Firearms manufacturers in recent years have increasingly launched smaller handguns with improved capacity as they cater to the civilian concealed carry market. While that provides a wide variety of carry weapon options, for law enforcement officers the selection process is more straightforward. Stick with what is familiar.
For any officer looking to choose a concealable firearm to carry while off duty, the first step is to always check for any departmental guidelines or
Kevin Michalowski, head of content for the U.S. Concealed Carry Association (USCCA), understands firsthand the issues cops should consider when carrying off duty. He previously was a full-time cop and now continues to work part time as a sworn officer for a small department in central Wisconsin.
Keep It Similar
“Check the policy for how your department might like you to carry, if they have any say in it. My current department tells me that they would like my off-duty firearm to be what they describe as ‘substantially similar to my on-duty firearm,’ so that all of my training protocols, my biannual qualifications, and everything can carry over to the same firearm, or type of firearm,” says Michalowski. “Then I don’t have another manual of arms or training protocol or anything that I have to study up on and switch between the gun that I’m carrying on duty and the gun that I’m carrying off duty when I’m not in uniform.”
He suggests officers follow that premise of making their carry weapon something “substantially similar.” Michalowski uses the example of standard duty Glock pistols that are big, thick, double-stack guns and how an officer now has similar options, like the new Glock 48 or Glock 43x, in much smaller scale. Other manufacturers do the same by making double-stack duty guns but offering slimmer concealed carry guns within the same family.
But he also says the off-duty weapon necessarily does not have to be made by the same company that produced the duty firearm. While one officer may carry a Glock 22 on duty and a Glock 17 concealed off duty, another officer carrying the same duty weapon may choose a non-Glock as their carry sidearm. An example of this slightly different approach would be if an officer carries a department-issued Glock on duty, then chooses something like a micro-compact Springfield Armory Hellcat or a SIG Sauer P365 for off-duty concealed carry. Even though they may feel slightly different than a Glock, in effect they function the same. It can still work if there is enough similarity in the manual of arms.
“The big trade off in the marketplace has always been ammunition capacity versus comfort while carrying and that might come down to how it feels on your hip or in your holster. Do you want a gun that’s thick or thin? Are you willing to put up with a thicker gun that’s a little bit less comfortable to carry because you’ve got more ammo, or do you want that single stack gun because you just want it to be comfortable? The truth is, if it’s not comfortable, you might not carry it every day,” says Michalowski. “If you don’t carry it, it’s not going to be there when you need it,” he says.
Those smaller framed micro-carry guns, from several manufacturers, have now become valid off-duty carry weapons in his opinion.
“They’re much smaller, they’re much thinner, they’re much easier to carry every day off duty. So just find one that is comfortable that you want to carry with you every day,” Michalowski says.
That same approach of similarity between duty gun and off-duty concealed carry weapon is echoed by Dave Douglas, who retired after serving 29 years with the San Diego Police Department and one year with the San Diego County Sheriff’s Office. He is a former rangemaster and firearms instructor.
“What I always told them is get the same type of gun that you carry in the field because of all the muscle memory that you’ve built up going through the academy and then going to the range for qualification and training. All that memory’s there,” Douglas says.
In similar fashion to Michalowski’s example of an officer carrying a Glock on duty then simply selecting a smaller version for off duty, Douglas points to how an officer who carries a full-sized Smith & Wesson M&P on duty can simply choose a smaller M&P Compact or even an M&P Shield for concealed carry while off duty. Staying within the one manufacturer’s line of weapons produces the most familiarity and most product lines now have compact and micro-compact options.
“The smaller versions have exactly the same ‘switchologies,’ let’s say, as the big gun has,” Douglas says. “So, if you get into a situation where you need to go to CCW, drawing that gun and being able to react under pressure and under stress, you need to have something that’s muscle-memory familiar, not just familiar.”
Douglas recalls some officers who wanted to carry 1911s as their off-duty weapon but had always shot Glocks. He suggests that is not a great idea given the drastic differences between the striker-fired Glock and the thumb-safety-equipped, single-action 1911s with the larger .45-caliber round. The biggest aspect to consider, he says, is flicking a safety on and off. He emphasizes if officers do choose to opt for a firearm with different controls from their duty weapon, they should train and develop familiarity.
Really, it doesn’t matter if an officer chooses a carry gun made by a manufacturer different than the one that produced their duty gun as long as both function the same. However, Douglas recommends sticking with the well-known brands with a legacy of quality and dependability.
“We authorized a pretty big area to choose from that was SIGs, and Glocks, and Smiths, and Taurus. If it was a quality gun, and if they could shoot it well, they were authorized to carry it. But there’s a lot of departments out there that are very narrow in that,” Douglas says.
Keeping your weapon concealed while off-duty is crucial. Douglas says having bad guys know you are carrying makes you a “shoot me first” target when bad things happen. Part of keeping that weapon hidden from view is selecting the proper holster and carry position. One thing to keep in mind is the length of the barrel or slide is not hard to conceal while carrying. Douglas says, “for concealed carry those things mean absolutely nothing,” because they fall into the same plane as your leg.
“I’ve always been of the opinion that the shorter the grip, the more concealable the gun is. The thickness of the gun doesn’t make a big difference, frankly, but the length of the grips is what sticks out,” Douglas says. “I mean, we’re elliptical. Some of us are more elliptical than others. If you take that part of an ellipse and stick a gun there, that grip is going to stick out and print through whatever clothes you’re wearing.”
There are various carry options whether an individual chooses inside the waistband (IWB), outside the waistband (OWB), ankle carry, appendix carry, pocket carry, or a shoulder holster. However, keeping with the same mindset of familiarity and muscle memory, Douglas recommends officers carry in the same location off duty as they do while on duty. On duty, an officer carries strongside hip. The same should be done in concealed carry.
Michalowski also is a proponent of keeping your off-duty firearm concealed rather than open to public view.
“I always tell people concealed means concealed. Get a good cover garment, get a good holster, and get a good belt to hold everything in place and then check out the gun that you want to carry. There are some carry options out there that allow you to effectively carry a full-size pistol if you want to and it’s still relatively concealed,” says Michalowski.
The key in choosing an off-duty or concealed carry weapon is proficiency regardless of the choice of caliber says Michalowski.
“If you’re ever involved in a shooting as a police officer, especially as an off-duty police officer, they’re going to look at every element of that shooting. They’re going to make sure that every single thing is investigated from top to bottom,” says Michalowski. “So, what I want you to choose is the caliber that you can shoot effectively and you’re willing to train with regularly.”
Douglas says his department would approve .380 ACP and above for off-duty carry. In what he calls the old days, the upper limit of allowed calibers was .38 Special but later it included .45 ACP. He points out that departments often, in addition to approving a carry weapon, will mandate what calibers or even ammunition types an officer can carry while off work.
For Douglas, 9mm would be the smallest or least powerful he would carry. However, he points out the
.380 ACP is making a comeback for concealed carry firearms because of its now-improved ballistic performance and ease of shooting.
Every officer is expected to be highly proficient with their duty weapon and they should be equally skilled with any firearm they choose to carry while off duty. An officer should commit time to train with an off-duty carry weapon.
That training commitment involves more than just range time. Douglas recommends both live fire and dry fire training. He suggests tapping into technology to improve your dry-fire training. You can dry fire with your own gun and add a laser training system to it. The accompanying app will track when you draw, how long the draw takes, what the gun was doing before and after you make the shot, and more. The drawback is the need to reset the trigger with a partial slide manipulation for most semiautos during dry fire.
It is also important to have ample practice drawing from a good holster. That practice must involve training to clear the cover garment, Douglas explains. An officer should just as easily draw from concealment as they do when uniformed and carrying a duty weapon.
He illustrates the importance of practicing your draw by sharing the story of an officer switching to a new holster for duty carry years ago. Douglas told the officer since the new holster had more retention than he had been using, he needed to practice drawing 1,000 times. The officer did not. When confronted days later with a burglary suspect, the officer struggled to free his duty weapon from the holster.
Michalowski also stresses training with a concealed carry firearm, particularly if it is much smaller than an officer’s duty weapon.
“People need to understand that if they’re carrying that tiny little gun because it’s comfortable and it’s easy to carry, they had better train with it because it’s a little more difficult to shoot,” he says. “the more training and the more practice you get, the better off you’re going to be.”