Handgun Retention: The Armed Citizen’s Perspective

Tactical Training: 1. Lindell-based handgun retention is a life-saving skill. Here, training with dummy guns, Ryan Hatch grabs Brian Hallaq’s drawn pistol… 2. …with support hand, Brian secures attacker’s wrist, breaking momentum of the attack…  3. …and pivots off line of attack, positioning himself out of reach of attacker’s free hand…

1. Lindell-based handgun retention is a life-saving skill. Here, training with dummy guns, Ryan Hatch grabs Brian Hallaq’s drawn pistol… 2. …with support hand, Brian secures attacker’s wrist, breaking momentum of the attack… 3. …and pivots off line of attack, positioning himself out of reach of attacker’s free hand…

Handgun retention is the art and science of defeating an attempt to disarm the legitimate wearer of the gun.

 

Tactical Training: 4. …raising his elbow to gain added power and momentum, Brian now… 5. …releases opponent’s grasp by closing his own forearm with the attacker’s…  6. …and, having broken free, body-checks the opponent…  7. …and creates distance, to better prevent a second attack.

4. …raising his elbow to gain added power and momentum, Brian now… 5. …releases opponent’s grasp by closing his own forearm with the attacker’s… 6. …and, having broken free, body-checks the opponent… 7. …and creates distance, to better prevent a second attack.

It was developed primarily by, and for, police officers, who when in uniform carry their sidearms in plain sight and, therefore, within easy reach of anyone physically close to them.

On the surface, it would seem that this would be a concern armed citizens could ignore, unless they were practitioners of open carry; after all, most private citizens carry their guns concealed. Unfortunately, that’s an oversimplification.

The CCW-holder’s concealed gun may become visible, from something as simple as the wind blowing his coat open at the wrong time. The attacker may be a psycho relative, a former friend turned bad, or a disgruntled ex-employee who knows the citizen well enough to know that he or she carries a gun, and where it is carried.

Or, a physical assault may simply turn into a wrestling match and, when the attacker’s arms go around the pistol-packer’s waist to grapple, that attacker feels the gun and the struggle for the weapon is on.

Cop or armed citizen, plainclothes or open carry, handgun retention will break down into several layers of protection.

 

Awareness, Alertness, Preparedness

Believing that a concealed gun will never be targeted for a snatch attempt is naïve because it doesn’t take into account the very real concerns described above. A person who’s not even aware that someone might try to take his gun is almost hopelessly behind the curve if such a thing does happen. The person carrying a gun needs to maintain constant awareness of this very real possibility.

Those who carry guns should be as alert as an on-duty police officer to what is happening around them. When carrying, we need to be in the constant state of relaxed alertness that the late, great Col. Jeff Cooper defined as Condition Yellow. Action beats reaction. We can react in time only if we have a reactionary gap–time in which to recognize the attack and counter it–and that can only be provided by alertness.

Finally, we must be prepared to react if such an attack does come. If we don’t know what to do in that situation, or we aren’t committed and ready to do it, awareness and alertness will be useless. Preparedness includes the following components.

 

Hardware Solutions: the Guns

Tactical training: S&W Model 15 in Bianchi Black Widow holster. Its thumb-break safety strap offers Level One retention against gun snatch attempt.

S&W Model 15 in Bianchi Black Widow holster. Its thumb-break safety strap offers Level One retention against gun snatch attempt.

While we all scoff at hardware solutions to software problems, the fact is, hardware can be of definite help in many of the cases under discussion. Some police departments still mandate that their officers carry on-safe pistols, because they’ve had many cases where bad guys got the service weapon away, tried to shoot the officer … and couldn’t, because they couldn’t figure out which of those little buttons and levers “turned on the gun.” It may buy only a few seconds, but historically, that has usually been time enough for the officer to regain control of the situation.

Single action pistols–the 1911, for example, and the popular Browning Hi-Power–are normally carried on-safe anyway. Many double action pistols (Beretta, Heckler and Koch, Ruger, Smith & Wesson, Taurus, and more) are available in models with manual safeties. Training and practice allow the user to off-safe the gun during the drawstroke with no appreciable loss of reaction time if they must draw and fire quickly to protect their lives.

Tactical Training: Blackhawk Serpa is popular for open carry and plainclothes cops alike. Pistol is Glock 17 with Heinie sights and TacGrip application.

Blackhawk Serpa is popular for open carry and plainclothes cops alike. Pistol is Glock 17 with Heinie sights and TacGrip application.

Those who prefer revolvers can have the Magna-Trigger conversion of the S&W installed by Rick Devoid at Tarnhelm Supply. This is the only “smart gun” that has ever really worked. It will only fire for someone wearing a special magnetic ring on the middle finger of their firing hand, but it will fire instantly when the legitimate user’s hand closes on the weapon in a conventional firing grasp and presses the trigger.

One other “hardware fix” is a backup weapon. The very movement he used to disarm you can have the successful attacker moving away from you as he turns your weapon in your direction. This means you may not be able to turn the tables and “disarm him back.” However, many a cop has been able to save his (or, yes, her) life by drawing a second gun and shooting the man who took their weapon before he could kill them with it.

 

Hardware Solutions: the Holsters

Tactical Training: This plainclothes deputy in Florida wears his issue Glock 22 RTF in a concealable Safariland ALS holster.

This plainclothes deputy in Florida wears his issue Glock 22 RTF in a concealable Safariland ALS holster.

Armed citizens who have embraced open carry have, for the most part, become aware of the importance of having some device that will slow down or impede an unauthorized hand that tries to pull their gun out of the holster. Especially popular is Blackhawk’s Serpa, which has a low-profile paddle on the outside that is positioned ideally for the wearer’s straight trigger finger.

If this paddle is not pressed inward, the holster is designed not to release the weapon. Another low profile holster which, like the Serpa, is popular among police detectives familiar with weapon retention concerns is the ALS (Automatic Locking System) series by Safariland, which requires the person drawing to thumb a discreetly hidden button which is naturally placed for the wearer’s hand, but less so for the hand of an unauthorized person.

Tactical training: This S&W Model 67 sits in an open-top, left-handed Don Hume JIT holster, backed up with DeSantis 2X2X2 cartridge carrier. A “grab and shoot” system, this set-up offers “Level Zero” in terms of retention against a gun snatch attempt.

This S&W Model 67 sits in an open-top, left-handed Don Hume JIT holster, backed up with DeSantis 2X2X2 cartridge carrier. A “grab and shoot” system, this set-up offers “Level Zero” in terms of retention against a gun snatch attempt.

Even a simple safety strap is better than nothing in this regard. Safariland pioneered the concept of quantified “retention levels” for holsters. If the holster is a simple open top design from which anyone can just pull the gun upward, it’s “Level Zero” because it has no retention effect per se against unauthorized hands.

If a single safety strap or locking device must be released before the draw can begin, the holster is said to have Level One security.

If it has a second securing feature requiring a second movement–say, the gun must be pushed downward and or forward, or rocked backward before the holster will release it after the safety strap has been unfastened–the holster would be considered Level Two.

 

Tactical training: Springfield Armory EMP 9mm is cocked and locked in open-top holster. Its on-safe carry essentially provides Level One protection in a Level Zero holster.

Springfield Armory EMP 9mm is cocked and locked in open-top holster. Its on-safe carry essentially provides Level One protection in a Level Zero holster.

One of the most popular police duty holsters over the years has been Safariland’s 070 model, which is Level Three: two safety straps must be popped, one with the thumb and the other with the middle finger, and the gun then rocked in a certain direction before the weapon can be drawn.

A manual safety on the pistol, for all practical purposes, adds one more level of security. An open top holster with a cocked and locked 1911 is essentially a Level One system, as is a revolver with no manual safety in a thumb-break holster. When I carried my department issue Ruger .45 auto on-safe in a Safariland 070, I basically had four levels of security working on my behalf.

 

Software Solution: Weapon Retention Skills

Tactical training: On-safe pistols have saved many owners’ lives when bad guys got them away and tried to shoot, but couldn’t figure out how. This is an on-safe Browning Hi-Power 9mm, Condition One or “cocked and locked.”

On-safe pistols have saved many owners’ lives when bad guys got them away and tried to shoot, but couldn’t figure out how. This is an on-safe Browning Hi-Power 9mm, Condition One or “cocked and locked.”

In the old days, the only weapon retention taught was to hang onto the gun with one hand and use your other hand– and every other body weapon at your disposal–to hit, kick, bite, and head-butt your opponent. Unfortunately, if the attacker was fast and strong or just knew what he was doing, he might well have control of your gun before your blows took effect.

 

 

 

Tactical training: Beretta Px4F Storm pistol is shown here on-safe…

Beretta Px4F Storm pistol is shown here on-safe…

In the mid-1970s, at the Kansas City, Missouri Regional Police Academy, master martial artist and police trainer Jim Lindell became the first to create a quantified series of handgun retention moves based on studies of actual disarms. What is now known as the Lindell Method or Kansas City Method has been hugely successful on the streets, and has been credited by some with saving as many police lives as body armor, if not more.

 

 

Tactical training: …but is not hard for the competent user to thumb off-safe when needed quickly.

…but is not hard for the competent user to thumb off-safe when needed quickly.

One big advantage of the Lindell method is that it teaches you to defend against not only attacks to holstered guns, but attacks to the gun you’ve already drawn and have in hand. In the latter situation, the most secure holster is no help at all. Another big advantage of Lindell’s approach is that it is leverage-based, not impact-based. The punch or kick is dependent for its effectiveness on the strength of the striker and the relative softness of his target.

Small people against big strong people don’t fare well in punch-and-kick contests. Leverage, on the other hand, works with little regard for size disparity, and often actually favors the smaller person who may have a lower center of gravity, and may be faster and more limber than a much bigger, stronger assailant.

Expect to put lots of hours into handgun retention techniques to master them, just as you would to master any other form of hand to hand combat, or for that matter, your defensive handgun shooting skills.

 

Bottom Line

Veteran cops have long warned the rookies, “There’s always a gun present at every confrontation–yours!” This is advice armed citizens would be wise to heed, also. A solid mindset that encompasses awareness, alertness, and preparedness… guns and holsters that give you a more than even chance of prevailing in such a struggle … and the physical skills to defeat a disarming attempt. Those are the layered safety nets you require if you hope to come out of an attempt by a violent criminal to take your gun away from you and murder you or anyone else with it.

They’re proven. They work. They’ll save your life as reliably as they’ve saved the lives of so very many cops.


CONTACTS:

Tarnhelm Supply Co., Inc.
www.tarnhelm.com
(603) 796-2551
Blackhawk!
www.blackhawk.com
(800) 694-5263
Safariland
www.safariland.com
(800) 347-1200
DeSantis
www.desantisholster.com
(800) 424-1236
Bianchi
www.bianchi-intl.com
(800) 347-1200

 

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