09/21/2010

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

Crossbody concealment holsters for female officers

So far in our study of concealment holsters for women, we’ve looked at some general concepts and some specific models that I think not only work well but that work by building on what many women in this business already know: strong-side carry. But for all the advantages that this position offers (and for all the reasons I gave previously that an in-front-of-the-hip location might work best — at least as a starting point — for a lot of women), it doesn’t always work for everybody due to their body type, activity and clothing required. So this time we will begin to look at some other options.

Crossbody holsters — those worn on the non-dominant or non-primary side but are designed to be drawn from by the strong, dominant, or primary hand by reaching “across the body” to access the firearm — are something else altogether. Crossbody designs include (but aren’t necessarily limited to) shoulder holsters, leg holsters, ankle holsters and belt-mounted models generally referred to as “crossdraws.” Note that offbody holsters, some of which are also designed so that they can be utilized in an across-the-body manner, will be discussed at length in a later section. For now, we’ll limit our discussion to these four families only.

Addressing the "Bad" Right Up Front
The good thing about crossdraw holsters is that generally, their physical characteristics are such that when worn on the waist just in front of the weak hip, they are very accommodating of the female physique. The bad thing (not really the end of the world as long as it is recognized) is the fact that the muzzle-to-the-rear / gripframe-to-the-front orientation does present the butt of the gun to anyone standing in front of the wearer. Situational awareness and functional knowledge of the basic concepts of gun retention can go a long way to minimize this issue but there are other matters as well.

One of them is the drawstroke. This series does not, and cannot, serve as a primer on “techniques” when it comes to the drawing and firing of a weapon. However, while it can be seen that the steps for doing so are basically the same for both holsters, the production of a firearm from a crossdraw model does involve some different thinking than is used when employing a strong side design. As a result, in addition to the gun grab situation just mentioned, there is also a “gun pinning” issue that needs to be mentioned here.

While it is certainly possible to have someone prevent you from drawing and acquiring the target from any holster, there are extremely obvious techniques that can be employed against the crossdraw. For not only can an accessed-but-undrawn handgun be trapped in the holster as it could with any conventional strong side carry type, the crossdrawing process permits a number of opportunities for the gun and/or removing arm to be pinned against the body by a close-by offender. Additionally, due to the inherent sweeping nature of the draw (even when performed in a controlled manner), and the fact that the muzzle must, at some point, be “turned” (and not just “driven”) to the threat (as is the case when the gun is drawn from a strong side design), there is also a greater chance for the weapon itself to be grabbed or deflected by an attacker without the possibility of effectively “shooting thru” the situation as a last resort.

Finally, many people (both women and men) have never learned the proper way to draw a firearm from a crossdraw holster and as such, they wear it too far forward of the hip in order to minimize their reach and assist in the production of the weapon. Not only does this further facilitate the possibility of a takeaway but it also makes the gun harder to conceal. And the concealment issue can be compounded by the front opening, lighter weight, and overall “cut” of the kind of covering jackets (especially suit jackets) worn by women. Even men, with generally heavier weight and “less-fitted” suit coats can have a problem concealing the butt of a gun worn too far forward of the hip in this manner. But for some women, all this can ultimately make the choice of this style of holster unacceptable.

Moving the gun further back on the hip can be problematic too. While it might fall well against their hip structure, some women have trouble reaching the firearm and obtaining a solid shooting grip upon it due to arm length, breast size, range of motion and again, the way their clothes are either cut or tailored. Additionally, these same factors can affect the replacement of the weapon as well; something often overlooked when selecting a holster. In law enforcement, you need to put the gun back with the same kind of unencumbered, one-handed approach that was used to produce it.

Breast size, rib cage profiles, and that same hip-to-waist-diameter ratio issue we’ve discussed in previous installments can affect the mere wearing of crossdraw holsters in terms of comfort. Still, if such a design fits you comfortably and can be concealed by the clothing you wear to accompany your activities within the climate in which you live, crossdraw holsters do offer a viable option to my usual preference when it comes to waistband designs: those Bruce Nelson-influenced vertical and front rake Strong Side holsters we discussed the last time.

Many Options Available
So let’s see what’s out there, how they differ and what they might be able to do for you.

Several of the “paddle” holsters such as the previously described leather Bianchi PaddleLok and both the Kydex and Laminate versions of the Uncle Mike’s are adjustable for both height and rake, making them very adaptable for Crossdraw (waistline) applications. Bianchi also makes a conventional thumb break crossdraw holster that they attach to a paddle with a greater offset to better accommodate the female hip structure. It’s their Model 990. And BLACKHAWK!’s family of carbon fiber SERPA holsters comes with both a rake adjustable paddle and a similarly adjustable belt loop so that either method of attachment can be adjusted for Crossdraw use. In fact, as mentioned before, a Spacer Kit is also available as an option for the SERPA to further adjust the holster to the wearer’s body in case it needs to be spaced away from the body for better performance.

Not a “paddle” but a serious Clip-On holster that is adjustable and one that can be angled to properly use as a crossdraw is the Safariland 6379 ALS Clip-On Pistol Holster. Like many of the designs here, it is an open top model but this one uses their Automatic Locking System for retention. The clip might be problematic for some hip-to-waist relationships and I think the holster might best be used with something less-than-full-size service pistols. So as with everything in this series, I again advise you to look at, handle and try out (to whatever degree possible) this and any of these designs before buying one. And then later, be honest enough with yourself to recognize that after buying it, and using it for a while, that if you find that (for whatever reason) it doesn’t “work” for you, that you shelve it and move on.

I realize that sounds rather cavalier. And I know that none of us has money to waste. One of the purposes of this series of articles is to not only try to inform you about what is out there (both specifically and in theory) and help you in making a good choice in the first place (thereby saving you time and money) but also to recognize what might be a bad one after-the-fact so that you don’t spend years wearing something that could either hurt you or put you at risk.

In addition to these rake-adjustable designs, a number of the front rake and vertical (0º rake) holsters we discussed the last time, are also sold or recognized as dual use (strong side and crossdraw) models.

The two non-adjustable, leather “DOJ” models from Alessi Holsters can be used as crossdraws. Their limited bulk recalls what I liked about the no-longer-available Bruce Nelson Professional Models and the cut down lead wall on one of them is very helpful to certain body types as it allows the gun to be produced without as much vertical movement as normally required by “0º rake” designs. The only drawback to using these styles (and some of those that follow) is what would normally be the trailing edge of the holster (and hidden from view through an open front coat or jacket) has, in the crossdraw (reversed) position, now become the lead edge and might actually be seen before the gun itself is visible. There is a lot to consider here; including things like holster coloring and garment linings. We will touch on that and more before this series ends.

Bell Charter Oak not only makes their previously mentioned “I.C.E. Scabbard” for 2” revolvers that can serve in both Appendix and crossdraw positions but they also offer their “Co-Pilot” quick detachable model that does the same. While both of these holsters require a belt, they do ride at a more conventional waist level and as such, are more tolerant of shorter torsos than conventional Hi-Ride or Pancake models. If torso height is not an issue (either due to the officer’s build, the gun involved, or both), they also make their Challenger Crossdraw for revolvers and their “elegant” for small-caliber autos that might be of use.

Because of its conventional butt-forward rake, Kramer Handgun Leather’s “Women’s Belt Scabbard” cannot be used as a crossdraw but they do make a designated crossdraw that like the Alessi, uses a Nelson-like, scabbard-type body to reduce bulk. But unlike most of those models, they modify the angle of the belt loops to create what they call a moderate cross draw angle that might be of benefit to some of you reading this.

While he doesn’t advertise it for crossdraw applications, the slight front rake of Mitch Rosen’s female-oriented NSP holster might allow it to be used in this position by some people but I would seriously suggest examining one for this purpose before purchasing it. He does make a conventional crossdraw (the Transverse) but it appears to ride a little high; so again, please see how it relates to your body and the gun being carried before running out to buy one. Rosen goes one step further here and applies his expertise and excellent workmanship to a radically angled crossdraw model entitled the “Counter Car Jacking Rig” which is intended only for that application. Its swaggering, almost horizontal position would probably look exciting on television if worn outside the vehicle but Rosen (wisely) warns against it and I agree.

Galco pioneered the “Driving Holster” concept for the mainstream user and they too warned against its use for other applications. However, while most people would probably turn to them for such a design, I believe that it has been dropped from their catalog and is no longer available.

Three-slot “pancake” holsters — once patent protected but now available from a wide variety of manufacturers — are generally designed so that in addition to their use as strong side models, they can be utilized as crossdraw carriers as well.

Unfortunately, I believe that many of them violate at least one of the rules we have been discussing — employing "Little Holsters for Little Guns" — as traditional versions tend to employ rather large bodies in order to smooth out their profile, and one of the concerns we have (holsters too tall or that ride too high to be effectively utilized for people with shorter torsos).

Therefore, if such a holster does appeal to you, I would study if closely before buying to make sure that it will actually “fit” you and conceal (itself and the gun it carries) beneath the garments you wear.

Next time, we’ll look as some garments and belts available for safely carrying and supporting the holsters we have discussed. After that, we will move on to shoulder holsters.

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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