Will criminals attack an obviously armed person just to get his gun? Sure. It has happened. I know a guy who was a young cop out West who was walking foot patrol when the lights suddenly went out. He groggily regained consciousness to discover that he had a massive headache and an empty holster. A two-by-four was lying nearby. The department determined that an unknown, never-caught malefactor had come up behind the officer stealthily, smashed him in the back of the head with a board, and taken his custom Smith & Wesson and sauntered away from the cop’s unconscious form. The officer recovered from the blow, and his assailant did not choose to execute him as he lay helpless. He was lucky. And he knows it.
More recently – this past winter, as I write this in the summer of 2007 – a perpetrator in New York City decided the best way to pay off his debts was to commit a string of robberies, and he determined he’d need a gun for that. Where to get a gun? He came up behind a uniformed rookie cop and smashed him in the head with a baseball bat. When the cop fell to the pavement, his attacker beat him about the head some more with the bat, then managed to get his 16-shot 9mm out of the duty holster. The suspect was captured shortly thereafter by other officers, and he confessed, which is how we know not only what he did, but why. The officer was seriously injured and possibly permanently impaired when last heard from.
So, yes, there have indeed been cases of people who attacked those visibly carrying guns for no other purpose than to get the guns. In is not an everyday thing, but it is something to worry about. The private citizen around other people unknown to him, with an exposed gun clearly visible, runs the same risk.
“Out of Sight, Out of Mind”: A Two-Way Street
Concealed carry advocates are often heard to say, “Concealed means concealed! If they don’t know it’s there, they can’t grab it away from you!” I’m afraid it isn’t quite so simple. First, the assailant may know where your concealed gun is before the assault begins. This can come about in any of several ways.
Perhaps the assailant knows you carry a gun, and even knows where you carry it. This in turn can come from several directions. The attacker could be an estranged former significant other. He could be the disgruntled former employee you had to fire, and he hates you for it and wants revenge. He might be your son-in-law, whom you found out was abusing your daughter and who has seen you with a gun and wants to hurt you to punish her.
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Perhaps the attacker is a stranger, who didn’t decide to attack you until your concealed handgun inadvertently became exposed, and he saw it. In many areas, a $500 handgun is worth $1,000 on the black market. Guns and prescription drugs are about the only two things crooks can steal from you and re-sell for more than their intrinsic value, instead of fencing for dimes on the dollars. Did you or a friend ever unintentionally expose a concealed handgun to one another? If that happens in front of the wrong person, you could be targeted in a disarming attempt.
And perhaps the gun becomes visible or palpable in the course of a fight that has not yet reached deadly force proportions. Watch armed men in plainclothes punching or grabbing each other, and you’ll see coats sweeping back, shirts being pulled loose, pants cuffs coming up…things that will expose hip holsters, shoulder holsters, and ankle holsters. A common wrestling maneuver in a streetfight is to grab the other man around the waist with your arms. If the antagonist does that to you, he’ll almost certainly feel your holstered gun, and now the struggle for your weapon is on.
There is also the absolute fact that in concealed handgun carry, “out of sight, out of mind” goes in both directions. That is, the person who is perhaps falsely confident that no one will spot his gun, is less motivated to be alert to a grab for that gun.
I guess what I’m saying here is that, concealed or open carry, recognizing beforehand that you might experience a gun-snatch attempt is a wise thing. It follows that it is equally wise to plan ahead to defeat that attempted gun grab.
Proven Retention Strategies
Handgun retention is the corollary science to handgun disarming, and it encompasses both a hardware side and a software side. Let’s look at the hardware first.
Security holsters have been available for some time that will ride on a conventional dress gun belt and don’t require a police officer’s or security guard’s big, heavy utility belt. The most popular of the breed these days seems to be the Blackhawk SERPA. This synthetic rig has a discreet trigger-finger panel that is biomechanically natural for the wearer’s draw angle, but not for the hand of an unauthorized person coming in on it from an angle other than straight above…and your own gun arm and shoulder are blocking his access to that particular angle. I know a lot of cops are now wearing the SERPA when they do open carry in plainclothes on investigative duties, or in the not-readily-recognizable permutations of the various “administrative uniforms.”
Strong Holster Company has long made their Piece-Keeper, which uses a special thumb-break design to require a double release movement before the draw can begin. Bianchi has a wide line of holsters with “level two” retention. Safariland has produced a whole series of holsters with hidden releases, or niche locks that require the gun to be pulled in a certain specific direction before it will come out. All have great promise for low-profile open carry, and for that matter, these holsters are concealable.
I would strongly recommend a thumb-break safety strap as a bare minimum of security for anyone openly carrying a loaded handgun in public.
Mechanical safeties are another good thing in these circumstances. History has shown us again and again – with cops, armed citizens, and security professionals alike – that when a bad guy gets a gun away from a good guy and tries to shoot him with it, he often takes several seconds to figure out how to make the gun work. Those seconds have often been the difference between life and death.
Are these hardware fixes desirable even for those trained in handgun retention? Yes. When my older daughter briefly open-carried in Arizona, she had an on-safe Beretta 92 in a Strong Piece-Keeper holster, and appreciated the peace of mind that combination gave her. (She also quickly grew tired of people staring at her, pointing, and mouthing “The little girl has a gun!”) My kids learned handgun retention early – this daughter was the youngest instructor ever certified to teach the Lindell Handgun Retention System by the National Law Enforcement Training Center – but remember the cops I mentioned earlier who were cold-cocked before they had a chance to defend their guns. For situations like that, hardware that is “proprietary to the user” can be a lifesaver.
The software fix is every bit as important. When I first discovered I had to carry open or not at all in North Carolina, I was carrying a point-and-pull revolver in an open top holster. I was damn glad that I was an instructor of long standing in Lindell weapon retention. The same was true more recently, when I posed for some photos walking around the greater Phoenix area open-carrying a rig I had intended to carry concealed: a point-and-shoot SIG P226 in an open top LFI Concealment Rig by Ted Blocker. Since the gun-grab may come after you’ve already drawn and off-safed, being able to successfully grapple with the grabber and peel him off the gun is an essential skill in any case.
Some carry openly to make a statement about gun owners’ civil rights. I can sympathize with that. Some few do so to make a spectacle of themselves. No sympathy here. Either will experience the word “make” in another context: they will be “made” as someone carrying a deadly weapon in public.
The more the gun can “hide in plain sight” through discreet selection of the color of gun finish, stocks, holster, and surrounding clothing, the less trouble the exposed handgun will cause instead of quell.
The more difficult the gun is for an unauthorized user to get out of its holster, and the more difficult it is for an unauthorized person who gains control of it to activate, the better. These are not just political correctness issues. When you look at the number of people who have been killed with their own or their partners’ weapons in the history of law enforcement and professional security, you can see just how significant the risk is that we are talking about. Only a fool would ignore it.
Open carry may not be this writer’s choice, but for many of our brothers and sisters, it is the only legal way they can be armed in public to protect themselves and their loved ones. Whether or not we choose to exercise it, we want to keep the right of open carry. The above advice is offered in the hope of doing so with maximum safety for ourselves and others.
Click here to read part one, Making Open Carry Safer.