With the open carry of handguns becoming a reality in Texas soon, it’s time we all start thinking of what that means. Yes, we will no longer have to worry about accidentally “printing" our concealed firearms when reaching up to a high shelf in the store, leaning over to pick something up off the ground or just getting out of the truck. We may not see as many untucked shirts or, so many Hawaiian prints. 5.11 and Thunderwear may lose some business. We can just go out in a t-shirt and shorts, practically a uniform for Austinites, when it is hot outside. No need for layering to hide any unsightly bulges.
Open carry being legal will have several benefits. Open carry will make it easier to carry a larger frame gun. It will be more comfortable to wear and easier to access. It may immediately remove you from the victim list of many criminals.
The downside is that you are no longer the only one who knows you are carrying. Everyone at Walmart will know too. Everyone you meet, everyone you see, and some you don’t see, will know. Having your weapon visible may make you the first target of an active shooter or the target of someone who wants your gun. I personally prefer to keep my gun concealed, unless I’m at the range or on private property, but I thought I would share a few thoughts about how to be prepared if you decide to open carry.
An average of 50 police officers die per year with their own guns. Police officers carry their handguns openly. This could very well be you if you are not prepared. If you decide to carry your handgun openly, then you need two things right now- a good retention holster and handgun retention skills.
A Good Retention Holster
A good holster whether it is concealed or not is a must. But with open carry, you must have a holster that is both good - durable, fits well, is comfortable to wear, holds the gun securely when you move around, run, etc, is easy for you to access and that also offers additional retention to prevent someone from simply pulling it out. This added element of retention is very important. It is simply too easy for someone to grab your weapon and pull it out if you do not have a locking / retention system in your holster design.
I spent many years assisting my teacher and mentor, Lt. Erwin Ballarta with defensive tactics programs at the Texas Department of Public Safety Training Academy. Erwin was the defensive tactics coordinator for the entire state of Texas. In every training school, he would regularly have the recruits wrestle and attempt to retain their own handgun against someone determined to get it. Each year. hundreds of recruits wearing their duty belts, off duty holsters, etc. would fight for the gun in training, so they could stay alive once in the field. In addition to training the recruits to retain their guns, Erwin tested a lot of gear in these sessions.
Unfortunately, our favorite low profile, inside the waistband, kydex holsters are not going to cut it. They will rip apart immediately. Leather and metal holsters faired the best, but even some of the level 3 (highest level of retention) holsters simply tore apart during these sessions. I remember seeing one holster wherein the metal armature inside the holster failed, literally tearing through the metal. You may not need the highest level of retention for your purposes, but you need something that can’t simply be pulled off your belt. It’s a balance between easy and quick for you to draw and hard for someone else to get out. Although I have a bin full of holsters that didn’t work out for me, I do not have a lot of experience with retention holsters. Based on my observation and the advice of Erwin, I have 2 Safariland retention holsters.
Safariland is recognized as a very good brand and is the standard for most police departments. They have been manufacturing products for law enforcement for many years and have worked through these issues getting feedback from trainers like Erwin. Safariland offers a number of retention holsters that would be appropriate for a private citizen to use for open carry. I have personally used one with their ALS retention system. The ALS (Automatic Locking System) is fairly easy and quick to manipulate. When you seat your gun in the holster, it automatically locks in place via the ejection port. The release is effected by your thumb pressing a lever in the course of gripping your gun. It is fairly intuitive and, with training, has the potential to be quick. I would certainly recommend something with that system that would be comfortable to carry and is securely attached to your belt. This would offer you level 2 retention, which means there are two devices or methods retaining the gun. If you prefer level 3 retention, you can get a holster with ALS and a swinging hood that acts like a retention strap and restricts the hand from getting a good grip on the gun. It requires a little more manipulation when drawing, but it is not too bad. Just remember your draw stroke will be slower.
No matter what holster you choose, do your research on the brand and design. Try it out if you can. Otherwise, be prepared to add it to the “no" bin of holsters you probably have too. Once you have found a good holster that fits you and retains your gun, you will need to train how to operate the retention device on the holster and how to retain your gun once it comes out of the holster.
Handgun Retention Skills
Assuming you are a law abiding citizen, there is no good reason for someone to forcibly take your gun away from you. If someone is fighting to get your gun away from you, what do you think they will do with it? Right. So you are likely fighting for your life. Be prepared by getting proper instruction and good training.
Unfortunately, at close distance, there is no stance you can use that prevents someone from reaching your gun. Angling so that your weapon side is back away from your opponent makes your weapon a little easier to defend, but the weapon is by no means out of reach. Handgun retention starts with keeping the gun in your holster when you are not ready for it to come out. If someone gets a hand on your gun while it is still in your holster, you need to keep it in the holster. A proper holster will cover the trigger of your gun. As long as your weapon stays seated in your holster, you can fight to get your opponent’s hands off the gun without getting shot.
Once the weapon comes out of your holster, you need to be prepared to keep it in your hand if you are the one gripping it, or you need to be able to disarm your attacker if it is in his hand. Retention skills and disarming skills complement each other and proper training will address both. At the very least, you must understand how disarming works to prevent it from happening to you. This is a principle we always consider in our training: Knowing the offense is the best way to develop a good defense.
In general, the closer your gun is to the center of your chest, the better chance you have of keeping it. Once your arms are extended, you lose leverage and your weapon is more available to your attacker. We saw this time and time again with the DPS recruits. Those that pulled the weapon flat against their chest usually held onto it. The further out from the chest it was, the more likely they were to lose it.
Aside from understanding the principles mentioned above, you must also have good technique. Good technique is designed to address the possibility of a round discharging during the course of application. If your weapon discharged, would the the round hit you or someone you do not want it to hit? It is very easy to sweep your hands, arms and your legs when fighting to keep the gun. You must use your hands, footwork and your overall positioning for the best chances of survival. Good technique uses leverage and body mechanics to maximize your ability to perform it successfully. You cannot rely on force or speed alone.
In addition to standing technique, your training also needs to address retention while you are on the ground. It is too easy to be knocked down, to trip or simply fall during a struggle. The way you position your body alone can help you retain your gun when fighting on the ground. A complete program will give you some options for retention, disarming and shooting from the ground.
To open carry safely, you need a good retention holster suited for open carry, and you need handgun retention skills. Combine those with good situational awareness, and you will have a better fighting chance. Thanks to House Bill 910, licensed open carry of firearms in Texas will begin on January 1st, 2016. Do you plan to open carry? If you do, be ready and stay safe.
If you want some help learning weapons retention and disarming and other essentials of self defense, consider joining our Tactical Arts Academy Self Defense Program. Not only can we can help you in class with the training mentioned above, but we can also help you stay safe with other training. Click the button below to learn more.