You may have heard recently that at least one relatively high profile firearms instructor essentially banned appendix inside the waist band carry from some of his classes. That announcement has led to a lot of discussion of AIWB carry…some of it useful, some of it so unbelievably stupid that I felt a bit dizzy and asked myself “Is this real life?” In the hopes of furthering the useful discussion and stopping the stupidity, let’s separate the fact from the fiction.
Firstly, AIWB carry is most definitely not a “fad”. The first handguns were often stuffed in a sash or sturdy belt at the front of the body because they carried and concealed pretty easily there. It’s kind of silly that people are running around calling a carry practice about as old as the actual concept of the handgun a “fad”. Go look up depictions of pirates sometime.
One of the primary reasons why AIWB is enjoying a resurgence of popularity is because more people are discovering that it allows them to more effectively conceal more gun more of the time. If you are remotely serious about the defensive carry of a firearm then you are perpetually on the lookout for a better mousetrap. I’m amused by the “fad” angle because a bunch of people squawking about it have bought more rail systems for an AR-15 they will never carry than you can shake a stick at, and yet they want to thumb their nose at people looking for a more practical and effective way to pack a handgun for personal defense? Rule of thumb: If you’ve purchased more than two different compensators for a 5.56 rifle, you don’t get to talk smack about “fads”.
The major issue, though, is safety. Carrying the handgun on the front of the body places the muzzle in uncomfortable proximity to the genitals and the femoral artery. Unintentional discharges when attempting to draw or reholster a firearm are fairly common:
The exact orientation of the holster plays a role in determining exactly what bits of one’s anatomy get pierced by a bullet should an unintentional discharge occur. In Mr. Grebner’s case the strong-side hip placement of the holster led to a relatively shallow, straight-through gunshot wound that did only minor tissue damage. One could certainly conclude that had Mr. Grebner made this series of mistakes with a holster in the AIWB position the consequences could have been much more severe…if not outright fatal.
Because it is relatively well known that the draw and reholster are significant vectors for accidents with firearms, and because it is reasonable to believe that more severe wounds would be sustained if these accidents happened in an AIWB orientation, some instructors have limited or outright banned the use of AIWB holsters in their classes.
I have a slightly different take. I think that teaching a safe draw and reholstering method should be an important focus of any handgun class. Handguns spend their time either in our hands or in our holster. When it comes time to use one whether that is on a square range in a class, in a competition, or on the street in a defensive encounter, we have to get the gun out of the holster without making ourselves a casualty in the process. This is a fundamental skill. It cannot be glossed over without doing a serious disservice to the student.
If a student is exhibiting problematic or unsafe behavior while drawing or reholstering a firearm that needs to be addressed regardless of where, exactly, the student is carrying the handgun. A student who ends up with a relatively minor gunshot wound that just gets bandaged is certainly better than having to apply a tourniquet to a massive arterial bleed…but bullet holes in students are a bad thing full stop. There needs to be focus in class on preventing students from getting shot rather than hoping that if they get shot they only get a little bit shot by forbidding AIWB carry.
If people don’t learn proper handling into and out of the holster in a class, where in blue hell are they supposed to learn it?
I also have to take a minute here and mention that I’ve been in a number of classes with a number of people and only a relatively small percentage of them had a stated medical plan in case of injury. I’ve mentioned this before in a previous article. Yet some of the folks with no stated medical plan for their classes are banning AIWB carry. It seems strange to me to worry that a particular mode of carry might lead to more serious injuries should an accident occur and yet have no actual plan in place to deal with an accident in the first place.
In various training endeavors I have encountered poor class structure with too many people in a class leading to insufficient supervision of students. One instructor cannot hope to keep careful track of what twenty students are doing on the line at the same time…or what one relay is doing on the line while another is back at the benches screwing around with lethal weapons. I have personally placed my hands on someone else’s weapon on multiple occasions in some of these larger classes to redirect it away from themselves or another innocent person because I was the one catching it rather than the overtaxed instructor and assistant instructor. (Although in many cases there IS no assistant instructor in some of these classes)
If we skip fundamental holster skills, don’t have a sensible medical plan in case of emergency, and we structure classes so that the instructor has no hope of keeping track of what’s going on then the risk of all manner of bad things happening goes up considerably…and banning AIWB carry doesn’t do beans to address any of that.
It is possible to teach sensible holster skills in a relatively brief period of time, even with AIWB carry:
The objection at this point is usually that one cannot rely on students to observe safe holstering procedures as shown above every time they reholster a weapon. In a class setting students will be putting a pistol back into the holster dozens of times. Some of those reps will be done when the student is feeling considerable stress or frustration. Some of them will be done when the student is sunburned, dehydrated, and generally drained in both a mental and physical sense. (People dramatically underestimate how physically demanding a day’s training on the range can be.) They are likely to forget proper reholstering procedures and with an AIWB holster that can lead to serious consequences.
There’s certainly some merit to that argument. Let’s remind ourselves, though, that during a drill we are asking that same person to pull a loaded firearm out of a holster and use the thing around a whole bunch of other people without shooting any of them with it. If we cannot rely on students to safely reholster their firearms, why do we rely on them to not point their gun at someone else on the line?
Instructors constantly pound muzzle discipline and trigger finger placement throughout a class…and well they should. Why are sane holster practices not given the same level of attention? Again, we are talking about a fundamental skill necessary for the use of a handgun and a well documented danger zone for launching rounds unintentionally…yet I’ve been through a whole bunch of classes where safe handling into and out of the holster were never mentioned in the first place, much less pounded continually throughout the day the same way that muzzle and trigger finger discipline are.
I’m all for increasing safety on the range but instead of focusing on a particular mode of carry as if that will fix the problem, let’s ask questions about why students are shooting themselves in the first place and fix it for real. Part of fixing it will be placing more emphasis on training fundamental holster skills. Part will be structuring classes so that there is a sane instructor to student ratio. Part of fixing it will be bluntly telling a paying customer that they can’t be on the line with a loaded gun because they are a danger to themselves and others.
I happen to agree that AIWB carry isn’t for everyone and that the potential downsides of launching a round unintentionally, particularly when reholstering, requires some serious thought. When I started carrying AIWB I changed my carry gun away from a striker-fired pistol to the H&K P30 primarily so I could physically block the hammer’s movement with my thumb as an extra layer of safety on top of sane reholstering protocol. As a general rule, I tell folks that I do not advise carrying a striker fired handgun with no manual safety in an appendix holster/orientation. I try to choose my carry gear (which is the gear I train with as much as possible) with the supposition that I’m likely to screw something up and I layer in as much safety as I can on top of that.
In the classes I’ve done recently with FPF Training and Tom Givens of Rangemaster, I used a Wilson CQB 1911 pistol carried in a “Keeper” from Keepers Concealment. I like this combo for AIWB carry because the weapon itself has two manual safeties on it that I can activate (changing how I hold the gun re-engages the grip safety) before putting the weapon back into the holster. The holster itself will actually engage the thumb safety if I ignore my usual pre-holstering protocol of deliberately checking the thumb safety. I also press my thumb into the face of the cocked hammer so that there’s flesh between the hammer and firing pin just in case something goes horribly wrong. I also use a reholstering technique similar to the one Todd demonstrates above to keep my delicate anatomy clear of the muzzle.
Is any of that “unsafe” for a training environment? Of course not. Does everyone put that much thought into their gear and how they are using it? No…and that is the problem. Everything we do with a deadly weapon should be done with great care, including consideration of our gear and how we use it. What we really need to increase safety is critical thinking on the part of every person who is handling a weapon…and that doesn’t happen if we allow this discussion to devolve into yelling UNCLEAN!!! at somebody who has their holster in the “wrong” position.
We are already in an environment where a lot of ranges won’t allow ANY work from the holster due to the risks. There are no shortage of examples of people who have shot themselves either trying to draw or reholster a weapon, the vast majority of them using a strong-side holster when it happened. (Isn’t it funny how that just seems to get glossed over in some of these discussions? People are getting shot…that’s uncool even if the injury is thankfully minor.)This state of affairs is not improved by banning AIWB carry and calling it a day.
By all means, let’s have discussions that promote safety on the range…but let’s have a sane, reasonable discussion with everything that matters on the table.