Public Restroom Carry: Keeping That Important Stop Safe (and Arrest-Free)

Now here’s something we don’t talk about often but should: the pitfalls (pun intended) of carrying a lawfully concealed handgun into a public restroom.

I was prompted to write about this subject after talking with a buddy of mine the other day. He is a state-certified police firearms instructor and now-retired probation officer. He has been retained as an expert defense witness in a case involving an accidental discharge of a handgun in a public bathroom.

Before I proceed talking about the case, there are a few things you should know. First, and thankfully, neither the permit holder nor anyone else was injured by the single .45 ACP round that went into the ceiling (past the permit holder’s head). Second, while the permit holder does bear full responsibility in this case (I believe the restroom had posted a “No Guns Allowed” sign), it appears that a defective — read that “junk” — handgun contributed to the incident. Third, the entire incident could have been avoided, thus saving CCW permit holders everywhere an unnecessary black eye.

Let’s look at the safety and tactical considerations involved in using the restroom. Since men have the advantage of standup plumbing (sorry ladies), we don’t often think of what to do with our handguns while using a urinal. The handgun’s position while engaging in a “10-100” (which is Smokey and the Bandit CB Code) is usually fine wherever you choose to carry it … unless you are packing your handgun directly in front in a “Thunderwear” type of rig. I ruled those out long ago as too inconvenient to work around. But if a guy has to switch from a 10-100 to a 10-200, the situation changes.

Once we sit down for the 10-200, OWB and IWB belt holsters become a liability for two reasons: The first — and what helped cause the problem in the accidental discharge case I described above — is that once you undo your pants and belt, the whole rig can slide off with the gun and hit the floor. If you are carrying a junk handgun that was discredited in terms of quality MANY years ago and you drop it, it can go “bang” instead of just clattering across the floor for everyone to see. Even if it doesn’t do that, it can still be visible to other patrons in their respective stalls. You don’t want to cause a panic, especially if you are in a “No Guns Allowed” location which, of course, can mean legal trouble for you. IWB holsters present some of the same issues, but in a holster that uses strong steel clips to affix to a belt, the rig might not go sliding down the belt but can still be exposed to “understall” viewing if you aren’t careful. Remember, too, that you could also drop the gun while putting the rig and belt back on, so extreme attention to detail is needed throughout the entire process. But what are some other things we can do to avoid removing the gun altogether from our body or exposing it on the floor?

One thing that I have done is to place the handgun on a flat-top toilet paper dispenser — round top ones just won’t do. If there is a toilet paper holder large enough, then the gun can stay in the holster and the entire rig can rest there. This method works best if your holster has a security strap for extra retention capability. Just make darn sure the dispenser is large, FLAT and solid enough to support the gun. If you are carrying a smaller handgun — such as a J-frame Smith & Wesson — you could withdraw it from the holster and temporarily pocket it until you get re-dressed. If this doesn’t sound comfortable for you, there are four other carry methods that will eliminate these concerns for men (and in some cases for women): ankle carry, inside-the-pocket carry, fanny pack carry and shoulder holster carry.

Both ankle and inside-the-pocket carry require zero readjustment during 10-200 time. Guns carried this way will stay hidden and safe the entire time you are there. The fanny pack can be easily dismounted and set on the floor with your foot through the loop without exposing the gun. Shoulder rigs at most may require that you simply undo the belt snaps that keep the gun from swinging, while the rig stays in place. The gun may still be visible if someone sees you through the stall door crack — but at least your gun won’t be on the floor. DON’T ever hang your handgun through the trigger guard on the inside clothes hook on the back of the door. I really shouldn’t need to say more about this method.

When you are done with the 10-200 time, don’t leave the handgun behind in the stall. I knew a female probation officer who took her paddle holster and gun off in the courthouse bathroom while on duty when a trial was going on. She used the public bathroom instead of the private probation bathroom in the probation office. She laid her holstered .38 on the window sill ledge in the stall. Then she left. The gun stayed behind. Fortunately, a criminal in the courthouse (yes, there are criminals in courthouses) didn’t discover the gun first. It was recovered by a law-abiding citizen and turned in. She got a three-day suspension and remedial training followed.

The final thing I will advise for men and women alike is to only carry reliable, decent-quality handguns in proper working order. With the internet, there is no excuse for not knowing that the handgun you are packing is one that most folks would only touch with a 10-foot pole. If you have any doubts, have the gun you plan on carrying checked over for safety by a reliable gunsmith.

Ladies, you face a different set of problems. You don’t have the stand-up 10-100 option that we guys do, so you run into the “what to do with your gun” issue every single time you enter the restroom. There is also another issue that I picked up on while I worked retail firearms sales last year for four months. The majority of women don’t normally wear clothing that is conducive to hiding a firearm on-body. Ankle rigs don’t work with fashion jeans and tight fits. Most women’s pockets are cut too small to house other than the very smallest firearms, which means shoulder rigs or fanny packs are potential options. Because of style of dress, the most often used method for concealed carry by women is usually purse carry — which presents its own set of risks.

Have you ever forgotten your purse — even for a moment? I was friends with a female police chief who, a number of years ago, left her purse (with Colt Detective Special revolver inside) behind in the library. The purse was recovered by the librarian. I’ve got to give the police chief credit; she gave herself three days off for the violation, which was also reported in the local newspaper. This illustrates the main problem with “off-body” carry: It and your gun can be left behind, with potentially disastrous results.

Carrying a lawfully concealed firearm is deadly serious business. We all think about figuring the best way of carrying our handgun while out and about — on foot, on a bike or motorcycle, or in a car — but rarely do we think about it in compromising situations. Public restrooms are tricky. Take some time to think about your concealed carry gun and how and where you carry it. Perhaps some adjustments for when “nature calls” are in order.

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