In the previous installment of Sort of off duty, I discussed the growing trend of violence against officers and the minute chance that an off duty officer may have to quickly transition his duty status. This article is about doing a realistic assessment of one’s capabilities.
One must picture the off duty equipment and routine as a system. Each component must have a place in this system. If your system doesn’t meet the minimum standards for off duty carry, reassess. Have a backup to your backup. Be a sheepdog. If another wishes harm on someone in your trust, including yourself, their extended reach will be injurious to themselves.
Evaluate your carry system
Most firearms experts will pick strong side carry over any other type of holster. We talk about it and we advocate it. However, when Law Enforcement Technology writer Dennis Haworth and I met at the range this past week, both of us were carrying the same type of firearm the same way. I’m not shy about that: My No. 2 method of carry is a pocket holster. Dennis had a Smith & Wesson model 638 and I had a Smith & Wesson model 38, circa 1970, with a Crimson Trace grip (Model LG-305). A lighter and more modern package is the S&W M&P 340 CT. The good news: We both practice with them. I have a good supply of lead, several bullet moulds and acquire powder like most people buy breakfast cereal.
This is about the system of carry, not a single component. I spent about 10 pounds of ballistic gelatin and auto glass figuring out the best combination for my system. For general everyday wear, what one shoots should do several things. If these things don’t exist, one must experiment with new methods. Here are some ideas for evaluating a system.
With or without the laser, I can make a hostage shot at approximately 10 yards with confidence. The “This is a belly gun” line of thinking is flawed. One should be able to fire one’s handgun in point or modified point mode by indexing one’s body at contact distances. However, one should also be capable of deliberate aimed fire at targets out to 25 yards. As a rule, the officer should be able to consistently hit the A Zone on a standard IPSC target, or similar target sheet at 25 yards. This is a rectangular area about 4 inches x 9 inches.
In deliberate fire exercises, officers should practice a 4-inch x 4-inch shot on a “traditional” IPSC or similar target. This is a cardboard outline of a head and torso. Practice shooting the head of this target at 10 yards. A cheaper route is to use paper dessert plates that approximate this size.
The cartridge I use must be effective after auto glass and clothing. There were two bullets that worked in my .38: one was the Cor-Bon DPX 110 grain +P cartridge, which did rather well in after-barrier penetration. The other was Hornady’s Critical Defense +P 110 grain cartridge. The Critical Defense product claims that it does well because the hollow point does not clog from fibers after thick clothing. This is easily proven on any range with a few discarded layers of clothing and a call to Vyse (where I go for gelatin). Critical Defense rounds work. There really isn’t a significant accuracy difference between the two. In case anyone was wondering, my circa 1970 S &W Model 38 can shoot 2-inch groups at 25 yards, exactly where I center the sights or Crimson Trace Lasergrip.
A 110-grain bullet in a .38 has a lighter recoil “feel”, which also makes this system better. If one is carrying a lot of cartridges (I do), there is a weight difference in carrying the lighter bullets. Not all cartridges are equal or even equivalent. Bear in mind though, that different cartridge/gun combinations yield different results. For example, I have two 9mm handguns. My FNP 9 prefers the Remington GS9MMD, a combination with a particularly hard jacket and controlled expansion. The CZ P-01 prefers the Winchester RA9115HP, which opens quicker (it’s slightly lighter and faster) but holds together with the same tenacity. I’d pick either cartridge for a department wide purchase, after about 20 pounds of gelatin, three separate trips to the glass dealer and several days at the range with my Oehler Model 35 P chronograph. If my department used Glocks, it would be different. Both cartridges behave about the same in a Glock 19. If it is .40 or .45, I like Remington Golden Saber products.
By the way, the first article began with the premise that an officer must quickly transition to a different duty status. If this is likely, the answer is the duty caliber and the duty ammo. Can one do that and still carry a gun in the pocket? Let’s look at the list:
PDA (PXT LDA Single Stack Carry Safe). This is a 6+1, 24 oz 45 ACP with Para-Ordinance LDA trigger. It needs a large pocket, but it makes large holes accurately. It is quite a comfortable handgun and has a safety system suitable for the pocket – rather large pockets, however.
I haven't shot one of these yet, but I have fired dozens of Kimbers. This one is a 17-ounce, 9mm.
SIG P290: 20.5 ounces, 6 rounds of 9mm.
Rohrbaugh R9S: This is a 13.5-ounce, 5.2-inch overall length 9mm that holds 6 rounds. For a while there, the existence of this gun was only a rumor. Most people who handle this gun think it’s some kind of joke, unless they are familiar with its quality and accuracy. If it’s within your budget, this is the gun.
Everyone knows that I am a big fan of KelTec CNC guns, simply because they are engineered in a very no-nonsense way. I have put several hundred rounds through one. The KelTec PF 9 holds 7 rounds and weighs 12.7 ounces. If the Rohrbaugh is a little pricey, this is an outstanding alternative. It is one of the most cost effective products in firearms history. If your attire is only swim trunks, try the P3AT, which is a .380 auto that weighs 8.3 ounces.
North American Arms:
When I do not carry my S&W Model 38, I have my NAA Guardian in .380. Fortunately, Cor-Bon has improved the odds with the .380 by making an 80-grain bullet that can go 1050 fps. It does right about 1000 fps in my Guardian. At this time, 1000 or so for this weight of bullet is about as good as it gets. Most of us in the gun business consider the .380 ACP marginal for self defense, but my tests with DPX bullets suggest that the .380 may have some utility. Yes, I can make a consistent hostage shot.
My guns usually have one quality in common: they all have a Crimson Trace Laser Sight Grips. I have experimented with Crimson Trace products enough to know that they improve the odds of winning dramatically. If one remembers that a gunfight includes the concept of “fight”, not just “shoot”, Crimson Trace Laser Sight Grips make sense.
I can re-holster my gun one-handed.
Waistband holsters of any type should have some sort of reinforcement to hold them open enough to reholster. If a person has been behind the badge long enough, they have had to holster the gun and go to grappling mode at one time or another. This contingency should be considered. The holster choice should keep the gun in, as long as the user wants it to stay in. It should also cover the entire trigger guard and trigger.
The best leather holsters are moulded to the gun. Manmade materials are usually moulded to the gun also. A good holster will stay open enough to nose the gun in without having to look at it or fuss, except to re-clear the clothing. We have a local maker, Desbein Gun Leather (www.desbiensgunleather.com) who does custom moulding leather.
We train with holsters. When we wear the duty gear, we practice with the non shooting hand. If your gun won’t holster backwards, it’s the wrong holster. If the gun goes in the holster backwards but won’t come out, it is definitely the wrong holster. There have been user reports about this phenomenon with the ones that have locking mechanisms. Pay attention to these reports.
I can fight with my gun holstered
Imagine the scenario: The off duty officer sees his teammate on a rural traffic stop and backs him up. He does the usual officer safety thing, identifying himself without interrupting the vigilance of the primary officer. The stop goes bad but the use of handguns is not appropriate. It would be socially inappropriate to arm the suspect at this time as it may create bad feelings between the two officers present. The off duty guy should have a secure method of carry.
When I evaluate a holster, I stand on my head. If the gun stays in, I continue testing.
I carry enough rounds to fight my way to cover
No, there can never be a predictable number of bullets to carry. However, it is well known that magazines are usually the weakest link in the reliability of a firearm. If an off duty officer doesn't have at least a magazine or a speedloader to refill the gun, he can put himself out of the fight. For a revolver, I like two speedloaders. For a mid or high capacity auto, a magazine or two is appropriate.
This is where tactical clothing really comes in handy. I know that the khaki or coyote pants and a loose fitting shirt can sometimes be a “giveaway” but I live in an area where everyone wears this stuff and it blends in.
Tru-Spec (www.atlantco.com) makes a line of clothing called the 24-7 Series, which is a collection of casual clothing items appropriate for covert operations also. The pants have magazine shaped pockets and one set of pockets has retention areas designed for magazines.
Meanwhile, the Woolrich Men's Elite Long-Sleeve Oxford CCW Shirt has hidden magazine pockets. They easily concealed two of my Glock 22 magazines, and the yoke of the shirt prevented it from sagging in the front. The front part of the pockets are constructed like regular ones. The other two features are magnet hidden button closures, which close automatically after drawing. This has to be seen to be believed. If I want to carry my Glock and 45 rounds, I wear my Woolrich.
If an officer has any likelihood that he will be called into action right from the street, his or her casual wear boot should have several capabilities. There are plenty of resident deputies and rural officers who can attest to their 3AM pages.
Now think about it: These calls are never in easily accessible circumstances. They include responding to buildings reduced to rubble, vehicle collisions along wet highways and tramping on questionable materials.
I would pick something that is mid height, made of leather and waterproof, which means Gore-Tex, or go home. My Number 1 pick is the Danner Combat Hiker for casual wear. I used the same Danner boot for 20 years in the military, resoling as necessary. I can stand all day on the range doing shooting drills and crank out a few quick miles in the wilderness in the same boot. Besides the waterproof protection, it is stable enough to prevent a turned ankle and proved to have excellent toe and midfoot protection on steep descents, a hard duty boot’s most important attributes. I select the method of carry that is least likely to force my hand, considering my wardrobe and environment.
One busy afternoon two of my deputy friends went to our local bank and a “traditional”, not takeover, robbery took place. All of the customers were ordered to lie on the bank floor. Exactly as we teach it, they were good witnesses rather than bad heros. It is frustrating to be LE and have this happen, but we are hired for our discretion. Now think about it: If you were ordered to the ground, would your gun butt stick out?
I am not a great advocate of waist packs and gun packs in general. However, they do have an advantage here, unless they are obviously out of place. For example, if you are wearing pants with pockets, what additional equipment requires a pack? Elite Survival makes a couple of utility pouch products that look less like gun pouches and may allow a more effective gun.
Wearing a waist pack while in workout wear works simply because they don’t look out of place. They take longer to draw and therefore the wearer must practice drills which preposition their hands on the grip.
My method of carry allows for a consistent presentation in a timely manner.
I regularly have those telltale white earphones in my ears. I rarely listen to music. It is my hands-free device to make a call. Hands-free means I am prepared to communicate, while shooting, fighting or driving. I can clear clothing easily, fight or shoot as needed.
I am also careful about my selection of belts. They look like dress belts, but are generally beefed up a little. It pays to purchase a belt from a holster maker. A gun makes the beltline sag a little. Better belts help.
I can win because I practice with my system
We already talked about being able to make the hostage shot. I use a modified Bill Drill (Named after THE Bill Wilson) to practice my carry method. A Bill Drill is six shots at 10 yards as quickly as a person can make A zone hits. The purpose is to generate speed without sacrificing accuracy.
I use a modified Bill Drill, which is 6 shots, a reload and 6 shots at a target at a different distance as quickly as possible. The idea is to build up a shooting tempo and still have A zone hits.
If your skills are not up to standard, if your equipment is the lowest bidder, if your system doesn't allow hostage shots and Bill Drills, don’t carry. Your method of carry is a system. Look at the sum of your components and adhere to the system. Otherwise, don’t do it