Let's get this out of the way first; I'm a big fan of the Second Amendment. I think the right to bear arms is a good thing, assuming the person bearing those arms has the right intentions, understands all the ramifications for doing so, and, most importantly, dedicates a considerable amount of time to training for the day he or she might have to exercise that right to the fullest. Now I'm not saying Uncle Bob needs his guns taken away because he doesn't hit the range enough; I am merely suggesting he might be better off leaving them at home when he goes to the store. An untrained and unprepared person who brings a gun to a fight is likely to get himself or someone else hurt or killed.
These considerations don't just apply to civilians. There are plenty of cops out there who, despite the abundance of training we get compared to the average Joe, have no business carrying a concealed weapon in their off time.
It is a sad fact but absolutely true; not all cops are what you might call "gun people." If you're one of these cops the best I can do is encourage you to consider the alternative. And if you're open minded enough, maybe this article will help you along the way. If you are the sort of cop who doesn't get the mail without toting a gun along with you, maybe I can give you a few pointers, too. Let's get started.
Lines in the Sand
Before you stuff a pistol in your waistband and head out the door there are a ton of things you first need to square away in your mind.
First and foremost, you need to decide why you're carrying a gun in the first place. Do you plan on using it to take police action or is it a last-resort tool to protect yourself if the worst happens? Are you out looking for trouble or is that pistol tucked away in case trouble corners you? And if you have to use that pistol in any number of scenarios, what will the ramifications be? Think lawsuits, criminal charges, and most importantly, the loss of someone's life.
Digest all of this and every scenario possible before you even think about leaving the house armed. If you don't set the rules before things go sideways you might end up making rash decisions with disastrous consequences.
Now I understand we all took an oath to protect good people from bad people. We deter crime and hold criminals accountable for their actions. But let's think about this oath in a practical frame of mind. Is it worth your life to stop a shoplifter or a reckless driver? Or maybe a couple of guys fighting? Likely not. Someone getting beaten to near death in a parking lot? You might want to get involved in that one. You and your family are in a convenience store when you're suddenly caught in the middle of an armed robbery? In that case I would sure hope you've got your gun and the skills to use it.
I can't quarterback every scenario for you, but my point is there has to be a line in the sand that needs to be crossed before you expose yourself to harm for the sake of someone else, and it is up to you to decide where that line is based upon your training and experience.
Remember, pulling out your pistol while off duty and diving into a situation can actually make it worse for you and everyone else involved. Sometimes you can do more good with a cellphone and a good memory while the officers on duty do the rest.
Regardless, I would suggest you keep that pistol and your intentions concealed until the time comes. An open carry firearm will always attract attention, often the kind you don't want. When it comes to carrying a firearm off-duty, discretion and the element of surprise are almost always in your favor. For those reasons I'll keep the focus of this article on concealed carry.
Methods and Gear
All right, now that you've come to terms with what you will, and more importantly won't, do while off-duty and carrying a concealed weapon, let's talk about how you're going to pack that heat.
There are about a million ways to carry a gun and no one way is inherently better than another. The correct way for you will be dependent on a number of factors. Body type, size and type of pistol, attire, and flexibility are just a few. Remember, the ultimate goal is to be effective with that tool should the need arise. You need to keep your weapon secure and concealed but still be able to access it quickly. You also need to be able to re-holster that gun when the time comes.
The most common means of carrying a concealed handgun in my experience and likely the most effective are an inside the waistband (IWB) holster and an outside-the-waistband (OWB) holster. The waist is where we carry our pistols while in uniform and where our brains are programmed to look for them. The more we can standardize our training the better.
Body type and clothing will dictate whether you choose an IWB holster or an OWB holster. If you're used to wearing skinny jeans, the odds of stuffing a pistol inside the waistband are not in your favor, and you might be limited to an outside the waist holster. If you're carrying a few extra pounds up front you might also have a tough time tucking a holster in the front of your pants, unless you enjoy being uncomfortable and having very limited access to that weapon.
Don't decide on a carry method until you've experimented with several and discovered firsthand what works for you. Find a holster and location that will allow you to keep the pistol concealed yet provide quick access. You should be able to negotiate any shirt or jacket covering it up and draw your pistol cleanly from the holster in one smooth motion.
Similarly, you should be able to re-holster your weapon when the time comes without using two hands and without the fear of accidentally discharging the gun as you hunt around for the holster. You'll know when you've achieved that perfect balance when you barely notice the gun is there yet can get it into the fight almost immediately.
If you or your attire have determined the waistband isn't for you, there are other great options for carrying concealed that you may want to consider.
Ankle holsters are great if you're wearing pants, as they eliminate the discomfort involved with carrying a pistol on your waist. They're comfortable, secure, and difficult to notice but generally limited to compact pistols.
Purses or backpacks are great for concealing a full-size framed pistol and even a couple of extra magazines. Many companies now offer purses and packs designed specifically for concealed carry. These allow secure and concealed carrying options for the user while facilitating quick access to the pistol. To the untrained eye, they appear as an average backpack or purse but can be manipulated quickly to get a gun into the fight.
As we venture farther from the norm we get options like shoulder holsters, belly bands, and fanny packs. There are still a few detectives who like to hide a pistol in a shoulder rig under a suit jacket. I may also know a senior guy or two who still swear by their trusty fanny packs. They might not be what one would consider stylish but they are functional and I suppose functionality is more important than impressing the ladies.
Other Items to Carry
One of the often forgotten yet very important aspects of an off-duty encounter is what happens after the shooting or threat of shooting has occurred. What other tools might you need to ensure you are able to follow through with what you've started?
Is one magazine of ammo enough or might you want a spare? If you've taken law enforcement action and now need to place someone into custody do you have a set of handcuffs with you? Holding someone at gunpoint for an extended period of time isn't ideal and a pistol alone isn't going to help you address everything you'll encounter in a dynamic situation.
If you're going to get involved, you'll need enough gear to back it up. At a minimum I would strongly suggest an extra magazine, a cellphone, and your badge. You'll want to call for help, and when it arrives, the ability to identify yourself as one of the good guys is important. Ideally, you will also carry a pair of handcuffs and a flashlight. This combination will give you the tools you'll need to tackle most situations. My personal everyday carry bag contains all of the above and is light enough to take everywhere.
Whatever carry option you choose, the only way to make it effective is through training. We practice thousands of draws from our duty belts but rarely spend time on the range with our concealed carry gear. There is a good argument to be made that drawing from a duty holster is a simpler process than retrieving a pistol stuffed into a waistband and covered by clothing. If that is true we should be spending a lot more time on a plainclothes range.
Over the years I have led plenty of plainclothes and undercover range sessions that have focused on this distinct skill. My officers get good reps with their chosen concealed gear, so they'll be familiar and proficient with it when the time comes. More often than not, they also discover that the method they've been using isn't ideal and make the necessary changes.
Not only do they work on using the gear, but they apply those skills to scenarios they're likely to encounter out in the real world. Engaging targets while sitting in a car or at a lunch table is challenging. And after the shooting stops they work on the "now what" portion of the problem. Get out your badge, identify yourself, and call for help. Look for additional threats, assess the situation, and get ready for whatever might come next.
If your agency isn't offering similar training, I'd encourage you to talk to your cadre of firearms instructors and put together a lesson plan. It is a great way to break up the monotony of firearms training while enhancing a very valuable skill set.
Remember, when your body experiences the stress only a real life-and-death encounter can induce, you will not rise to the occasion; you will fall to the level of your training. Only if you've put in the work beforehand will you carry the day. Train with a purpose and you'll tip the scales in your favor. And as always, keep your wits about you and stay safe out there.
A.J. George is a patrol sergeant with the Scottsdale (Ariz.) Police Department who serves as the SWAT team's crisis negotiation supervisor.