The Triad of Handgun Retention

The problem is real, each year in this country officers are killed with their own guns. Learn the foundation of handgun retention and keep control of your duty sidearm.

Holster Selection

A recent topic of online discussion among firearms instructors was handgun retention, specifically the issuance of security holsters and handgun retention training.

On one side stand those that believe that security holsters can save lives. They believe that the easier a pistol is to draw for you, the easier it is for the suspect to take your pistol from you. Safariland® developed the "Levels of Security" for holsters a number of years ago. Safariland has designated Level 1, Level 2 and Level 3. The most secure of the security levels is Level 3. In example, these are typified by Safariland's Model 070 Raptor(tm) and BlackHawk®'s new Serpa(tm) Level 3 holsters. The least secure, the Level 1 holsters, typically only have a thumb break to retain the pistol.

On the other side of the debate stand the "security holsters are deathtraps" group. These trainers insist that we should not complicate the drawing process and that handgun retention is a function of training in physical retention skills. This group of trainers believes that a holster with a thumb break or Level 1 is all that officers need to work the street and that more secure holsters are not conducive to drawing the pistol in crisis mode. These instructors have seen officers struggle with these holsters in training, oftentimes resulting in the officers either carrying the pistol without all the safety straps secured or qualifying on the range with snaps undone in order to meet time restraints (which does nothing but cheat the officer of potential lifesaving repetitions and valuable training).

Where do I sit in this debate? Pretty much in the middle, as I like security holsters but advocate an officer having a choice of what they can carry. In my experience, aggressive street officers that practice a lot and are very competent with their sidearm gravitate toward a more secure holster. Those that spend little time in practice tend to carry a less secure holster, and this is how it should be. Officers come in all shapes and sizes, as well as levels of interest in firearms training. While certainly it is true that a holster must securely carry the pistol so that it is not accidentally lost, as well as present a consistent draw, there are a large variety of rigs out there that adequately perform these functions. Officers should have some leeway. If they are unwilling to practice with the holster prior to carrying it on duty and not train consistently, they should be allowed and indeed encouraged to downgrade in security levels.

Instructors should have input, but avoid pushing their own predilections. I've seen instructors that push their opinion or preference as policy in regards to holsters and training. For instance, a new security holster was acquired for testing. When the company rep came by to ask how the trainers liked it, they gave it a scathing review. Upon questioning from the company representative, they admitted they hadn't read the brochure to learn how the holster worked or practiced with it; they just didn't like it (this holster is now carried and loved by a large group of patrol officers in the agency). To those instructors that discourage carrying Level 3 rigs, I would remind them that the holster is that last stage of the retention triad. Security holsters can buy time and have saved lives. As my friend Bruce Siddle of PPCT points out, within 30 seconds of a combat situation, your physical abilities can deplete as much as 45%. When awareness has not prevented the attack and the officer is either exhausted or injured (possibly even unconscious) a security holster can save his life.

  • Although I am primarily referring to duty holsters, plainclothes holster designs have improved and a variety of manufacturers market Level 1 and Level 2 holsters for detectives or plainclothes officers. Too many detectives carry their pistols in non-secure holsters.
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