Wednesday, January 3, 2007

a treatise on the shoulder holster.

Ask any gun skul instructor or seasoned competition shooter, and they'll tell you that the only way to carry a fighting handgun is in a strong-side belt holster, with spare ammo placed on the other side of the belt in open-topped carriers. There is still lively debate between proponents of the inside-the-waistband school and the pancake-and-paddle-holster crowd, but in general, most "serious" gun toters agree that strong side carry is the be-all and end-all of toting a gun.

Ask any of those folks about the utility of the shoulder holster, and you'll get reactions ranging anywhere from snickering to pitying glances to "Miami Vice" references. The shoulder rig is seen as an "unprofessional" mode of carry, one that is usually chosen by uninitiated new gun owners who are influenced by television cop shows and action movies. They'll tell you that the shoulder rig is slow to draw from, that it violates muzzle safety, that you always need a cover garment with one, and that you're far better off just sticking the pistol onto your belt where it belongs.

In truth, the shoulder holster has advantages and disadvantages, just like any other mode of carry, and the suitability of this particular mode is largely determined by the personal circumstances of the user. Holsters are as personal as handguns--there is no "best", only a "best for you".

On the plus side of the ledger, the shoulder rig offers several compelling advantages.

  • It offers fast access to the gun while seated. Getting to a strong-side holster is a difficult task when you're strapped into a car seat, but it's a piece of cake to get to a shoulder rig. For that reason, pilots and bodyguard types make up a large chunk of the shoulder holster-wearing population.
  • It lets you get your hand on your weapon in an inconspicuous manner. When you see trouble coming, it's easy to just cross your arms in front and get a firing grip on your weapon without alarming anyone or giving yourself away. The fastest draw is the one where you have your gun in hand already when the trouble starts, right?
  • It takes the weight of gun and spare ammo off your belt (and your lower back) and distributes it evenly across your shoulders. In fact, it negates the need for a belt entirely. Some people with back problems prefer the shoulder rig for this reason, and quite a few female gun toters (police and otherwise) like the shoulder rig because they don't need to wear pants or skirts with the belt loops required to accommodate a sturdy gun belt.
  • It combines gun and spare ammo in one convenient "grab and go" package. It takes a lot longer to thread a holster and ammo carrier onto your belt than to grab the shoulder rig hanging over your chair as you head out, and you're not likely to forget any equipment if everything is combined in the shoulder rig. You can carry extra magazines to balance out the gun, or you can carry any combination of magazines, flashlight, or cuffs (if you're in a line of work that requires their use.)
Of course, only Kool-Aid drinkers extol the virtues of a system without acknowledging the drawbacks, and the shoulder holster does chalk up a few entries on the minus side of the ledger.

  • It requires you to wear a cover garment at all times. (Then again, so does the belt holster, and a well-fitting shoulder holster can be worn under a button-down shirt if necessary.)
  • It offers a slower draw than a belt holster. (That's indisputable, although the issue is somewhat mitigated by the ability to access and grip your gun in a covert manner. Like a salty old gunslinger once said, if you need to draw quickly, you're not paying attention to your surroundings. Also, it's actually faster to draw from a shoulder rig than from a belt holster when you're wearing heavy winter clothing, like a zipped-up jacket.)
  • It makes the muzzle point at things behind you, which some people see as a safety no-no. (A belt or IWB holster makes you point the muzzle at yourself, and you had best not sit down or walk through the upper floors of a multi-storied building if you think you can always prevent your gun muzzle from pointing at anyone.)
  • It makes you vulnerable to Sonny Crockett jokes. (That point I'll have to concede.)
All things considered, the shoulder holster is not the "best" carry method, but it offers a unique set of advantages to the user, and it has its utility.

I just got a belated Christmas present, having turned some holiday cash into a Galco Jackass rig for my Beretta. Back when I toted a Glock 19 and a SIG P229, I used a Galco Miami Classic, which I liked a lot, but the Jackass is superior in a few important respects. It has wider straps, and they're suede instead of smooth leather, which makes it more comfortable to wear. It's less bulky, with a more streamlined design, and it prints less as a result. It can be adjusted to a more vertical angle than the Miami Classic, which lets you fit it to your body type more easily, and it's cheaper to the tune of about $40. The only drawback to it is that it's only available in Havana brown, while the Miami Classic can be had in tan or black.

For a minivan-driving stay-at-home dad, the Galco rig is a practical way to carry around a full-sized pistol and two spare magazines. It eliminates printing to the rear when bending over, which you do a lot when out with a toddler, and it doesn't rub through the fabric of the car seat after a while like the butt of a gun in a belt holster (and the floorplate corners of the spare magazine/s.) You can take it off like a jacket and put it on a high shelf when you get home without having to undo your belt and unthreading a belt rig.

I won't be winning speed-draw contests or quickly clearing IPSC stages with this setup, but it fits my lifestyle. That doesn't mean I'll get rid of my belt holsters, but I do get excitable as to choice.

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