Years back, my date and I were leaving a movie theater and walking through rows of cars in the parking lot of a large suburban area mall in my city. I had been a patrol officer for about four years at the time. It was around midnight, there was hardly any moon, and the parking lot lights had been shut down.

Two young guys walked toward us, talking with each other. But the young lady and I were oblivious to what was going on around us. That was a mistake.

Out of the corner of my eye, off to my left, I caught the flash of a shadow moving along with us. Too late now, the shadow materialized into the form of a young guy, about 18, holding a tire iron in his right hand. His buddy, to his left and slightly in trail, said, "Give me your money."

Boxed in and left with just one choice, I reached for my department-issued Smith & Wesson Model 66 revolver, which was secured to my belt with an old, belt slide, thumb snap holster. Yes, it was a long time ago; yes, we were issued revolvers; and no, movies weren't still being called "magic lantern shows."

I swept back the right side of the jacket I was wearing, grabbed the Model 66, drew it, and commanded the mugger to drop his weapon. You have never in your life seen anyone drop a tire iron so fast.

After hours of paperwork and interviews, the bad guys were charged with attempted armed robbery and carted off to county jail. I never saw my date again. Guess she didn't like the movie.

Things changed that day for me. I learned that you must be aware of your surroundings at all times. You must know your equipment and keep it in good, serviceable condition. And you must practice draw techniques under a variety of conditions.

Concealed Carry Basics

Carrying a concealed firearm is a privilege afforded to only a few in this country. Professional law enforcement officers must respect the responsibility for doing so and maintain a high level of proficiency in what is a highly perishable skill.

The keys to responsible concealed carry are: mindset, equipment, and technique. They all flow together. You can have the correct mindset, but if your equipment is not serviceable, neither will do you a bit of good. You can practice wonderful technique, but if your head is off in La-La land, all the technique in the world will not make you successful in a dangerous encounter. The same thing goes for equipment. You can spend thousands on great weapons, the best handcrafted holster, and snazzy off-duty clothing made for cops and their carry needs, but if you don't have the technique and mindset to put all that into play, you are just dead in the water.

Mindset is probably the easiest of the concealed carry concepts to explain and the hardest to consistently and continuously implement. Simply put, the proper mindset is to know what is going on around you at all times and have a plan for every contingency. We can never achieve this, but we have to try.

Technique is another area of concern for anyone who carries a concealed firearm, and it is moderately easy for law enforcement officers to learn. After all, most of us successfully completed a physical agility test to get our jobs.

Learning the techniques for handling a concealed firearm is the easy part. Remaining proficient in them is, however, another story. Not only does it require practice, but the right practice. If you are practicing bad habits, the results could actually be worse than not practicing at all.

Find someone in your organization who is knowledgeable in concealed firearms techniques and have him or her work with you. First you do it, then they do it, and so on. Adult learners learn best by practical exercise of techniques. First, work on the technique and then start building speed. After that, go to the range and build in live fire exercises to add accuracy.

On Duty, Off Duty

Equipment is the most complicated of the three things you must consider before carrying a concealed firearm. There are so many weapons and accessories available to us that the sheer numbers are almost overwhelming.

If your department lets you decide what weapon to carry in your concealable holster, try to keep your duty weapon and off-duty weapon similar in function. If your duty gun is double-action only (DAO), make your concealed gun the same type of DAO. For example, if you carry a Glock 17 on duty, the Glock 26 is a smaller more easily concealed version, identical in operation. If you practice with, qualify with, and use the 17, everything but feel is transferable to the 26. The same thing goes for any other major line of police pistols.

Slapping Leather

Now that you've chosen the weapon that you want to conceal, you now need a concealable holster. There are about a zillion holsters to choose from on the market. They range from inexpensive ballistic nylon rigs to exceptional handcrafted exotic skin holsters that could cost you an entire paycheck.

Beauty is one thing, but what you really need in a concealable holster is comfort, durability, ease of use, speed of presentation, and to a certain extent, ease for re-holstering.

Some concealable rigs are just downright painful to wear. For my rather round and pudgy body type, an inside the waistband holster is not at all comfortable or practical. For my skinny, athletic son, it works very well.

Then there's all the problems you face with concealable holsters if you just happen to be female. For years now, female officers have been saddled with using concealment holsters designed for men's body types. But that just doesn't work. For example, on a woman, a holster designed for a man will ride too high.

Due to this comfort issue, some female officers resort to putting their guns in their purses. But that's a really bad idea. The whole point of carrying a concealed firearm is to not make it so concealed that you can't bring it to bear in a fight. Many times when you are forced to draw a concealed weapon, the bad guy has probably already made the decision to fight. You are already behind the time curve. And I have never seen anyone who can draw a pistol from a purse in the second-and-a-half time limit that experts say is often the difference between life and death in a gunfight.

A better alternative is a holster designed specifically for hiding a gun on the female body. The Kramer Women's Scabbard manufactured by Kramer Handgun Leather in Tacoma, Wash., is a good choice. With FBI Forward Tilt, the Kramer is made for a great variety of handguns.  It is comfortable and requires only that the user have a good belt, substantial enough to support the holster and gun.

Take note of that guys; a substantial belt is necessary for your concealable holsters as well. Those thin half-inch wide belts will not provide enough support for any holster and gun combination.

Finally, every officer on the planet who is promoted to an investigative assignment rushes out to buy his or her first shoulder holster.

When it comes to these rigs, the old adage of you get what you pay for, definitely comes into play. The first consideration with shoulder rigs is fit. A person with a large barrel chest will have problems reaching across and drawing the weapon. The holster has to fit well in order to work properly. And remember that a straight pull fits better than a downward pull with the natural hand placement of body mechanics.

To find a holster that is comfortable, durable, and that safely fits your weapon, do your homework. And ask your friends and partners what they use and why. Then if they'll let you, borrow theirs for an afternoon at the range and find something that works for you.

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Drawing a concealed pistol from under a jacket is a technique that requires a good deal of practice.
 
1. The first step is to grasp the jacket with your strong side hand. Then flip the side of the jacket away. The jacket side should swing around and hit you near the middle of the back.


2. While the jacket side is out of your way, grasp your gun with the same grip as you would grasp your duty weapon in a duty rig. It may be advisable to bring your offside hand around to your chest at the same time you grasp the gun. If you must make a snap shot after just barely clearing leather, it would be best to have that off side hand out of the way.


3. Bring the gun to bear by marrying the two hands just in front of your chest.


4. Push the gun toward the suspect. Remember, keep your finger off the trigger unless you plan on destroying what you are pointing at. Drawing a concealed weapon from a sweater or sweatshirt is relatively the same as from under a jacket. The only difference is you use your offside hand to reach around your belly and grasp the bottom of the sweat shirt as close to the gun as possible. Then you lift directly up and as high as you can. As soon as the sweatshirt is above your gun, grasp it and draw it.


Just in Case

Sometimes a law enforcement officer or security agent can't wear a pistol even in a hidden rig. For such times, retired cop, criminal investigator, and private detective Dan Tschudy developed the Just in Case, a high-end briefcase that's designed to secure and hide a gun.

The Just in Case briefcase, manufactured by Concealed Carry Systems Inc. of Scottsdale, Ariz., features external locks that are programmable to any combination chosen by the user. The case offers everything that you might need in an everyday briefcase. It accommodates papers and file folders, and has areas for pens, toiletries, and personal items.

It also accommodates a pistol. Foam inserts allow for the storage of the gun and keep it in place while you move. But when you need it, all you have to do is open the case, push a button, turn a key, and the gun is in your hand. Two keys are provided to each buyer, and a third is kept on record at Concealed Carry Systems.

In addition, the Just in Case has internal aluminum mounts that can be fitted with Kevlar ballistic panels. The panels can be ordered from Concealed Carry in several different NIJ protection levels.

Aker Leather
www.akerleather.com

Alessi Holsters
www.alessiholsters.com

BlackHawk
www.blackhawkindustries.com

Blade Tech
http://shop.blade-tech.com

Del Fatti Leather
www.delfatti.com

DeSantis Gunhide
www.desantisholster.com

Don Hume
www.donhume.com

Eagle International
www.eagleindustries.com

FIST
www.fist-inc.com

Fobus
www.fobusholster.com

Gould and Goodrich
www.gouldusa.com

High Noon Holsters
www.highnoonholsters.com

Kramer Handgun Leather
www.kramerleather.com

Milt Sparks Holsters Inc.
www.miltsparks.com

Mitch Rosen Gunleather
www.mitchrosen.com

Michaels of Oregon
www.uncle-mikes.com

Pager Pal
www.pagerpal.com

SA Gun Leather
www.sagunleather.com

Safariland
www.safariland.com

Strong Holsters
www.strong-holster.com

Wild Bill's Concealment Holsters
www.wildbillsconcealment.com

Dave Douglas is a sergeant on the San Diego Police Department with 25 years of service.

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