Carrying a handgun for self-defence is such a wide topic of discussion, it’s quite difficult to condense into one article. There are a great many carry methods. Some are good. Some are bad. And others are so horrendously stupid (bordering on idiotic) that they shouldn’t even be mentioned. Although the adage of “it works for me” very much applies to how you carry a handgun, there are some basic fundamentals which enhance comfort and safety, while allowing a high margin of success if you need to draw in self-defence.
Before we start getting into the nitty-gritty of gear, we need to dispel a very tenacious myth regarding gun fighting: it is not a perfect science .
Fights don’t happen where you want them to
Fights don’t always happen on an even surface with good footing. The lighting isn’t always perfect. You are not always wearing your favorite tactical pants and shirt. In reality your specific fight might happen at 2AM in a narrow hallway, and on a slippery tile floor covered in blood. Or in the back seat of your doublecab when hijackers try to kidnap you. You might have to draw your gun while lying on your side next to a farmgate with three attackers kicking you. And you may have to physically fight an attacker off in a closed stairwell at bad-breath distance, and only have one hand with which to draw your gun. A mother might have to carry her 2-year-old while drawing a gun in the mall parking lot. Perfect conditions are not representative of reality.
It is not the time to learn lessons about carry equipment at 2AM while getting your arse kicked.
Another very important consideration of effective carry, is that your chosen carry method should allow you to conceal your gun effectively. The FCA of 2000 doesn’t require it, but your firearm should be the ace up your sleeve. There is no reason to show it off, and doing so will only give away the element of surprise. And you will look like an idiot, and give legal gun owners a bad name.
The Holy Trifecta of EDC
Safe, comfortable, and effective carry consists of three different, but equally important components. The gun, the belt, and the holster. If you take one element away, you might still be able to pull it off. But you will never be safe, comfortable, and effective.
In a previous article Bryan discussed buying a gun for self-defence in detail. Basically, when it comes to safe, comfortable, and effective carry, the most important thing is to keep the safety, weight, and size of the gun in mind. It goes without saying that your choice of gun should be safe. For comfort and effective carry a Desert Eagle may be safe, but its big and heavy, and will start pushing into soft and delicate meaty bits by teatime. The novelty will get old real quick. A quality compact or subcompact firearm, in an effective caliber, from a reliable manufacturer will be much better-suited to effective carry.
Your belt is the foundation of safe, comfortable and effective carry. Most of the time when someone complains to me about back pain, or their gun pushing against delicate body parts, or other similar complaints of discomfort, we can trace the cause of the problems to the belt. For EDC you need a sturdy, reinforced gunbelt. Note that I didn’t say belt – I said gunbelt.
Your favourite Woolies leather belt is not designed to carry the weight of a firearm and spare magazine (you are carrying a one, aren’t you?). We designed gunbelts for exactly that purpose. Manufacturers usually do this by synthetically stiffening the belt with Kydex or springsteel inserts between the layers of webbing or leather. When buckled the belt will sit like a solid ring around your hips. This will prevent the holster from sagging down and pushing into your hips or delicate parts.
A good rule of thumb is if you take the buckled belt without a holster attached, the belt should be able to support its own weight by staying straight. Unreinforced leather might stay stiff when new, but will quickly sag. So don’t be fooled. I suggest looking at brands like Kallerman Leather, CR Speed by Rescomp, or Wilderness Belts from Hailstorm or Daniels Holsters. All are excellent local gunbelt suppliers.
There are two main categories of holsters:
IWB – Inside the Waistband; and OWB – Outside the Waistband.
The name says it all. IWB holsters sit between your body and your pants. OWB holsters sit outside your pants. IWB is by far the most popular and effective carry method for self-defence if you are a civilian, so I will focus more on that.
IWB Holster Carry
As much as a solid gunbelt can dramatically increase your carry comfort, a badly-designed holster can ruin your day. Many make the mistake of thinking a holster is nothing more than a pouch to hold your gun. A holster’s function is not only carry the gun on you, but also to keep the firearm in exactly the same position on your body. Regardless of what is happening to you. And thus allow you to conceal the gun effectively. If you fall, the gun should remain where it is holstered.
When you are in a fight the gun should be exactly where you put it this morning. So when you reach for it, it is where you need and expect it to be. So the holster should provide for good firearm retention. A Kydex or high-quality leather holster should keep the gun retained. A good retention test is to take the holster, insert your firearm, and turn it upside-down. If the firearm stays put, the retention should be good-to-go. Many holsters will have a little screw that allows you to adjust the retention. Just keep in mind that leather will stretch over time.
I have an inherent dislike for any holster attachment that only clips onto one side of the holster, or relies on friction. Your holster should have at least one, preferably two attachments that secure the holster onto the belt. Stay away from any over-the-belt attachments like Quickclips or J-Clips. Both have a habit of catching and either breaking off or detaching, making the holster come out with the gun. I have seen this numerous times in training under pressure. For attachments, look either for C-Clips that attach to the top and bottom of your belt, or Pull-the-Dot loops that circle around your belt. Both are much more secure, and have less chance of catching and breaking off under pressure. Look at local brands like Quantum Carry, Carter Kustom Carry Solutions, and Daniel’s Holsters.
OWB Holster Carry
It is not a carry method I would recommend for a civilian. If you are convinced this is the method for you, the same logic applies as with IWB. Paddle attachments are for sport shooting, not self-defence. It’s guaranteed that they will come out during a force-on-force encounter. Make sure the attachment to your belt does not rely on friction, and that the retention is adequate so the gun stays where it should be. Safariland is the gold standard for OWB carry solutions.
A very important function of the holster is that it should aid in concealing your firearm. A good IWB holster should have the correct height, and should tuck the grip of the firearm closer to your body to minimise the risk of the gun printing through your cover garment.
Where to carry on your body
Where on your body do you carry a firearm? For 99% of the population there are two options. On your SSH – Strong Side Hip, or the very popular AIWB – Appendix Inside the Waistband.
SSH carry worked well since the dawn of firearms, and will continue to serve us well.With your EDC Trifecta in place there should be no reason why you should not be able to carry effectively on your strong side hip. It also has the added benefit of aiding firearm retention in a struggle, because you can turn your body away from your attacker.
AIWB, a.k.a. “Appendix Carry”, has become extremely popular over the last few years. For some reason people think it’s a revolutionary concept, but if you look at old Western pictures or paintings of colonial wars your will see many officers carrying their handguns in roughly the 11-12 o’clock position. AIWB has some huge advantages, namely it is often faster from a concealed draw than SSH, and it is easier to draw from AIWB while seated. The main disadvantage of AIWB is there is an increased chance of you injuring yourself if you make a mistake during holstering, because the muzzle is pointing at the femoral artery in your leg. It is not a carry method I would recommend if you are new to firearms.
Other carry methods
Car holsters are a new craze all over social media. Let me break down logically why they are a bad idea. Every time you enter or exit your vehicle, you will need to handle your firearm. Also, what happens to your gun during and after a serious accident? If you are in a fender-bender, will you get out in an already stressful situation, take your gun and holster it in public, and so-doing risk escalating the situation? What will you do during a hijacking, and the criminals pull you out of the car? You go for your gun, but oops! It’s under the dash. What if the attacker gets in with you, and during the struggle you can’t reach your gun?
How do you carry in your car? The same way you carry outside your car. If you struggle to draw, get training and fix it. Stop trying to solvd software issues with hardware.
As for backpacks and other off-body carry methods – a thief runs and grabs your backpack: there goes your laptop and your gun. Or you are cornered by three attackers in a parking lot – you take off your backpack, zip it open, rummage through it…you get the idea.
Handbags are another bugbear. Why would you carry your gun in something that gets stolen every day, ladies? Also, under duress you now need to find your gun between tissues, make up, wallet, cellphone, kids’ crayons, vanity mirror, car keys, pills, plasters, more crayons and chewing gum.
Shoulder holsters are very popular with safaripakke, Brylcreem, mustache comb and golden Ray-Bans.
Ankle holsters work ideal for backup guns, but it takes a lot of training to use effectively. And it is slow.
Spare ammunition carriers
The same basics apply as carrying your gun. Secure, concealed, and where you need it when you need it.
You should carry your firearm and spare magazines on a solid gunbelt, in a holster with good retention and concealment ability, and fitted with stable and secure attachments that have a low risk of breaking. The holster should remain in place regardless of what is happening, with the gun still inside. The best piece of advice I can give if you are unsure, is to go on a course that includes some force-on-force training to see if your carry method can withstand the pressure.
Written by Rouen Heiberg.
Rouen is a rough-and-tumble kind of fellow from the dank depths of the Garden Route. He haunts the lands around George, and does his part in running a shooting club down there. He does unarmed combatives, firearms training, and causes trouble on the Internet. Rouen also hates the lockdown.
Photo shamelessly stolen from Kembativ Concepts.