Rule Three of Concealed Carry

You are a consistent follower of Rule One, so you always carry a gun.  And since you are not merely a gun owner, but instead are actually prepared to defend yourself, you also follow Rule Two, and have trained sufficiently (and have kept in training sufficiently) to have at minimum a solid grounding in the fundamentals of shooting and gun-handling while also acquiring the requisite knowledge of the law with respect to use of force, and use of lethal force.

So what’s the third Rule?

It’s quite simple, really, even though this is the situation where the largest number of people will create the most ridiculous rationalizations to defend their emotional investment in a piece of equipment.

Rule Three of Concealed Carry:  Carry the most effective tool that you can.

And with that, we’re off to the caliber wars.  And the 1911/Glock wars.  And the “my Taurus/Diamondback/Sigma is JUST as GOOD as a…” arguments.

And let’s not forget the “I carry a revolver because semi-autos aren’t reliable enough” crowd.

Rule Three is actually very straightforward:  With respect to tools for self-defense, there are poor choices and good choices.  And for any given situation, there are better and worse choices.

If there is a guy out there who, daily, is carrying a 44 Magnum Revolver with an optic and a 10″ barrel, loaded with alternating FMJ and Black Rhino Teflon-Coated Spinning-Wheels-O’-Death-brand bullets out of a SERPA OWB holster carried in a small-of-the-back position—well, he is at least following Rule One.  That makes him a LOT more prepared than the majority of people in U.S.

I’d bet he doesn’t follow Rule Two though he thinks he does (just a guess there) but very obviously, he isn’t following Rule Three.

Rule Three is SUPPOSED to be simple.  If you need a hammer, then while a wrench will sometimes do, you certainly would prefer to use a hammer.   You want to use the best tool for the job–and with respect to concealed carry, you can make all your carry choices in advance.  So…choose to carry the most effective tool that you can.

Rule Three is not a “GUN X IS THE BEST GUN” rule.  What you can carry depends on your circumstances.  Different people, with different jobs, in different places, wearing different levels of clothing, in varying levels of permissive places, means that you can’t just tell someone “Brand X in caliber Y is what everyone should carry!”  It doesn’t work that way.

However, this doesn’t mean that all guns are equal, and there ARE choices that are better or worse than others.

Here’s the criteria for measuring the scale of better/worse for Rule Three, and note that these are NOT in any priority order:

  1. The gun should use a caliber/round that gets as close to meeting the FBI Ammunition Protocol standards for that particular barrel length as possible, as that is currently our best measure of functional effectiveness in terms of stopping an attacker in a self-defense situation.  (Preferably using a round that has a historical track record of functional effectiveness, such as the 9mm Speer Gold Dot 124 +P round.)
  2. The gun should be as close to full-size as possible, as the weight, sight radius, and grip size all contribute to easier shooting at speed.  (The actual criterion here is “the gun should be as easy to shoot accurately at speed as possible,” but “fullsize” is about the easiest way to determine that.  Smaller guns are harder to shoot well, almost all of the time, no matter what people think about “how the gun feels in their hand.”)
  3. The gun should have the largest capacity possible, as we don’t know the number of rounds we will need to stop an attacker nor how many attackers there will be.
  4. The gun’s controls should be as simple to use as possible, including a trigger that is easy to shoot well under stress.  (This isn’t an argument against safeties and single-action semi-auto pistols, it is more of a “a 12-pound trigger is a worse choice than a 5-pound trigger, and if you can’t carry with a round in the chamber or need to operate awkward levers to make the gun run, it isn’t a good choice” sort of thing.)
  5. The gun must be reliable, and more accurate than you are.  “Reliable” in this case means “a proven track record of function without issue.”  “More accurate than you are” is generally not a problem until you get into REALLY poorly-made junk guns, but you should have at least tested to make sure the gun hits where it is supposed to out to the limit of your ability to make hits.

Here’s why these things are important:

The point of carrying a concealed weapon is so that you have a self-defense tool in case you are the victim of a lethal-force-level assault.  In other words:  Someone is trying to kill you, rape you, or permanently main you.  You don’t know what the situation will be or how many attackers there will be–so whatever you bring with you is IT.  As such, you want the most gun that you can shoot accurately at speed with the highest capacity that has known functional effectiveness for stopping attackers in a lethal-force situation.

If you wish to argue your gun choice based on different criteria than the above, ok….but that’s not why the rest of us carry a gun.  Your attacker may be a strung-out teenage junkie who can barely hold the knife in his shaking hands, and who will run the minute he sees your hand go for the gun.  Or instead you might be attacked by three people in an alley who plan on beating you with baseball bats until your arms and legs and skull are broken, raping you repeatedly, then setting you on fire to watch you burn to death.  (Neither of those situations, I note, are made-up.  They are not hypothetical.)

You don’t get to choose which situation happens to you.  That part isn’t up to you.

So your defensive tool had better be as close to an optimum “can handle anything” as possible.  (Note:  The gun itself can’t handle anything.  But….certain guns can enable YOU to handle many things.  Others won’t.)

If your circumstances are such that you can carry a Glock 34 loaded from mags with extended basepads so you have a 23-round capacity—excellent!  That’s an easy-to-shoot, reliable gun in a known-to-be-functionally-effective caliber and round, with a large capacity.  But most people can’t carry guns that size on a daily basis, so they have to start picking and choosing from a subset of smaller guns…and sometimes, that means that people start making choices that aren’t optimal for them.

Sometimes people even pick full-size guns that aren’t good choices, as least not good choices for the reason you might need a carry gun.

Do you carry a Taurus Judge*?  Do you like having lower capacity and a gun that is harder to shoot well at speed?  Do you feel a need to handicap yourself with respect to your ability to respond with lethal force in a wide variety of self-defense situations if necessary?

Do you carry a Hi-Point* pistol?  Do you prefer a firearm that at any point in time when shot, may catastrophically disassemble itself?  Yes, yes, I know—yours has “functioned flawlessly for hundreds of rounds.”  And yet…given Hi-Point’s quality control and materials choices, you literally DON’T KNOW what is going to happen when you fire the next round.  It might be fine.  It might not.  You don’t know.

Some things are poor choices.  That’s how it is.  There are plenty of guns that are the exact same size as the above that that hold significantly more ammunition and DON’T have reliability problems, durability problems, ammunition capability problems, or trigger issues.

(There is nothing about a Hi-Point that causes it to be a better choice than any other similar gun OTHER than “it is the only one I can get.”  If “it is the only one I can get” is NOT your reason, then you are making a poor choice.  If that IS your reason, then excellent job of following Rule One, and I hope your circumstances improve so that you can upgrade your self-defense tools.)

In this day and age, UNLESS you’ve been shooting one your whole life and you’ve actually practiced with it so that you are extremely accomplished, AND you are old and don’t have time before you die to train to a similar level of accomplishment with a different gun (and this describes almost no one), why would you carry a full-size revolver*?    Again, there are a significant number of firearms of similar size that score much higher on the criterion scale with respect to why you are carrying in the first place.

If you can carry (for a non-random example based on a discussion regarding the Rule One article) a S&W model 327 TRR8 8 shot .357 Magnum revolver—why aren’t you carrying a Glock 34?  Heck, you could carry a Glock 40 MOS in 10mm with an RMR on it, and STILL have it be a) an inch less in length, b) the same height, c) have a trigger pull HALF that of the revolver, d) have it weigh over a third of a pound less, and e) have 200% of the revolver capacity.

Note:  I’m not saying an RMRed G40 is a good choice for self-defense carry.  I’m just saying—if you feel the need for round with significant thump, noise, and blast and you can carry a weapon that size, why not maximize what you can get?

Unless, of course, it isn’t actually about maximizing your defensive capability.  Don’t get me wrong, the 327 TRR8 is actually a sweet revolver. I wouldn’t say no to one, and I don’t even LIKE revolvers.

But…what we carry should be based on maximizing our functional effectiveness.  If you can carry a revolver that size, and if functional effectiveness is what is important, then you probably should be carrying a Glock 34 or something else of similar size and capacity.

Some people’s reasons for carrying smaller guns that are less effective ARE reasonable.  For example, some people (for example, folks with severe arthritis) literally cannot take much recoil.  Even a 9mm is something their hands and wrists cannot handle, so for their cases, something like a .22 may be their only functional choice.  (.32s and .380s often have extremely sharp, snappy recoil, and unless you can find a larger gun in those calibers like a Sig 250, they can’t shoot them.)  If they want a gun, then a .22 is it.

But…there are choices they can make around that.  There are full-size and compact versions of .22 pistols that are extremely easy to shoot well and have decent capacity with good triggers.  Even if (due to their environment) they have to go with a compact gun, they don’t have to choose a tiny .22 revolver with vestigial sights and a horrible trigger.  Even a Beretta Bobcat is better than that!  (And a Bobcat is actually a handy little gun.  Claude Werner, for example, makes a point to show how smaller pistols really CAN be useful for self-defense purposes.  He isn’t saying they are “better” than larger pistols in larger calibers–but his writings and demonstrations show pretty clearly that if you follow Rule One and Rule Two, a Bobcat can often be sufficient for Rule Three under many circumstances.)

Maybe because of the movement requirements of your job (and the clothing limits) you can’t carry a full-size gun.  Maybe it is an extremely non-permissive (though legal) area, so you can’t afford to print at all, or potentially flash the gun.  So you need a deep concealment holster that doesn’t restrict movement, and a smaller, flatter gun.

There ARE sometimes valid reasons why people don’t carry full-size semi-autos in effective calibers.  However…that doesn’t mean that there still aren’t better or worse choices within the limits of the gun you can carry.  You want to attempt to meet as many of the criteria above as you can, within the range allowed by your situational limits.

If you read any Internet gun forum, it won’t take long to run into MANY MANY EXAMPLES of people making non-optimal choices.  And that’s fine.  If you are one of them, you can do that.  It is your choice.  But….the argumentative rationalization of your choice based on your emotional investment isn’t going to be convincing to anyone else.  Should anyone yell at you for your choice?  Of course not.  But it is certainly true that you might be told that there are better choices, particularly if you are trying to argue that your particular choice was fantastic and flawless, and definitely if you are telling other people to make the same choice you did when they are interested in making a better one.  Just because you are emotionally invested in your choice doesn’t mean you made a good one, and it also doesn’t mean that anyone else has to agree with you–which means they are free to point out the flaws in your decision-making process.

Are there actual valid reasons why you aren’t carrying a full-size, full-capacity handgun that shoots a round that passes the FBI Ammunition Protocols?  If you can’t come up with valid reasons….then you are making a poor choice.  You should switch to a better choice.

If there ARE actual valid reasons, are you coming as close to the criteria as you possibly can, given your circumstances?

Hint:  If you are carrying a Ruger LCP in an Fobus OWB holster, the answer is “No.”  And you should probably think about it.


In case you haven’t read them in order:


 

*Cue the Judge/Hi-Point/Revolver defenders going ballistic.  Remember, we don’t use crescent wrenches as hammers either, given a choice.  You can, but it isn’t an optimal choice.  (Though using a Judge as a defense gun is more like using a frozen banana as a hammer.)  It might get the job done…but even if it does, it’ll take longer, it’ll be a lot more painful, and sometimes it just won’t work.  Perfectly good wrench, should be used for wrench things, not hammer things.

Retention Holsters

RetentionHolsters

Awhile back, I got into a discussion about retention holsters for open carry.  In between hearing/reading shouts of “I can carry like I want!” and “He thinks that if you don’t use a level 9000 retention holster it doesn’t count!” I realized that not only do many people not understand what the term “retention holster” means, they also don’t understand that 1) there are differences in quality between various holster types, and 2) there are differences in choices for optimal use between different retention holsters.

There are a number of different types of retention holsters out there (ones with active retention, that is):  Safariland ALS, Safariland ALS/SLS, Galco Matrix, 5.11 Thumbdrive, Uncle Mikes Reflex, SERPA (and the other companies that functionally copied the SERPA design), plus probably several others that I’m forgetting…and there simply are significant differences between them.

In some cases those differences are in reliability, durability, and quality. In some cases, they are based on design flaws that increase the risk of negligent discharges.  But some of those differences also mean that holsters themselves (even with roughly equivalent quality) are best used for different purposes.

As always, a video for some explanation:

I’ll note in the video, my draw speed there was not “as fast as I could go” or “trying to see what the maximum speed is”–it was what felt to me to be a comfortable speed to get all A-hits on a metric target at 5 yards from the draw.    And as it said, I don’t practice with the ALS or ALS/SLS holsters, so obviously people who practice and use those regularly can go significantly faster than I did.    What is interesting to me about that comparison is that there is only a tenth of a second difference between concealment and the ALS retention (much of which, I think, is because of the cant on that ALS holster—if I would ever wear it for some reason, I’d fix that), and the ALS/SLS combination was only a tenth slower than that–from a holster with significantly more retention.

To sum up:

  • Most holsters have some sort of passive retention, many of which have adjustable passive retention.  We still don’t call them “retention holsters.”
  • “Retention holsters” are ones that have an active retention system, requiring you to do something to release an active lock on the gun so that you can draw it.  There are a number of different kinds of active retention systems, and one thing I didn’t get into was the different “levels” of retention, primarily because people use THOSE terms with different meanings depending on who you talk to.  Suffice it to say that the ALS is one level, and the ALS/SLS/hood guard combination is a level higher.
  • In my opinion, the SERPA holster (in addition to its known reliability and durability issues) has a problem with its basic design that causes the chances of an ND to be higher than when using other holsters.  (Numerous national-level trainers plus the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center think so also.)  I don’t know why anyone would use a SERPA holster when a Safariland ALS holster (much higher quality, withOUT that design issue) is available for only $5-$15 more.
  • In my opinion, for open carry (and certainly for duty carry), the ALS and ALS/SLS holsters are a much better idea than the GLS or Uncle Mikes Reflex holster, because the latter two can still easily be pulled out of your holster by someone else–the retention system is easily unlocked from any angle.  The ALS and ALS/SLS versions are much harder to unlock for anyone who is not wearing the holster.
  • There’s a reason why the most-used retention holsters for law enforcement across the U.S. are from Safariland.
  • The GLS holster is fantastic for a situation where you don’t want the gun to come out of the holster no matter what sort of movement you are doing.  (In other words, you need retention not to stop others from getting the gun, but because you are worried about what YOU are doing knocking the gun out of the holster.) With the belt attachment adjustment kit, the GLS is what I’m using for Multigun starting this year because the gun is perfectly safe in the holster no matter what I’m doing, and literally isn’t slowing my draw stroke at all.  (This video was the first time I put the GLS on the clock, and my times with it were almost exactly what I got with my competition rig.)

Now, none of this goes into WHY I think you should use a retention holster for open carry.  (Truthfully, I think that should be self-evident, but apparently it isn’t.)  That’s a topic for a different blog post, though.  But at least (hopefully!) the next time I get into a discussion about retention holsters, we’ll all be starting our discussion with a better understanding of what we are talking about.

 

(I don’t work for any holster company, nor am I affiliated with any holster company in any way.  And no, there are no links in this article where I make money if you go buy something.  And yes, I know, I kept saying “ALS system” and “SLS system” and “GLS system” which means I was saying “system system” all the time. I know. I’m sorry.  I don’t know why I kept doing that.)

Basic Range Equipment…

Recently I was asked for some suggestions regarding solid range-practice-level holsters and mag pouches, and it occurred to me that given the HUGE range of possibilities now available via the internet, it might be a good idea to actually quickly discuss “suggested” basic starter equipment for handgun technique practice.

Couple of comments, first:

  • The ones I’m about to suggest are not the only possibilities out there–there are PLENTY of other perfectly reasonable holsters and mag pouches by many perfectly decent manufacturers that would work fine.  These are simply ones I’ve found to be durable, reliable, and economical for basic solid range practice.  That doesn’t mean that others wouldn’t be good also.
  • The equipment listed here is meant for basic range practice–meaning that they aren’t optimized for carry, competition, military training, LEO duty carry, or anything like that.  The point is to get a solid reliable holster and mag pouch setup so that shooters can go to the range and work on their technique without either paying a ton of money, or having to deal with poor quality and unsafe equipment.
  • At some point in time, if you plan on getting good at competition shooting or plan on concealing well for carry, you are going to have to buy other equipment, and practice with it.  However, starting with basic range gear to get yourself competent FIRST is a good idea, hence this list of suggestions.

So, equipment needed for good technique practice:

  • Gun
  • Magazines
  • Eye/Ear Protection
  • Holster
  • Magazine pouch

Gun: up to you, though you might take a look at one of my prior posts about How Do You Learn to Shoot and my thoughts on appropriate firearm choice when you are trying to learn good technique.

Magazines:  Most guns come with 2 (though sometimes small guns only come with one).  Truthfully, you probably want to get yourself 5 or 6 magazines for any gun that you plan on shooting very much.  Because A) shooting one mag at a time gets very old, B) you should practice reloading and that is easier with more than two mags, and C) like any other physical object with moving parts, mags are subject to wear and tear and they give out.  (And if you have a revolver, get yourself 3 or so speedloaders.)

Eye/Ear Pro:  I assume you don’t like the idea of being blind or deaf.  ALWAYS wear eye/ear pro while shooting.  For ear pro, good electronic ear pro is now available for reasonable prices and it is REALLY handy to have on the range.  Dampens out loud noises but amplifies quiet stuff so you can shoot without damage and talk without yelling.  Regular glasses are not good eye protection (they don’t wrap around enough, nor do they normally cover high and low enough), and sunglasses normally aren’t much better–and certainly aren’t rated for impact.  Buy (and wear) actual shooting eye protection that has at least an ANZI Z87.1 rating.

Now to the parts that most people really care about:  Holsters, and magazine pouches.

With respect to basic range practice (actually everything, but especially basic range practice) I’m a BIG fan of kydex.  Thin, lightweight, durable, easily molded to specific firearms, if it gets dirty you throw it in the dishwasher—kydex holsters are simply the easiest way to get a solid economical holster for practice.  My top two suggestions for your first basic range practice holster:

CQC1) Blackhawk Standard CQC (Sportster) Holster:

This is NOT a SERPA holster.  Retention is passive only.  Normally comes with both paddle and belt attachments, left or right hand, large range of gun possibilities, covers the trigger guard, passive retention is adjustable—just a great range holster.  (And when I started competition shooting, I used one of these for several years.)

Note:  Link given is just so you can look at them.  Once you know if you want it, check around for the best prices.  However, $22.45 is hard to beat…

KydexPaddle2) Uncle Mike’s Kydex holsters:

Similar to the CQC above, comes with paddle and belt attachments, large range of guns available, etc.  In my opinion, not quite the quality of the CQC, but still a perfectly decent holster, and under $30 is a good deal.

Edited later to add:

3) Blade-Tech Revolution Holster:

Someone just pointed out to me that the Revolution holsters are good choices too, and I had missed that—I have a number of Blade-Tech holsters, but none from the Revolution series (and the other series cost more, so it hadn’t occurred to me). The Revolution ones, however, are excellent holsters and only a couple of bucks more than the two above. (Look on Amazon for better prices, oddly enough.) Comes with both a paddle and a belt loop attachment, like the two holsters above.

That’s it, really.  Sure, there are plenty of others out there—but most cost more money, and either don’t give you anything more than the above two, OR are for more specialized circumstances.    If you know what you want, that’s one thing, but if you are just looking for a holster to use for technique practice at the range, or are just starting to learn in the first place, the above two holsters will do everything you need in a reliable fashion without costing much.

One negative mention:  Don’t buy a Fobus holster. No matter how good of a deal it seems to be.  In my opinion, they are just about the worst holsters out there.  Material is substandard, connection from pouch to hanger (belt or paddle) is weak and breaks easily, retention is normally something that requires a winch to get the gun out of the holster, and I’ve never seen one that actually covered the entire trigger guard like it is supposed to do.  Truthfully, any time I see someone with a Fobus holster I assume they really don’t know what they are doing and have a weak grasp of firearms safety.  That may be unkind of me, but….it’s been pretty true so far.  (If your response was “Well, maybe they didn’t know any better!” I will agree, but if they have to full-arm-yank the gun to get it out of the holster and it doesn’t cover the trigger guard BUT THEY DON’T MIND, then their grasp of firearms safety needs work.)

Sorry if that hurt anyone’s feelings, but if you use a Fobus holster you should REALLY think about whether or not it is a good idea.

Now, that being said, let’s talk about magazine pouches:

351493For starter pouches, I think the Fobus mag pouches are some of the best deals out there.  Specifically, the belt (not paddle) basic double-mag pouches.

Generally, for under $30 you can get a double-mag pouch that will fit your magazine type, and it’ll work (and wear) perfectly well for standard range practice.  If you want single-mag pouches, or don’t mind spending a little more, Blackhawk makes decent double-mag pouches also.

For a bit more than that, you can get Blade-Tech mag pouches (double or single) with Tek-Lok belt attachments, which are nice.  However, those cost a little more.  (Similarly, Blade-Tech makes GREAT range/carry/competition holsters, but again, they cost more.)

For most folks just starting on draws/reloads/transitions–solid handgun technique practice on the range, I just normally say get a Blackhawk CQC Standard holster, a Fobus double-mag pouch, buy a good thick leather belt from Walmart or Target (don’t need to spend the money on a real gunbelt yet) and about 5 extra mags.  Plus a lot of ammo.

That’ll get you what you need to get better.  Later, when you ARE better and have a more precise idea of what you want/need for what you plan on DOING with your firearm (carry/competition/duty) then you can spend more money on something quality in that area.