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The Off Duty Female Crimefighter

On January 8th, 2011 while we were still learning the details of the shooting rampage in Tucson, AZ, I began to get text messages from a girlfriend of mine. Like me, she's a cop, a trainer, a wife, a mom. Our back and forth text messages spoke of outrage, frustration, and sorrow, and then we both said the same thing: I wish I had been there. My friend and I share a common commitment to the off duty carry of a firearm all the time, every time we go out. We do it for ourselves, for our communities, but most importantly, for our families.

Off duty carry is not something that I was always this passionate about. When I graduated the police academy in 1981, I carried a firearm off duty most of the time, but if I was in a hurry, or I was wearing something that made it difficult to conceal my gun, I'd leave it at home. My take it or leave it attitude continued until the day I brought my newborn daughter home from the hospital. The gravity of being responsible for the safety and security of a completely helpless human being that I loved more than I thought possible made me want to be armed and ready to defend her, no matter what. I began carrying an off duty gun (or two) every time I left the house. That's when I knew I was a mom.

Carrying off duty requires planning, preparation, and commitment. In the women's career and officer survival courses that I teach, we discuss off duty survival at length, and the same issues consistently come up. The first is what do I carry and how do I carry it, and the second is how do I prepare my family? I'm no firearms expert, in fact, I consider myself very much a firearms student, but I do know that of duty survival begins with educating yourself.

What to carry depends on so many things. Departmental policy, personal preference, even family finances play a role. I'm fortunate that I have numerous options. My primary go-to pistol is the Ruger LCP .380. It is small, easy to conceal, and it has a long trigger pull that helps me prevent an unintentional discharge. For a slightly larger gun, I like my Kahr PM9. If I'm going to be in a situation like hiking, horsebacking riding, or otherwise out in the elements, I'll carry my Smith and Wesson small frame (J) revolver, which was also my on-duty back up gun for many years. While it may seem low tech, a revolver is an engineering marvel that functions in almost any situation. As far as ammunition goes, with an automatic, I like to have an extra magazine or two within easy reach; with my revolver, I carry .357 Magnum loads and a speed strip or even an extra five or ten rounds in my jeans pocket to make me feel better prepared. Other manufacturers, from Glock to SigSauer to KelTec and beyond, have great small to medium frame handguns to carry off duty, and many manufacturers market directly to women. Buy something you'll really enjoy carrying and shooting, and make sure you invest in good quality ammunition.

How do I carry it can get a little trickier. Guys have a hard enough time carrying a concealed weapon, but they can usually get away with a small frame handgun on their belt with a loose shirt over it. Most women like to be a bit fashionable when we're off duty, so we're a little more challenged. After all, fashions change with the seasons, and our clothing changes with the occasion. Depending upon what I'm wearing, I like a good, comfortable ankle holster (mine are all made by Galco, but there are other great options) or an inside-the-pants holster (I like DeSantis, Thunderwear or the new inexpensive Sticky holsters), and Safariland's entire concealment line is great for plainclothes or off duty carry. There are also concealed carry purses made by many different companies such as GunToten Mamas and Coronado Leather; but purses require a bit more practice for a decent draw. I've also been known to put a handgun directly into my coat pocket; this has traditionally been the role of a revolver if one intends to fire it through the coat. No matter how you decide to carry your off duty gun, make sure you get some quality range time with the weapon(s) you've chosen, that you mentally rehearse various scenarios for its use, and that you can get to it when you need it.

The question how do I prepare my family isn't a difficult one, but it requires some forethought and some consistency. Don't hide the fact that you carry a gun from your family, especially if you have kids. When my baby was a toddler I started teaching her about firearms safety (in addition to our own family practices, I used the NRA's Eddie Eagle rules: Stop, Don't Touch, Leave the Area, Tell an Adult, and talking to her about why Mommy carries a gun, both on and off duty. When she became old enough, we (her stepdad, Dave Smith and I) taught her how a firearm works and how to shoot. All four kids in our blended family know how to properly handle various firearms for both hunting and personal protection, and as a mom, I feel pretty good about that. The kids also know how to respond in an off duty critical incident; they know when to take commands, when to get out of the way, and how to help me if I need it. I believe we are a safer family because of my continued commitment to carrying a firearm, now as a retired peace officer.

The decision to carry an off duty firearm is a very personal one, but I believe that as law enforcement officers we all have a moral obligation to be ready to react swiftly and properly to the violence that may happen in our community. Stay safe.