In the final installment of our mini-series on appendix carry (AIWB), we’re taking a look at some of the common safety concerns with this method of concealed carry. Details in the video, or you can scroll down and read the full transcript (but the demonstrations really won’t make much sense unless you watch the video).

 

CHRIS: Hey guys, Chris here from LuckyGunner.com. This is the third and final part of our series on appendix inside the waistband carry, also known as AIWB or 1 o’clock carry. Today we’re talking about safety – is appendix carry safe?

You can’t even really mention appendix carry on the internet without someone making a joke about shooting your junk off, or that you’ll hit yourself in the femoral artery, or something about it violating rule 2.

I’ve carried a gun in an appendix holster almost every day for the last eight or nine years. So these issues are not new to me. In that time I’ve noticed that it can be really difficult to have a productive conversation about gun safety and appendix carry, and I think that’s because we tend to talk about gun safety as if it were a binary condition. My idea of safe is based on whatever set of safety rules I subscribe to and my interpretation of those rules. If you follow those rules, you are declared safe and if you break them, you’re unsafe. That doesn’t leave a lot of room for healthy debate.

But in reality, as long as we’re handling and carrying guns, we can never be 100% safe. A firearm, by its very nature, is a dangerous tool, and people, by nature, are imperfect and capable of mishandling those tools, even when our intentions are good. What we’re actually dealing with is degrees of more safe and less safe. And that changes from moment to moment based on what we’re doing with the gun and the environment around us and even our own state of mind. I don’t know of any gun safety rule that says I shouldn’t go to the range when I’m tired, hungry, and in a bad mood. But if I do that, I’m a lot more prone to making a mistake that could be fatal. It would be less safe than if I were to go to the range when I’m awake, alert, and focused. Strict adherence to the rules of gun safety is not where responsible gun handling begins and ends.

I don’t have anything against following the four rules, or the NRA’s three rule version, or whatever alternative you prefer. I think having some kind of codified set of safety guidelines is really important, but we have to be careful not to rely on them so much that we forget to employ some critical thinking. We can’t allow our “rules” to get in the way of our willingness to actually think when we’re handling guns.

So with that in mind, I believe asking whether appendix carry is safe is the wrong question. There are risks associated with appendix carry, just like there are risks involved anytime we pick up a gun, period. The question is whether appendix carry presents more risk than the alternatives and what can we do to mitigate or eliminate that risk?

Okay, so let’s look the two main common safety concerns associated with appendix carry: holstering the gun and the direction the gun is pointed while it’s in the holster. I know there are other safety questions, but those are the ones people seem to have the most problems with.

A large percentage of unintentional self-inflicted gunshot wounds seem to happen when someone is inserting a gun into the holster. This can happen with any form of belt carry, but there is a perception that the risk is greater with appendix carry because the muzzle comes close to your femoral artery and some of your most valued body parts.

In order to shoot yourself while you’re reholstering, two errors have to take place: the muzzle has to cover your body and your finger or another object has to come into contact with the trigger. We’ve got safety rules number 2 and 3 to remind us not to do that, but we’re all human and make mistakes, so I want multiple failsafes in place. That’s going to be a combination of a specific holstering technique and hardware that facilitates safer gun handling.

I’m going to let Spencer Keepers from Keepers Concealment explain some of the details. In my recent interview with him at the Rangemaster Tactical Conference, he demonstrated his holstering technique using a SIRT training laser to show that the muzzle never covers his body during the holstering process. He’s going to be using his trigger finger to activate the laser, but just be aware that’s not part of the actual technique.

SPENCER: We’re gonna draw the gun, press the gun out, shoot and do whatever. From there, I like to bring the gun back to a hard break. I want to look — visually come down and check that my finger is in register as high up and as far away from the trigger as I can get it. From here, it’s very important that we turn the gun about 90 degrees, clear our cover garment, and what we want to do is take the muzzle of the gun straight to the holster.

To make it safer, I’m simply going to drop my strong side foot back a little bit and bow forward. If I have a DA/SA gun like a Beretta (that I am so very fond of) I will put my thumb on the hammer, or if you have a Striker Control Device (look that up, it’s a really important piece of gear.) From there, take the muzzle straight to the holster just like that. Then I am gently, carefully, precisely going to reholster the gun. I don’t want any type of quick reholster.

CHRIS: Using that holstering procedure we’ve got multiple ways of reducing risk that overlap and compliment one another. Even if we happen to skip a step, as long as we do the next step, or the one after that, we’ve got a chance to put on the brakes before there’s a sudden loud bang.

One extra step that I don’t think Spencer mentioned explicitly is that before the gun moves toward the holster, you should visually check it to make sure there’s not a piece of shirt or a drawstring or something in the way. Appendix carry is really convenient for this because it’s easier to see the holster when it’s right here in front of me compared to when I’ve got it back behind my hip.

On the hardware side, you have the option of using a double action hammer-fired gun, or a Glock with a Striker Control Device or a pistol with a manual safety. When used properly, those things offer you one more chance to avoid a disaster, even if you’re having a really bad day and totally screw up the rest of the holstering process.

Another hardware component is the holster itself. Ideally, it needs to be a holster that stays open even when the gun is not in it. When you remove the gun from a floppy nylon holster like this or a hybrid holster with a soft backer, the mouth collapses. To get the gun back in, people tend to muzzle their support hand while they open the holster manually, or they point the gun in toward themselves at an angle and use the muzzle to force the mouth open. Obviously, that could have very bad results. And actually, I see people do this a lot more often when they’re carrying strong side than with appendix carry.

I’ve shared this photo before and it continues to be something I see people do frequently at the range. If the gun were to discharge while it’s pointed at this angle, I’m going to end up with more than just a hole in my butt cheek. That’s going to do a lot of internal damage and could very easily be fatal.

If you must use a holster like this, it’s probably better to remove it from your belt first, and then insert the gun. But doing that presents some new safety risks, and it’s not really practical if you want to do any serious practice with your drawstroke. If you just use a holster that stays open, you can avoid that all together.

Even with a good holster, there is some risk with reholstering on the strong side just like there is with appendix carry. Spencer has some good tips on how to avoid that.

SPENCER: Now, here’s how a lot of guys will reholster strong side. They’re going to bring the gun back, make a thumb-pectoral index right here, turn the muzzle down, and then poke the gun into the holster. And if you can see that laser, well, I just covered the living crap out of my leg. If the round went through my leg and hit my femur, there’s a very good chance it would cut the femoral artery in two. So don’t think that holstering strong side is any “safer” than holstering appendix if done improperly.

To holster properly strong side, we’re going to bring the gun back, we’re going to look and confirm that our finger is in register. I am simply going to now bring my feet together and I’m going to bow my hips out a little bit. You know how we pushed our hips forward for appendix — strong side, we’re going to push our hips out. Then we’re going to bring the gun down. We’re going to angle the muzzle out just a little bit. We’re going to come down, touch the holster, and then go gently in.

CHRIS: The other major objection to appendix carry is that there’s no way to prevent the gun from pointing at your body while it’s in the holster. This is an apparent violation of Cooper’s second rule of gun safety: never let the muzzle cover anything you are not willing to destroy. Or the NRA version: always keep the gun pointed in a safe direction.

I think an implied part of both of those rules is that they’re referring to guns that a person is actively handling. If we apply the rules to all guns all the time, we’d never be able to store or transport a gun without it “pointing” at somebody. If I take this pistol and put it in a safe and close it up and stand here next to it, yes, there is technically a gun pointing at me. But I’m not violating the spirit of rule 2. And it’s because we know that the gun cannot fire unless someone presses the trigger and the trigger can’t be pressed while it’s in this box. The same thing is true for a gun that’s in a holster.

SPENCER: Once the gun goes in the holster — any proper holster that covers the trigger guard. If nothing can get to the trigger and you have a properly functioning gun (read that as no one has done a really fancy or horribly bad done trigger job) — you’ve got a properly functioning gun, the gun is inert in the holster. People say, “where is that gun pointed when you’re carrying appendix?” If it’s in the holster, it doesn’t matter. The other side of that is, think about where the gun might be pointing even if it’s in an outside the waistband holster.

If it was in an outside the waistband holster loke this, you’re still just standing there covering your leg, and your femoral artery.

I also believe that if you were to accidentally or negligently shoot yourself, it doesn’t matter where that is. There might be more “lucky” places to be shot than others, but we don’t know what bullets will do. Just a month ago, an individual negligently discharged into his posterior with a 230-grain hardball .45. The surgeons found the bullet in his left lung above his heart. I don’t know how it got there, but that’s where they found it. So we don’t know what bullets will do. Getting shot anywhere matters.

Now, I have to admit that even I had some doubts about where the muzzle would be pointed with an outside the waistband holster and since Spencer didn’t use an actual holster for his demo, I decided to try it out myself using a laser training cartridge. Wearing a holster with a forward cant behind the hip instead of right at 3 o’clock the muzzle points at the floor about two feet behind me.

But every time I take a step, the muzzle covers my lower leg. If I bend or reach or sit down, it points into my body. Even if I stayed perfectly upright all day, the muzzle is going to cover something I don’t want to destroy whether it’s my dog or a kid, or the person standing behind me in line at the grocery store. There’s no way to carry a gun on your belt without that kind of thing happening. But if it’s in the holster, it doesn’t matter. If I thought there was even a chance for the gun to discharge on its own while it was holstered, I wouldn’t carry one at all: not appendix, or strong side, or anywhere else. With a well maintained, modern firearm in a good holster, that just isn’t a possibility I worry about.

I think that covers most of the safety issues people have with appendix carry, but even if you still have some concerns, I hope this has given you something to think about. We don’t have to all agree on every detail of the best practices for gun safety and I think we would be a lot better off if we weren’t so quick to point fingers at each other for being negligent or reckless just because we have minor disagreements about safety issues. I know the stakes are high, but we could all benefit from having a little more humility when it comes to this stuff.


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  • sully v

    Good stuff Chris on holstering a weapon, best I’ve seen in a while — by the way what type of hip holster are you using for your Walther PPS. I want to thank you in advance.

    • I actually don’t remember where it came from. It was sent to us a while back to evaluate along with an AIWB holster that I really didn’t care for and both sat in a drawer until I shot the video.

  • retfed

    Reholstering on the range and reholstering after a real-life defensive shooting are two entirely different things. On the range you have time to do the rockback and get the lower extremities out of the way, or to remove the holster, insert the gun, and reinsert the holstered gun in the waistband (the other AIWB reholstering method I’ve seen advocated). But after you’ve used a gun in self-defense, your hands are shaking, a crowd may be gathering, and the approaching sirens are very loud indeed, so you might not want (or be able) to use the time to to through all the reholstering gymnastics.
    It’s America, you can go to your church and I’ll go to mine. But I find it beyond amusing that people who constantly preach about doing everything possible to keep Mr. Murphy at bay blithely assume that nothing bad can ever happen when they manipulate a firearm next to their arteries.

    • Hammer

      Honestly, I don’t see anyone associated with this site “blithely assuming nothing bad can ever happen.” At least not any more, or less, so than with any other type of body carry.

      In fact, I would put forth that there are a number of other body carry strategies where people “blithely” assume that they are using a “safe” means of carry, and thus don’t always ponder the possibilities as much as they should. Just look at the segment in the video (11:28) where Chris is demonstrating reaching to the right while carrying in the 3 o’clock position for just one example that many who carry that way remain completely ignorant of.

      On top of that, anyone who “blithely” assumes that they can predict the path of a bullet after a misfire along the leg (whether AIWB, 3 o’clock, whatever), and thus confidently determine that they aren’t going to hit an artery, is fooling themselves.

      • retfed

        Maybe the word “blithely” was a reach too far. I blame global warming. But still, the idea that “I’ll always do it right, so it doesn’t matter” is what bothers me.
        And the “reaching to the right” at 11:28 in the video is really, to my mind, irrelevant. A holstered pistol (in a decent holster) is the safest loaded pistol you can get, and my beef with AIWB is not that the weapon is pointed unsafely WHILE IT’S HOLSTERED (there’s no way to avoid that in the real world), but that Mr. Murphy is liable to raise his ugly noggin while you’re reholstering after a defensive gun use, with the shaky hands, etc., that I mentioned.
        And I didn’t even get into the difference between a controlled draw on the range and a draw during a hand-to-hand struggle on the ground during a fight for your life.
        On top of all that, I like to wear my shirt tucked in, like my mother taught me to.
        But as I said, you go to your church and I’ll go to mine. I’m not saying you shouldn’t do it, I’m just saying you have to think everything through. If it works for you, fine, have at it. I’ve tried it, and I don’t like it.

        • Hammer

          Thanks for giving a little more perspective, and sorry if my response was a little snarky. I understand what you are getting at, and if I’m being honest, I feel a lot more comfortable carrying AIWB when it’s with a revolver that has a stronger trigger pull and far less chance of accidentally going off. When I’ve carried this way with a striker semi-auto that has a light trigger, holstering often feels sketchier, or at least something that I am extremely careful when doing. But then again, if I’m being honest, that pretty much applies no matter where the holster is on my body. Part of the reason I’ve moved away from strikers/light triggers.

          • retfed

            I agree. If I were going to do it, I’d only do it with a revolver or a real (hammer-fired) DA auto. In fact, the first time I ever tried AIWB was with a Model 60 in 1979. I know holsters have improved since then, but as I said, my problem is not with discomfort, but with drawing and unholstering for real. I’ve tried it several times over the years, and I still can’t make myself like it.
            But my carry preferences are not yours. The important thing is that you think through what you’re doing, train with it, and master it.
            Stay safe.

    • david ratchford

      If leaning back is your definition of gymnastics, you might need to exercise a bit more. None of the other steps can/should be excluded from reholstering in any other carry position.

      • retfed

        What I meant was, if you’ve just shot someone, there is a crowd of screaming people around, and the sirens are getting closer by the second, your only thought will be getting that gun holstered and out of sight NOW, so the cops don’t shoot you. Will you remember to lean backwards, or to remove the holster, insert the gun, and reinsert the whole assembly back in your waistband? I wouldn’t bet on it.
        And how easy is it to lean back to properly reholster if you’re lying on the ground on your back, injured? There are a lot of variables that need to be considered here. The real thing isn’t like the range.
        Again, it’s America. You can go to your church and I’ll go to mine. Appendix carry is not for me, and I have valid objections to it, which I was (partially) laying out to give the readers of this blog something to think about. If you like AIWB, great. More power to you. It’s just not for me.

  • Tracksuit Al

    I think the important takeaway from this article is that holstering can be the most dangerous part of carrying. I’m always careful regardless of where I carry (usually strong side 3 o’clock) that my clothing isn’t coming into contact with the trigger.

    Be safe and smart!

  • Jim Brown

    Very good article Chris. There are a lot of good and valid comments here. For me, maybe because of seven years as a peace officer, I am very conscious of muzzle direction and trigger safety. Whenever I’m at the range, I always spend 10 or 15 minutes practicing drawing and holstering my weapon. This procedure should be practiced to the point of muscle memory and habit. Although it is nearly impossible to completely conceal my Glock 22 with the compensater on it in an OWB holster, The idea of appendix carry scares me. Safeties are mechanical devices. Any mechanical devise can fail. I spent most of my life with wheel guns and I’m relatively new to semi autos. The idea that there is a round in the chamber and the striker is locked and ready just makes me nervous. For safety sake I assume the weapon may discharge at any moment. Maybe with time and practice I might become more confident about this. But, for now, I will continue to carry OWB.

    • JohnnyCuredents

      I couldn’t agree more, especially concerning what you say about striker-fired guns, a type I’ve never really liked. Now all my guns are DAO and hammer-fired, two revolvers (both with shrouded hammers and, of course, a hammer block), and a SIG P-250, its hammer flush with the rear of the slide, no spur. All three have a long trigger travel and are reasonably heavy enough to ensure that the only way they will fire is if someone very deliberately pulls the trigger; it’s hard to imagine how anything could make that happen accidentally. Even with all that, though, I am very careful about reholstering. Oh, and I do carry the two revolvers at the 1 o’clock position. It just makes them so much more concealable.

  • Eric Undesser

    All good points. Putting the gun away doesn’t need to be fast. Or slick. Or whatever. The work is done. Take your time. Do it right.
    But. Hope I’m never there to do the experiment. When you are in conflict, whether you discharged the firearm or not, adrenaline surges, vision tunnels, hands shake, and you’ve lost fine motor control. Putting it away is going to be difficult, if not challenging.
    I thought appendix carry would be less safe. Now I know that side carry is probably just as risky. Wherever you carry, practise the entire drill. Don’t slough off the finish. Your body (from a butt cheek to an artery or even a lung) is at stake. Keep it simple. Make muscle memory your friend. And practice practice, practice.

  • George K. Reed

    It strikes me that with appendix carry your gun hand can get pinned against you body while drawing. Kind of like it can with a shoulder holster. I don’t want to be wrestling for my striker fired gun in that position. Is this not a problem?

    • I could be wrong, but I am not aware of that being a significant issue in realistic force on force exercises (at least, not any more than other forms of belt carry). In many cases, the AIWB position is actually easier to protect from an attempted gun grab than a pistol behind the hip. Regardless, if you don’t have the robust hand to hand skills necessary for solving those kinds of problems, luck and determination is going to have a lot more to do with your success than where the gun is positioned.

  • Scott Larkins

    Thank you Chris for one of your best discussions, IMHO. There can never be enough discussions about gun safety. Being a safety engineer, one can never stop reminding people about being safe at all times. You are right, guns are very dangerous…… when handled incorrectly. I too carry at appendix and I am happy to say that I do all of the safety points you said; and I always put my PX4 away with the safety on first.

  • MJE

    I finally tried AIWB and now I’m sold on it. For six weeks I’ve been carrying mostly my Px4CC and it’s more comfortable, concealable and accessible then the 3:30 IWB position I carried for years. I’ve been using a Desantis Nemisis. I know it’s certainly not the top choice but it has been comfortable, adjustable and it stays in place snugged down with an instructor belt, (of course reholstering is impossible unless it is removed from the belt line). I didn’t want to shell out the big bucks for a JMCK 2.5 Wingclaw to wind up throwing it in the box with with the collection of holster purchase regrets at that price. I’m ready to invest in one now after the test ride. I found out for me that longer seems better. I tried my Px4 SC and it didn’t seem to stay in place as well and felt too heavy at the belt line maybe due to the shorter slide. I also found out that I can’t do it comfortably with a striker fired pistol. I tried AIWB with my Walther PPS M2 and damn near had a panic attack a couple of times just thinking about it’s trajectory of how I was sitting was straight thru my artery. The DA/SA action is comforting. Thanks for the in depth articles as I would probably would not have tried it had I not read them. It really is a whole new CCW world for me now. These are just my thoughts and experience and to each their own.

  • John Deevey

    Maybe you should make a point of going to the range when you’re tired, hungry or in a bad mood. It could prepare you to face the situation on the street when you find yourself in that (those) condition(s).