A few days ago on Facebook, I posted a question about why there aren’t as many women as men in midlevel or advanced firearms training classes. There were a lot of answers. 1 One of the things that came up was that many people are reluctant to buy range-specific holsters.
One person expressed it very well when she wrote, “[The Cornered Cat] course requries a holster type I have no intention of ever using. So that means even more money spent on a holster and clothing that would only be used the days of the class.”
Another person wrote something similar: “I’d have to invest in pants with belt loops, belt, and holster that I would probably never use again just to take one or two classes.”
Please understand I’m not picking on either one of these people, because those are very valid concerns. None of us wants to waste money on gear we can’t use or on holsters we won’t wear. Personally, I carry on the belt with a hard-sided holster about two-thirds of the time. The rest of the time, I often use the type of holsters that I wouldn’t usually allow on the range in my own classes. Yup, I’m a hypocrite… so let me explain the rationale for the class rules, and see if it makes a little more sense to people.
To build the foundation for everything else I’ll have to say on this one, let me start with a little-known but unpleasant truth:
Putting a loaded gun into a holster is the single most dangerous thing anyone ever does in a professional firearms training class.
It’s the dirty little secret of the defensive handgun training industry: using a holster creates more opportunities for carnage than anything else taught in good classes. If you get a group of trainers together in the same room and keep your ears open, you will soon discover that every trainer has a horror story about a student who did not listen to the safety briefing. Nearly all of these stories involve students shooting themselves in the leg as they put the gun into its holster with their fingers on the trigger. Although it’s very rare for students to get hurt at all, when they do get hurt, this is the single most common way it happens.
Because there have been so many shootings like this, reputable trainers are all quite cautious when they teach people how to use a holster. Typically, they will start with simple dry fire exercises. They’ll have people dry fire from low ready rather than from the holster, bringing the gun up to the target each time, dry firing, then bringing the gun down off target every time. The stated (and real) purpose of this drill is to help people develop good trigger control so they can shoot more accurately. The unstated but equally real purpose that goes alongside it is that the trainer needs to watch how each student’s trigger finger behaves, seeing that the trigger finger always comes off the trigger before the gun comes off target. The students need to ingrain this good trigger finger habit before anyone ever gets near a holster. Dry firing from the ready position helps the trainer make sure the students’ trigger fingers are on board with the program.
Once the trainer has seen how the students’ trigger fingers behave, the next step is showing them how to put the gun safely into the holster. The holster isn’t concealed yet, because the trainer needs to see what each student is doing throughout the entire process. The class will usually start out with unloaded guns going into an unconcealed holster, and the trainer will watch very carefully to be sure everyone’s trigger finger behaves properly. The trainer will also watch muzzle direction very carefully, correcting it as needed to keep the students as safe as possible. Because holstering is so risky, a good trainer will often have the students work with unconcealed holsters and dry fire drawstrokes for a long time before anyone ever loads a gun or puts on a cover garment. 2
This slow buildup to using a concealed holster is the equivalent of starting a beginning driver in the parking lot rather than on the freeway.
So that leads us to equipment selection. Every trainer has specific rules about which holsters can come to class. Almost without exception, these rules are designed to reduce the likelihood of a student shooting herself during the class, or (in the worst case) to reduce the seriousness of the injury if she does.
When I teach a class, I want to be sure every student is as safe as I can keep her. So until I have first taught the student how to safely use the holster and have helped her ingrain some good habits, I have to see what her trigger finger is doing every time she holsters the gun. That’s one reason I don’t allow belly bands or purse holsters on the range, because these carry methods hide the students’ trigger fingers and hand placement from my view.
There’s another thing about belly bands and other types of squishy holsters. When students use collapsible holsters, it’s very hard for them to avoid passing the muzzle over the top of the non-shooting hand when they put the gun away. That’s because they’re holding the holster mouth open with the non-shooting hand. Not long ago, I heard an instructor tell me about a shooting he witnessed where a woman literally blew off one of her own fingers doing this. It does happen. We have safety protocols, and we enforce safety protocols, but some students just don’t follow the rules no matter how hard the trainer works at keeping them safe. When the protocols aren’t followed, people get hurt. Sometimes badly hurt. So this rule both helps me prevent mistakes in the first place, and it also reduces the severity of any possible injuries. 3
This is the equivalent of starting a new driver out with an automatic transmission, rather than a stick shift and a clutch.
By this point, some people are thinking, “Wait, wait, you teach intermediate classes!” That’s true; I do. But even though the classes I teach are intermediate to advanced level, I still get many students who have never used a holster on the range. These students need and deserve the very safest introduction to holster use that I can give them. Among the students who have used a holster before, many have not learned the safest methods. As an instructor, I would be failing these students if I didn’t help them rebuild better habits from the ground up – and that means starting at the beginning with solid protocols designed to get them there as safely as possible. Finally, I also have very advanced students who are or who will be teaching others. These students absolutely need to see and have modeled for them the safest way to introduce holster use to a class. Again, this means starting at the foundation and working our way up. For all these reasons, Cornered Cat classes follow the safety protocols appropriate for teaching basic holster use.
So here we are back at the individual student who does not see a reason to buy a hard-sided, non-collapsible belt holster since she doesn’t carry that way. If you’re in that boat, I hope you understand a little better now why I ask you to bring that kind of holster to class. But I’m not going to leave you there, because I know that’s not how you really carry. I know you want to drive a stick shift, not an automatic.
Here’s where we go from there.
Our range work begins the process of ingraining safe behavior related to holsters. By the end of the weekend, your trigger finger and gun hand will be quite reliable at working safely around the holster you brought to class. This simple motor program will transfer over to other types of holsters as long as you practice appropriately. I help you do that by demonstrating each type of draw for you during the class. Whether it’s a shoulder holster, an ankle holster, a purse or pack or bag, or some other carry method, I can and do show you how to use it safely. Even though we won’t use the alternate carry methods on the range, I do encourage you to bring your own carry gear so we can demonstrate and discuss the safest ways to use it. By the time class is over, you will be able to take your own gear and teach yourself how to use it without me standing over you nagging you about every little detail. That’s the goal.
Closely related to this, the other reason I like to see students with their own safe range holsters is because I do want you to practice on a regular basis. Having that holster opens some doors that would otherwise be closed to you. For example, many ranges won’t allow people to work from the holster, but of those that do, they all require a belt-carried holster. Formal shooting competitions always require this type of holster. For those who continue learning (as I encourage all my students to do), the advantage of having this type of holster available to you is that they’re required in almost every other class from reputable trainers.
Bottom line: Yes, there’s an up-front investment, but it’s an investment that pays off even though it might not be your preferred carry method. It allows me to keep you safe during the class. It allows you to build good habits from the ground up, habits that will carry over to other types of holsters. And it opens doors for you by making it possible for you to practice, compete, and continue your training.
- I’m probably going to talk about more of those reasons over the next few weeks, because Hey! Free blogfodder! That truly wasn’t my intention when I posted the question, but it’s still free blogfodder so we’re cool. ↩
- Incidentally, if you ever take a class from someone who isn’t this cautious when teaching you how to use a holster, that’s a big, big red flag. I’m not kidding about the inherent danger, nor about the safety protocols reputable trainers use to mitigate the risk. ↩
- There’s also a non-safety but equally valid concern with squishy holsters in a multi-person class: putting the gun safely back into these types of holsters can be very slow. It can be done safely, and I teach each student how to do it before the class is over. But since we draw and holster repeatedly during the class, students using collapsible holsters really slow down the class for the other students. That’s not fair. ↩