Since I became a tactical instructor I have spent countless hours on teaching people how to carry pistols, how to draw, engage threats, and many other skills with their tool of choice. Most of the articles I have written are in one way or another about firearms skills.
Today I want to concentrate on a related skills: weapon retention.
In my mind, if you carry a weapon, of any kind, but especially a pistol, you must learn how to retain it. There are legal, liability, and tactical reasons for that. If your weapon is taken from you, or even if just dropped, whatever actions are taken with that tool once you lost control over it may be catastrophic…to you AND others. As matter of fact, when I teach police recruits weapon retention skills I always discuss the psychological state of mind of the assailant, and the use-of-force level of such an attack. I often state that in my mind, a weapon retention is more dangerous than a weapon defense. What I mean by that is that a person pointing a gun at you may or may not want to shoot you. It may easily solely be a source of intimidation, and the assailant doesn’t truly want to kill you any more than you want to get killed. On the other hand, if the assailant is actively going for your pistol he is only doing it for one reason: that individual has made the conscious choice to use that firearm against you.
From a legal and liability standpoint, if you lose your gun and it is used in a crime it may still be your fault. You can bet your behind that in today’s litigating society, someone will find a way to make it your fault. And depending on your jurisdiction, the way you articulate the circumstances, and the cultural ties of an incident, you may find yourself in jail.
So…just don’t lose your gun.
Retention starts in how we carry. A pistol worn in a concealed manner is more likely to be retained than one that is carried openly. How you conceal it does matters. Having a tight fitting t-shirt over it, printing the shape of a pistol, just to claim that it is “concealed”, wouldn’t be as beneficial in retention as a deeper cover, like several layers of clothing, that are a size larger than normal, and in a holster worn inside the waistband.
Before I go to actual retention skills, a discussion usually erupts about the trade off between ease of access and retention. There are two schools of thought: the one says that you should be able to draw quickly when a threat presents itself. This is why you see so many people practice fast draws, and faster shots on target at the range. The other school of thought stresses situational awareness as the primary element of self-defense, therefore the pistol can be secured in a deeper manner, and if an event begins unfolding then the defender can recognize, draw in advance, and tactically address the event without the need for urgency. Both have merit. Reality is that as much as we would like to think we can constantly maintain situational awareness, we cannot. Human mind can maintain mental acuity for about 15 minutes. After that it is lulled into a sense of complacency. In law-enforcement and security (and to some extent in our every day life) we fight that complacency with deliberate scans of the environment, or by changing the environment (as in rotating posts). The idea is to keep the mind active, searching, alert…but that is fatiguing. No one can do it constantly. That is why so many officers get ambushed, or security details fail. So when we can’t count of situational awareness alone to keep us informed and able to draw in advance, then being able to present a gun from concealment in a rapid manner is paramount as well. Damned if you do, and damned if you don’t. The ever existing catch 22.
Balance is key. And more so, the understanding of one’s unique circumstances, mission, possibilities, and environment. How one conceals in a warm climate may differ than in a colder one. If one anticipates certain threats he may carry differently than someone who is going about life with minimal risks. It is always a balancing act. The trade off will always be there, and it will never be perfect. You just have to play the probabilities and play to the lesser of two evils.
So now that we covered concealment as the initial element of retention, what is next? Well, it is hard to teach physical skills through an online article, but lets cover a few elements you want to make sure you address:
- Know your holster and the retention mechanism…if any. Not all holsters operate in the same manner. If you carry operationally AND off-duty then you may use different holsters, so know the ins and outs of all holsters you use.
- Train in retaining AND drawing from your specific holster.
- Understand that no matter what the retention mechanism is, at some point the pistol must come straight up and clear said holster. Therefore, the movement that is most universal in terms of retention is addressing the upwards pull of a gun out of the holster.
- Learn how to retain your pistol before contact is made, i.e., when someone is reaching towards your gun but has not yet reached it.
- Learn how to retain your pistol in the holster once contact is made, meaning: hold the pistol in as they are trying to pry it out.
- Learn how to retain a pistol out of the holster, as in when you drew your firearm and now someone grabbed a hold of it and/or your arms.
- learn how to do all of the above when standing and when on the ground.
Understand that from a use of force standpoint, someone grabbing your gun has shown “means and intent” and can be addressed as a lethal force encounter. That said, every event is fast evolving and if the assailant is unable to secure the grab, and you retained the pistol, and they are now compliant, then obviously you cannot escalate to lethal force option. The way we train Law-enforcement is to retain the pistol, give verbal commands, draw the gun (since it was and may still be a lethal force event), reassess and adjust level of force as needed. If the event de-escalated then you should re-holster and transition to another intermediate tool. Always stress in your verbal commands “get off my gun!” To make it clear that there is a firearm involved in the altercation. This keeps people aware and safe, and allows for easier articulation of use of defensive force (whatever the level is) after the fact.
A note about drawing a weapon you just fought to retain: if you choose to draw, make sure you do so in a tactical manner. Do not draw a pistol when you are too close to the assailant still, or if he is still actively going after your gun. Doing so may facilitate it for him to grab a hold of your firearm, since in essence you just got it out of the holster for him. Retain your weapon, create space, use combatives as means to distract and buy yourself time, and then draw if tactically applicable.
If you carry a pistol, operationally or as a concealed carry permit holder, make sure you learn to retain it. Losing your gun accidentally or in an altercation is a threat you should prepare for, plan, and train to mitigate as your life, that of loved ones, and others may be at stake.
Until the next time, stay safe and watch your six!