As I go about my daily business, at work and around town, I often wonder who may be carrying a gun. It is really hard to tell. I absolutely know that certain people who live in my town and in the town nearby where I work, are carrying concealed firearms. I know this because I know them and they have, for various reasons, shared this information with me. Even so, I sometimes must look twice before I can spot where the piece is hidden. I most often carry a compact 9 mm semi-auto, a Ruger SR9c which is about the size and shape of the Glock 26. When I'm not at work, I often carry it in a Bullard leather OWB holster under a T-shirt or other light shirt in the summer.
Does it print? Well, yes, if you do not know there is a handgun underneath that shirt, you most likely would not recognize the angular fold or slight bulk on one side. But, it is my observation that people who are not looking for a gun don't see one. In most situations this just fine, but there are other places and times when you need to carry, but you absolutely want to minimize the chance that anyone will be able to tell, whether purposefully or accidentally. By purposefully, I mean that if someone is looking for evidence that you are carrying, they won't find it. By accidentally, I mean that someone might inadvertently know you have a gun, for example, by bumping into you in a crowded room, or in an elevator, or in similar circumstances. For many of us, this is most likely to occur at work.
I work in a small, public facility. The offices are small and tight; many people come and go throughout the day. I am alternately sitting, standing and walking around. Security here is less than optimal, in fact, it is non-existent, depending on a call to the local law enforcement entities which may be many minutes away when they are needed. We operate in a poor, rural area so the funds are just not available for anything like full-time security on site. Consequently, I believe some people who work there are armed. Anyone who may be, as far as I know, carries concealed and keeps it that way. Given the level of crime and drug-seeking behaviors prevalent in the area, given the various incidents that have occurred in the past, having some armed response available if necessary is a prudent idea.
This brings me to the topic of concealed carry at work and in other, crowded, public places. Depending on local laws and the situation, legal concealed carry permit holders may wish to not comply with "gun free zones", "No firearms" signs and similar warnings. These areas have proved to be favorites for criminals and sociopaths who wish to shoot others in, for them, a relatively safe environment. Personally, I would never enter such an area unarmed. If one works in a place where concealed carry is prohibited then a decision has to be made between personal defense and complying with work rules. This is, of course completely up to the individual and I am not telling anyone what to do.
Carrying concealed, especially at work and in public venues, has certain requirements: concealment, comfort, safety and accessibility. I have been testing how these work with my handgun and holsters. It is my opinion that the most effective and concealed way to carry is in the appendix position, inside the waistband (AIWB).
Successful concealment of a firearm is directly proportional to the size and type of one's cover garment. A coat, jacket, baggy sweat shirt or sweater work very well to conceal handguns of all sizes. However, I think the best test for men is to see how your sidearm is concealed when wearing a simple T-shirt. The most obvious combination worn under a T-shirt would be an OWB holster and a medium to large handgun. I often wear my Ruger SR9c in a D.M. Bullard leather OWB holster such as the belt side or the Dual Carry configured for OWB, under a basic, loose fitting T-shirt. The SR9c, "c" for compact, is neither a large or small handgun, but pleasantly in the middle of that range. The gun and holster do not totally disappear under the shirt but unless I am bending over and stressing the fabric over the gun, it is not obvious to the casual observer. But there are limitations, especially if one is carrying OWB in pubic and crowded environments or at work. I can see causing some consternation in a place like Boulder or San Francisco if I were to hit the streets carrying this way.
The other, perhaps more important problem with OWB carry is the one of accidentally bumping into someone, or if a person wants to "give you a hug", or maybe a friendly pat on the side. This happened to me one day long ago in a crowded bakery. I was standing in line when an acquaintance who certainly dislikes or is at least extremely distrustful of guns, came up and gave me the unexpected hug. Feeling the gun on my hip, she asked, "What's that?" "Oh, it's OK," I said, "that's just my insulin pump." She bought it, apologizing quickly. I calmed her embarrassment and life went on. But, really...
Probably the best way to carry a pistol concealed is in a pocket. When I had an early generation Ruger LCP, I was particularly fond of Uncle George's Wallet holsters. They are perfect for guns like the LCP. I learned to carry my LCP and Uncle George holster in my back pocket and to draw quickly and efficiently from there. The only issues with pocket holsters are that the gun you carry must be small, and that it is in your pocket. Try accessing your pistol quickly when you are carrying in a pocket and sitting. Worse, while you are belted into your seat in the car. I have nothing at all against the .380 ACP caliber handgun loaded with modern, self defense ammunition. In fact, I am planning to acquire one of the new Ruger LCP II (Generation 2, I guess I could call it) guns with the improved ergonomics and trigger. In certain situations, this could be the optimum self defense carry gun. However, I would only carry it in a pocket if it was my backup gun, or I was prepared to deal with the obvious limitations that come with pocket carry.
My experience has led me to believe that the best all-around concealed carry position is AIWB (appendix in waist band). Even relatively large guns will conceal very well in this position, even under a simple T-shirt. I once spent a long, busy day at work with my SR9c in the AIWB position under a long sleeved T-shirt. No one was the wiser, even though I could look down at my belt line and see a few odd dents and folds, these seemed to be invisible to everyone else.
It is really true that if you don't have a comfortable carry system, you won't carry as much as you should, and when you do carry for longer periods, you won't enjoy it at all. Although I have a couple of different holsters coming from Bullard and StealthGear that are targeted especially at AIWB concealed work carry, especially with shirts tucked in, I have been using two other AIWB holsters for my work carry needs for the last six months, testing some ideas. One has proved to be very comfortable and the other is literally a pain.
The comfortable one is a pjholster made to be slim and light, from one piece kydex. I've never believed people who say, "It was so comfortable I didn't even know it was there." BS, I say. If you don't know that you are carrying a gun, there is something wrong. I know it's there, but it is not intrusive, strange or uncomfortable. I can, and have worn it for over twelve hours, most of them active work hours, without pain, irritation or discomfort. The only drawback to this particular holster is that it is not tuckable. I need that feature for some of my work attire.
I have had and tested many Remora holsters over the years. Although they have their uses, I am not a fan and think that a holster needs more security than merely relying on high-friction materials. I think holsters need some sort of solid attachment to one's body, belt or clothing. But, Remoras are inherently comfortable. I took a Remora and added a kydex belt clip to it in such a way to make the holster tuckable. This worked fine and I was able to conceal my SR9c under a tucked shirt at work. Great concealment, but as the day went on it became more and more bothersome, like a soft lump with hard edges digging into my skin. By the time the work day was done, I was more than ready to take it off. I haven't worn it since. Lesson? Tuckable holsters work for concealment; my Remora hybrid does not work for comfort.
Goes without saying. Keep the trigger covered. Don't impede the draw. Hold the firearm securely but not so much to make access a problem. Stay where it is put. That is one of the issues I've had with Remora and similar holsters. If you are active, they are going to move around, and sometimes move so much they either fall out, or are in danger of doing so.
With AIWB, the weapon is always readily accessible regardless of the position you happen to be in with the possible exception of laying flat on your stomach in which event, things will have gone from bad to extremely worst anyway. Sitting in a chair, belted into your seat belt, and standing offer no impediment to a quick draw.
There are countless concealment holsters on the market today. An hour or so spent on Google will reveal hundreds of holster makers – leather, kydex, plastic, hybrids of all kinds. Many are good, some are awful. Many are clones of others, and a few are outstanding, quality made gear by good designers that know what they are doing. It really comes down to personal preference. You can buy a cheap holster that will be OK and work most of the time. You can buy an expensive holster that is OK and works most of the time. Or, you can get a quality holster that is great and will work all of the time, every time. Which would you buy? I'm always surprised by people who will spend hundreds of dollars for a quality handgun, yet balk at spending $60 to $100 for a quality holster. You are going to spend much more time with your concealment holsters than shooting your gun.
I like both the traditional and modern approaches to holster design and construction. I like leather and I like synthetic materials. They both have their uses and good makers and designers can get the best from either. My personal preferences these days are split among two makers, with another new designer on deck. I thoroughly like and use leather holsters made by D.M. Bullard and crew who work out of Azle, Texas. Azle, it turns out, is smack up against the west side of Fort Worth, my home town, which probably had something to do with me trying Bullard gear out in the first place. I have been using Bullard holsters for as long as I have been carrying a gun. Dave and his people live up to the term "craftsmen" (that includes the women there too). Artists in leather, I'd say. I have never been disappointed in any of Dave's designs. I have one of his old belt slide holsters that I still like to carry and I am currently testing out one of his most popular designs, the Dual Carry. I'll have a post on that one coming up soon.
I will also be getting one of Bullard's AIWB leather holsters configured as a tuckable model to test at work over the next few months.
My favorite synthetic holster is designed by Paul Guiannaula, owner and chief bottle washer of pjholster.com who specializes in the less-is-more philosophy of minimalist kydex holster designs, made to the highest hand-constructed quality. This is the one I most often rely upon as my work holster.
I recently discovered StealthGearUSA holsters, founded by Paul Laemmlen when a holster he was carrying in a crowded retail establishment malfunctioned and his weapon fell out onto the floor. Unable to find a commercial concealment holster that met his requirements, he set about designing his own. I got a look at one of his AIWB holsters and think it might be perfect for my situation, I've asked for and will be getting one to use and test alongside the Bullard and pjholster designs. I'm looking forward to putting these different designs to the test of an older, semi-retired veteran concealed carry person living and working in the real world.
Note: links to the holsters and gun referenced are below.