjust the tension screw to your liking which augments the thumb break. Some would call this a "level 2" retention holster style, meaning that the thumb break provides one level of retention security and the tension device is a second making it a level 2. That terminology is used widely in duty holster lingo for law enforcement and has crossed over somewhat into concealment holster jargon now.
A variation of the thumb break is the "loop" or "throw" which is essentially a thumb break without a snap. Typically these loops cross over the end of the slide and must be pushed forward with your thumb to be able to draw from the holster. On each side of the loop, there is usually some form of a pivot point that secures the loop to the holster and some even have a built-in detent that gives slight resistance when pushing the loop forward off the weapon. This detent allows the user to know that the loop is has been disengaged by feel alone, -no need to take your eyes off the bad guy. No matter what system you decide to use to carry concealed, safe practice is a must, especially when using something like a loop or throw type of retention system in a CCW holster. Clearly, not too many things work normally when under extreme stress, including trying to fat thumb a loop on a holster. So, practice. Practice safely, but practice.
Inside The Waistband Holsters
IWB holsters are another method commonly used to carry a handgun in a concealed carry situation. IWB or Inside the Waistband requires a little more effort to make them work. Actually, they require a little less of something else; a little less gut. As you can imagine, an IWB concealment holster requires that you have additional space INSIDE your waistband, something that isn't always available. The reality is that the more marshmallowy you are in the middle, the less effective an IWB holster is for concealed carrying. It doesn't take much of an imagination to understand this concept. You always need to be able to reach your concealed handgun in a quick and efficient manner. Another truth is that the more girth you have in the middle, the less comfortable an IWB concealed carry holster is.
If you are lucky enough to be able to utilize an IWB holster, then you will find many options available to help you carry concealed. In fact, the market is so full of quality manufacturers now that the possibilities and technology applied to these holsters are becoming harder to keep up with. What I like to see in an IWB holster for concealment is a portion of the material (usually leather, Kydex or ballistic nylon) that lives between the handgun and your body which is made onto the holster. This dividing material usually keeps all parts of the weapon away from contact with your body. You already have lots of issues to think about when utilizing a concealed carry holster, you don't need gun oil, remnants of solvent, lead and other metals on your skin if you can help it. There's also a large comfort factor in having the divider between you and your weapon. When you spread out the pressure and eliminate sharper contact points from pushing into your belly or side, you are going to be a much happier concealed carrier.
The method these IWB holsters employ for retention varies by brand. Some have J clips on them that essentially come up from the front and rear portions of the holster and clip onto the edge of your pants or better yet, a belt. These clips can be made from something strong and flexible like nylon or even steel (which tends to be strong but less forgiving). The loops with snaps that you see on some of the OWB concealment holsters can also be found on IWB holsters, the difference being that they reach over the top edge of your pants to snap around your belt and secure the holster.
Of course, there are many variations of the clip system available including some manufacturers that use a single large nylon clip that is centered on the holster and reaches over the top edge of the pants, preferably gripping a belt. This system may be better suited to smaller frame handguns as the forward and backward rocking of the holster is more likely with one centered clip instead of two, one in front and one behind the concealed weapon. This particular concern (a single clip) can be moderated to a large extent by making sure that any single clip IWB concealment holster has enough width built in to help wedge the holster into position and keep it from moving.
Some of the IWB holsters also have an adjustable cant but by its very nature, an adjustable cant on an IWB concealed carry holster is of slightly less value than on a comparable OWB holster. The reason? When you cant an IWB holster forward, you are changing the portion of the grip of the weapon that is available to grasp when drawing. Depending on the particular angle of the cant, you may have just the ass end of the mag well in the most upright position or in a reverse cant, you would predominantly have the back of your slide in the most upright position. If you are all in favor of pulling your concealed weapon from your IWB like you'd hold a poop filled diaper, then that's certainly up to you. Personally, I want a grip on my weapon that works well. So, that being said, If you are carrying a concealed handgun in a fully vertical position for easy access to the grip, you may very well have the same issues as a full vertical carry with an OWB, except that now the whole situation has moved inside your pants, so to speak. Once more, sitting down can create issues if its a lower riding IWB holster or it may put it up into your ribs if its a higher riding option.
Most IWB and OWB concealed handgun holsters can be worn at virtually any position around the waist. As you can imagine, each one has positives and negatives. Each position has a commonly used name that relates to the clock or some part of the human anatomy. For example, a right side carry on the outer hip would be called the 3 o'clock position. Slightly ahead of that in the 1 or 2 o'clock position, a concealed weapon would be said to be carried in the "appendix" position. The position known as 6 o'clock is also called the “small of back" carry position. No matter what you prefer to call your concealed carry position of choice, remember the benefits and limits of each. I can personally attest to the fact that a 6 o'clock or small of the back carry position isn't great when you get knocked on your ass and the appendix carry can pinch you worse than you can imagine when you sit down fast.
Belly Band Holsters
Of course, there are many other options for concealed carry beyond the OWB and IWB holsters and I think it is important to touch on those options as well. One such option is the proverbial "belly band" method of concealed carry. These concealment holsters appear to be a fantastic option on paper. Sometimes they are a good option in real life too, but in my experience, they usually aren't. The general idea is a long, stretchy material like neoprene or spandex that wraps around your belly and has a concealment holster built in. First of all, these things tend to bunch up, roll up and get hot and itchy underneath. There's something about the weight of your weapon that tends to pull the belly band down which causes you to want to tighten the whole rig even more. Now you have this super tight belly band holster that still sags, rolls and generally isn't fun.
What's interesting is that many of the belly band concealment holsters have one size fits many approach to the holster part. In other words, they aren’t usually made for specific models of handguns, but rather generic sizes that will fit many similar sized weapons. Personally, I don't love this. I want a concealed carry holster that is made for MY weapon of choice. A sure fit, something I can get to know so well that I know it's every nuance and quirk. For me, a generic "one size fits many" holster just isn’t an option.
Another thing I don't like about belly band concealment holsters is that the Velcro tends to wear out over time. Before you know it, you can no longer get a good tight fit, even if you wanted to. Oh, and the retention system on many of the belly band holsters is just a basic strap that crosses the backstrap of the handgun and uses the same hook and loop fastener to secure it. Imagine this, you find yourself in the middle of a robbery in progress. While attempting to be stealth and recon your weapon, the bad guy hears the well-known sound of Velcro being pulled free. Nice. That's one way to draw attention, and maybe a round or two from Mr. Robber. Some of the belly band concealed carry holster rigs do have a shoulder strap that goes up and over your shoulder to keep it from sagging down. Again, sounds good but in practice, it's a no go for me.
Remember when Don Johnson hit the screen in Miami Vice? The pastel colors, the cool jacket, and that shoulder holster made him an instant hit. These days, the shoulder holster has lost some of its grandeur. Even so, the shoulder holster can still be an option for concealed carry. Don't get me wrong, I believe that for those who are new to concealed carry or who have just recently received their concealed carry permit or license, this may not be the best first option. Now if you are Inspector Harry Callahan (or Dirty Harry as your friends would call you) then wearing an exposed shoulder holster may be just the ticket, punk. But, you aren't Dirty Harry and the negatives of trying to conceal a shoulder holster are fairly significant.
One of the main issues with trying to wear a shoulder concealment holster is that of actual concealment. The usual shoulder based holster is big, bulky and prints (shows the outline of the weapon/holster) substantially. In other words, there's not much concealment to a shoulder holster. If you were to try this setup, wearing shirts larger than usual would be a requirement or some sort of jacket that you wear all day. Welcome back James Crockett, the '80s will miss you.
Many people -myself included, have worn or attempted to wear a shoulder holster over the years. In my case, adjusting it to feel just right was always an issue. It just never fit right no matter how much adjusting I did. Furthermore, having the actual holster secure enough to make a quick, clean draw was right on the edge of impossible. Suffice it to say, they are pretty and flashy, but not the best choice for the concealed carrying of a handgun. Many modern rigs have a securing strap that goes down to your belt from the holster as well as one from the magazine pouch or mag holder made onto the other side (the side under your opposite arm from the holster side) if so equipped.
In order for a shoulder holster to truly work, it needs to be worn really high, nearly under the armpit in order to provide stability and control. Of course, the concealed weapon is nearly always in a fully horizontal position when being carried, whether concealed or not. Clearly, this means that at times the weapon will be pointed at someone behind you. Another issue comes up when you draw the weapon, actually two issues come up. One is the weapon will be in very close proximity to your non-drawing arm as the weapon clears the holster. Second, in order to bring your weapon on target, you will have to sweep in a horizontal manner, thereby pointing the weapon at things probably not intended as targets. You can protect your own arm by lifting it rapidly while drawing the weapon and folding the off hand down behind your head. This technique eliminates the chance that you will have an extra large sweat gland added to your arm. Of course, sweeping five other unintentional targets while drawing is just an unfortunate part of the equation. Ultimately, I don't think that a shoulder holster works very well at all for concealed carry. There are so many other options available that don't print, aren’t as difficult to draw from and are much safer to carry.
Concealed Carry or CCW Packs & Bags
My favorite way to carry a concealed handgun is at odds with every method discussed so far, but it works for me for many reasons. My preferred method for the last 10 years or so has been in an EDC bag. Yep, an Every Day Carry bag. Not a butt pack or fanny pack, that's something totally different. I actually carry a sling pack with a built-in concealed holster that provides super fast and easy access. The benefits of this method of carrying is that I can also carry other items such as handcuffs, a tactical light, etc. The obvious negative is that the bag could be left anywhere by accident which could create a huge liability. It does appear that CCW bags are gaining popularity, but with this method of carrying a concealed weapon, you must have extreme discipline.
My particular EDC concealed carry bag has a compartment at the back that holds a hook and loop holster sandwiched tightly against the next compartment where EDC items are held. With the quick squeeze of a heavy duty plastic buckle, the whole front section rips down and open exposing the concealed holster and my Kimber Ultra CDP 45. When not in action, the EDC bag looks like any other sling pack type bag. I can open the front compartments in any store or restaurant and never give anyone the idea that I am carrying a concealed handgun within. Of course, as stated earlier, safe practice is critical to the effectiveness of any concealed carry system.
Concealed Carry Purses
All of the options for concealed carry holsters can be great, but what about CCW purses? Well, let me start by saying that I have no personal knowledge of how it feels to carry one. Seriously. But, I have learned a little bit about them over the years and I can say this: they have come a long way over the last decade or so. In the beginning, CCW purses or concealed carry purses were so fantastically ugly that most women wouldn't carry them. These days they aren't going to win any fashion show awards, but their styling has improved dramatically.
There are a few key features to consider when shopping for a CCW purse or a handbag. First, the compartment for the handgun is usually in the middle of the bag with access from one end or the other, not usually from the top which is where one might expect the gun compartment to be. So, if the CCW purse or bag is made with an obvious side that is to be worn against the body and the opposite side meant to be worn facing out, then an end access option means that the purse is now either a left or right-hand draw. Does that make sense? In order for a CCW purse to be good for either a right or left-hand dominant shooter, the bag needs to have both the front and back capable of facing either way while worn. Either that or the bag needs to have access to the weapon from both ends. A purse or bag made to be worn with one particular side towards the body and the other facing away and that also has a single-ended access to the weapon is automatically a right or left hand bag.
The straps on a CCW bag or purse also need to be reinforced. Usually, this reinforcing material is some sort of flexible wire that runs the length of the strap, thereby keeping it from being easily cut or torn in the event of an attempted robbery or fight. Without some form of reinforcement added to the strap(s) the concealed carry purse can quickly give the advantage to a bad guy who pulls the bag and rips the strap or who simply cuts the strap. In fact, he may now be armed with your weapon and not even realize it yet.
The compartment where the concealed handgun is held may or may not actually have a holster inside, the presence or absence of which is largely a matter of personal preference. One thing that may matter a bit more is having the ability to lock the CCW compartment on the end of the bag or purse. Bottom line is that some lock, some do not. Some people prefer the ability to lock the weapon inside the bag while others simply see that as an unwanted delay when you need access to the weapon. Ultimately, you will have to make that determination based on your own situation and environment. Could the lock slow you down when time matters? Of course. Could the lock slow down a child who gets access to your CCW bag or purse when you are distracted? Yes. Definitely. The best practice is to choose wisely and carry responsibly. Oh, and in case I haven’t mentioned it, practice safely with any concealed carry systems you ever use; a concealed carry purse is no exception.
Concealed Carry Jackets
A growing number of people I know have been switching over to concealed carry jackets. These are made to look like an every day wear type of jacket or coat, but they have an added pocket inside to conceal a weapon. Of course, this can be a great option but it does have its drawbacks too. The good thing is that you can very easily draw your weapon from the jacket and many also have extra magazine pockets built in. The negative is that you must keep the jacket on or transfer the weapon to a different concealed carry position if you take the jacket off.
If you opt for a concealed carry jacket, be sure that the handgun doesn’t print while in the pocket made for it. It may be possible to utilize a small, thin holster in the concealed carry pocket of the jacket, but the additional bulk may be more than you want to deal with, not to mention that it could make fast retrieval of the weapon difficult.
One of the final options to consider is the ankle holster. This form of concealed carry has been around for many years and, not unlike the rest, has its good and bad points too. Most of the ankle rigs available these days incorporate neoprene to wrap around your ankle and Velcro to secure the neoprene wrap. There is usually either a really cheap one size fits most holster made to the neoprene or a pretty nice one size fits one holster that costs a fair amount more than the other option.
The advantage to these holsters is that they seriously hide well under most long pants without printing much at all. But, that’s about where the advantages stop. Conversely, these concealed holsters are fairly difficult to reach when you suddenly find yourself in a situation that goes bad. In order to access your concealed handgun in an ankle holster, you must be healthy and flexible enough to access your ankle area quickly, pull up your pants leg and then draw the weapon. Other concerns with the ankle holster method of concealed carry are similar to those of the belly band concealment method. If you recall, those holsters also use a neoprene and Velcro combo. They tend to roll on their edges, slide down too low and are generally very irritating when worn directly against the skin. I can say the same for ankle holsters. They rarely stay exactly where you wish they would (although some have a calf strap to help with that) and can be hot and irritate your skin so bad that you either end up going unarmed for a few days or you start searching for a better solution.
My personal issue with ankle holsters is the substantial strain that they (when loaded with the concealed handgun) place on your lower back and hips. As you can imagine, the weight of a weapon loaded very low on one leg and nothing on the other creates some balance and symmetry issues that your lower back gets to deal with. As you read earlier, without a very well made one size fits one holster, you are probably going to lose your weapon anyway so I presume any imbalance issues would self resolve as soon as you get into a good foot chase or wrestling match on the side of the road somewhere.
Ultimately, I don’t hate ankle holsters, but for me, they work best when I buy a higher quality version and limit my time wearing it. Something I think you should really consider is the weight of your fully loaded concealed carry handgun. If you are going to try to conceal a full-size weapon on your ankle, it’s going to be much more challenging than if you carry a compact weapon. Either way, spend the money and get good quality. You will be much happier that way.
Most of us would agree that the world has changed and probably not for the better. Never has there been a time in recent history where we had the need to protect ourselves from crime as much as we do these days. When the basic societal morals that once served us have all but gone, we have to protect ourselves on a higher personal level. These days carjacking, robberies, foolishness like the knock out game and other crimes have become commonplace. So much so that many states have adopted laws that allow for concealed carry.
If you decide to carry a concealed weapon, specifically a handgun, then you have some great options. But, you’re going to have to do some research and quite possibly make a wrong decision or two before you find the best-concealed carry option for yourself. No matter what, practice often, practice safely and be very responsible. As concealed carry and second amendment supporters, we have a responsibility to rise above the degrading standards of the world. We need to show that gun ownership can be a healthy and safe practice when done responsibly. Oh, and if you see a guy running down the highway like a jackrabbit with his ass on fire, tell him that I have the right concealed carry holster now and I’ll catch him down the road, literally.