Every Open Carrier Needs a Retention Holster
If you carry a firearm openly, you must always do so using a proper holster. To be a proper holster, it must secure the firearm to your body even in the event of a sudden impact, it must protect the trigger from inadvertent firing, and it must provide active retention to reduce the likelihood that you might be disarmed.
It doesn’t matter if you’re a cop or a citizen. It doesn’t matter if you open carry to make a statement or because outside the waistband is more comfortable than inside the waistband. It doesn’t matter if you open carry in a remote wilderness area or the most densely populated urban center in America. Those three criteria above should be considered non-negotiable when you’re selecting gear for carry.
Of course, you should also select a sturdy belt that will comfortably keep the holster in the same place throughout the day and also provide the necessary support and structure so that your holstered firearm cannot simply be ripped away as when a cheap belt would fail.
Let’s go over each of the three criteria so you understand why they are necessary to proper holster selection.
1. Securing the Firearm to Your Body
Different people have different reasons for carrying a gun, but none of them are likely to carry a gun so they can lose it at some random point of the day. When open carrying, your firearm is, obviously, exposed. It’s not only exposed to view, but it’s exposed to tree branches, car doors, door jambs, parking meters, rocks, walls, and just about everything we walk past or near on a daily basis.
When walking from one side of a gun store to another with a gun in an inadequate holster, you may feel that your pistol is secure. You may even have carried for years in a subpar holster and never had a problem. Therefore, you might claim that this article is hooey and you’re just fine carrying cocked and locked with that old leather thumb break holster, thanks, sonny.
Tomorrow, you might get hit by a car in a parking lot. You might be pushed, intentionally or otherwise, to the ground. You might be in a motorcycle accident, fall off a bicycle, or encounter any number of situations which reset your “Days Since Fallen Down” counter to zero.
You don’t even need to fall down to lose a pistol. The right impact by an inanimate object can send your holster flying, detaching it from the belt entirely if secured by a cheap clip or causing the pistol to exit the holster when the single thumbsnap proves inadequate.
Do yourself a favor and acquire a holster that will keep your firearm on your body when something happens. I started following this rule over a decade ago when a coworker told me about a time when he was in a motorcycle accident and watched his duty pistol skitter down the asphalt for quite some time after he’d rolled to a stop. Years later, when I was in a motorcycle accident, my pistol remained in its holster, and my holster remained attached to my body.
2. Protection of the Trigger
The majority of firearm holsters produced today cover the trigger, for obvious reasons. While some may advocate shooting directly through a pocket holster with a revolver, I’m not going to debate that here, and I can’t think of any other remotely acceptable situation where you would want to shoot the gun in the holster.
Therefore, you should want the trigger and the entire trigger guard covered by the holster, and the material covering the holster must be significantly structured so that some external object cannot press the trigger to the rear by squeezing or pushing on the holster. In other words, it should be nearly impossible to fire the gun while it is in the holster.
If the holster looks and feels like a flimsy piece of garbage, it probably is.
Sadly, whenever I see photos of open carry demonstrations, I’m treated to some of the most horrible holsters in this regard. It’s as if the national news cameramen are experts on open carry and pick out the worst offenders to photograph.
Even if your holstered pistol is not pointed at anything important when your flimsy holster gets poked at the wrong angle, it’s going to be a very embarrassing day for you.
3. Active Retention to Reduce Likelihood of Disarmament
What do I mean by “active retention” above? How is “active retention” different than “passive retention”?
I say “passive retention” whenever I mean a holster that squeezes the forward edge of the trigger guard or some other component with varying degrees of force in order to keep the pistol in the holster until the carrier draws the pistol by simply pulling it out of the holster. Even a holster of this type with an adjustable retention screw cranked to its maximum retention level is still passive retention. There’s nothing blocking the pistol from being drawn, you just need to use more force.
Active retention means there’s some device which must be defeated in order to draw the gun. “AHA!” you say. “My leather thumb break holster has a device which must be defeated and is therefore an active retention holster!”
It’s an active retention holster in the same way that having a bolt-in 2-point “roll bar” makes your convertible a race car. Will it actually hold up in the event of a crash or an angry person trying to take your gun away? Probably not! In fact, almost certainly not.
Look to a high quality holster manufacturer like Safariland for this type of holster. You might have heard their “Level 2” or “Level 3” terminology in common gun store use. In fact, there’s a great video describing the differences between Level 1 and Level 2 and Level 3 and even Level 4 retention holsters on their website.
Now, I’m not a police officer, and I’ll defer to law enforcement experts on specific duty gear that should be in use by cops. However, it’s my opinion that because cops tend to get in more scuffles while armed, something at the Level 3 or Level 4 end of the scale might be advisable. Even a Level 2 holster might have prevented an Arizona DPS officer from being disarmed and a fellow trooper killed recently, as news reports stated that he was in plainclothes and using a “standard leather holster” – likely a thumb break type.
When I open carry, I use a Level 2 holster, most commonly a Safariland 6280 or 6378. These have different retention systems, and it’s important to practice with whatever retention device you choose to rely on before you try to draw your pistol in real life. The 6378 does a great job of tucking the gun close to your body, and if you want the option of throwing a jacket or long shirt on over the pistol and concealing it at a moment’s notice, but still want retention, it’s the best game in town.
Keep in mind that holsters are mechanical devices and eventually all holsters will fail. My platoon leader, an E-7, had his M9 fall out of his Safariland 6004 when he stepped up to get in a humvee. Dragged behind the humvee for a while by a retention lanyard, the M9 was ugly but still functional after we radioed for the driver to stop.
How did this happen? The E-7 had a nervous tic where, before and after every trip outside the wire, during every brief and debrief, he would constantly work the retention loop of the Safariland holster down and up as if he was about to draw. He would do it hundreds of times a day, probably. I don’t know how many activations it takes to wear out the springs in a Safariland holster, but I know it can be done. If you have an older holster, even if it’s served you well for many years, it’s worth an examination and comparison with a new holster of the same type to see if everything is in proper working order.
In summary, while I’m not trying to steer you towards a particular holster – especially because, at this time, we don’t sell any of the specific holsters I mentioned above – the above criteria should help guide your thought processes in determining which holster is right for your situation.
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