Handgun Retention: You or The Holster?

Just before the end of my law enforcement career, my agency responded to a concern voiced by some of our officers. The holsters we carried had a single retention thumb break. For ease of use, they were my favorite of the duty holsters we carried throughout my career. Easy to draw, and sometimes more importantly, easy to return to the holster. I never gave much thought to them only being “Level I” holsters. For me personally, I always thought of handgun retention as more of a personal responsibility rather than the job of the equipment. After all, all of the gun retention training I’ve had never took into account the holster you were wearing. It was all about what you, as the armed, do to stay armed.

Now, hold on. I know what you’re thinking: Just because you train to take cover doesn’t mean you don’t need body armor. You got me, that’s a good point. But just because you have good body armor doesn’t mean you don’t take cover. See where I’m going here?

Let’s examine both sides of this issue and see how much holster and training go together like a good PB&J.

Handgun Retention

An article in GUNS magazine about the four stages of handgun retention defined handgun retention as:

“The science of handgun retention provides training to deal with the various conditions in which either a combatant or a non-combatant attempts to get their hands on your sidearm – a “gun grab” in street parlance. This can occur before, during, or after it’s out of your holster.”

It’s that last part, “After it’s out of your holster,” that intrigued me. I know this refers to if you have the gun drawn. But to me, it also can be after the holster retention fails. A good friend of mine, who happens to be a defensive tactics instructor and has an entire course on handgun retention, says, “The first and last line of defense in gun retention is you.” I always liked that. No matter the equipment you have, you, as the armed, are responsible for retention.

Gun Grab
Handgun retention or the response to a “gun grab” is the responsibility of us as much as our equipment. (Photo: GUNS Magazine)

The Situation

Back to the circumstance that brought this conversation to my mind. Our officers responded to a fairly simple routine situation, but it didn’t stay that way. In the end, officers were being assaulted and fighting to take suspects into custody. They became acutely aware of how exposed their firearms were while fighting in a crowd. Now, to be clear, nothing dramatic happened, and no one was hurt. But it got people thinking. Maybe those Level I holsters were not sufficient in terms of retention. As the admin responded to the concerns, opinions, and, at times, hard stances began to develop.

As some of us will admit, officers (especially “seasoned” ones) are not well-known for their acceptance of change. I, for one, was one of those at the onset. I liked my holster and the functionality I was familiar with. On a personal level, I didn’t see the need. Those calling for a change were passionate about their position and seemingly had real safety concerns. Some pushed back, thinking that was a dramatic response to a single incident. With petty squabbling aside, others began to think about the importance of further handgun retention training.

The Solution

So, the department decided, split opinions or not, that an increase in the equipment’s retention level was the way to go. New holsters that would provide the requisite upgrade in self-retention was a cost-prohibitive plan that just was not financially feasible. A plan was devised to obtain conversion kits that would upgrade our current holster to a higher “level” of retention. A sample was set up and placed in our briefing room with a training gun to give officers time to test it out. After several weeks, the implementation plan took place. We installed the conversion kits as officers were completing their work week. They were required to draw X number of times in the presence of a trainer. And were then encouraged to continue training on their days off before carrying on duty the first time.

I still didn’t like it, but I understood the department’s position and frankly felt they did a wonderful job of responding quickly to concerns voiced by their officers. I did feel the need, however, to voice a concern I had during a supervisor meeting. That concern was about complacency. I urged my fellow supervisors to impress on their people the importance of vigilance, regardless of the equipment we have.

The Fight Against Being Complacent

Enough of my personal story.

The point of all that was just to explain how all this came to mind. I was reading another article on our site recently (Shout-out to Tom Stilson and his Paddle Holster discussion), and it brought this all back to me. Advances in technology, improved levels of protection, ease of access, ease of use, more rounds, higher firepower, or even greater manpower numbers amount to nothing without proper training and vigilance.  That same training and vigilance can also be beneficial in overcoming shortcomings in equipment and manpower.

The better the equipment gets, the easier it is to take it for granted. “Bad guys” train to defeat our equipment, maybe at times, more than we train to use it. Being aware of our surroundings and having the willingness and skill to respond to someone’s ability to defeat our equipment is paramount, to say the least.

Holster Retention Levels
Holsters come in varied retentions. (Photo: GunMag Warehouse)

Don’t Neglect Your Equipment

Now I know, so far, I have seemed like an anti-equipment guy who just wants everyone to “use the force” or something. That could not be farther from the truth. As I get to this point, I keep hearing the voice of Han Solo in my head saying, “Hokey religions and ancient weapons are no match for a good blaster at your side, kid”. It’s just so true. There is an arms race on the streets. Officers, as well as law-abiding gun owners, have a need to keep up technologically with the advances happening around us. Having safer, more durable, and up-to-date gear can be a real game changer.  Here at GunMag Warehouse, we pride ourselves on trying to keep up with the latest trends and technology and bringing that information to you, the consumer.

The importance of having good-quality equipment can never be overstated. For this guy, though, cool stuff without training and know-how is a recipe for disaster.

Final Thoughts

I know I went a little hard against equipment there for a while, but that was just to drive home the importance of training and awareness. Yes, I sometimes struggle to accept change, and I like things “the way they are” more than I should admit. The truth of the matter is that I worry about especially young officers and new gun owners. Don’t ever believe the equipment will overcome your ability. We all have a responsibility to gun safety to not only have adequate equipment, but to make sure we are prepared to use it effectively. I would love to hear from you in the comments. What are your thoughts on the subject: training or equipment?

Carl Staas is a former Police Sergeant from West Central Missouri. He spent 17 years in law enforcement, performing routine patrol, investigations, evidence management, and finished his career as a patrol Sergeant and field training officer. He's an FBI LEEDA Trilogy recipient and tactical driving instructor. He doesn't know everything about guns, but he's always trying to learn more!

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