More Than Meets The Eye Most people immediately think of a purse when it comes to off-body carry for women, but that is not the only option, and it might not even be the best option. There are a number of choices when it comes to carrying a gun and all kinds of reasons for them. But one size does not fit all here. Even if the concept of “size” is more figurative than literal, and the gun is being carried off-the-body.
If your activity and/or mode of dress make it impractical to wear the gun on the body, various purses, pouches, packs, bags, calendars, briefcases and more can offer a very viable means of carrying a firearm in a discrete and undetectable manner. However, regardless of what “device” you choose or what style it might follow, there are a number of serious concerns about each that need to be addressed.
If designed and utilized correctly, no one should ever even know that you have a gun in any of these carriers. But the dilemma is that the more they look and perform like what they are supposed to be (containers for the sometimes valuable and important items we carry with us every day), the more that they can become the motivation for the deadly force event that requires the use of the weapon they hold. And that’s because they are subject to theft.
Suddenly, the means of concealing your firearm can become one of the reasons you might need it. I am certainly not saying that by carrying the gun you are purposely or unintentionally causing such an event. I am merely saying that if you are attacked and the specifically designed purse, bag, or briefcase you are using to carry your firearm becomes involved, there is not only the chance that you might lose your gun instead of being able to use it but in struggling to maintain possession, the act of drawing it at all can be greatly impeded.
If you choose (or have no choice but to use) a purse, bag, or briefcase to carry a handgun with you, you not only need to be aware that someone can now attack you for that carrier (without even knowing that there’s a gun inside) but you must also plan and practice for what to do if that happens.
Additionally, you need to look at the carrier itself and decide if its appearance might work against you.
For example, is your purse too upscale for where you’re going or how you’re dressed? Conversely, does it look too much like a gun bag than something that someone would normally take to work, or perhaps along to dinner or out shopping? Does that urban backpack look like something you’d wear while walking, cycling or riding the bus? Or do you look instead like you’re on a Military Op, rather than on a trip downtown? Does your briefcase look far too expensive for the job or way too tactical for a civilian? There is a reason that most enforcement agencies call this “concealed” and not “broadcast it to the world” carry and you must remember that.
However, there is a difference between keeping a low profile and not attracting attention, while still not appearing too demure, weak or victim-like. Obviously swaggering with something more intended for police work than a trip to the market is definitely the wrong approach, but so is being so low key that you’ll get singled out as a target.
What You See Isn’t Always What You “Got” Nowhere else does the overworked term “Hidden In Plain Sight” apply more in this business than it does to the area of “Off-Body” carry methods and equipment. As legal, civilian concealed carry has become more common throughout the United States, the job of obscuring a gun from view, while still making it not only readily accessible but also readily producible, has become more difficult. Fortunately, a number of manufacturers have been up to the task.
If the gun cannot be fastened to the torso, belt, leg or ankle, and if it cannot be tucked into your waistband or slipped into a pocket, toting it along in some sort of “outboard” device often becomes necessary. While movies and television often feature inventive and unusual ways of doing this, we need to separate fact from fiction when carrying a gun in real life.
For decades, fanny packs were the choice for both men and women carrying guns, while dressed casually and without the aid of covering garments. In my opinion, however, most of them should have been abandoned at least 15 years ago, but they are still around. For gun savvy people (and I would hope, all law enforcement officials), such bags scream “GUN IN HERE” as glaringly as those “Baby on Board” signs once did in our vehicles. They have also become dated in regard to certain age groups and activities.
However, they could have some applications for older people with whom such carriers like this one from Uncle Mike’s might not seem out of place, or in certain activities (biking, motorcycling, jogging, etc.) where this one from DeSantis could work. They also could help during vacations and weekend excursions where often a shoulder bag or backpack is too big, but where a waistpack from a firm like Tuff Products might fit right in as one drives, walks, sits and stands, while regularly adjusting their clothing to match repeated changes in the weather, one’s environment and moving back and forth from indoors to outside.
If that is the case and a fanny pack works for you, try to find one that is not only still in vogue (the 90’s are over) but that looks as little like a gun carrier as possible. While I would still suggest using one that is designed to carry a gun (i.e. one that employs a special compartment or an internal holster), I would also look at colors that don’t look paramilitary for you do not want to look “tactical” here. And maybe even go so far as to decorate the bag with a commercial label or two “borrowed” from something else that’s completely unrelated to firearms.
Finally, my recommendation that any fanny pack you choose should have a dedicated compartment or an internal holster actually applies to everything in this category. Merely tossing a firearm into a bag of any kind is a mistake. Other loose items can work their way into the bore of any firearm and they can also get into the individual chambers of a revolver cylinder. With pistols, bigger objects and sometimes the linings and interior walls of non-gun-carrying packs, purses and briefcases can move safety levers out of position and depress buttons; unintentionally releasing magazines. Carried loosely, any gun can move out of position (or become blocked by other things) so that a proper grip cannot be made as part of the drawing process. And carried with other things, the trigger of any firearm can be left exposed to inadvertent contact with them.
One of the better options I’ve seen in regard to containing and protecting a firearm within a non-gun-dedicated, commercial pack, purse or bag (or even one with a gun compartment), is a just-announced product from Galco. “Carrysafe” is an elasticized nylon, thumb-break holster that will retain the gun and position it for the draw as well. The holster, attached to a stiff leather backing plate, is infinitely adjustable for carry angle and the plate itself allows for a further-adjustable attachment to the bag’s interior if desired.
Not only should any bag successfully conceal the firearm but it should also protect it, carry it safely and present it to you in such a manner that it can be drawn cleanly and efficiently under the stress of a deadly force engagement.
As such, purses present even greater issues. Not only do all of the containment concerns apply, but as they are more visible and carried in a variety of ways, there are matters of style as well performance to consider. In the past, gun-carrying purses often looked just like what they were. And with such little thought given to fashion or design, they, like fanny packs, all but announced to the world that a gun could be found inside. Other purses that didn’t go that route, often stood out because they were not in sync with the times or with the overall look of those women who could have put them to good use. But today, firms like Galco on the high end (making all but outright designer knockoffs) and Gun Tote'n Mamas or Woolstenhulme in the middle (both with a wide range of designs for a variety of needs and activities) make bags that you won’t be ashamed to be seen with and that contain many of the features thought to be beneficial in such a device.
Still, how purses are worn or carried and how the gun is drawn from them must be looked at closely. Obviously, the gun should not be visible to others; either through its sidewalls or when the bag is opened for any reason. Yet the gun must also be reachable in ways that will not delay access to it during the draw. Magnetic closures or properly engineered hook-and-loop seals often outshine zippers, which can clog, break or bind. Additionally, the gun must be carried and drawn in such a way that the user does not trace any part of their limbs or torso when it is produced. Far too many designs (and many promotional images of them) violate this basic tenet of gun safety.
Even simple things like shoulder straps should be considered. Not only mustn’t they interfere with the production of the firearm but you need to decide about their construction. Some makers reinforce them with unseen internal wires or Kevlar-like materials for strength and to prevent cutting by thieves. A good thought until the idea is thought through. Perhaps a heightened awareness of one’s surroundings and those who occupy it would be a better counter to purse snatching than depending on an over-the-shoulder or around-the-arm strap so sturdy that it might dislocate a shoulder or break an arm rather that give way under attack.
Some of this is a bit more complex than it first might seem but all of it is common sense driven, and none of it should keep you from making an off-body selection or learning how to protect the gun it contains. It’s just that with this type of carrier, there are some additional considerations above-and-beyond the usual thoughts given to the more traditional body-borne holster.
Out of Sight But Never Out of Mind Just as I believe fanny packs have long been passé for most traditional applications, I am also firmly convinced that various shoulder bags, backpacks and “urban” carrying devices are still only now coming into their own when it comes to “Off Body” gun possession.
Other than their sometimes “militaristic” appearance (although here that could be made to work as a fashion statement of sorts at times), I really like some of the things that Maxpedition has done in this area and that others like Tuff Products, and Gun Tote’n Mamas are doing as a result of the path they blazed. Shoulder bags like this one from Woolstenhulme that don’t look like you just shipped back home from some foreign war zone, but that still have a readily accessible gun compartment are often the kind of thing that passers-by never give a second look. Just make sure that you can reach the gun while you’ve got it on.
But like the purses and fanny packs, you also need to make sure that you can safely produce the gun. Most important in this respect is that the muzzle never traces any part of your body. And while most people rightfully believe that this includes the crossing of one’s hands and torso while the firearm is being brought to bear upon the threat, it also relates to the positioning of the firearm while it’s being carried so that you grab the grip and not some other part of the weapon when the draw is first begun. Therefore, while a gun compartment is a good idea, an internal holster is better.
Large portfolios and briefcases are another case in point.
Simply tossing a firearm loosely into a briefcase creates all of the same problems previously mentioned. Loose items carried in the bag can work their way into the bore of any firearm and into the open chambers of a revolver. With pistols, safety levers can be moved out of position and magazines can be released. The draw can be affected for the same reasons, as any gun can move out of position or become blocked by other carried items so that a proper grip cannot be made as part of the drawing process. However, the biggest issue regarding an unprotected firearm floating around inside a briefcase is that the trigger can be exposed to inadvertent contact with anything else inside the bag.
While the Galco “Carrysafe” is an ideal solution to protect a firearm carried in a non-gun-dedicated, commercial pack, purse or bag (or even one with a gun compartment), BLACKHAWK! accomplishes much of the same thing with its Adjustable Hook Back Holster. Not only is it compatible with the “loop” covered linings and dividers in their bags, but also with some of those found on competitor and even non-gun-dedicated off-body-carrying packs, pouches and cases.
That said, there are some excellent compartmentalized briefcases from companies like BLACKHAWK!, Uncle Mikes, Woolstenhulme, and The Concealment Shop that easily blend in with most any environment and give no clue that there is a gun inside. They not only keep the gun properly positioned for a ready draw from within an unseen location (even as you go in and out of the bag) but they carry the pistol or revolver safely at the same time. Just make sure that you don’t overfill the bag to the point where either it becomes too clumsy to utilize (a problem with some purses and fanny packs too), or that it weighs so much that you are tempted to leave it behind. The whole idea here, after going through all the effort to obtain a concealed weapons permit, is to have the weapon with you and not sitting on your desk while you go out to lunch or off to a meeting.
These days, with all of the calendar and planner functions available on our phones and easily carried computer pads and tablets, we are seeing fewer and fewer people carry the kinds of notebooks and schedulers that were everywhere just a few years ago. However, if such things are still common in your world, firms like Uncle Mike’s and BLACKHAWK! make different ones that resemble planners and Galco makes one that actually is fully functional in that role. All of them allow you to bring a firearm along unnoticed to places where you can’t “wear” it but you still might need it.
There is some overlapping of those smaller diaries with the still generally unnoticed, divided pouches that are made by just about everybody these days but that were initiated by Uncle Mike’s almost 20 years ago. Their GunPak, BLACKHAWK!’s Belt Pouch, DeSantis’ Gun Caddie, and others can be carried in the hand or worn on the belt in ways that fanny packs never could and they allow the wearer to carry a firearm with them just about everywhere they go; even allowing the user to reach inside them without revealing the handgun.
Some of these pouch-like devices are simply amazing at allowing you to carry a firearm undetected in all kinds of situations and environments. But that brings us full circle in regard to the subject of additional considerations with these designs as to what you do when the gun is still in any of these Off Body devices we have been discussing but they are not with you.
All of the items mentioned can inadvertently promote carelessness or a lax attitude in regard to the securing of the weapon when it is out of your immediate control, and that is something that can creep up on even the most safety-minded individual. While the laws in many states and municipalities require that unattended firearms be formally secured and both common sense and our own individual sense of responsibility (and of right and wrong) are sure to lead us in the same direction, these non-traditional carriers can instead, lead us astray and perhaps make us less diligent about such matters than we should be.
When we come into our homes or maybe enter our workplace, it is very common to remove a body-borne handgun (or maybe handgun and holster combination) and lock it up in a safe, cabinet or desk drawer. Because of how it is carried, we are reminded that it is a firearm and it must be respected, handled safely and secured when not in use. But a purse (with the gun unseen inside) can be hung over the back of a chair. A waist pack, not looking like a gun, can be tossed on to a bed or a table as those packs not used to transport firearms have always been tossed aside. A briefcase, made specifically to not look like a gun carrier, can be abandoned alongside a desk. And a calendar or notebook, designed to fool everyone as to its true nature, can be set on top of a desk, table or cabinet and forgotten. Worse yet, many such things can be inadvertently left behind altogether in restrooms, restaurants, cars, and cabs because they are not attached to us the way “holsters” are.
Don’t let this dissuade you from choosing any of these items if they can be helpful to you in defending your life, but always consider the big picture in making any decisions as serious as these.