08/16/2010

Tom MarxCasting a Critical Eye on Weapons Technology and Training
with Tom Marx

Firearms and the female officer: Concealment holsters, front and center

Having a gun rest exactly in a close-to-dead-center hip location can be annoying enough to cause all kinds of issues for the wearer

In my classes and lectures, I tend to repeat certain things that I really want to stick in the minds of the students after they leave. A set of themes I work into various portions of my programs are the benefits of “building on what you know” and “building on what you’ve learned.” For example, why should we disregard past experience and throw aside things that we’ve been taught (only to start over) when we can draw from those previous lessons either to make better choices or to shorten the new learning experience?

One of the most obvious examples — one that comes early in the process of selecting a concealment holster — is where you are going to wear it on the body. These days, most (although I’m sure not all) duty uniform holster locations are somewhere on the strong side of the body. Most recruits are told to position their uniform duty holster on that side with the muzzle somehow oriented to the vertical trouser seam on that leg.

Some departments might still insist on a direct relationship between these two items whereas most realize that that the action of the holster (whatever movements are required to remove the firearm from it), the gun being carried (generally relating to its size and grip angle), and the body type of the individual (here not so much sexual in nature but more in relation to things like arm length and range of motion), might require the muzzle or centerline of the gun bore to be carried just “in front” or just “in back” of that seam in order to facilitate the draw.

Further deviation from the positioning of the holster directly on top of the seam can also be caused by certain female characteristics such as the disproportionate hip-to-waist-diameter-ratio that I mentioned the last time, as well as the shorter torso lengths commonly seen when comparing women and men of equal stature. It should be noted that just moving the holster around is probably not the optimum way to address these problems. The better approach for a uniform holster would be to look at some of the optional length duty holster belt loops, rotating belt loops, and angular spacing devices offered by companies like Uncle Mike's, BLACKHAWK!, and Safariland, which can tailor the resulting location and carry angle of the firearm to actually compensate for (and not just mask over) such issues.

In the case of concealment holsters, generally (not always) we have to take another tack. I want to pause here to apologize for just laying out the basics in this article, but I think it is necessary to do so in order that we might look forward in our examination of the bigger picture regarding concealed carry for women. Okay, with that out of the way, let’s continue.

Positioning Along the Beltline
Discounting for a moment the problem holsters we touched on the last time — like the so-called pancake models that traditionally ride too high for use with shorter torsos or some of the conventional scabbard types that ride low enough to minimize that issue but in so doing actually cause others — let’s just look at fore and aft positioning along the beltline for now.

Please note that there are obviously a large number of other holster types and positions on (and off) the body other than those we will begin to discuss here today (and hopefully we will get to all of them before this series is complete) but as a starting point, I think that strong side carry has a lot going for it. I say this for I firmly believe (and have stated for years in my various presentations) that I think the most effective amount of firearms training that the average uniform duty officer will receive in the course of their career is in their basic (academy) training and it generally focuses on a strong side, “on the hip” gun-carrying location. Additionally, most of the follow-up, in-service training and qualification they receive is also based on that kind of gun placement. So why throw all of that out when moving to plainclothes carry? I’m not saying that you have to stay with it — nor am I suggesting that you will be able to, depending on your activities, environment, and clothing — but as a place to begin, it takes a lot of variables out of the equation.

So keeping the holster in that vicinity for now, we also have to recognize that as part of a “building” process (and not part of a “replicating” one), it actually needs to move off that close-to-dead-center hip location as well. This is true for both men and women. If left there it would break a natural sight line and pretty much regardless of the covering garment employed, the bulge it would create would serve as a giveaway to others. Additionally, there can also be comfort issues when carrying a gun directly on the hip, for while most people can get “used to” almost anything, having the gun rest exactly there can often be annoying enough to cause all kinds of issues for the wearer.

Benefits of Muzzle-Forward Front Rake Holsters
For most men, a move behind the hip bone makes the most sense (at least as a starting point) for with an average range of motion, a “butt forward” rake (FBI cant) holster makes the gun reachable, fits it into the hollow formed by the rib cage, generally doesn’t break the aforementioned sight line and usually doesn’t bulge excessively to the rear. It also takes the pressure off the hip “bone” (or side structure where there are nerves close to surface) that can sometimes react to the holstered weapon like a pressure point control technique.

However, for many women (not all), there are problems with this. Unless they are relativly straight-bodied, both the shape of their hips and that possibly disproportionate hip-to-waist diameter ratio issue do not lend themselves to behind-the hip positioning of the holstered firearm. Attempts to move the gun even further to the rear (and off the hip proper) can, depending on the gun size and holster angle being employed, also be problematic due to the contours created by the combination of the female waist and hip structure with the gluteal muscles.

So for most women, a move forward of the hip might be more helpful if the gun is to be carried in this manner (on the waistline) and approximate location (strong side and not crossdraw).

But what about the holster itself? Again overlooking for now the very real and additional issue of torso height and the problems that it creates, let’s just look at the angle at which the holster carries the gun. While that butt forward (FBI cant) works very well for men when worn behind the hip (besides the fit-related benefits already mentioned, it also angles most guns to better mask their overall lengths and to also match the angle of the hand while making the reach-to-the-rear drawstroke), it is generally the exact opposite of what we are looking for when carrying a gun worn in front of the hip bone.

For guns worn in a forward-of-the-hip position, a muzzle-forward (or front rake) holster tends to make more sense as do some (but not all) vertical (zero rake) models.

Front rake designs not only better match the angle of the drawing hand in this position but they can also put the muzzle forward and alongside the hip and not into it (for both comfort and safety reasons). They also position the butt of the gun to the rear and away from anyone standing in front of you who might attack you for the weapon. This makes it necessary for them to reach over the gun in an attempt to steal it and not latch directly on to it, as is normally the case with most crossdraw or shoulder rig gun grabs.

Location, Location, Location
Additionally, the location of the gun (often carried in the vicinity of the appendix) and this butt-to-the-rear position (also common to vertical carry holsters worn in this position) makes it easy for the wearer to obtain and produce the weapon under stress as there is less movement required of the hand and less repositioning of the covering garment in order to access it than with either crossbody designs or those holsters worn further back on the strong side.

But in addition to building upon what we know (here strong side carry and production of the weapon), recognizing the true physical differences (of the hip structure and the hip-to-waist relationship), and not violating sight lines (further compounded by the often body-defining cut and lighter weight of the covering garments worn by most women; something we will discuss later), we also have to think about comfort. For if the holster doesn’t fit or “feel good” to the wearer, it will be problematic not only for the obvious reason of discomfort but also in that it might cause the wearer to either move themselves in an unnatural manner or move the holster thru fidgeting or constant readjustment in an attempt to accommodate it. All of this possibly drawing attention to the officer and the fact that they are wearing/carrying a concealed firearm.

Therefore, one needs to address this subjective consideration (of comfort) every bit as thoroughly as the objective ones that preceded it in our discussion. And tying this entire topic to those points raised in the first installment, we must also recognize that just because a holster meets the overall criteria for a woman’s use doesn’t mean it is suitable for every woman who looks at it.

Next time we will look more closely at some of the overall criteria one can use to select a holster and begin to look at specific models that are on the market today.

About the author

Tom Marx left the Chicago Police Department in 1988 to become an instructor at the Smith & Wesson Academy. After several years of teaching full time both nationally and internationally, he shifted roles at Smith: first to a series of technical positions and then as Head of their Domestic Law Enforcement Operations. He left S&W to organize a Law Enforcement Division for Michaels of Oregon as well as to help design much of their police-related duty gear. Leaving Uncle Mike’s, Tom became Director of Intellectual Property for BLACKHAWK Products Group; focusing on the patent efforts for all of their divisions. Today, he is a consultant in various firearms, accessory and training matters. Throughout the years, Tom has continued to lecture and instruct both inside and outside the US with such diverse groups as ILEETA, IALEFI, WIFLE, LETC, NDIA, the NRA, and Team One Network. .

Contact Tom Marx.

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