A vision in holster technology

     When manufacturers first began attaching tactical lights to handguns, most experts immediately identified the holster paradox. It was faster to have the tactical light already attached to the handgun on a high-risk call. Officers would draw their guns early while the tactical light was in a pouch on the belt, then attach the light.

     Having a flashlight/gun combination was similar to the fast food fork/spoon combination. The fork/spoon apparatus is a great idea for macaroni salad, but only marginal for sipping soup. In contrast, the utility of lighting products has improved significantly. For example, the later model tactical lights mate to pistols better by accommodating for variations in the width of the rails. Manufacturers such as SureFire, Streamlight and Insight Technology have created vigorous platforms and tight tolerances. These products stay put, never rattle and cast a blinding beacon much better than their last generation counterparts.

     The trend has been toward brighter, more efficient bulbs and LED modules with accurate color rendition and battery runtime. This trend also has produced better training techniques, which will ultimately result in better officer safety.

     Everyone wanted holsters that would hold the gun and the attached flashlight. At the same time, no one wanted to violate the KISS principle. Many theorized that a gun with an attached flashlight in a holster would slow the draw. Worse, it would create a hitch in the draw that would divide the attention of the officer during a critical incident.

     The contemporary wisdom was to use a holster that agrees with the officers' training, and keep the light on the belt. The paradox was created when many officers were using custom-molded holsters that would accommodate the attached light. Some of these holsters were low-security, open-top scabbards — a trade off for drawing the weapon, reaching for the light and attaching it.

     Tactical light manufacturers worked on streamlined flashlights. Gun manufacturers integrated the mounting rails on every gun. Holster manufacturers worked on suitable scabbards for the package. They concentrated on uniform duty holsters. The Bianchi Model 90 Vision answers the need for a non-uniform product.

Concealed carry

     Law Enforcement Technology tested the Model 90 Vision from Bianchi International, located in Temecula, California, a traditional thumb break leather concealment holster designed to accommodate firearms with mounted tactical lights. It is constructed of high-quality leather and features a unique belt loop system for strongside and cross draw. This holster has a semi-closed bottom designed to protect the light bezel and muzzle of the gun.

     The Bianchi Model 90 Vision holster is a leather, straight drop, belt slot product suitable for low-profile wear. Its Level I design is reminiscent of traditional manufacture and craftsmanship. It rides about the same position as the traditional thumb break, although wearers found it comfortable slightly behind the outseam of the pants.

     Securing a good grip means simply reaching toward the right hip. This motion agrees with the essential aspects of a martial art: economy in motion. That is, combat experts use the simplest, fastest and most effective methods to overcome the threat.

     The Bianchi Model 90 Vision holster rides high on the hip. This is suitable for detectives who wear blazers. Our testers were able to sufficiently conceal the gun using a blazer, shirt or sweatshirt. The smooth finish also was kind to courtroom wear.

     The 1.75-inch belt tunnel is sewn with stout coarse stitching. Like most precision-made leather products, it is a tight fit on a heavy leather belt. We noticed immediately that there wasn't a cut out for capturing a belt loop.

     The advantage to the large loop tunnel is the inherent stiffness on the hip. The officer can always predict where the gun will ride. However, if the belt loop on the pants aligns with the outseam of the pants, the holster will either need to be forward of the hip or behind the hip. This means more care in wardrobe selection.

     The holster has belt tunnels for cross-draw use. It rode comfortably on the opposite hip while the user was seated. We found this to be the ideal type of holster for homeland security duties that include flying or vehicle-borne operations like diplomatic protection. In either position, care had to be taken not to let a shirttail hang on the thumb break, which is typical of any similar design.

     The retention strap has a positioning tab on top that firmly indexes the slide in the holster. This contacts the back of the slide once the thumb break is snapped closed. This simple feature accomplishes two things. One, it positions the gun so the top strap firmly seats against the top of the holster. Thus, if the gun is holstered without the light, the feel and security is exactly the same. Second, it protects the gap between the rear of the slide and the receiver from the elements.

     Two critical aspects of the "widget" positioning tab are whether it changes anything about drawing or reholstering the gun. While drawing, the positioning tab is unnoticeable. When reholstering, the tab is both unnoticeable and virtually invisible. It seemed to add to the positive feel of the thumb break, which has an obvious advantage.

     The Bianchi Model 90 Vision holster is quickly and easily mastered. Any officer can use a Level I holster, which simply requires the release of the thumb break to employ. The funnel opening is cut low enough for the muzzle to clear the leather quickly, allowing the officer to punch a level firearm forward. We were able to consistently find the opening and index the muzzle by feel alone for reholstering. Where simpler is better, the Bianchi Model 90 Vision excels.

     Bianchi holsters have one thing in common. They never look mass-produced. Instead, they look and feel like hand-boned leather. We anticipate that the Bianchi Model 90 Vision customer will be the traditional user who appreciates the tactical advantage of the light/laser combination.

     The Bianchi Model 90 Vision comes in plain tan or black. Models are available for the Glock 17, 19, 22 and 23; SIGARMS P220R, P226R and P229R; Smith & Wesson M&P .40; Springfield XD-40; and Beretta Vertec. In all cases, these handguns are paired with the Streamlight and Insight Technology M3, M6 or M3X; Streamlight TLR-1/TLR-2; or SureFire X200 rail-mounted tactical lights. Inexpensive, it will fill a niche in the law enforcement trade.

     Lindsey Bertomen is a retired police officer who teaches Administration of Justice at Hartnell College in Salinas, California.