“I just carry in my belt, and my gun stays there just fine.”
“I carry my J-Frame revolver in my pocket, no problem!”
I hear those statements all the time, but I know of at least seven people who would disagree with the wisdom of not using a holster. We’ll get to them in a minute.
First, there are some very good reasons why a carry gun should always be in a holster unless you are in the act of shooting it. In my view, there are three critical functions that a proper holster performs. First, a holster protects the trigger, which helps lower the risk of negligent discharge. Second, a holster maintains the position of your handgun for quick and consistent access. Third, a holster helps ensure that your gun remains safely in your possession.
Let’s look at two common holster-less carry “positions” and explore what exactly makes them so bad.
1. Holster-less belt carry
When carrying a gun on your belt line, a good holster accomplishes all three objectives regardless of whether or not the holster is an active-retention design. It will cover the trigger, preventing hands or other objects from interfering with the trigger. It will keep the gun positioned exactly where you expect it. The combination of internal friction will help prevent your handgun from falling out, or in the case of inside the waistband carry, down your pants.
But don’t take my word for it.
Chandler, Arizona resident Joshua Seto damaged his gun with his girlfriend’s gun, and almost lost his life, by carrying in his waistband. Walking to a nearby convenience store, Seto stowed his girlfriend’s pink handgun in his front waistband, without a holster. At some point, the gun fired, the bullet striking Seto in the penis and continuing on into his left thigh. If you stop and think about the geometry, he’s lucky to be alive. Entering his thigh from an inside direction puts that bullet’s path right in femoral artery territory. “One  operator told Christopher to apply direct pressure to the wound with a dry towel or T-shirt, but to avoid looking at the wound.” In Seto’s words, “I did look at it. It was pretty bad.” Ouch.
A 51-year old man shot himself in the abdomen in the Snohomish-area of Washington state. As usual, the gun “accidentally went off.” As predictable, the man was carrying the pistol in his waistband.
Another man from the Seattle, Washington area managed to shoot himself in the testicles while at a neighborhood Lowe’s store. “The man’s handgun, which was in the waistband of his pants, went off at about 12:30 p.m.—an apparent accidental discharge,” according to Shannon Sessions, a Lynnwood police spokeswoman. Once again, the consequences of carrying a gun in the waistband reared their ugly head.
And you thought shopping at Wal-Mart was a painful experience? How about the Antioch, Tennessee man who shot himself in the leg while checking out at a local Wally World? You guessed it, he was carrying his .40 S&W pistol in the waistband, sans holster, and had to adjust the slipping gun in the checkout line. Apparently, the injury was relatively minor, but like the others, it was completely avoidable.
2. Holster-less pocket carry
While pocket carry without a holster may do a decent job of keeping a handgun in one’s immediate possession, that mode of carry doesn’t address the other two primary holster functions: protecting the trigger and keeping the gun oriented and consistently accessible. Pockets are notorious for collecting stuff—it’s what they do. Never, ever, ever dump a gun in a pants or coat pocket with other objects—that’s just asking for something to get caught up in the trigger guard. Even in a dedicated pocket, an unholstered gun tends to move and reorient itself. When you reach for that pocket semiauto, you might find it upside-down in your pocket as gravity wants to encourage the heavier grip area to move down.
But don’t take my word for it.
An unnamed Idaho State University instructor managed to shoot himself in the foot in one of the school’s chemistry labs. According to the news reports, “the gun in his pocket fired.” Clearly, the gun didn’t just “fire” as guns don’t do that of their own accord. None of the news reports specified the presence or not of a pocket holster, but odds are the teacher was carrying a gun in a pocket sans holster protection. Fortunately, the instructor’s wounds were not serious and no one else present was hurt. When carried in a proper pocket holster, it’s very difficult, and very unlikely, that a gun’s trigger can be activated in inadvertently.
An Altoona, Pennsylvania man shot himself in the hand during a church service. When the man stood, congregants heard what sounded like a gun shot, then witnessed the man handing his handgun to a nearby friend. “Police later determined that a man was legally carrying the handgun in his pocket with the safety off. As he stood up, the trigger became tangled in his pants, firing the weapon.” I know, it sounds unlikely that clothing or pocket contents can become so ensnared as to press a trigger, but here you have it.
Sebring, Florida resident David Mason had a minor fender-bender while pulling into a Checkers fast-food joint. Stuffing his .45 handgun into a pocket, he exited the vehicle to deal with the normal post-accident paperwork. Later, when he went to retrieve his gun from the pocket, he shot himself in the leg.
Sadly, I could go on all day with these stories. If you want a good “gun safety reminders” just Google “man shoots himself” and you’ll have a week’s worth of reading material. These are just a few of the hundreds of examples of no-holster-related negligent shootings from the past few years. I deliberately say negligent, not accidental, as most, or perhaps all, of these could have been prevented by use of a holster. I’m not even counting incidents caused by poor gun handling, just those involving carry without a proper holster.
Remember, folks, friends don’t let friends carry a gun without a holster!
Tom McHale is the author of the Insanely Practical Guides book series that guides new and experienced shooters alike in a fun, approachable, and practical way. His books are available in print and eBook format on Amazon.
Image by Tom McHale