Carrying a concealed handgun can be a pain — figuratively and literally. For many people, the discomfort associated with wearing a holstered firearm soon outweighs their desire to carry. As a result, their handguns get left at home or in a vehicle, where they're probably not going to do much good.
As an alternative, some opt for off-body carry methods such as a purse, an over-the-shoulder pack or even a disguised day planner. It's easy to see how off-body carry could be more comfortable and convenient than wearing a holstered gun all day, but is it a viable option for personal protection?
While you're not going to win any quick-draw contests drawing a firearm from your day planner, it's certainly better than going unarmed. Having access to a concealed handgun and being aware of your environment could be a life-saving combination when your daily routine is interrupted by an assailant who threatens to do you harm.
There are bound to be times when even the most hardcore advocates of holstered concealed carry will find it uncomfortable or just plain inappropriate. For instance, a day at the beach will probably not lend itself well to wearing a belt-mounted holster because you would need to wear an overgarment to conceal your gun (and it's pretty hard to hide that ankle holster when you're wearing shorts).
If you're in workout attire, wearing a holster or even a belt would be laughable. Let's face it: For most people, strict adherence to holster carry is not feasible. When traditional carry methods are impractical, here are some off-body alternatives to consider.
For women, carrying a concealed handgun in their purse is a natural choice. After all, women typically carry purses anyway, and it's a lot easier to add a gun to the mix than redesign a wardrobe to accommodate carrying a handgun in a belt-mounted holster.
Besides the fact that there's nothing unusual about a woman carrying a purse, it's also not odd for her to keep that purse close by at all times, and that's important. One of the dangers associated with off-body carry is the possibility of someone gaining access to your firearm. If you decide to carry your gun in a purse, you must maintain physical control of your purse at all times. Complacency in this regard could have tragic consequences.
Despite the benefits of carrying a gun in a purse, there's more to this carry method than simply dropping a gun into the purse's main compartment along with your keys, makeup, wallet, etc. — items that could interfere with your ability to quickly access your gun.
Your best bet is probably to purchase a purse specifically designed for concealed carry. These days there is quite an array of well-made, fashionable and practical holster purses on the market (Editor's Note: Galco's DEL holster handbag is what our model is drawing from in the lead photograph — and, no, her finger is not on the trigger, although her indexing technique needs some work). Make sure the purse actually looks like a purse. If you're wearing a nice dress and heels, an OD green purse with nylon straps and hook-and-loop closures might appear a little too obvious.
As with traditional purses, it would make sense to own a couple of different holster purses to match your attire. While concealed carry purses aren't cheap, you can't afford to skimp on quality.
In purse carry it's vital to have a separate compartment for the gun. Do not keep anything else in this compartment. An eyebrow brush or an ink pen that finds its way into the triggerguard is a recipe for disaster. When the gun is secured in a properly oriented integral holster, you are well on your way to a smooth and efficient draw stroke.
The purse's gun compartment should be secured by a zipper. Don't rely on snaps, hook-and-loop fasteners or magnets to contain your firearm. The last thing you want to have happen is for your gun to fall out onto the ground.
If possible, reserve a spot in the purse for a compact, but strong flashlight that you can locate quickly in an emergency. The purse should be able to conveniently store your concealed carry permit (if applicable) and a spare magazine or speedloader. Keep these items in the same location so you're not digging through your purse when you desperately need them.
Keep in mind that drawing a gun from a purse takes practice. You need to consider how your gun is best accessed and carry your purse to facilitate a smooth draw. For instance, a right-handed shooter using a purse with a side-zippered pocket would be best served carrying the purse over her left shoulder, with the zippered gun compartment within easy reach.
Off-body carry methods such as purse carry require perhaps even extra attention to your surroundings. If you're walking to your vehicle, for example, and notice someone rapidly approaching from behind, you could afford yourself a much-needed head start by unzipping your holster compartment and acquiring a shooting grip on your firearm. In fact, the ability to covertly grip a handgun in anticipation of danger is perhaps the only tactical advantage to off-body carry.
When I first became a police officer in 1997, I purchased a huge black fanny pack in which to tote my department-issued Glock 22. I carried that thing with me wherever I went. Over time, the proverbial "big black fanny pack" has become symbolic of either a concealed carry aficionado or an off-duty cop. Add to the mix short hair, sunglasses and (God forbid) a moustache with no other facial hair and you may as well be wearing a badge. I still have a buddy or two who carry their guns in fanny packs, but it is definitely a less popular option than it was a decade ago.
A step up in the concealment department is an over-the-shoulder pack, which can often be worn on the belt (for you die-hard fanny-packers). Sometimes referred to affectionately as a "man purse," these packs actually work pretty well for concealed carry. The fact that they are slung over the shoulder and head (as one would sling a long gun) offers a welcome degree of gun retention. These packs are also much more likely to remain on your body, so the chance of inadvertently leaving your gun behind is minimal.
Over-the-shoulder packs come in a variety of shapes, sizes and colors. You'll want to be sure that your pack goes with whatever it is you're wearing. A camouflage gun pack might not blend in really well at a business meeting or formal affair, but it might be perfectly suited for hiking or any number of other outdoor activities where more casual attire is the norm.
When selecting a gun pack, make sure it has a separate, zippered compartment for the gun. Be sure to keep your concealed carry permit handy, if applicable. Another benefit to carrying a gun pack is that there is probably ample room in which to store a small flashlight.
Adjust the straps so the pack is properly oriented for drawing the gun. Another key is to pre-stage the zipper so you won't have to fumble with it when you need it most.
I prefer to leave the zipper slightly open. This allows me to obtain a solid grasp of the exterior flap and rip it open for access to my gun. As you can imagine, having to unzip the holster compartment could significantly slow your draw. The draw stroke from a pack can be very smooth, but it requires extensive practice.
A day planner offers a very covert carry method. You could probably walk around with one all day and not get a second glance. A quality day planner is made of full-grain leather and blends with either business or casual attire. Like the other off-body carry methods, a day planner/holster should have a separate zippered compartment for storing the firearm. Some even have a designated elastic strap to store an extra magazine, but you'll be hard pressed to find room for a flashlight.
On the downside, since the day planner/holster is carried in-hand, there are bound to be times when you set it down. If you become complacent and let it out of your sight, you are tempting fate. Granted, it probably won't be apparent that the day planner contains a firearm, but they often contain credit cards and other valuables that would appeal to a thief.
Some day planners are equipped with a strap that can be secured to your wrist, but securing the day planner to your wrist could draw unwanted attention.
Drawing your gun from even the best-designed day planner is challenging. As with the purse or gun pack, it's best to pre-stage the zipper to save time when drawing.
In certain circumstances you might be able to acquire a shooting grip on the gun in preparation for drawing it from the day planner. When you can grip the gun in this manner, you can greatly expedite your draw stroke. In fact, this technique will probably allow you to present your gun to the target faster than if you had to contend with an outer garment concealing your holstered firearm.
Of course, none of these carry methods is worth much if you don't place the right handgun inside them. While selecting the right gun will largely be a matter of personal preference, you want to choose a gun that fits your hand and that you can shoot accurately.
Off-body carry doesn't relegate you to carrying a pocket gun, but a full-size handgun might be overkill. The extra bulk and weight inherent with a full-size pistol or revolver could nullify the advantage of off-body carry, making it heavy and cumbersome.
A compact handgun is probably a more sensible pairing. I find that my Springfield Armory EMP 9mm fits well in the off-body holsters I employ. And today's 9mm ammunition makes for a very
capable personal protection round.
Make no mistake: Off-body carry offers less security and typically a slower presentation of your handgun than traditional holstered carry. But if you choose the right gear and gun, are aware of your surroundings and practice diligently, off-body carry is a viable option. If the convenience of this mode of concealed carry results in you being armed more often, then it's well worth the investment of time and money.