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July 13, 2010
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Tom Marx Casting a Critical Eye on Weapons Technology and Training
with Tom Marx

Firearms and accessories for the female officer

Just because a particular holster works for the next “guy” doesn’t mean it will work for you

Recently, I spoke at national event on behalf of the Law Enforcement Activities Division for the NRA. I mention the program only so that you’ll know up front that it involved individuals from all across the country who came from all kinds of backgrounds and used all kinds of firearms. As some of you know, in my “free time” (or at least when I am given a choice) I tend to focus on the difficulties encountered with concealed carry and the misconceptions that accompany it. This time around, I was not only able to look at such matters with a large group of people but I was able to talk about the numerous Women’s Issues that exist within them as a rather serious subgroup.

Over the past 20 years or so, some of the manufacturers in this business have finally addressed a few (not all and some would say not even very many) of the problems with “uniform” gear that affect the women who wear it. But when it comes to those women who work in various “plainclothes” roles (where a suit or something more casual is the uniform), I’m sorry to say things haven’t changed much at all when it comes to carrying guns successfully in this manner.

Not only is much of the gear they attempt to use just plain “wrong” with regard to body type, in many cases, women are often steered to ill-fitting and incorrect holsters and support gear by well meaning friends, unknowledgeable sales people, and their own (unfortunately incorrect) personal experiences. A number of which revolve around being exposed to television and the movies since childhood.

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Any of you who have ever attended one of my lecture programs know that I spend a lot of time railing about the things we see in various media (not just film or TV) and how they can negatively (sometimes dangerously) affect all of us regardless of who or what we are. So I’ll save that material for another day. In this venue I’ll focus on just on holsters.

One of the most popular designs is the soft-bodied, inside-the-waistband holster. Overlooking the serious issue (for law enforcement applications) of generally not being able to easily/conveniently reholster a drawn firearm into this design, let’s instead look at how this holster just won’t work for most women.

Regardless of their height and torso length (something we will discuss shortly), most women do not have the straight-bodied (narrow-hipped) physical contouring seen in most men. Instead, and especially apparent in the case of a holster that is designed to fit down into the waistline and ride alongside and not into the hip structure, they display (for this and several other designs) a conflicting, disproportionate hip-to-waist-diameter ratio.

Yet I can’t tell you the number of women I’ve met who have bought, were given, or tried various Inside-the-Waistband designs that found them to be either uncomfortable or unusable and never really seemed to realize that it was a wrong choice from the start; simply because it worked for “others.” Others who were generally male and who still make up the larger portion of the market. But rarely does one see a manufacturer, and end seller or even most mainstream writers simply stand up and say, “this is might be wrong for you!”

So-called “Pancake” Holsters are another example. Roy Baker (generally accepted to be the inventor or at least the first serious proponent of this concept) did the world a favor when he developed a flat, high-riding holster with a belt looping concept that not only held the holster tight to the wearer’s frame but (by design) turned the butt of the gun inward instead of merely carrying it parallel to the body as most hip holsters had done previous to its introduction.

Up close and obviously personal, these holsters allowed people (again at a time when that term could be easily replaced with “men”) to carry even large framed and/or clumsy guns in a very concealed manner as they went about their daily lives. I for one, often carried a 4” medium frame service revolver in a holster special ordered from Baker himself that didn’t employ a thumb break but instead had two extended ears that rose up alongside the hammer and topstrap to prevent its spur and the rear sight from snagging on the sweater I usually wore over the rig.

It worked fine for me and it allowed me to go to school and about my errands without anyone knowing I was wearing it or wondering what it was I did for a living. But I was male, six foot tall, of average build and with a longer torso length than most women of the same height or less. Such a holster, even if were scaled down for a smaller weapon would still be problematic for most female employment because of its otherwise-desirable high riding characteristics and, in some cases, the way it related to the wearer’s beltline.

Even conventional belt or so-called “hip holsters” can be very problematic for women. For even in the light of the previous two examples, where one might think that they would solve the problems we’ve just discussed, they can actually add to them. Hip Holsters are worn outside the waistband but the hip-to-waist-diameter-issue again comes into play. Here it is not a matter of comfort but one of ergonomics. Riding on the hip, the muzzle tends to flare out and the butt usually angles in; making the draw more of a scooping operation rather than a straight line presentation to the threat. And while hip holsters ride at a conventional height there are issues here too; for moving the carried firearm down to a more workable level (pancake holsters tend to put the butt of the weapon too high for most women to draw effectively) only serves to aggravate the angular issue just described.

There are similar drawbacks involving shoulder holsters for women. Vertical shoulder holsters are often longer than the wearer’s torso is high and Horizontal Rigs, while sometimes practical for females, can be problematic in regard to breast size and discomfort caused by the carried firearm. Breast size, arm length, waist diameter and hip structures can also create issues with crossdraw holsters.

While women can obviously wear pants that would cover an ankle holster, the generally lighter weight fabrics employed in many female clothing styles can cause draping and printing issues; making the gun potentially more visible than it would be on a man. The same fabric issues as well as the different ways women’s pants are “cut” or tailored can limit their effective use of pocket holsters as well.

Yet little, if any of this, is discussed in the periodicals and most gunshop store clerks (again a predominantly male population) earnestly sell what they believe to be best suited for a given gun and working application because most of their successful (especially police) customer experience has been with men. This needs to change and perhaps this Newsletter can provide a perfect vehicle for that. While I will continue to address a wide variety of topics both here and within the regular PoliceOne column, I hope to use this format to look seriously at equipment and policies that can negatively affect women on the job; regardless of the role they occupy within it.

In the future, I hope to address holsters and carrying methods that do work for women; department rules and regulations that may affect them in ways not thought of when they were originally written for a male-oriented workforce; and finally, the guns that thankfully have begun to emerge on the scene, which can truly be tailored for those with average-to-smaller-than-average size hands.

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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