The Cornered Cat
What’s a Holster For?

Came across something the other day that I want to kick around here. To be clear: I would really, really, really welcome thoughtful feedback on this post. Now or in the future. Please do comment and let me know what you think about this.

Here’s the quote. I’m not putting a name on it, so we can more easily discuss the thing it says. It came from someone I deeply respect, who is one of the most thought-filled and thought-provoking instructors working in the defensive handgun community.

“If you go to a class where you draw and reholster the gun dozens of times a day, for multiple days, the deficiencies of [specific type of] holsters become much more apparent. Those that attend and run that type of training have advised against [this type of] holsters for years. Carrying the gun on your belt is not equivalent experience to actually using the holster for its intended function.

It is the last part of the quote that I really want to talk about. What is — actually and truly — “the intended function” of a holster?

For years, I have been saying that concealed-carry holsters have three primary purposes.

  1. To keep the gun safely secure. This includes covering the entire trigger guard area with something sturdy enough to keep the trigger from moving if something brushes against the outside of the holster. It includes holding the gun firmly enough that it will not fall out if the holster gets gently tipped upside down (as it might do when the person wearing it uses the restroom). It also includes holding the gun in a known orientation that does not slip or slide around, so the user always knows which end of the gun is the noisy one.
  2. To keep the gun comfortably concealed. This includes keeping the gun out of sight so that neither nosy neighbors nor official busybodies will spot it before the user intends for it to be seen. It also includes keeping the gun owner comfortable enough that they will bring the firearm with them whenever legally possible, rather than leaving it at home for the sake of either comfort or discretion.
  3. To keep the gun readily accessible. This means the user knows exactly where the gun is at all times — even while they are running, jumping, curled up under a desk, or engaged in vigorous activity of any sort including an entangled violent encounter — and can almost always put their hand directly on the grip of the gun in most circumstances unless someone physically restrains them from doing so. It means the gun rides in a place that the user can reach, under clothing that the user can easily move aside, and it usually means that the user can get the gun out of the holster with either hand alone.

All three of these purposes are important, I think. And maybe each of them is equally important. In a practical sense, the specific weight we put on each point will vary from one person to another. But should it? (That’s a genuine question, not a rhetorical one. What do you think?) Should each of these purposes be given equal weight, or is it sometimes okay for one of them to outweigh the others? If so, which one(s) are okay to lighten up a little, and which one(s) are non-negotiable?

To many instructors’ way of thinking, points 1 & 3 — safely secure and readily accessible — are the “without which not” of holsters. If your holster does not do these two things, you do not have a holster. You just have a product that’s pretending to be a holster. And I tend to agree with that. Most of us who are instructors have come to that place where we realize that students pour a huge amount of money and energy into products that either aren’t that safe (because they don’t hold the gun securely and well) or that aren’t that usable in a pinch. We don’t like that, so we tend to speak up, loudly and often, about those categories of holster purpose.

On the other hand, point 2 is important, too. It really is. If you leave your gun at home and do not carry it because it is uncomfortable to wear and not discreet, you do not have a holster. You just have a product that’s pretending to be a holster. I think a lot of firearm instructors forget that, because we only see holsters on the range and in the class environment. Sometimes we forget how challenging it can be to figure out concealed carry at the beginning. Comfort and concealment issues are completely valid concerns and we should not dismiss either one. The best and most secure product in the world won’t help when a person has a challenge with wearing the gun at all. First things first, right?

All the same, there’s this.

Many people buy their first holster (often an alternative carry device rather than a true holster) based entirely on how concealed and comfortable they think the holster will be. They put exclusive emphasis on point 2. This is a mistake. It’s also both common and understandable. After all, when we live with the holster all day, every day, we notice whether it’s easy to conceal. We notice when it’s comfortable and we really notice when it is not comfortable. The other points are not so easy to assess, especially not as a new shooter. But all of us can tell  when we’re uncomfortable or when the gun isn’t well hidden. So it’s easy to put so much emphasis on this one point that we forget anything else even matters.

In the same way, firearms instructors tend to put so much emphasis on points 1 & 3 because we usually see holsters only in class and on the range. It is easy for us to forget that most of the time, people carry guns in holsters not so they can draw hundreds of times over multiple days, but, you know … just for daily living. They don’t buy holsters just for coming to class (although I honestly think they should; just as the skills from a mid size gun can transfer down to a smaller gun, I do believe that the skills from an ‘easier’ holster that’s designed for heavy use on the range can tranfer over to a ‘harder’ holster that’s maybe more suited for non-class environments — but that’s another blog post entirely, for another day). They are not here to learn the best way to live on the range. They want skills and gear they can take back to their daily lives.

To the extent that our emphasis on choosing holsters that will work very well in class helps people pick gear that holds up to vigorous  range use and also works well for daily living, we are doing well. To the extent that it encourages people to pick gear that they don’t and won’t carry in daily life, and especially if that stops us from talking frankly with our students about how to transfer skills from one type of equipment to another, I think we are headed down the wrong path.

In any case, point 1 — keeping the gun safely secure — speaks to protecting yourself and others from the completely foreseeable danger of a loaded gun being carried in a way that can let the gun fall out or slide around so that the user might grab for it (and inadvertently bump the trigger) without thinking about what they are doing. Safety around loaded guns does matter. It is literally a matter of life and death.

Points 2 & 3 — keeping the gun comfortably concealed and readily accessible — speak to having the gun with you and to being able to use the gun when you need it. Surely having the gun with us and being able to get to it when we need it is the entire reason we’re looking for a holster in the first place. Having the gun with us and being able to easily draw it means we may be able to use it to save our own life or the life of someone we love. That’s kind of important, too. Again, literally a matter of life and death.

So. What do you think? What is the most important intended purpose for a holster? Or are they all equally important?

What’s a holster for, anyway?

  • Is it to carry the gun securely through the bumps and jostles of everyday life, including keeping the trigger well-protected at all times?
  • Is it to keep the gun discreetly concealed in a comfortable way?
  • Is it to carry the gun in a way that lets the user reach it easily during classes and range trips and even during a deadly criminal encounter?

What do you think?

4 Responses to What’s a Holster For?

  1. Bob O says:

    First, I believe that your three primary purposes for a concealed carry holster are right on.

    I of course can’t speak for everyone, but for my particular lifestyle the three purposes are very close to being equally important.
    In my particular case conceal-ability and comfort have been #1; security a very, very close #2; and accessibility a very close #3.

    It just so happens that my chosen carry style has #1 and #2 covered very well – #3 not so much. I’d like to be on target for my first shot in under 1.5 seconds, but my carry style so far has me at 2.0 seconds. Personally, I’m willing to give up the slight deficiency in #3 for the very well covered #1 and #2.

    Since I would very much prefer to train like I carry and my carry style is not allowed at any training classes that I know of I can’t comment on training carry. (I can’t see doing hundreds of reps of training in one style in training, then trying to overcome the “muscle memory” and transfer the training techniques to a different carry style when actually carrying.)

  2. larryarnold says:

    I would divide each of the three categories into two levels, the essential and the preferable.

    A holster has to provide an essential level of security, concealment/comfort, and accessibility, and nothing is more important than “essential.”

    When discussing the preferable level above that, as in “this holster is not just comfortable, but very comfortable” then I think security is most important, accessibility is second, and concealment/comfort third.

    In addition to your three, there’s:
    4. An open-carry holster should secure the handgun against anyone else manipulating or snatching it. That includes having a restraint feature, like a retention strap or mechanical lock.

    (No, I don’t open carry except in the woods, or occasionally at the range. But there are those who do.)

    • prcek.veliky says:

      I wouldn’t divide the first category. Safety is or isn’t. I remember the video Kathy linked some time ago – a man reholstering in the lift shot himself (I cannot find it anymore). I’m not sure if he tangled the trigger into clothes or his holster was soft and in the way…

  3. jdalco says:

    I agree with your list, and actually have a separate holster I used for classes and such that is an open carry holster with retention. I keep my carry holster for carrying only.

    I think 2 and 3 sometimes don’t get the attention they should. Folks look for a holster that hides well but later find out it is not easy to get to/draw from so they end up adding another one to the holster draw and get a new one. . .

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