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January 07, 2005

The Pros and Cons of Pocket Carry

Most people carry their concealed firearm in a holster that's strapped outside of their clothes (shoulder holster, belt slide), or clipped to the belt for support but arranged so the pants will help conceal the gun (down the pants holster). This not only allows the gun to be held firmly in a comfortable spot, but it also provides protection to both the gun's finish and sights. For this reason many people spend a great deal of time and not a little money trying to find the perfect holster for their own particular needs.

This is a good idea, and I always spend some time with my students discussing the options available. But I also think that there's a place for using a pocket as a place to carry an effective self-defense firearm. One place that might demand pocket carry is when wearing formal or business clothes in a hot climate where a jacket would be a burden.

Another thing to consider is the tactical aspect in situations where you notice a potential threat that hasn't developed to the point where action is required. If carrying in a front pocket it's very easy to have your hand on your gun, ready for instant use, while still projecting a calm and unthreatening appearance. (This works particularly well for people like myself, who usually go about our daily affairs with our hands in our pockets anyway.)

But before I go on to discuss the details, I'd like to clarify what I think someone should carry for defense.

There are many popular choices for tiny guns designed to be tucked away, and while most are chambered for dangerously underpowered cartridges, some two-barreled derringers are made that can deliver effective close-in defense.

However, I've always found that derringers and small hold out pistols to be so small that accuracy and safety is more than a little chancy, so chancy that I always caution my students to avoid them until they gain a great deal more experience with the shooting arts. Added to that is the very doubtful effectiveness of the smaller calibers, and the very low firepower and long reload times of one- or two-barreled derringers. This means that, although there is a place for these guns as emergency arms, they shouldn't be chosen as a first line of defense unless there simply is no other choice.

The first choice for many old-school shooters as a self defense weapon is a revolver, and there are many choices available that will do the job admirably. The problem with the revolver as a pocket gun, though, is the cylinder. It fattens up the silhouette of the gun so much that it's pretty easy for anyone to notice that you have a gun tucked in your pocket.

So you need to break up the outline of the gun so people won't be able to tell that you're armed. The easiest and cheapest way to do this is by using a handkerchief, folded and placed in the pocket with the gun. As long as the cloth is to the outside, it should conceal the details pretty well.

This isn't the best solution, however. There are holsters designed specifcally to break up the gun's outline while supporting and protecting the gun inside the pocket. In fact, a small cottage industry has sprung up in the last 20 years or so to provide these holsters to those who need them, as well as big name firms that make them. There's even websites that will provide easy-to-follow instructions so you can make your own pocket holsters. Using one of these holsters is a pretty good idea, and they work very well.

But I wanted to see how difficult it would be to carry without a holster, so I went holster free for 2 months.

The handgun I rely on for concealed carry is the Taurus PT 111. It's a one of a line of polymer frame pistols that's marketed under the brand name Millenium. A pic is below.

H_111B3.jpg

There's nothing at all wrong with revolvers, but I just happen to prefer autoloaders. I found that my gun would ride comfortably in a standard-sized pants pocket without any trouble at all as long as there wasn't anything else in there except spare change. The flat shape of the autoloader, along with my habit of wearing dark colored pants, concealed the gun admirably. No handkerchief or pocket holster was necessary.

Since I'm right handed, the gun was carried in that pocket. A spare magazine was carried in the left along with my car keys. Although I wasn't subjected to any situations during this time where I felt threatened or uneasy, it would have been comforting to have the gun ready for instant use if something like that had occurred.

At first I was worried about pocket carry so far as the safety was concerned. Hammerless revolvers can be carried safely in the pocket since they don't have external hammers to snag on something and inadvertantly fire the gun. (This is incredibly unlikely even with snub-nosed revolvers which have an external hammer, and I've never come across a single confirmed case of it happening. But I wanted to consider all of the possibilities.) The PT 111 is a double action only firearm with an external striker so it was at least as safe as those hammerless revolvers, but it's also equipped with an external safety. I was wondering if the safety would slip off while the gun was in the pocket and I walked along.

After carrying daily for 2 months I can say that this never once happened, and the safety functioned as it was designed to.

There is one aspect to pocket carry in Ohio that I found to be a major pain. Ohio law states that those with CCW licenses have to have the gun in plain view while driving in a car. If carrying in a shoulder holster or down-the-pants holster I would just arrange my clothing so the gun was uncovered and go on my way. But when I was carrying the gun in my pocket I actually had to take it out and put it in the car somewhere, usually on the passenger seat next to me. This did mean that the gun was very handy in the case of trouble, but it also meant that it would slide around if I had to make an emergency stop.

I was also afraid that I would get distracted and leave the gun sitting in the car where a thief could get to it, but this never happened.

Another problem was travelling to a place where I had to leave the gun locked up in the car. That meant that I would have to pick up the gun, tuck it in my pocket, and then take it back out a few seconds later when I opened the trunk and wanted to put the gun in it's case. Since it's been rather cold around here lately I've been wearing a jacket, so to save time I found that it was easiest to simply put the gun in my armpit with the muzzle pointed behind me. As long as I kept my arm clamped to my side it was carried firmly and safely, even if it was a bit smelly for the gun.

In conclusion I'd have to say that pocket carry makes the most sense for people who live in warm climes, but it's an option for the rest of us. I'm not going to give up my down-the-pants and shoulder holsters any time soon, though.

Posted by James Rummel