The message was unheard of from a public figure like Spartanburg County Sheriff Chuck Wright. After an attempted rape in a public park where kids fly kites and play soccer, the South Carolina Sheriff bluntly said what lots of folks think: “Our form of justice is not [working]. Carry a concealed weapon. That'll fix it." His advice to women was, “Don’t go for Mace. Go for the concealed weapons permit.”
Wright’s comments generated a global controversy when published in USA Today, the LA Times, the Huffington Post and the United Kingdom’s Daily Mail. Among many women, they also raised the dilemma of how to safely carry a firearm in style.
At Wright’s press conference, He held up a small fanny pack and said, “You can conceal a small pistol in here … there’s one called The Judge that shoots a .45 or a .410 shell.”
Suddenly, what once was a fashion faux pas was kind of cool again.
Indeed, there are many ways to conceal a firearm, plenty of them as effective as the lowly fanny pack and some downright classy. There are cell-phone look-alike cases, figure-flattering trench coats and casual hoodies with spy-caliber compartments.
There’s even a bra holster made from high-performance plastic to fit specific gun models. A soft strap attaches the mold to the middle of the bra, securing the gun just below the breasts. To access the gun, the user pulls down on the grip and the gun snaps out of the holster. With proper training and practice, FlashBang designers claim that even a novice can retrieve, aim and fire in 1.5 seconds.
Statistics suggest, however, that most women who carry a handgun use a purse, because of fashion. Concealed-carry pants, shirts and jackets are available, although mostly for men, and women’s counterparts haven’t hit the runways of Los Angles, New York or Paris.
South Carolina firearm instructor Matt Lindler doesn’t advocate carrying a gun inside a purse, as purses are prime targets of thieves. They get thrown around, left unattended and plundered by kids. Purses also require a two-handed draw—one to hold the purse steady and the other to retrieve and fire the gun.
Another thing about purses, said Lindler: “If it fits, you’ll find it there— lipstick, keys, wallet, loose change. All those things get in the way of the gun, and when you need it, you need it now, not after you’ve unearthed it from the bottom of the heap. But I’d rather a woman carry in a purse than not carry at all.”
Kathy Jackson, an instructor at the Firearms Academy of Seattle, writes: “Carrying in a normal purse is rarely a safe option and is so slow to access that it simply should not be done if possible.”
Although a purse may not be the ideal way to carry, it is often the most convenient way. Thus, the accessories industry has responded to this need. Many companies make bags specifically for concealed carry. They look like ordinary purses from the outside, but what’s inside makes the difference.
As the name suggests, many concealed-carry purses have sewn-in holsters that keep the gun secure and in the proper position, so that when you reach for it, the muzzle and grip are in the same position. Other features specific to most carry purses include: side access for discreetly gripping the gun while walking, strong wide straps and a lockable compartment to keep out curious kids.
The cardinal rule is to put safety first. If you carry concealed in a purse, “you must use a dedicated compartment that holds the gun and only the gun,” said Jackson. As bizarre as it sounds, a lipstick tube or mascara wand could get caught in the trigger guard and press the trigger. Stranger things have happened, which leads to these purse safety tips:
• Secure your gun in a holster that covers the trigger and the guard.
• Keep your purse with you when there’s a gun inside.
• Practice drawing an unloaded handgun from the purse. Keeping it secure and in a dedicated location helps with speed and consistency.
• A right-handed woman should carry the purse on her left shoulder and vice-versa. This technique allows her to reach across with her dominant hand to retrieve and fire. Most bags are designed for right-handers, so if the purse is marketed as ambidextrous, test it for comfort and efficiency.
• Some purses can be carried traditionally or draped across the body so that the bag doesn’t slip off your arms. Some instructors suggest that carrying the purse cross-body also makes it harder to snatch.
• Another school of thought is that carrying cross-body makes the purse a part of the user's clothing, freeing both hands.
• Some purses are designed with steel-reinforced shoulder straps that deter slash-and-grab thieves from fleeing with your valuables.
• Size matters. Small purses require smaller handguns, which can be hard to shoot, awkward to handle and not powerful enough to do the job. Smaller purses also have smaller storage compartments, which make it more difficult to draw a gun.
• But bigger isn’t always better, either. While a roomier purse will carry a larger, more powerful gun that’s easier to handle and more comfortable to shoot, a stouter gun also is heavier. And the heavier the gun, the heavier the purse. You may be tempted to set it down and leave it unattended.
The most important feature to look for is easy access, because a gun is no good if you can’t get to it. You’re not just buying another purse. You’re buying protection and peace of mind.