The other morning, I read an article about a toddler finding a gun in his mother’s purse and discharging it, injuring his sister. I’ve used similar examples in my course to warn against the dangers of off-body carry, and seeing the same fact pattern yet again made me decide to give the topic a bit more of an in-depth discussion in this post.
This is a very frequent source of gun accidents, and it often ends much worse, with the child or the parent dead. Please take the time to review these examples:
Toddler finds gun in mother’s purse, shoots himself
Indiana Toddler Finds Gun in Mother’s Purse, Dies in Apparent Accidental Shooting
Parents charged with child abuse after toddler finds handgun in mom’s purse and shoots them both
Tennessee boy finds loaded gun in mom’s purse and accidentally kills brother while waiting in parked car
Off-body carry is very controversial in the Concealed Carry community for this exact reason. Defenders of off-body carry will say that this is more of a negligence issue than a problem with off-body carry per se, and that if the parent was doing it properly this kind of thing wouldn’t happen. However, “doing it right” means you have to be extremely vigilant, and not let your bag out of your sight or out of arms reach for even a second. This is at odds with the main reason that people choose to carry off-body, however, which is often for the comfort and convenience. It is easy to put a gun in a bag. You don’t have to clip a holster on and off. It isn’t uncomfortable. You don’t have to dress around it or have a variety of holsters for different situations. However, the hassle associated with comfortably concealing a gun in an on-body holster, while real, is less of a hassle than the constant attention and control of a bag containing a gun. The hassle of a holster is over after a few minutes while dressing. You have to worry about the bag all day long. So practically speaking, very few people who consider off-body carry are really going to “do it right.”
Let’s assume, however, that it is “done right.” In several of the above linked articles, there is a recurring theme: people who know the parent say they were responsible people who wouldn’t let something like this happen. Yet something like this happened anyway. This doesn’t mean that it is impossible to do off-body carry safely, but the fact is there are more ways that it can go wrong than with other carry methods. It is possible even for the most diligent person to have a momentary lapse in attention. Those people may have been very responsible gun owners, but if a carry method is vulnerable to tragedy with a single moment of inattention, it should be discouraged in favor of other methods. Simply put, the extra risks involved with off-body carry almost always outweigh the benefits.
There are other problems that can arise aside from those posed by curious toddlers, so even people who are never in the presence of children should think hard about off-body carry. Think about common street crime. In a mugging, for example, an attacker is very likely to commence an attack by grabbing a purse or bag. At best, your attacker only wants the bag, and you lose your gun along with the rest of your valuables. At worst, your attacker means to do you harm, and he may have just taken your best means of self-defense. Even if he doesn’t manage to get the bag away from you, the struggle can make your draw difficult or impossible.
There is also the ever present risk of your bag getting separated from you. If you put it down, someone could swipe it. You could walk away from it and forget it. Even if you don’t forget it, if you are at all separated from it when attacked, you would have to get to your bag before you could get your gun. If your bag is always by your side, never out of arm’s reach, or even better, always on your shoulder… why not just use a holster?
For the sake of fairness, though, there are some things that are good about off-body carry. One of the best things about it is that it is much easier to carry a much larger gun. As long as the bag is big enough, you can carry the largest of full-size, high-capacity handguns, with very little extra effort. It also doesn’t matter what you’re wearing, either. You can carry the same gun, even a big gun, regardless of your clothing. With regular holster carry, it is very difficult to carry a large gun in tight clothing, and this is one reason there are so many small guns available. Most people can’t always dress around a big gun, don’t want to deal with the weight, or don’t want to have to sacrifice style for protection.
There are other situational benefits of off-body carry as well. If you’re walking to your car in a dark parking lot at night (a classic, cliché mugging setup), you can have your hand in your bag, with your gun in full ready grip, and it just looks like you’re getting your keys. Starting with your hand on the gun is the fastest you can possibly draw. You can do a similar thing with pocket carry, but again, pocket carry requires a pocket sized gun, which are generally the weakest, hardest to shoot, and lowest capacity guns. Another scenario that can arise is when going to places where you can technically carry, but where you are likely to be found out, like your doctor’s office. Almost all medical facilities I’ve gone to prohibit firearms, but not all do. If you go in to see your doctor, and your doctor needs to to disrobe, or needs to take an Xray, or any other thing that would get your gun seen, you either need to have a very understanding doctor or just leave your gun at home or in the car during your appointment, unless you off-body carry. You can leave your gun in your bag, and even if you’re in the Xray machine, generally no one is going to be able to swipe your bag in the otherwise private room.
Even with these situational benefits, in my experience, the average off-body carrier is not “doing it right.” Most people aren’t using their purse or briefcase or other bag to carry a large gun. They’re just putting their compact gun in the bag. Furthermore, I doubt that the average off-body carrier is keeping a truly constant vigil over their bag. I personally find the necessary level of concern over a bag to be unsustainable in the long term. And even though there are some situations where off-body carry makes sense, too many people just let it become their default method, regardless of the situation. But as a default method, off-body carry is at its most dangerous. When you just become complacent about it, that’s when a kid gets in your bag, or you lose track of it, or you simply aren’t able to access your gun under the pile of receipts when you really need it.
So if you’re considering off-body carry, really ask yourself why. If you’re doing it because it seems easy, you should probably reconsider. Doing off-body carry “right” is actually more work than carrying on-body in a holster. The situational benefits rarely outweigh the constant problems. I am a firm believer that off-body carry, if ever used, should only be a situational method, not a default method, for the vast majority of people. It should only be your default method if holster carry simply will not work for you at all, and that’s generally not really true. If carrying in a holster is not working for you, you should consider trying a different holster, or a different gun, before just dropping your piece in a purse. There are countless different holster, carry method, and gun combinations out there. There is a good setup for everyone, it can just be expensive and time-consuming to find. Even so, a drawer full of unused holsters is better than a stolen gun or a dead toddler.
If you’ve given it the thought, are aware of the risks, and are still intent on off-body carry (maybe you’re a yoga instructor or something and there is just no way you could carry on your person during your normal day), please ensure you’re doing everything possible to make sure you’re being safe. Don’t carry around children if at all possible. Lock your bag up if you’re going to be around kids. Keep it near you at all times. Take it with you wherever you go, to every bathroom break or every trip to the water cooler, even if you don’t need it. At restaurants, try to sit in a booth so you can keep it next to you and in your sight. Avoid hanging it on the back of your chair. When carrying your bag, carry it with the strap cross-body whenever possible, as this makes the bag harder to snatch away from you, and keeps the bag better oriented for a fast draw. Keep your bag where you can see it at all times, or at the very least where no one else can see it, to prevent theft. Your gun also needs to be in its own compartment in the bag. You can’t just have it in the bottom of you bag mixed up among all your other things. It needs to be in the same place, and facing the same way, every time. You won’t have the luxury of digging around for it in a violent encounter. It also needs to be holstered within the bag to provide trigger guard protection. A bag with a built in holster, or that at least holds one of your holsters in the proper orientation, is best. The bag also needs to be easy to open quickly when you need to draw. You don’t want to have to fumble with a zipper. This isn’t even an exhaustive list of concerns.
If all that seems like a lot to keep track of, maybe just put your gun in a holster and stick it in your pants.
Piece be with you,