Recently I was talking to Guns & Ammo Editor-in-Chief Eric Poole, and our conversation turned to the writers and pistoleros of yesteryear. We both consider ourselves history buffs when it comes to firearms, so this line of discussion is common. Poole mentioned that he was re-reading Bill Jordan’s “No Second Place Winner,” and recalled that Jordan had some very specific ideas when it came to holster design and positioning. While some of the Jordan’s musings are somewhat dated (and fodder for another article), his thoughts on holster position remain relevant, even today. As the conversation turned from yesteryear to today, Poole said, “I think you have your next column here.” Indeed. In fact, this article is not going to make me any friends, especially amongst those in my chosen profession as a police officer.
You see, the drop swivel holster used by my department, and the double-leg-strapped Safariland found in many others, are more than just a means of carrying secure, quick access to a gun. They’ve become a symbol that suggests, “Hey, look at me! I’m a gunfighter!” Except that they’re not. These types of holsters are garbage that need to be sent to the dustbin of holster history, along with holsters that don’t cover the triggerguard and those offering no retention.
Yes, you read that right. Drop holsters are garbage.
Bold words, I know. And now you want to fight me? The painful truth is always better than a soothing lie, so let me explain why drop-leg holsters are less than optimal for today’s law enforcement officer, soldier, sailor, Marine, and others.
First, let’s talk about the argument that many proponents default to: speed. Before we even consider drills against a shot timer, let’s just look at the physics of the draw. You are not likely to start the draw with your hand on the gun. The days of resting your hand on the butt of the pistol when speaking to members of the community are long gone. (Besides, it makes you look scared, so don’t do it.) When drawing, the further away the handgun is from your waist line, the further your hand has to move to get to get a grip. Now that you’ve had to move your hand further down your body toward your knee, you’re going to have to bring it back up your body to present the pistol toward the target. Because of that distance, the mechanics of the draw are also going to be compromised with your bigger, less efficient torso movements necessary to get the gun aimed. While it might not seem like much time or distance, a long draw time consumes time in a gunfight, a luxury you’re not going to have much of when someone is trying to kill you.
The next factor to take a hard look at is our ability to control the holster. There are many times in the course of a fighting person’s career that being able to physically control the holster becomes a matter of life and death, the chief concern during a life-threatening altercation in which a bad guy attempts to disarm the good guy. I have taught defensive tactics and firearm retention to thousands of professionals in uniform from all over the world, and there is one incontrovertible truth when it comes to holstered handgun retention: The further away the holster is from the torso, the harder it is for the shooter to maintain control of the pistol. The further away the holster is, the more the arms need to be extended to control it. The further extended the arms are, the weaker they become. Again, physics rears its head. Don’t believe me? Then why do running backs hold the football high and tight in the body? That’s right, because when that arm comes out it’s easier to strip the football away.
For smaller statured officers, an often-taught retention technique is to wedge an arm under the holster, forcing the butt of the gun into the abdomen and making it almost impossible to strip the gun out; this technique is not possible with a drop holster. Likewise, the default technique of “capping” the pistol in the holster becomes much more difficult and less effective with a drop holster. Building on the capping technique is the consideration that in the event of a fight over your gun occurs, the primary hand should be able to control the holstered primary firearm on its own while the support hand does something useful, such as parrying blows to the face or drawing a backup gun to end the fight quickly. Every year people are disarmed and killed with their own pistols. Stop thinking that it’s never going to happen to you and start training like it might.
Moving on from the fighting aspect of holster control, let’s take a look at another area of concern for drop holsters: running or climbing. I try not to get into telling too many cop stories, but this one is particularly relevant. As a young police officer working in Los Angeles’ Rampart Division, my partner and I were involved in a foot pursuit with a robbery suspect. At the termination of the foot pursuit, I had taken the suspect into custody. I looked down at my partner’s holster and it was empty! During the chase his holster snap had come undone and his Beretta 92FS had launched itself, unknown to my partner who’d been running as fast as he could to catch the bad guy. Luckily, it was recovered about a half-block down in the gutter resulting in some good-natured ribbing rather than if he would have lost his sidearm. This scene is not unheard-of when running with a drop swivel. It happens. But hey, gotta look the part, right?
Now let’s take a look at the shot timer. While my old Hoyt drop swivel and the boat anchor of a Smith & Wesson 4506 that rode in it are long gone, I still own one drop rig: My High Speed Gear Battle Belt with a Safariland 6360 mounted on a Safariland 6004 Drop Flex Adapter (DFA) with a single leg strap kept strapped high and tight (highspeedgear.com; safariland.com). This is the rig I wear when I’m serving warrants, and the butt of the pistol sits just at the bottom of the belt so that it has clearance from my external ballistic vest and plate carrier. I would prefer to use the Safariland Rigid Universal Belt Loop (UBL) shank, but because of my height and build that set-up makes it impossible to sit without the gun driving up into the vest and becoming inaccessible. My uniform holster is the same 6360 attached on the Sam Browne with the UBL, which keeps the butt of the pistol aligned with the top of my belt. There is less than a 3-inch difference in height between the two, but the difference in the draw times was a noticeable .18 second. My average time from the Sam Browne to an A-zone hit at 7 yards was 1.13 seconds. My average time from the DFA was 1.31. The difference of .18 second is an eternity in a gunfight.
If you’re running a drop rig because of external armor, make sure that the butt of the pistol is as high up as possible. If you’re running one because you like the way it looks, or because it’s more comfortable to swivel on top of your leg in the car, then please reconsider your choice. Your life and the life of the people that you are sworn to protect are more important than style.