AIWB Safety and Sanity

An unintentional discharge while reholstering...luckily without any injury to the shooter.

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.

Around 1980, Bruce Nelson...the guy who designed the Summer Special...using it as originally intended. AIWB. This method of carry isn't new by any stretch.
Around 1980, Bruce Nelson…the guy who designed the Summer Special…using it as originally intended. AIWB. This method of carry isn’t new by any stretch.

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.

An unintentional discharge while reholstering...luckily without any injury to the shooter.
An unintentional discharge while reholstering…luckily without any injury to the shooter.

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.




24 thoughts on “AIWB Safety and Sanity”

  1. Tim, I agree with you. I have taken several classes and sit through more with my wife and children and NEVER once was holster discipline discussed. We have always gone to the range or in our basement and worked with different holsters until we found what we liked then practiced drawing and holstering our weapons till we felt comfortable. This should be a part of ANY concealed carry class. Or any handgun class for that matter. I shoot competition locally. (Darn sure not good enough to compete anywhere else) and have found myself having trouble holstering my weapon after a difficult stage when my HR is up and I am a little nervous. I cannot imagine having to handle a weapon after having to use it for real. Whether you fired it or just had to present it. Good article!

    1. Sorry Dave, but the Glock is not alone anymore. You would have to turn away firearms from most manufacturers now because of no external safety. I always swore I would never carry a firearm without one and now find myself carrying one daily. It is the firearm style of choice now and needs to be covered in great detail in classes. Education not banning.

    2. Glocks are not the problem. Back in the 70s, before Glocks even existed, the old Police Marksman magazine ran an article about a study on startle reflex. The methodology is too long to go into here, but suffice it to say that, when startled, the number of shooters who unintentionally fired their weapon was 100%. The weapon was a Smith & Wesson K-frame revolver with a 10-to 12-pound trigger pull.

  2. One issue I haven’t seen brought up in any discussion, is this weird importance, not by instructors or any consummate professionals, but by the average CCW bearing citizens, on being able to quickly reholster their firearm, just as fast as they draw it.

    Outside of cowboy movies, I’ve never seen that stupidity practiced, or taught in real life.

    Almost every class teaches their own “Art of the Draw”, but almost nobody spends time on reholstering.

  3. The problem I see with AIWB is not specifically on the range or in a training class. I see it as a problem in a real-life fight.
    On the range, you know (approximately) when you’re going to draw, and you’re mentally prepared for it. In a restaurant parking lot, with your family around, you aren’t mentally prepared and you have to get that gun out RIGHT NOW. Your straight-finger discipline may go out the window, especially since your body’s startle reflex automatically causes your hands to clench into fists. If you are knocked down or knocked off balance during your draw (remember, you’re drawing the gun because you’re in a fight), that same startle reflex will cause your fingers to curl up on the gun. If your finger is blocked by the frame or the front of the trigger guard (as mine was), great. If not, not so great.
    When you reholster on the range, your hands aren’t shaking, nobody is screaming in your ear, and you’re not worried about being shot by the responding officers whose sirens are getting closer every second. You don’t want to be violating Rule Two by pointing a firearm at your femoral artery.
    Why create more opportunities for Mr. Murphy?

  4. Also, pirates didn’t use holsters. They used belts or sashes. And reholstering a flintlock pistol after you’ve fired one shot doesn’t present much of a safety issue.

  5. Tim, to me that Bruce Nelson pic doesn’t look like AIWB. The caption is “forward of the hip” and the holster looks like it is vertical and basically aligned with the front pocket of his jeans, strong side front, call it 2:30. It looks like the barrel is on the outside of his leg, not the inside, as he is seated.

    I associate AIWB with the gun being just to the side of the zipper in front of the body, at 1:00 or so, with the muzzle on the inside of the thigh when seated.

    Am I just not understanding the terms correctly?

    1. Anything forward of the crest of the hip has been referred to as “appendix” carry in my hearing.

    2. The 1980 page scan is from a Pistolero magazine article by Bruce Nelson with a full discussion of the advantages of the holster, which for Nelson was slightly muzzle to the rear.
      Nelson didn’t call it appendix, although Cooper did. FWIW Cooper’s appendix position, ca. 1965, was at about 2:30, forward rake with the muzzle clear of the body.

  6. In the picture of “An unintentional discharge while reholstering…luckily without any injury to the shooter.” it’s obvious the problem is the untucked shirt that got caught in the trigger guard. Either tuck it all the way in or pull it all the way out while reholstering. I see it all the time at IDPA matches with guys sweeping their off hand while trying to reholster.

    1. It was actually reholstering with finger on the trigger in that particular instance…but clothing that works into the holster when drawing the weapon is an area for concern as well.

  7. Empty gun (or Blue Gun) draws & reholstering, under some induced pressure, should be part of initial class instruction and trainer observation before a shot is ever fired in class. Likewise certain manipulation too. If they can’t do it safely, the instructor now knows it before someone gets hurt. 5-10 minutes worth of safety and getting to know student capabilities? Priceless.

  8. Hey Tim

    I think I was your partner on the line during the Tom Givens class at one point … we were doing the colors and shapes drill … the Wilson 1911 stands out to me.

    You were VERY careful every single time to reholster slowly and methodically. Even though it was a timed drill and competitive and all that.

    1. Good to hear from you! Yes, I always make a point to reholster in a deliberate fashion because there’s no prize for being the first guy back in the holster. It’s worth noting here, too, that Tom encouraged everyone on the line to reholster in a deliberate fashion and emphasized this repeatedly throughout the day.

      I’ve been carrying AIWB since ~ 2009 and since then I’ve given the carry mode a lot of thought. I’ve also spent an absurd amount of hours discussing the topic with exceptionally intelligent people ranging from top notch firearms instructors to doctors of various specialties. The equipment I use for carry and training (because I use the same thing for both most of the time) I selected to give me as much margin for error as possible…even though I don’t rely on those things to prevent an unintentional discharge.

      I have actually narrowly escaped an unintentional discharge while holstering on two occasions…both times were bits of equipment (like a flashlight lanyard) that had somehow worked into my holster. Both were in low light situations where looking my gun back into the holster wasn’t an option. Both occasions were when I was using a strong side, OWB holster. Those experiences were blessings in disguise as they made me keenly aware of how easy it is to have a problem when reholstering and of the downsides of a striker-fired pistol with a short trigger travel.

  9. Sigh. I don’t appendix carry, but c’mon folks. As a civilian, after a real gunfight, you AREN’T going to be reholstering, and certainly not in a hurry. This is all driven by training environment lawsuit prevention BS.

    1. I wouldn’t necessarily agree that a civilian would never need to reholster. Speaking personally, if I believe the police are coming in response to a shooting, I’m going to do my best to not have a gun in my hand when they show up.

      1. That was my point in my earlier post. That’s one reason I don’t AIWB. If I’m gonna have an ND going back to my holster, with shaking hands, before the cops show up, I’d rather have a skid mark on the outside of my thigh than a hole in my femoral artery.
        But that’s me. You go to your church and I’ll go to mine.

    1. Decocking is certainly an important step before reholstering…but as I’ve mentioned before, I’ve encountered situations where bits of clothing or equipment have worked their way into a holster and have applied pressure on the trigger. I actually met a police officer in a course once who had a chunk of his right buttock taken out because the snap from his department-mandated plain-clothes holster worked its way into the trigger guard of his pistol as he was reholstering to go hands-on with a fleeing subject.

      The advantage of the double-action Sig is that you can apply pressure to the back of the hammer which will prevent the hammer’s movement. That is precisely why I swapped to hammer-fired guns when I started AIWB carry. It’s a nice extra margin of safety to have on my side in case everything else fails.

  10. I carry AIWB. I only practice holster skills (draw and re-holster) when I practice dry fire drills (unloaded weapon). If my weapon is ever drawn in an actual response to a threat, my last worry would be about my re-holster. I will remove my holster and reinsert the weapon if needed. Remember, there is no such thing as speed re-holstering.

    All live fire classes I’ve taken have utilized an OWB holster. Never had the option to go AIWB…and I probably wouldn’t.

    AIWB works great for concealment… for me. You need to be aware of it’s training limitations before you make it your choice.

    Might not be the perfect solution… but it works for me.

  11. Tim, I think you’re missing the (in my opinion) biggest and most important safety lesson of all — don’t think it can’t happen to you. Isn’t that an argument that’s proposed many times in discussions around the idea of having a gun for protection in the first place? The proper mindset around safety is to not become so arrogant of your abilities with firearm safety, as that leads to complacency and short cuts, which lead to accidents. You made two good points — negligent discharges often happen on the draw and reholster, and it would be far better to have a relatively “minor” graze wound on the outside of your thigh than a blown out testicle and sheared femoral artery. You’re absolutely right — we need to spend time training the proper method for drawing and reholstering, just as we spend time on sights and trigger (arguably more so — the data indicates that you’re up to 30 times more likely to need to draw and present your firearm than you are to need to draw and shoot). I would also say that if we want to further useful discussion and lessen stupidity, it would behoove us not to enter into ad hominem and straw man arguments, though this is just a minor pet peeve of mine and otherwise I think you’ve worded your argument well and are obviously intellectually endowed. Cheers.

    1. I’m keenly aware it can happen to me because I’ve narrowly avoided a holster-related discharge on two previous occasions using strong-side OWB holsters. That’s why mentioned in the writeup: “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.”

      As for straw men and such, I’m not swinging at any…I’ve encountered every argument I countered multiple times on this topic.

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