The Cornered Cat
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Scary strangers, children, and boundary setting in the grocery store

Today I’m thinking about an important question that I found in a private group on Facebook. Shared with permission and with names obscured, here’s the backstory:

To answer the first question you’re most likely to ask after reading the above: Yes, this incident really did happen. Not an urban legend, but something that does sometimes happen to moms with small children. Strangers in the grocery store, apparently stalking them or at least following them around the store, giving off a scary vibe and talking to the children or even touching them.

What’s a responsible concealed-carry person to do in a situation like this? Is this, as an online friend of mine asked, an appropriate time to tell others that we carry a gun? If it’s not, what should we do about persistent strangers who seem to be violating social scripts — who step inside our personal spaces, who talk to or touch our children without permission, who seem to be following us through the store, or who break the social expectations in other ways?

To answer the easiest question first, No. This is not the time to talk about your armed status. Or to pull out the gun. Not yet. In the beginning, this is an ambiguous situation, not a clear-cut one. And the use of a deadly weapon is reserved for times when human lives are definitely in immediate, otherwise unavoidable danger. This isn’t (yet) that. And we don’t know that it ever will be.

We need to find out. And we need to help avoid the situation ending up at that point, if that’s possible.

So … where do we start? Perhaps with this.

The process of self-defense starts long before using the firearm is appropriate, and it includes looking people in the eye and speaking with confidence about what we see.

I think the thing a lot of people miss is that by speaking up and setting a vocal boundary with confidence early on, even when it might feel uncomfortable, we can almost always avoid needing to make a scene — or worse — later on.

Speaking up early does something else: it tells us very clearly who is simply socially clueless, compared to who is actually a real threat to us or our children. I don’t think any of us wants to be the paranoid nutcase who threatens to shoot some nice old lady for looking at our kids funny. The way to avoid disproportionate responses and the way to sort the angels from the demons in this world, is to talk to people.

Examples of how to do that? Sure!

One mom suggests making good eye contact with the stranger, along with a firm, “Please don’t touch my children. You’re too close and it’s making me uncomfortable.”

That’s a great place to start.

To refine this idea, I might tweak the wording a little, and I’d quite willing to use only the first sentence: “Please do not touch my child.” No explanation necessary.

But if I felt as though I had to explain (research does show that strangers more often comply with requests when given a reason), I’d put the explanation before the command, like this:

“You are too close to my child. Please, step back.”

or

“You are too close. Please do not touch my child.”

The situation might be a little different than that, so here are some more possible scripts that a person could tweak as needed to fit the situation:

“We are teaching our child not to talk to strangers. Please do not talk to him.”

“No, she cannot have any candy. Please leave my child alone.”

“You seem to be following us through the store. Please stop.”

Start with a firm and pleasant voice, complete with eye contact. Keep your face neutral. Avoid using a grimmacing “I don’t mean this” smile. No scowl. Polite and neutral is the goal here.

Clearly stating a command — even one phrased as a polite request — to another adult will probably feel really rude the first time you try it, so I suggest role-playing the situation with a spouse or trusted friend until you get the hang of it.

Faced with this type of firm, no-nonsense request, nearly all good people will immediately stop, take a step back, and apologize: “Oh, sorry.” They might follow up with something like, “I was just thinking about my own grandchildren at that age, didn’t mean to make you nervous” — but as they say this, they will be moving away from you and that will be the end of it.

Not-so-good people will persist. They will push. They will try to make you feel guilty for setting boundaries and protecting your children.

This tells you everything you need to know about what is going on.

If the other person responds to your reasonably polite request by…

  • calling you a bitch or worse;
  • stepping closer to “explain”;
  • saying, “Aw, why do you have to be like that?” in a friendly voice while moving closer;
  • jerking on your social conscience by asking what you have against (their physical attributes, their religion or race or sexuality or social class or whatever);
  • pretending they haven’t heard you and continuing to do whatever-it-was;
  • sarcastically saying “geezzzz lady, sooooorrrrrry!”;
  • or anything similar to the above

… then you know they do not have your best interest in mind. At this point, armed with this knowledge, you can make a scene. A loud one. Repeat the command, louder and more forcefully.  “I said, DO NOT TOUCH MY CHILD.”

If they double down on any of the above, you can quickly move away from them while calling for the store manager at the top of your lungs with a clear conscience. You’ve just learned everything you needed to know about them and their motives for getting close to your child. You can call 9-1-1 while moving away. You can do whatever it takes to call attention to the situation, to put them in the spotlight, to get other people’s eyeballs and attention focused on what is happening.

Do it.

The basic pattern for boundary setting and enforcement is this —

  1. State boundary (“Please do not touch my child.”)
  2. Repeat boundary, louder. (“I said, DO NOT TOUCH MY CHILD.”)
  3. State penalty. (“If you come anywhere near my child again, I will call the police.”)
  4. Apply penalty.

We’re always tempted to not exactly state our boundaries out loud, just kind of imply them by our actions and trust others to pick up on our facial reactions and body language. That’s the motive behind a lot of not-necessarily-bad ideas that too often fail to solve problems like this — such as telling your child to stay closer to you & not talk to the stranger, or putting the cart between your child and the other person, or heading toward the back of the store, or whatever. All of these are generally also good things to do for various reasons.

But when we do them without clear, out-loud boundary setting, they also send a signal to a true would-be predator that we’re not confident and that we’re not willing to do whatever it takes to protect ourselves and our children.

As far as stating the penalty, that’s important in part because we ourselves must know in our own minds exactly what we will do if the other person does not comply. And we have to have made that decision before we say anything to the other person.

That’s one reason it’s smart to think about and then to explore what we can (legally, socially, ethically) do in response to someone violating social rules and approaching our children — before it ever happens. Where are the limits of our responses? What are each of us willing to do, or not willing to do, in an ambiguous situation? Knowing our limits and what we are willing to do makes it much easier to respond with an appropriate level of confidence in the moment.

If we’re not really brave enough to use our voices to violate the social rule that says, “Don’t bluntly tell other adults what to do,” why would the would-be attacker believe that we would muster the social and physical courage we need to effectively resist an attack?

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Yeowch…? Small guns and new shooters

A lot of times what happens is this: in the gunstore, small guns feel pretty good in most people’s hands. New shooters aren’t (as) scared of small guns, because they seem so cute and non-intimidating. Plus of course, when you’re shopping for a concealed carry gun, the smaller guns are much easier to conceal and lighter to carry.

So… small gun it is. Maybe even a super-small, tiny gun.

Fast forward to range day, taking the new little gun out to shoot for the first time. Beginner does not have any standard of comparison, hasn’t shot other guns. But once on the range, this non-intimidating, cute little gun suddenly turns into a monster that hurts the shooter’s hand. With every shot, the gun sharply recoils and jumps around in the shooter’s hand.

Yeowch.

Pretty soon, the beginner is wincing with every shot (not so good for marksmanship). You see them rubbing the pain out of the shooting hand between magazines and picking the gun up gingerly, in a loose and reluctant grip. Unfortunately, the looser a person holds the gun, the worse the recoil problem becomes — think of the difference in power and pain between a ‘punch’ (a shove, really) that starts with the fist right up against the victim’s shoulder, compared to a powerful punch that comes from a foot away.

In any case, it isn’t long before the new shooter with the tiny gun is wondering whether shooting is really right for them. Maybe they can take up knitting instead…?

Enter a more experienced shooter, who sees the problem and suggests a move to a different gun. The beginner often resists moving to a larger gun, because people (wrongly) intuit that larger guns will kick harder. So when a helpful friend offers to let the new shooter try something a little larger that they believe will be more comfortable, the new shooter isn’t sure that’s a good idea.

The new shooter intuitively suspects that shooting a larger gun will be scarier and more painful than shooting the little gun. But it’s not necessarily so.

Physics trumps intuition, though. And physics tells us that the larger and heavier the launching platform, the less that platform will react when something pushes against it. So when a larger and heavier gun shoots the same caliber as a smaller and lighter gun, the larger gun will produce less felt recoil for the shooter, and will tend to move around less when the bullet goes.

Not only this, but physics also tells us that the more surface area the object puts up against our skin, the less we will feel (or be damaged by) whatever movement is there. Think about an equally-strong ‘push’ against the skin on your hand with a small object such as a sewing needle compared to a larger object such as a telephone. You can push the phone into your hand pretty hard without it hurting, but the needle will first hurt and then damage you. Same thing with guns — a gun with a narrow, small grip will feel like it’s producing more recoil than a gun with a wide grip that distributes the pressure more evenly on your hand, even when the guns themselves weigh the same and are shooting the same type of ammunition.

Of course we have to balance this against finding a gun that fits the hand well (here’s an article about gun fit for those who are interested).

For all these reasons, my basic advice on gun selection for beginners these days is to choose a gun that:

  1. fits your hand well enough to let you reach and manipulate all the controls,
  2. comes in a standard self defense caliber,
  3. is as small as it needs to be for your concealed carry needs but no smaller, and
  4. has a solid reputation for sturdy long-term reliability.
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Which certifications make a qualified firearms instructor?

From my email box:

“Ms. Jackson,

In selecting a qualified firearms instructor, what certifications, etc. should one look for?”

My answer:

The short answer is, if you’re looking for a good teacher you can trust, don’t look for specific certificates as go/no-go gauges.

Instead, look for an ongoing pattern to the person’s resume. What you want is someone who is a good shooter and life-long learner who prides himself or herself on meeting the needs of the student. Certifications and award medals matter only in the sense that they document a person’s activity toward that end.

The experienced instructor’s resume should show an longstanding and ongoing pattern of relevant training in many different aspects of armed and unarmed self defense, and should also include studies in teaching adult students.

The shooting skills are really just the bare beginning of what a defensive firearms instructor needs to know, although they should definitely have good shooting skills. You’d want the list of classes your instructor has attended to include

  • many different shooting classes for students at different levels of ability from several different instructors and schools;
  • medical classes that include CPR and stabilizing a gunshot victim;
  • classes that explore legal issues as well as criminal behavior and avoidance;
  • classes specifically dedicated to adult learning and/or public speaking; and
  • classes in physical skills that could include both unarmed self defense and using lower-level tools such as pepper spray or Kubaton.

For newer instructors, the resume won’t be anywhere near that rich or that varied, and that’s okay. But you should be able to see a pattern like that beginning to form even from the earliest days. Look for a person who exhibits at least as much enthusiasm for learning and seeing their students improve as they do for getting bodies in the door and you’ll be doing well.

Of course I have my own prejudices and biases as far as specific schools and classes go, and I’m sure not going to tell you that every school has equal value. (That would be both silly and wrong.) But the differences in where people started tend to even out once they start moving around a bit and cross-pollinating their ideas and techniques with ones from different sources. That’s why I’m generally less trustful of resumes where all the experience comes from one school or franchise or clique. But early on, people should get a lot of experience at one place before they really begin to branch out. So there’s a balance to watch there.

Again, the specifics don’t matter nearly as much as whether the person’s history shows an ongoing pattern of actively studying defense-related topics, from a variety of sources that may include (but should not be limited to) the NRA, USCCA, SAF, and whatever local, regional, or national school or trainer most appeals to them.

Although good instructors tend to start with a deep dive into one school’s way of thinking, once that has happened I personally prefer to trust those who have explored with an open mind versus those who have stuck within one paradigm for their entire learning experience. I also tend to lean toward those who have presented at Tom Givens’ (Rangemaster) Tactical Conference, because those are folks who tend to learn from each other and spur each other on to do more, better. They also tend to be folks who are willing to give back to the community, as evidenced by donating their weekend to that cause. Again, that’s not a go/no-go gauge, just one factor I tend to favor.

Someone who has spent significant time as an assistant, protegee, mentee, etc, under the wing of an experienced master instructor — those are all good things too. These are high-value experiences that doesn’t necessarily show on the resume, but will often show up in written bios or casual conversation.

Oh, one more thing. I’d be a little wary of instructors who have nothing but instructor certs on their resumes, rather than a mix of shooting classes and instructor classes. I’d look especially hard at a resume that offers a long list of instructor certifications in different shooting disciplines, but does not have any student-level classes that explore any one of those disciplines in greater depth. I want my instructors to have spent some significant time as a student, perhaps even taking comparable student-level classes repeatedly from different schools so they can absorb how different master instructors cover a similar spot in the student learning curve.

So that’s the long-winded short answer for what to look for in an defensive shooting instructor. On the other hand, if you’re asking about what your own resume should look like because you’d like to become an instructor yourself, see above. 🙂

Hope that helps!

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Holster series

I will continue the holster series at another time — if anyone ever asks me about it. Throwing words into the blog feels like flinging them out into a very large empty space, sometimes.

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Practice makes…

Scrolling through Facebook this morning, one of the beginners’ groups where I lurk was having a discussion about shooting better. 1

During this group discussion among beginners, someone posted a Very Bad Target and asked what they were doing wrong. Another commenter responded, “You just need to practice a lot more. Practice will fix it!”

That’s a lie. It’s almost certainly a well-meaning lie, but it’s a lie all the same.

Here’s the sad truth: Practice does *NOT* help if we are not practicing the right thing, in the right way.

If we do something in the wrong way (unsafely or inefficiently, or outright missing the target) for 2,494 times in dedicated practice, then guess what? On the 2,495th time we do that thing, we will very likely do it the same wrong way.

Practice does not make perfect. Practice makes permanent. 2

More. Sometimes, in similar conversations, people say that old thing about “perfect practice makes perfect.”

That’s another lie.

There’s literally no such thing as perfect practice, and perfect isn’t attainable in reality either. That particular saying drives me right up the wall, because the quest for “perfection” often slows down progress toward “good.”

Good practice means learning to correct mistakes. It doesn’t mean not making them.

But in order to correct our mistakes, we have to know that they are mistakes. And we have to know what doing the right thing looks like so we can do that instead.

And that, friends, is why good classes exist. They don’t exist to “make me a better shooter,” all by themselves, this weekend or any other. They exist to show us how to practice, so that when we go to the range on our own, we are able to mindfully practice in ways that result in safer and more efficient action.

Notes:

  1. That’s a rarity; most of the time beginners just want to talk about what to buy, apparently with the idea that a better gun means better shooting. Which is, not to put too fine a point on it, wrong… in exactly the same way that buying a better pan does not magically make someone a better cook.
  2. I have seen this saying attributed to Pat Rogers. Maybe he said it first; I don’t know. The first time I heard it, it was around 1976 and I was a small child sitting in church listening to the preacher. Pretty sure the preacher wasn’t Uncle Pat, but in retrospect he might’ve known him.
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A Better Holster, Part Six

For the past little while, we have been talking about what makes a “good” holster — and what makes one holster “better” than another. . To catch up, click here for the series introduction. Then go on to read Part One, and Part Two, and Part Three, and Part Four, and Part Five.

As we’ve already discussed, the first thing that might make a good holster “better” is when it performs one of the non-negotiable basic requirements in a more consistent, more reliable, or more durable form.

Today, let’s talk about other ways to make a holster “better” — ways that are not closely tied to the holster’s basic functions, but that can improve our experience using the holster in daily life.

Here are some attributes we might want to improve beyond the bare minimum.

  • Comfort
  • Concealability
  • Flexibility
  • Durability
  • Beauty

Lots more, too, but these are enough to get started for now.

Comfort. Have you ever had a friend tell you about their new holster and heard them rave about how comfortable it is? And then later, you try it out — and it’s not comfortable to you, at all? That’s not an uncommon experience, and just goes to show that comfort is often in the nerves of the beholder. Still, there are a few design features that can help almost anyone feel more comfortable when wearing the holster. These include padding the back of the holster, molding it so that it conforms better to the person’s body, and personalizing the angle at which the gun rides.

Padding the back of the holster helps Kydex holsters feel a little softer against the skin. For years, I’ve simply worn an undershirt to add that layer of padding to any holster I try on. That works. Or you can add the padding directly to the holster, as recommended by Lisa Looper of Flashbang; she suggests putting a piece of moleskin on the back of her bra holsters. 1 Melody Lauer takes a similar tack, and trimmed a padded insole to glue on the back of her personal holster.

When choosing holsters, I personally like the ones that have a small footprint. My preferred holsters don’t take up a lot of space on the belt, and could be considered narrow rather than wide. I personally find that more comfortable, though it does cost a tiny bit of stability (in a well-designed holster, the difference is negligible, but you can’t beat the laws of physics). If you prefer a wide holster, look for one that comes with a slight curve so it will conform better to your body. This helps both comfort and concealability, as the gun will ride closer with less friction.

One more word about comfort: when choosing your first holster, every holster will feel weird to you. That’s normal. Think how … odd … a pair of shoes would feel to your feet, if you had literally never worn shoes before you got to adulthood. There is such a thing as a pair of shoes that don’t fit your feet at all, but that’s a different (and much more painful) kind of discomfort. It isn’t always easy to separate those sensations when everything is new at first, but it’s worth keeping in mind — because the “this feels weird” type of discomfort does go away with time. Almost everyone goes through that stage, and pretty much everyone just has to stubbornly work their way through that feeling no matter what kind of holster they choose.

Concealability and comfort are more closely related than a lot of people realize. After all, if the holster isn’t comfortable, a person is likely to keep moving around trying to get comfortable. Readjusting the holster might feel discreet, but people can and do notice, especially if you’re doing it every few minutes.

Some factors that help concealability include how and where the holster rides on the user’s body, and the type of clothing that the user might cover it with. Holsters that allow a greater number of clothing options — such as attaching directly to the body like a belly band rather than to a belt; allowing the user to tuck their shirt in over the top of the holster; letting the user get away with wearing tightly-fitting clothes sometimes — generally also offer better concealability. But that’s not universally true, especially for people who tend to have one preferred style of clothing they wear all the time.

Flexibility means the holster offers the user some choices. As above, the choices might allow a wider selection of clothing styles. For women in particular, having at least one holster that does not absolutely require a belt can be a godsend. (Wouldn’t it be nice if women’s pants all had belt loops and functional pockets? A girl can dream…)

Flexibility might mean that the user can change out the attachments on a belt holster, perhaps changing the color of the loops or altering the depth and angle at which the gun will ride. For most people, changing the holster’s depth or angle doesn’t make much sense once they’ve found their own “sweet spot” where the gun rides most comfortably and discreetly. That’s why holster makers often recommend adding a little Loctite to the screws after you’ve decided which angle and depth works best for you. But again especially for women, with pants styles that constantly change, being able to change the depth of the holster means you can keep the gun in your sweet spot even when your pants change from one rise height to another.

Durability matters. It might matter more when you’re on a strict budget, but nobody likes having to replace a favorite holster that’s worn out too soon.

The rule of thumb is that the softer the holster, the less durable it will be. Fabric-based holsters (belly bands and specialty clothing) last a lot less time than holsters made of leather or Kydex. The max for soft products seems to be about a year of frequent wear, and less if the product needs to be washed. But a good leather holster can last for a decade or more. Kydex often lasts at least five years in regular use, and even longer as a practical thing since most of the time the part that has broken can simply be replaced.

Among leather holsters, you might not always get what you pay for, but you’ll almost never get what you don’t pay for. It’s worthwhile to shop around, which includes getting your hands on work from as many different holstermakers as possible before ordering custom work. Look especially at the stiffness and sheen of the leather and the solidity of the stitching.

Not all polymer holsters are made from Kydex. As a rule, plain plastic holsters just do not hold up as well as good Kydex does, and when they break they can rarely be repaired. Funny story: when I first started shooting, years ago, we were flat broke. Really flat broke. When I was getting ready to take a class (that I got into by bartering some work), I had no mag pouch and no money to buy one. So a friend and I built a simple mag pouch out of cardboard. We poured hot glue down the corrugations, and sealed the edges with duct tape. I used that cardboard mag pouch through several classes and local competitions for at least a year, always embarrassed but happy to have something at least. When I finally saved up enough money to buy a “real” mag pouch, I went with a cheap plastic one from Fobus, and it broke within a few weeks. Yup — the crappy homemade cardboard mag pouch lasted much longer than cheap plastic. Moral? If you can afford to at all, avoid cheap plastic.

Finally, be aware that nothing lasts forever. No matter what material your holster is built from, it will wear out. Stiff leather gets soft and bendy. Soft leather stretches and stops holding the gun securely. Plastic and Kydex break, usually at the attachment points. Anything with Velcro stops sticking as the burrs wear down or fill with crud. Elastic stops stretching and snaps stop snapping. No matter what you buy, make a habit of checking it on the regular and replace it when it starts to wear. Don’t bet your life on worn-out gear.

Beauty. There are people who think beauty does not matter in a holster. My friend Dennis of Dragon Leatherworks used to be among those folks. He and I met at a firearms convention some years ago. We were talking about his holsters (they are well-built and worth checking out!) and got onto the subject of appearance. At that time, Dragon Leatherworks offered a really beautiful outside-the-waistband holster, but the concealment holsters were all a bit … ugly. “What’s up with that?” I asked him. “Why no pretty choices?” Dennis pointed out that there did not seem to be any point in making a concealment holster attractive, since nobody would ever see it anyway. Did I really think it mattered? Hmmm. I looked around the room and then leaned closer, as if I were about to tell him a deep, dark secret. He leaned in, and I said, “Do you know, I’m wearing a lacy bra?” He blinked, confused and a bit taken aback. “Nobody’s going to see it and I don’t want anyone to see it. But it makes me happy because it makes me feel pretty. Victoria’s Secret makes a fortune selling pretty panties to women who have no intention of showing them off at the office.” He laughed and we went on to talk about other things — but when I ran into him again at another convention several years later, he pulled me aside and told me it was some of the best business advice he’d ever gotten. Go figure.

To be clear, I’m not a fan of beauty in a holster unless that holster does everything a holster is supposed to do, and does those things with excellence. Once the basics have been covered (and maybe improved upon), then I’m thrilled to see attractive work. And given a choice between an ugly holster and a pretty one that does the same thing just as well, I’ll take the pretty one, every time.

There are lots of other things we might consider when looking for a “better” holster, and we’ll be discussing those in days to come. I’m on the road this week so posting will be a bit spotty, but watch this space.  🙂

Coming soon: What about cost? Does a “better” holster always cost more $$$ ?

***

Can’t wait for the next post in this series? Want the bottom line right now? Sure, here it is:

  • A good holster protects the trigger, holds the gun securely, and allows the user to access the gun when they need it. (These are the non-negotiable, bare minimum things a holster must do. A holster or carry product that does not do these things is not a good holster, no matter how much it costs or who recommends it.)
  • A better holster does one or all of these things better than the bare minimum.

Notes:

  1. I asked her, “Why didn’t you design the holster to come from the factory with a soft back already in place?” Lisa wrinkled her nose as she answered that: “Moleskin can be swapped out when it gets manky!”
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A Better Holster, Part Five

Over the past week or so, we have been talking about what makes a “good” holster — and what makes one holster “better” than another. To catch up, click here for the series introduction. Then go on to read Part One, and Part Two, and Part Three, and Part Four.

As we’ve already discussed, the first thing that might make a good holster better is when it performs one of the three basic requirements in a more consistent, more reliable, or more durable form. So far, we have discussed ways that one holster might be better than another at protecting the trigger (so that it does not move even when something brushes against the outside of the holster) and at holding the gun securely. We also briefly discussed the importance of the holster helping the user get to the gun quickly and reliably when it’s needed.

Today, I’d like to dig a little deeper into that last point before we move on to other things. Ready?

“A good holster allows the user to access the gun when they need it.”

Keeping with the theme of  holsters that do things better than the bare minimum, a “better”  holster will let us get to the gun faster or more reliably in a wider variety of circumstances. We can measure how quickly the draw happens on a calm day at the range, and yes — faster is generally better. But being able to draw the gun in a wide variety of circumstances can matter too. This means being able to get the gun out one-handed, while moving, and maybe while jammed into some odd position by circumstances. Flexibility is key here.

A huge number of elements can play into how quickly we can get the gun out, and some of them have very little to do with the holster itself. Outer clothing, for instance. Wearing six layers of clothes is bound to slow down a person’s access to the firearm, no matter how efficient the holster design might otherwise be. There are also personal factors, such as shoulder flexibility and overall body shape, that affect how easily the user can reach the gun. We can talk about some of those issues another day, maybe. Right now we’re just talking about the holster itself.

Some of the factors that affect speed of access include the following:

  • The shape of the holster mouth and how sturdy it is.
  • The depth and angle at which the holster holds the gun.
  • How tightly the gun fits in the holster.
  • How the holster is attached to the user.
  • Where the holster rides on the body — or if it does.

Lots more, too. But that’s certainly enough to get started.

When looking at the shape of the holster mouth, remember that it’s always easier and more reliable to draw the gun safely when you’re able to get a complete, solid grip on it while it is still inside the holster.

A solid grip means that your thumb and fingers all go exactly where they belong, just as if you were holding the gun outside the holster. The web between your thumb and forefinger should hit the top part of the grip (the tang). Your thumb should wrap completely around the grip and find its place snugly against the side of the gun. Your trigger finger should stay straight alongside the frame, above the trigger guard. And your other fingers, including your middle finger, should land correctly on the grip so you will not have to adjust your hand in any way after the gun comes out of the holster.

That’s the ideal.

Not every “good” holster meets this ideal, but the further away from the ideal your holster or carry product is, the harder it will be to safely and reliably access the gun when you need it. So when looking for a “better” holster, look for one that will let you get a complete, solid grip on the gun while the gun is still inside the holster.

There are many popular holsters that don’t meet this ideal, by the way. Hybrid holsters with soft leather backs are especially notorious for making it difficult to get your thumb wrapped into place with the gun still inside the holster. Sometimes that can be fixed with a “combat cut” — that is, removing some of the leather backing to get it out of the way of your hand. Unfortunately, that often creates other problems with the soft back flopping over and getting in the way when it’s time to holster the gun.

Other holsters and carry products run into trouble by letting the gun ride so deeply in the pouch that it’s hard to get your hand on the grip in a hurry. One of my favorite belly bands (Pistol Wear) can have this problem, because it has such a nice deep pocket. It’s easily fixed by wrapping a Maxpedition Universal around the gun before putting it in the holster’s pocket. This adds a little extra trigger protection while holding the gun at your own ideal angle and depth — turning a “good” holster into a “better” one.

Other holsters might slow the user down by holding the gun too firmly. Brand new leather holsters often have this problem, which is why holster makers recommend users break in the holster before wearing it. Kydex and plastic holsters often have tension screws that let you adjust the fit. Be aware, though, that the best Kydex products already fit the gun properly and do not often come with tension screws.

Holsters attached to the user’s body — think belt, belly band, and bra holsters — will almost always allow faster access than holsters that might be across the room when you need them. When looking at off-body holster options, look for those that encourage the user to maintain control of the holster and gun at all times. A purse that’s worn cross-body, for example, is much less likely to be set down and forgotten than one carried with a simple shoulder strap.

Even so, a holster that attaches securely to the user’s body will always be a bit faster than one that can flop around and move. This is one reason a purse holster, even when worn cross-body, will always be slower than a belt holster. If the holster moves around on you, it will take you a little longer to find the gun and get it out.

Purses also tend to require the shooter to use two hands to get the gun out, and often make it difficult to access the gun with the non-dominant hand alone when that’s what is needed. There are ways around this with good training, but it’s still an important factor to keep in mind.

Holsters can be worn nearly anywhere on the human body. But there’s a reason most holsters put the gun somewhere around the waistline; that’s because most people find this location easiest to access from a bunch of different postures. When the gun is on or near the waist, you can draw while standing, sitting, kneeling, lying down, crouched behind something, running or otherwise moving. If the gun is on the waist and in front of the hip, you may be able to draw even when entangled with an attacker who has knocked you to the ground. But when the gun is on an ankle, your options get a bit more limited.

All of these factors, and more, go into how quickly and easily a holster allows you to draw the gun when it’s needed.

Tomorrow: Other than improving upon the three non-negotiables, what other factors can make one holster “better” than another?

***

Can’t wait for the next post in this series? Want the bottom line right now? Sure, here it is:

  • A good holster protects the trigger, holds the gun securely, and allows the user to access the gun when they need it. (These are the non-negotiable, bare minimum things a holster must do. A holster or carry product that does not do these things is not a good holster, no matter how much it costs or who recommends it.)
  • A better holster does one or all of these things better than the bare minimum.

But the details matter, too. Tune in tomorrow!

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A Better Holster, Part Four

For the past few days, we have been talking about what makes a “good” holster. To catch up, click here for the series introduction, and then click here to read Part One, and Part Two, and Part Three.

As I have already said, the first thing that might make a good holster “better” is when it performs one of the three basic requirements in a more consistent, more reliable, or more durable form. We have already discussed protecting the trigger and holding the gun securely, so now let’s take a look at the third non-negotiable:

“A good holster allows the user to access the gun when they need it.”

This one could be an entire book of its own. For now, please let me point out that many factors go into being able to access the gun when we need it. When we look for a “better” holster, we want one that will let us get to the gun faster or more reliably in a wider variety of circumstances.

Here are some questions we might ask when we’re evaluating this.

  • Will using this holster mean that gun will actually be with us when we need it, and not at home in the safe? A lot of times, we-in-the-training-community skip right past this essential first question! But it’s often vital to our students, and might sometimes be the only factor worth looking at after the non-negotiable basics are covered. Is this holster or carry product comfortable enough to wear all day? Can we wear it discreetly with the clothes we prefer to wear? More important, will we do that?
  • Can we draw the gun safely and reliably from this holster? Too often, this question gets asked — and we assume, answered — on a calm sunny day at the range when we are wearing comfortable  range clothes and have both hands and a lot of time to figure things out. But when we need to answer the question in real life, we’ll be wearing regular clothes and won’t have a lot of time. 1
  • Can we draw the gun safely and reliably with one hand? With either hand?
  • Can we draw the gun safely and reliably while moving? Can we draw it while moving, and also push a loved one to safety with the other hand at the same time?
  • Can we draw the gun when entangled with an attacker? Or when we have tripped and fallen?

And so on.

There are many enthusiastic people who get very excited about one of the questions above, and who therefore define a “better” holster only as one that will give a positive answer to their particular question. For example, we often see people get wrapped around the axle on speed of access (“MY carry position beats YOUR carry position!”) or on being able to draw the gun in a specific, relatively narrow and rare set of circumstances (“Can you draw while someone holds your left elbow at a 47-degree angle, with your right hand partially disabled after worming out of a thumb lock?”).

I’m not going to say none of those things matter — some of them can and do matter very much indeed, which is why they’re on this list — but I am going to again point out that we need to keep our eye on the ball as far as what we are doing, and why.

When looking for a “better” holster, keep in mind that it’s only a better holster if it does these things without taking away your ability and desire to wear the gun in the first place. The key point is that the gun will be with you when you need it. After all, the slowest and least-reliable draw of all is the one from twenty miles away when the gun is at home in the safe.

That said, slower is not better than faster. Less reliable is not better than more reliable. Access in fewer circumstances is not better than access in a wider variety of circumstances.

Look for a holster that meets the bare minimum demands of being a good holster. Then look for improvements in how it meets those needs and you’ll be well on your way to finding a better holster.

Tomorrow: more about accessing the gun when needed.

***

Can’t wait for the next post in this series? Want the bottom line right now? Sure, here it is:

  • A good holster protects the trigger, holds the gun securely, and allows the user to access the gun when they need it. (These are the non-negotiable, bare minimum things a holster must do. A holster or carry product that does not do these things is not a good holster, no matter how much it costs or who recommends it.)
  • A better holster does one or all of these things better than the bare minimum.

But the details matter, too. Tune in tomorrow!

Notes:

  1. How much time will you have? Dunno. But since you’re only drawing the gun because someone is trying to kill you (and the attacker is probably in a hurry), it’s probably a good idea to respond as quickly as you reasonably can.
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