Holster or Deathtrap?

When I was coming up as a young gun guy, “Shall Issue” concealed carry was a concept unheard of. The only folks lawfully carrying handguns who were not police officers were country folks in open-carry rigs or licensed investigators and security agents. In the 1970’s and ’80’s the market for concealed carry holsters was pretty thin, certainly nowhere near what it is today.

For other than duty rigs, there was a time where you either paid top dollar for top quality handmade, hand-boned (look it up) leather holsters or you bought cheap, machine-made nylon or suede leather for concealed carry.

Cheap nylon and suede holsters performed one task; they covered the trigger while more often than not keeping the gun from falling to the ground. When I became a police officer in the early 1990’s I experimented with numerous Inside-the-Waistband holsters. I never found one that I could wear for any length of time, even a couple of hours, until I met a man named Sam Andrews. Sam built a custom leather IWB holster with a mouth that was reinforced to keep it from closing when the gun was drawn. However, even that holster would start to bug me about half-way through the day and I found myself fidgeting and adjusting it.

ND for the Whole World to See

Thanks to elevator security cameras, the entire nation is aware of a negligent discharge committed by an off-duty police officer in Cincinnati, Ohio. The story that accompanies the video stated that the man unholstered his handgun and was attempting to reholster it when he pressed the trigger and had the ND.

Naturally, gun folks are asking; Why did he feel the need to pull his gun out and fiddle with it in an elevator? Why was he not able to safely reholster the gun without difficulty? I am in possession of the same information that every other person who has read the news stories and watched the video.

My educated hypothesis would point toward a poorly made holster that inspired the said “fidgeting” and “adjustment”.  Why else would he be compelled to remove the gun in public and handle it in such a way?  It has been reported that the officer’s injury is not life-threatening and we are pleased to hear that.

Holster or Deathtrap?

IWB Deathtrap

IWB Deathtrap

Most firearms training schools, ours included, require that students use a form-fitted, rigid holster. “One size fits Most” holsters do not secure guns properly and often result in firearms ending up on the ground when they should not be.

What is most dangerous about the breed of cheap, stitched nylon holsters is that they collapse when the gun is drawn and they have a tendency to shift around when the user moves about in their daily routine. When gun carriers get in and out of cars, bend over, etc., the cheap holsters allow the guns to shift. This shifting causes discomfort and the gun carrier is motivated to “adjust” or “remove” the gun to relieve the discomfort.

With the gun drawn and the holster collapsed under the belt, the owner is apt to either angle or wedge the gun barrel back into the holster with some force. This often results in the muzzle being pointed at the shooter’s body while force is exerted. Another habit is for the owner to use their off hand to try and assist in the reholstering process. The off hand is then muzzled by the firearm, another big no-no.

Cheap holsters are attractive due to their low price point and uneducated gun owners rationalize that one loosely fitted holster can be used for different guns. Under-education and lack of practical experience leads to dangerous situations. All of the aforementioned can be avoided by simply purchasing one of a number of quality, form-fitted concealed carry holsters now available.

If your choice of CCW holster cannot be worn comfortably for eight to ten hours without the need to adjust it or the mouth collapses when the gun is withdrawn it should be discarded for something of higher quality. Carrying is gun for self-defense is an effort that requires dedication and commitment. If you cannot commit more than $19.95 for a holster you are going to wear 365 days a year, you might want to check your priorities.

Paul G. Markel 2015

About the Author

Paul G. Markel became a U.S. Marine in 1987 and served his nation during times of war and peace. A law enforcement veteran, Paul was a police officer for seventeen years before becoming a full-time Small Arms and Tactics Instructor.

Markel’s written work has been printed in every major firearms publication at one time or another for the last two decades. Paul has several books in print and hosts and produces Student of the Gun Television and Radio.




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Paul Markel

Founder & President at Student of the Gun
Paul G. Markel has worn many hats during his lifetime. He has been a U.S. Marine, Police Officer, Professional Bodyguard, and Small Arms and Tactics Instructor. Mr. Markel has been writing professionally for law enforcement and firearms periodicals for nearly twenty years with hundreds and hundreds of articles in print. Paul is a regular guest on nationally syndicated radio talk shows and subject matter expert in firearms training and use of force. Mr. Markel has been teaching safe and effective firearms handling to students young and old for decades and has worked actively with the 4-H Shooting Sports program. Paul holds numerous instructor certifications in multiple disciplines and a Bachelor’s degree in conflict resolution; nonetheless, he is and will remain a dedicated Student of the Gun.

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  1. Kevin Woods

    Growing up in the same era as you, I saw multiple unsafe instances involving nylon holsters. When I was in the Air Force (2001-2005) I witnessed a fellow Airman draw a tricked out 1911 from a vinyl shoulder holster and the result was a nd because the safety was off and the front sight hung the holster as he drew. Thank God it was in the desert and no one was behind us. I haven’t spoken to him since. Thanks for posting this!

    1. WUA

      Picking the right holster/carry method (s) is so tricky and was not part of my mind set when I first got started in the firearm world. It’s still a work in progress for me. Great article with critical information.

      1. William T. Edwards, Jr.

        I carry a small caliber (380) Ruger concealed in a black hawk size 1 pocket holster and I have never experienced any of the difficulties listed in the article. I also have a Beretta Pocket Pistol 25 Caliber that I have used the same pocket holster, and I carried that gun for years until I purchased the Ruger.

  2. Art

    i carry a 1911 gov with a 5: barrel and i use a stealthGear iwb i have no trouble carying 10 to12hrs it is the most high tec iwb ive seen avery nice holster

  3. Gene

    The first thing I ordered after purchasing my Ruger SR40 was a high quality Mitch Rosen OWB holster. It’s an all-leather version and has held up very well. I have since purchased a few that have been hit-n-miss…the others I have that I like are the AlienGear IWB and Dave at NSR Tactical makes some great Kydex versions that I have one for the M&P Shield.

  4. Gene

    PS…I do have to admit I have an inexpensive nylon version to put the Shield in when I have the gun in a coat pocket or briefcase just to keep things away from the trigger. It’s a BlackHawk piece and works well for those applications.

  5. 5WarVeteran

    Excellent article. I have a few holsters and my favorite is a form fitting Kydex made specifically for my CCW. I like it BECAUSE it does not collapse and it does not require a thumb release because the design also adds function by holding tightly to the weapon. I also lie it because it adds less than 1/8th inch to the width of my CCW
    I have fallen with it and the weapon stays secure every time.
    I live in a wheel chair and falling seems to be part of my life occupation.
    I will not advertise here but I bought the kydex holster at a local gun show here in the Southeast.
    There is another show in Ladson in February. Hope to see you there. I will be the guy in the wheel chair. Last show there were 2 of us. His was powered mine is not.

  6. Lime Green Medic

    The problem I have with this article is that most of us who have concealed carried for any length of time have the “holster box”, with all the failed “experiment” holsters we’ve bought for carry which we thought were good ideas at the time, but for one reason or another, didn’t work out. 19.95 is a lot lower of a price for an experiment than over a hundred. And I have several 100+ dollar holsters in my “holster box”. Not everyone has the kind of disposable income to make these mistakes.

    Perhaps a follow up article as to where and how one shops for a holster would be appropriate. If I’m going to pay top dollar for a holster I’m going to wear 24/7, I’d really like to be able to fit it to me in advance and try it out before committing a significant portion of my paycheck to it.

    Not disagreeing with avoiding cheap holsters — just explaining another reason why some folks who should know better, still buy them. And I’ve been just as guilty of it in the past.

    1. 5WarVeteran

      I have my “box” and my best holster was also the cheapest. A kydex. Of course I could have made it myself for less but for convenience the $30 spent at the gun show was well worth it.

    2. Shilah

      thanks for saying that. I buy reloads because I can’t afford much store-bought manufacturer ammo, & believe me I know the cost of every round I fire. My targets are home-made & 2 of my holsters are too, just due to co$t. I don’t like it but that’s how it is for now. Currently my favorite holster is an IWB sloppy floppy nylon job – its only redeeming qualities are 1)it covers the trigger (which I absolutely require), and 2) I can carry concealed with it. I do have to wear weights on the opposite side so I don’t end up at the chiropractor. And being female & very short, it’s pretty hard to find holsters that work!!! The climate here doesn’t always allow for the CC method I prefer. Am waiting right now for a coat that is being altered so I can carry in the coat safely — & it has been weeks but its a local business & in a rural area you just gotta wait. (There are upsides to living here, such as it’s a very 2A-friendly area.) It’s good to know about an ideal to aim for but a lot of us just don’t have the means. I wish our local rife range would let us try out holsters so we could better see how they might work for us.

      1. Philip C Gossett III

        I went through several holsters until I found a few that work well and are comfortable. Sticky Holsters are great, I have to. Well made and really are comfortable. Then Alien Gear, or ware. I can never remember make a great affordable holster. I prefer IWB, leather is to uncomfortable. Took me a while, but finally have a great holster for my EDC, Ruger LCR. Comfort is king, snug fit and easy pull if needed.

  7. gatman du

    I think a point can also be made to the type of firearm that may be more sensitive to holster design. All semi-automatics are not equal. One of the reasons I do not like double-action-only semi-automatics or striker-fired semi-automatics that do not have an external safety.

    1. Bud

      The S&W Shield is striker fired and can be had with or without a safety.
      I like a saftey and always have it on while holstering. THem I switch it off!
      I also like the N8-2 for comfort and style!

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