In my previous installment, I talked about my experience with carrying a concealed handgun in a purse and the challenges that presented for safety as well as accessibility of the firearm. But my experiment didn’t end there. With some help from the She Shepherd, my husband John, and Ballistic Radio host John Johnson, we conducted some further testing at the range with my assortment of carry purses.
There are those who will tell women that learning to quickly draw a handgun from their purses is not that important. Across gun counters and in internet discussions, I have heard it advocated that a woman could “just shoot through the bag.” I’ve even read articles on the proposed technique.
Actual gun purses with holsters inside of designated pockets do not provide the opportunity for people to shoot through them because of the inaccessibility of the trigger. Once the firearm is drawn from the bag far enough to gain access to the trigger, it’s practically out of the bag entirely and there’s no point to attempt a shot through it.
However, a majority of women do not actually carry in purpose-built gun bags. Either due to aesthetics, ignorance, the desire for designer bags, or convenience, many women put guns in pockets of every day purses without a holster.
It was time to see if shooting through those bags in a time of need was a viable solution.
On a search for some “best practice” advice from anyone who’d done purse carry testing before, I contacted Kathy Jackson from the Cornered Cat and asked her advice. She was the only one I knew personally who had tested the validity of purse carry. She hesitated to set up testing biases by giving me too many results, but gave me some safety considerations to consider as well as some tests she wish she had done. She was also curious to see if our results would mirror her own.
We decided to test our purses in three ways: from low retention (the shooting hand just above the hip), high retention (the shooting hand up, under the arm and indexed off the pectoral muscles) and extended in the bag. To mimic real life circumstances as closely as possible, we used hollow point ammunition for every test shot instead of target ammo.
We started with the “extended in the bag” position, which involved leaving the bag strapped to the body and pressing the muzzle of the firearm out to end of the bag and firing. The theory is that the muzzle will shoot its way through the end of the bag and allow you to extend your firearm through the hole and continue to fire without fear of malfunction. While searching online, it seemed that the extended shooting position seemed to be the most popular and advocated in articles and groups that encouraged shooting through bags.
This technique worked with the revolver, and it worked with a 10mm Glock due to the velocity of the slide, but we still experienced a malfunction with the liner of a purse hanging up on the 10mm’s slide and the purse caught on fire when we used the revolver. There’s nothing like setting yourself on fire to start a good purse holster test!
When we tried it with a 9mm Glock 19, the edge of the purse completely locked up the slide and barrel after two other malfunctions. Even with the lower rate of malfunctions with the revolver and the 10mm, the accuracy was rather abysmal, and our rate of potentially fight-stopping hits (within an 8″ chest circle or head) was around 10% on a static, non-moving target at around 3 yards.
Low retention shooting positions were better for malfunctions provided the gun was in the main compartment that allowed the slide to move freely. High retention shooting positions either had us drawing the gun completely from the bag (which is a pretty ideal scenario, if you ask me) or completely binding up the slide so much as to make it difficult to get the gun out of the bag at all to clear the inevitable malfunction, particularly when you had to turn the gun in the bag after gravity worked the slide down.
We generously accepted any hit on a man-sized target at a distance of about three yards no matter how ineffective that hit might be. Even with those loose guidelines, and despite the shooting experience between us, we had a hit rate around 69% with a malfunction rate of about 34%.
In a real life situation, we’d likely be closer to the target, which may allow a higher hit rate, but the malfunction rate combined with the inability to make accurate hits cannot be ignored. It’s also far more likely that you would end up putting a bullet into your own body, which would be bad.
As impressive as our 69% hit rate may seem (it’s actually quite terrible), it is important to point out that we were able to see our hits and adjust accordingly. The luxury of seeing dark holes on a static, light-colored target, or the dust kick up behind the target on the berm, will probably not be afforded to those firing in self-defense.
With just over a 50/50 chance of hitting the target (much less making fight-stopping hits), and another near 50/50 chance of your firearm malfunctioning after that first shot, I have quickly lost faith that shooting through a bag has any viable application.
What’s In The Bag?
And, let’s face it, women don’t walk around with just a gun in their purse. I wanted to know what would happen if you put a bullet through a purse with items in it. My original idea was to put a gun in a bag filled with average junk and pull the trigger myself. But then, I started talking to people who understood a little more about ballistics and the potential damage that could come to me if a bullets impacted something at that close of a range in such a closed space. While the risk of injury to my hand may be worth it in a fight for my life, I wasn’t willing to risk it for the purpose of writing about it, no matter how interesting the story might have been.
Instead, we filled a purse with average items like a comb, sanitary napkins, a notebook, some hand lotion, loose paper, and some coins. We set that three yards away from the target and then moved back another three yards before taking shots through the purse.
With a 9mm Glock 26 loaded with Winchester PDX1, we attempted to shoot through the bag three times. All three times, the coins in the outside of the bag either stopped the bullet completely or deflected it so much not one shot was on target. We found one bullet in the purse with the coins, the second bullet left a scar in the table where it deviated toward the ground, and we found the third bullet lodged into the table as it attempted to follow the second bullet’s path. Shrapnel from the purse on the second round flew a few yards back towards us which made me rather thankful to those who convinced me not to stick my hand in that bag and start shooting.
We did one more shot with the 9mm without the coins in the bag and were finally able to get a single shot on target. We switched to .380 and did the test three more times without the coins. All three shots made impacts on the targets though two of them were sideways. The contents of the bag told us the bullets had passed through the notebook and some plastic, and it hit the strap of the bag causing it to tumble.
John Johnston, being the ballistics guy, explained that tumbling bullets, if they impact sideways, don’t expand and do not penetrate as deeply as they would have otherwise.
Had a hand been in the bag, the potential for injuries to the shooter or damage from secondary projectiles was far too great to justify carrying or attempting to shoot a gun through a purse, particularly considering that you are not likely to get good hits on target.
If anyone would like to argue that the gun would be carried in its own pocket and therefore won’t interfere with the other objects in the bag, our testing also proved that to be false. When carried without a holster, the heaviest part of the firearm, the slide, often rotates the firearm slide down in the bag. Upon reaching in and grabbing the gun to pull it into a shooting position, the sights or other rough edges of the gun commonly caught in the lining and other areas of the purse, skewing the contents. It’s likely that some of the contents of the bag would get in front of the muzzle, even if they were in other pockets, causing a hazard to the shooter and the potential for deflecting the bullet.
What impressed me the most about testing the validity of shooting through the bag was that, in the time it took us to get into a good shooting position with our hand in the bag, we could have taken the gun out of the bag and completely eliminated all of the malfunction, accuracy, injury, and deflection issues.
Simply put, advocating shooting through a bag is dumb, and I have yet to find a situation where a better technique would not be a more robust solution.
Inaccessibility, awareness, and control issues aside, carrying in a purse presents its own safety issues, particularly when it comes to putting the loaded gun in the bag. During our testing, it was a challenge to find consistent ways to get the gun back into all the different types of purse holsters between shots without muzzling ourselves. After a while, we adopted the safer practice of grounding all guns and bags upon the reholster. This may not be an issue for a purse that we were able to practice with for an extended period of time, but with the variety of purse types, closure mechanisms, straps, and internal holsters, there were clear safety issues.
The very design of commonly recommended purses are also a potential safety hazard in their ability to be used against the wearer. Carry purses are commonly recommended to have reinforced straps. These straps are intended to make the purse more difficult to steal but when carried cross body (as purse holsters are often recommended they be carried) allow for the wearer to be controlled, dragged or otherwise severely injured if the fight escalates. A reinforced strap makes a pretty fabulous garrote.
A Better Off Body Option
Lastly, we tested a Vertx concealed carry bag that The She Shepherd had brought with her. This bag was a sporty looking backpack with a cross-body strap and a tab that allowed quick repositioning of the bag from the back to the chest. This put the firearm at chest level in a main compartment that held the firearm in a kydex holster. The shooter could easily draw the firearm and put shots on target. The three of us who used this bag averaged draws at around 3 seconds and were able to draw and reholster safely without any of the issues of the purses except for the constant need to be kept under control.
The problem with these bags, of course, is that they don’t look like a purse that a woman would take to an evening event. They are better designed gun bags but not at all aesthetically complementary unless black nylon and MOLLE is your thing.
On Body Options
Still, there are people who are either new to carry or frustrated with not having found a good holster system and think off-body or purse carry is their only or best option. I felt that way the day I put my gun in my purse to go into that meeting. I was unaware that such a variety of holsters for almost every conceivable situation exist. Big or small, active or sedentary, there’s a holster option for you for regular carry which should aide limiting that off-body carry time to a minimum.
I went into this purse carry experiment rather neutrally, understanding that purse carry may not be the best option but not having a realistic idea of just how impractical, inaccessible, and slow it really is. I also understand that some women (or men) may have off-body carry as their only option. But this leads me to wonder if the problem of self-defense options aren’t being unjustly funneled into “gun” problems by way of focusing too heavily on techniques to somehow make the gun in the purse work rather than thinking outside of the purse for alternative defensive options with other tools when a gun carried on the body is not possible.
If I have convinced or inspired anyone to switch from off-body carry to on-body carry as a primary carry method, I will have done my good deed for the day. But, I understand that many people (male and female) will continue to carry off-body. At the very least, I hope they can now go about it as informed individuals who may better understand the risks of what they are doing and can concentrate on better self-defense options when their gun is inaccessible.
I think it’s imperative that if off-body carry is what you are intending to do, you should still consider getting a bag that is designed to hold a gun despite most purse holsters being poorly designed for the task.
If a gun purse is not something you can get, consider purchasing a molded purse holster insert like this design from Spencer Keepers. It will keep your firearm oriented correctly in your bag, protect the trigger guard, and allow you to use the designer bags you love.
If I had my way, anyone going forward who advocates shooting through a bag should be kicked in the shin, but maybe that’s being a little extreme. Instead, perhaps they should guide women to better defensive solutions that are outside of the gun, more robust, and won’t put her at risk for further unnecessary injury.
I will probably be forced to carry a gun in a bag at some point in the future. But I will do so with an intimate knowledge of the limitations of the practice. Carrying a gun in a purse is hard work on every level. It requires constant attention and control while being slower and sometimes completely inaccessible. Some common advice given regarding purse carry techniques can be potentially dangerous, and you gain little to no advantage in doing it. The opportunities to train and practice with it are also almost nonexistent.
If there is a single positive, it’s the ability to wear the clothes you want, which doesn’t seem like a significant enough trade off to be worth it as a regular mode of carry, at least in my opinion.