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Columns : In My Sights

Off-Duty Ready

Always carry a firearm and teach loved ones how to react if you need to use it—if not for yourself, then for them.

February 13, 2012  |  by Dave Smith - Also by this author

Illustration: Sequoia Blankenship
Illustration: Sequoia Blankenship

I will never forget the excitement of graduating from the academy, getting the shield, getting to hunt evil, and getting to carry a gun all the time. In fact, one of the coolest things about graduating was deciding what to carry off-duty. My sweet mom, who was not the least bit happy about me becoming a crimefighter, gave me a nice new Colt Detective Special that seemed to be the perfect off-duty weapon to conceal in the desert climate of Tucson. Moms are so practical.

But that was the heyday of Clint Eastwood as Dirty Harry, and pretty soon my colleagues JW and Sam convinced me I needed a magnum; not some .357 Magnum, but Harry's own .44 Magnum. So began the quest to try to conceal a four-inch Model 29, which was not too easy. To make matters even more interesting we had to qualify with our off-duty weapons. Shooting my mighty .44 on the line with folks shooting normal off-duty snubbies and autos didn't make me particularly popular.

Finally, they had JW and his .41 and me stand and qualify side by side alone. Ultimately, my cylinder got slightly out of line and began shaving lead, which JW discovered by finding a bit of my copper jacket in his chin. I got my .44 fixed but JW and I decided to find what else would work well off-duty, and so began a long adventure my old squad mates call the "gun of the month club" time of our lives.

Small frames, big frames, autos, revolvers, even derringers came and went in our inventory, and several still sit in my safe since I couldn't bear to part with their sweet little serial numbers. Even my wife, the Sarge, who isn't the most sentimental of people, can't bear to part with her stainless snubby that she packed off-duty for years.

I say all this thinking of how I am always amazed that when I talk to a class about off-duty confrontations, one or two crimefighters will remark that they don't carry off-duty and don't believe in it. "Aren't you with the very people you love most in your life? The ones you would be willing to die for?" I ask, incredulous. Often they reply in the affirmative and then I inquire what they will do to protect those loved ones in a deadly force encounter. Some get mad and say that doesn't have anything to do with carrying off-duty or how much they love their family.

So what about you? Do you carry off-duty? Even if you do, have you told your loved ones what to do in a crisis, where to go, who to call, what to say? What is important for your boyfriend or girlfriend, your husband or wife, all four of them to say in a crisis to 911 when you are reacting to a threat? Now, while you are safely reading POLICE Magazine, is the time to mentally plan what you will do in a crisis and what to teach your loved ones.

Do your kids know the difference between cover and concealment, and how to use both? I am not advocating scaring your family, but preparing your family—and when you do, it will prepare you. You can act more confidently knowing your loved ones are prepared as well.

This is truly the golden era of concealed carry and your choice of weapons and holsters is phenomenal. I have to confess, if I were in my "gun of the month" lifestyle today I would be buying and selling like a maniac. I would have a slim, sweet 9mm this month and a tuned up .40 the next. I would be dazzling the range with holsters that look like a wallet in my pants and an ankle holster that holds my extra magazines and handcuffs...Too cool.

Remember though that all the cool equipment in the world is useless unless you train with it, prepare with it, remember it. When it comes to off-duty encounters you have to think about who will be with you, where you will be, and what you will do. Teach the ones you love how to react, what to do, and how to help you—even if it is just calling dispatch to get on-duty folks there ASAP.

I hope you never need to use your off-duty weapon, and that your children will never need to know the difference between cover and concealment. But a firearm is like cover: You don't need it very often, but when you do, you really do. 

Dave Smith is the creator of "Buck Savage" and a retired law enforcement officer from Arizona. Currently, he is the lead instructor for Calibre Press' Street Survival seminar.

Comments (25)

Displaying 1 - 25 of 25

Greg @ 2/15/2012 4:07 AM

I'm always amazed at the sheep who wind up in law enforcement. "Guns...ick! I may have to carry it at work, but my friends think they're rather distasteful in polite society". Well, alrighty then. That citizen at the next table is protecting her family from the Goblins, and she's not "officially" trained to do so. Guess some of these bleaters in blue will have a hard time explaining to their family why they didn't find them worth protecting too!

Of course, this explains the scores during qualification.

Federali @ 2/16/2012 5:15 PM

@ Greg: Great points. Sheep in our job can be more hazardous than the wolves we are protecting against. If you're a sheep dog during the day, you're a sheep dog at night too! (Reverse it for those of you on a graveyard shift) I'm not saying you can't relax when off duty, but be prepared to go back on duty. As a federal agent I see more "blue sheep" than I think I would if I was working for a local agency. I've seen some not carrying even when on duty! Nothing like putting together a last minute surveillance plan and being told by a co-worker, "I gotta go home and get my gear." Wish I could have said "Just go home and stay there!" I would also recommend some range time with family members with whichever gun(s) you can/may carry off duty. As an ultimate last resort, I want my family to be able to defend themselves in the event that I failed to do it myself.

Guillermo @ 2/16/2012 6:00 PM

I'm with you Greg, we have too many "Sheeple" who have no business wearing a badge and gun. Recently at the range we were required to shoot the rounds we had been carrying on-duty (which is a total of 37 rounds) at a full-size silhouette target at 25 yards using a two-handed hold in a period of 3 minutes. One officer fired all 37 rounds and managed to hit the paper 2 times! Another was shaking so badly, the hits looked like someone had fired buckshot at the target at 50 yards...I don't know that either of them COULD protect themselves, their family or me if I was partnered with them on or off duty! THe firearms instructors can't be blamed, these folks have to be re-trained ay every qualification and most can't qualify the first time, have to have remedial training, then just barely squeak by. Should they have been hired to begin with???

gp cobb @ 2/16/2012 10:15 PM

Guillermo: "Should they have been hired to begin with??? "

Not no but He$$ NO!

DavidBurks @ 2/17/2012 10:41 AM

There are sheep we work with which surprised me the first time I ran into it. I was out of county on a training when I received a call about a group I had been working on with an out of state agency. The bad guys were going to do crime in No. KY and wanted us there. After we arrived and had set up. To take the bad guys down my partner told me he did not have his weapon with him. And would nOt take the shotgun I offered. So long story short bad guys arrested partner almost ran over by bad guys. Good article keep it up

Worm @ 2/17/2012 12:35 PM

Anyone who doesn't carry off duty is lazy. Unless you're scuba diving or skydiving you should have a gun on you. And it should be a fighting handgun, not the itsy-bitsyist lightweight thing you can find. Just sticking an airweight snubby in your pocket that you never practice with is weak.

I started training my son on tactics and shooting when he was in grade school. Cover vs. Concealment,

Worm @ 2/17/2012 12:42 PM

And quizing him on exit/points are in commercial buildings, how to describe me to 911 the so the responders dont mistake me for the suspects and give number and description of suspects.

Now he's a teenager shooting IDPA and IPSC. I couldnt be more proud.

JJ Millhouse @ 2/18/2012 8:11 AM

Not only packed off-duty but now in retirement. You never know when you might run across one of those many fine folks you had to arrest in your career.

Bob Steel @ 2/18/2012 8:29 AM

Great discussion Dave, and I think we talked about this at one of our seminars to the troops in past years. There is also another phase of this that after many years, a retired officer and instructor, I feel very strongly about after all the long days/hours/call-outs etc have come to a close and we are fortunate enough to retire. We STILL need to maintain this attitude and carry, be prepared which includes staying proficient with your weapon, awareness and thought process. I do admit there are times when I may not ALWAYS carry, given certain circumstances, but I try to be and stress to others to utilize our skills and remember all we have been through as yes it CAN still happen to you. Once a LEO ALWAYS a LEO, and given our past of the public & our families would appreciate, desire and expect us to help if a situation turns sour and we could responsibly save lives. Now this does NOT mean flashing a retired badge and stopping a speed violator as we have all heard horror stories about, but in serious situations we should be available to still go above and beyond!

BGallasso @ 2/18/2012 8:37 AM

I, like you guys, see far to many blue sheep. I've had multiple talks with one female I work with about this exact topic. She would actually lock her gun up in the gun locker, at the office, then head for home after work... IN FULL UNIFORM! I think I fi ally got through to her though. I believe there is no such thing as "off duty". A true sheepdog is always prepared and ready to defend the flock. Great article Dave.

Bill Pitcher @ 2/18/2012 8:38 AM

When hired back in the "old days" (1975) I was told that I didn't have to carry off duty, but "if you like your a**, you will." Wise advice that I still follow, even though in semi-retirement. I went through the gun of the month club phase also, and have yet changed a few times, but training with the the pistol I'm carrying is the one thing I've not failed to do. Keep up the great work Dave. You're still saving lives.

Steve @ 2/18/2012 8:46 AM

I am surprised at the number of new officers that dont carry. They dont even like ot carry on duty. It shows in the lack of pride and positive attitude they display. We have newbee's that barely qualify! Thats really scary to me as they could be the only backup I have someday. Heaven forbid I am a hostage and they are the only thing between life and death for me. I remember that in my era we would actually practice headshots in case our partner was taken hostage. We were not going to let our partner get hurt...never! We even practiced from the holster, from a table or ground, etc.

I am not a front line officer but I still carry a rifle AND shotgun (which is a dying breed in itself) I also still carry a straight 29 and 42 inch baton. You ask why? What if I am the closest backup you have? Do you want me to have the tools I need to make sure we all go home? Just beause you go up in rank does not mean you have to stop being a street cop!

Oh how I miss the days when cops were cops and bad guys were bad guys............hard to tell now days.

Duke @ 2/18/2012 9:16 AM

19 years on the job and I carried everyday off duty. Now on Disability and I still carry everyday. Could never understand why some folks wouldn't carry while off duty.

Gman @ 2/18/2012 5:47 PM

YES! Always carry off duty! Always, everywhere. Period. As well as a second smaller gun. You do not pick the time, place, type or intensity of an encounter. When I dive I carry two sources of air, what do you do if you only have one? I'm an avid believer that when it hits, have more than you need to deal with it. I've deployed a gun 3 times off duty in 30 years, and was pretty glad I had one. I remember years ago in a book, there was a picture of an off duty guy standing in line in a bank, two bad guys enter and one has a shotgun. Off duty Copper has a 5 shot snubbie. Not a good thing, though 5 times better than no thing. Be ready, it's not paranoid. We are in a new age of violence and tactics, buck up boys and girls or head out to chew on some grass. God Bless.

Kevin @ 2/19/2012 8:02 AM

Great thougth provoking article and comments by readers. I don't go anywhere without a gun. I'm not paranoid, just want to be prepared if the unthinkable happens. I even pack at home if I'm outside, especially if my grandkids are here. I could never live with myself if some evil person tried to harm them and I was unable to protect them.

Packing heat does require you to be in Condition Yellow. You have to be aware of what is going on around you.

I carry a Glock 27 as I want something similar to what I carry on duty (Glock 22). I'm temepted with some of the new .380 autos (Ruger LCP in particular) but am still not sold on the .380 being enough gun to be effective. Sure as heck isn't as much as a .40 S&W.

Pack heat at church too. How many shootings have we seen at churches? No place is safe.

Charles @ 2/29/2012 12:34 PM

I keep reading the word "sheepdog", and this concerns me. I get the feeling that you are a little bit high on yourselves and are taking on a God complex. Don't ever get so confident in yourself that you begin to believe that the police are in place to defend or protect the public; or "flock" as you put it. The police are not employed to protect the public. The police are in place to investigate crimes after they happen and then pursue the criminal. The public is responsible for protecting themselves. If you don't agree with that, you may want to take it up with the Supreme Court. They recently ruled that the police are not in place to protect anybody. You are no Sheepdog, so you would be well served to cease and desist using that term immediately. I appreciate what you do, but protecting me and my family is not one of your responsibilites. That is up to me. Once I finish dealing with the threat, I will call you guys to pick up his body.

A.Armijo @ 3/1/2012 8:16 PM

I keep the family current on whats going on and whatcould possible go down in public. How to take cover but mostly how to take commands without aaking questions.

J Brooks @ 3/3/2012 8:56 AM

I read your article Off-Duty Ready from Feb 2012 Police Magazine. I find your inability to understand someone not carrying a firearm off duty to be confusing. We work in a stressful job. Steps need to be made to get away from that stress. So giving a broad damnation of those who don’t is sad. When you carry a weapon you are effectively on-duty. You have to be mindful of the gun at all times. You have to be conscious of body placement and naturally assume the observational habits of being on patrol. There are many times that I don’t carry because I want to be actually off-duty. I want to have the freedom to do what I want and not be restricted due to a firearm. I don’t want to worry about my shirt being big and long enough to conceal the weapon. It is good for you psychologically do disengage from this job when you can. That may mean going on date, without a gun, or spending time at the park with your kids. Our job is about mindset, not weapons. I do observe the areas I am going into and those individuals that appear to be up to no good, I avoid and keep the family away from them. So when you say that to the officers in your seminar I would appreciate that you not give such a narrow minded answer. Individuals like you can be labeled a squirrel by others in law enforcement.

Jbad04 @ 3/6/2012 10:20 AM

As usual Dave covers a good point with humor and intelligence. Had to chuckle when he talked about the "gun of the month". Been there, done that, got the t-shirt (and the guns) to show for it. My mother and later my wife (a former officer) humored me during that phase. But I always carry. If you wanted 9 to 5 you should have gone into banking. You owe it your family and to the public to be prepared.

Jbad04 @ 3/6/2012 10:37 AM

Mr. Brooks with all due respect I am quite astonished at your comment. In over 30 years on the job I've never had a problem "disengaging" from the stress of the job, yet still having the ability to protect my family and the public when needed. Your comment about about running away is a telling, and to me, selfish one. My family know's to get away if something goes down while I return to deal with it, honoring my oath and obligation. It's what you take on when are given the badge. You sound like you want to honor your oath and obligation only when you absolutely have to or it is convenient for you. If the stress is that bad for you and your temperment is so fickle, please do us all a favor and find another profession!

J Brooks @ 3/14/2012 10:30 AM

Well Jbad04, Its seems you can't read nor understand what is written. Where is running away typed? oh thats right it isn't. I said get away from stress. You know that term is used when regarding to going on vacation or in other words a change in mindset. I think the you and others on here think that the gun is what makes you a cop. Honoring your oath is not about a gun. As I said it is a mindset. I think calling somewhat out in the middle of a seminar in that manner is unprofessional. I have attended street survival and I found the seminar very helpful. I don't recall anyone being called out like that. And I have been an officer for 18 years and maybe you should retire and quit taking up space so a younger officer could start his dream. You seem to be someone who defines themselves by the job they have and thus still eran the title of Squirell. I also said nothing about my tempermant. I have the most productive shift of officers at my precinct in a 500+ person agency. On and off duty they are oustanding. They also don't need a gun to think like a cop. but if you are so insecure with your abilities that the only way you can survive is to have a gun on you at all times, maybe you need to find another profession.

Artiep @ 3/19/2012 1:30 PM

I'm retired. Started in Detroit PD but retired out of the 'burbs. I always carry (we also trailer around the country) and can't think of a good reason not too. My friends and relatives are usually suprised to hear I have a weapon with me. A friend who retired from Flint PD (now working towards a homicide record) feels so relaxed he doesn't bother (we and the wives now live in northern Michigan). I'm to old for hand-to-hand any more. My understanding is in Israel more terrorists are stopped by armed citizens than the military. We need more sheepdogs.

Matt @ 3/28/2012 5:35 AM

Unfortunately, the ones who really need to read this article don't get this magazine online or in print. Why would a sheep need to worry about reading how to be a better sheepdog?

Joe Pagano @ 4/7/2012 6:08 AM

Sorry to say how often I have this conversation with fellow LEO's, both active and retired. I try to stress mind set, that situational awareness mode that could make all the difference. In addition to all the previous comments I add the fact that the weapon and mind set require no heavy lifting. Todays small potent weapons are so easy to carry there is no excuse, and the mind set should be something you do without even thinking about it, geez, don't you do that on duty, or for the 20-30 years before you retired???
Anyway, hope those that decide not to carry, or prepare, never have to regret it.

Dan @ 9/11/2012 8:23 PM

So what if you DO believe in carrying off duty but you don't know if your agency allows it? Your department manual is ambiguous and everyone you ask has a different answer?

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