We always have a bang-up time whenever weapons expert ADAM FIRESTONE joins us, and today is no exception. His past posts have covered all kinds of weapons our characters might use. Today, he describes both tactical and practical concerns about “packing iron.”
Perhaps the single most difficult aspect of arming a protagonist is explaining to the user just how the character came to be armed in the first place. More often than not, pistols seem to magically appear when needed and are stowed, safely out of sight (and out of mind!) when not. The reality of carrying a pistol is significantly more involved, requiring careful forethought and choice with respect to anticipated tactical requirements, clothing and firearm specific accessories as well as to a character’s unique physiology.
Packing iron (a colloquial term for carrying a firearm) is easy for an author to overlook – and even easier to get wrong. This article will explore the contemporary art and science of carrying a concealed firearm. A later article on this subject will explore the historical carriage of firearms.
There are four elements involved with successfully carrying and concealing a pistol on one’s person. The four must work synergistically and harmoniously with each other, lest consequences that range from the embarrassing to the disastrous ensue.
These elements are:
The character’s clothing;
The pistol itself;
The holster; and
The support system.
A brief overview of each is helpful.
The character’s clothing must satisfy a number of requirements:
It must be in keeping with the character’s idiom. If your character is a fashion conscious New Yorker typically attired in fitted dresses that accentuate her athletic build, suddenly requiring her to wear a loose fitting jacket or jeans is both implausible with respect to the story and a giveaway to a knowledgeable reader.
Conversely, the clothing must lend itself to the concealment of a firearm. This isn’t much of a limitation as pistols can be readily hidden by almost any attire. In the early 1990s, I attended a talk given by a member of the New York City Police Department’s Emergency Service Unit. The detective wore fitted slacks and a sport shirt. Nowhere on his person was a pistol in evidence, nor did his attire offer many opportunities to conceal a weapon. Despite this, I knew he had to be armed as per NYPD regulation. It turned out that his pistol, a Glock 19, was concealed inside the front of his waistband, with the barrel parallel to the zipper and the butt to the right using a special holster that blended the pistol’s outline seamlessly into the surface of his trousers.
Finally, the clothing must allow access to the pistol. Being unable to get to a pistol when it’s needed is the same as being unarmed.
Selection of a pistol is critical for viable concealment. A man with a 58” chest and a 32” or 34” waist has a large array of options, from full size service pistols to ultra-compact carry guns. A 5’2” woman weighing 102 pounds soaking wet will need to carry a much smaller gun to avoid “printing,” or inadvertently displaying the fact of the pistol’s presence.
Holsters come in a broad spectrum of materials, sizes, form factor and intended positions. Basic types and uses will be covered separately below. Of critical importance is that the holster holds the firearm securely and that the design lends itself to concealment. Police duty holsters, for example, are designed to securely carry and retain a firearm, but they are not easily (or at all) hidden by street clothes. Specifics such as where on the body the holster positions the firearm or the relative speed with which the firearm can be presented from one design as opposed to another are part of the user’s decision making process.
Other than shoulder and ankle holsters, which supply their own rigging and support systems, holsters must be supported by a belt.
Typical dress belts available in department stores are not
sufficiently rigid to hold the weight of a holster and firearm (and, often, spare ammunition) snugly to the body. They stretch and sag. The results are unfortunate: The butt of the pistol leans outward, away from the body, indicating to observers that the subject is armed, and when walking or running, the pistol bounces uncomfortably against the hip. Holsters that rely on the tension between the body and clothing usually use clips that snap over a waistband. In this case, the support system is the clothing itself, and it must be sufficiently robust to support the added weight without deforming. In this case, a pair of Levi’s trumps dress pants.
A brief discussion of popular holster types is useful.
Inside the Waistband (IWB): IWB holsters are extremely popular for concealed carry. As the name implies, they sit inside the waistband on the strong side hip and snug the pistol tightly into the body, aiding in concealment. IWB holsters are usually secured by belt loops or clips that sit outside the waistband. As a result of their design, IWB holsters offer the ability to effectively conceal full size service pistols under light cover, such as an untucked t-shirt. IWB holsters allow the user to rapidly present the firearm from concealment.
Belt Slide: Belt slide or “pancake” holsters are worn outside the waistband. They are secured to the user by means of loops or slots through which a belt is threaded. These holsters range from a simple loop of leather (e.g., the “Yaqui Slide”) to designs that fully enclose the firearm. A well-executed belt slide holster can offer almost as much concealment as an IWB. However, they usually require a bit more cover, such as an untucked overshirt. Belt slide holsters offer a marginally faster presentation than IWB holsters.
Pocket Holster: Pocket holsters are designed for small pistols which will fit into a hip pocket. No belt or other support system is necessary (other than that necessary to keep the user’s pants from sagging due to the increased weight). Key issues with pocket carry are breaking up the outline of the pistol in the pocket and preventing lint from entering the gun’s mechanism. As a result, pocket holsters are often shaped like a liner for the pants pocket. Pocket holsters are worn when concealment is of paramount concern, as presentation is relatively slow.
Small of the Back (SOB): SOB holsters are designed to maximize concealment by positioning the gun in the hollow of the spine. They are available in either inside or outside the waistband configurations, with the inside the waistband variant offering the best concealment for large pistols. The price paid for the SOB’s superior concealment qualities is a relatively slow presentation.
Shoulder Holster: Shoulder holsters use a harness through which both arms fit, positioning the gun on the user’s weak side. To draw, the user reaches across the body. While deriving a certain cachet from their association with James Bond, Dirty Harry and 1970s police dramas, shoulder holsters have generally fallen from favor. They require significant effort to conceal (usually a jacket, sweatshirt or large overshirt), telegraph the user’s intent to draw and offer a relatively slow presentation.
Ankle Holster: As implied by the name, ankle holsters are worn around the ankle and are intended to be concealed by the user’s trousers. They are useful only for compact or sub-compact firearms and offer an extremely slow presentation. For this reason, ankle holsters are used almost exclusively used to carry a backup weapon. They are rarely, if ever used to carry a primary firearm.
The devil, with respect to the use of firearms in fiction, is in the details. Packing iron is easy to get wrong. However, with a bit of effort an author can exploit nuances and idiosyncrasies associated with carrying a firearm to bolster and support action scenes, character development and the story as a whole.
Adam notes that this is just the tip of the iceberg as far as holsters go. Ask Adam if you’d like more information beyond these “broad archetypes.” (I’m hoping we can persuade Adam to describe his personal rig.)
On Wednesday, RU hosts debut author JENNIFER MCGOWAN.
Bio: Adam Firestone brings more than 25 years of experience with weapon systems including small arms, artillery, armor, area denial systems and precision guided munitions to Romance University. Additionally, Adam is an accomplished small arms instructor, editor, literary consultant and co-author of a recently published work on the production of rifles in the United States for Allied forces during the First World War.
Adam has been providing general and technical editing services to authors and publishing houses specializing in firearms books since the early 2000s. Additionally, Adam provides literary consulting services to fiction authors including action scene choreography, technical vetting and technical editing. In this line of experience, Adam has had the fortune to work with well known authors including Shannon McKenna and Elizabeth Jennings.
Check out Adam’s blog here: http://adamfirestoneconsultant.blogspot.com/
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- Q&A with Weapons Expert ADAM FIRESTONE
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