Friday, October 21, 2016

Further Discussion of Appendix Carry v. Strong Side.

Source: "Debunking the Myths of Appendix Carry"--Guns & Ammo

Last week I had linked to an article from The Truth About Guns entitled "Why I’m No Fan of Appendix Carry." As I noted at the time, the primary point raised by the TTAG author (John Boch) was that appendix carry was less comfortable, and was more dangerous. In the latter regard, he noted:
... if you mess up while holstering with appendix carry, you will be in serious trouble. At best, you’ll probably blow apart your reproductive parts. Just about as likely, you’ll going poke one or more holes in your femoral artery. At that point, you’ll have the rest of your life to regret your AIWB carry method…which won’t be very long.
I don't know if that TTAG article is what inspired him, but shortly thereafter, Gabe Suarez published an article entitled "Appendix Carry - Once Again" which was critical of the "it's unsafe" argument. After discussing why he ended up first trying appendix carry, and quoting Jeff Cooper's affinity for appendix carry, he goes on to point out:
The main complaint of the traditionalists is "you will shoot your junk off".  Well, if you are an incompetent "Billy Boogerhook" that routinely shoots holes in his pants when holstering, then yes, appendix is probably not the best choice for you.  But if that description doesn't fit you, you should not be held back by the low standards of others.
Suarez continues with an outline of the main points of why appendix carry is superior to other methods of concealed carry, as well as offering some pointers as to selecting a holster and carrying in the appendix position, so if appendix carry interests you, read the whole thing

I've discussed the pro's and con's to appendix carry before ("Appendix Carry--For or Against?"--April 29, 2015) and and included a story from a former detective illustrating why I think it is a generally superior method of carry. I won't repeat all that here, though. Instead, I want to discuss why it is considered more dangerous by those that oppose its use, the reasons for it, and whether they raise valid concerns.

The primary safety issues cited in regard to appendix carry primarily seem to mostly be the same as with other methods that are not "traditional" (i.e., strong side, hip): direction of the muzzle and possible problems with re-holstering. There is also the criticism that it is easier for an attacker to grab the firearm or foul a draw. 

Sweeping Others With Muzzle:

Direction of the muzzle during the draw or holstering process is a common reason for ranges and shooting instructors to limit "non-traditional"* methods of carry, be that shoulder-holsters, cross-draw, or appendix carry. The primary concern is sweeping others (including other students or the instructor) with the muzzle while drawing or holstering the firearm. 

For instance, say you are right-handed using a horizontal shoulder holster. The firearm is carried with its barrel pointing directly behind you. To draw the firearm, the muzzle will cross your left arm and, as swung out and around to point toward the target, will cross horizontally from a 6 o-clock position through all positions on the left side until reaching 12 o-clock. A re-holster should reverse the draw, and thus again sweep across anyone to the shooter's left. Thus, there is a valid concern of sweeping others.

A vertical shoulder holster is, theoretically, safer because the barrel of the firearm is pointed downward and because the area of muzzle sweep is reduced to the 9 o'clock through 12 o'clock positions in a typical draw stroke. (In theory, you could draw the handgun, push it down so its pointing at the ground while you orient it, and then raise the weapon to point straight ahead without the muzzle sweeping anyone, but it slows the whole process).

The cross-draw holster will carry the firearm with the muzzle pointing slightly down and to one side. Thus, for a right-handed shooter, depending on where the holster is located, the handgun will be pointing toward those in the 9 o'clock, 8 o'clock, or, possibly, 7 o'clock positions. Similar to the shoulder holster, a typical draw (or reholster) will cause the muzzle to sweep across anyone on the left side of the shooter as the firearm is oriented to be pointing forward.

Some people like to carry a firearm in the small of the back (i.e., a 6 o'clock belt position). When carried in the small of the back position, the firearm draw will in most cases cause the muzzle to be pointed to the left (9 o'clock direction) and then sweep the shooters lower torso or hips when bringing the firearm forward to be presented toward the target. 

A draw from behind the hip (i.e., a 5 o'clock belt position) is similar to the traditional strong side draw, but, upon drawing, does result in the firearm initially pointing to to the low right side (rather than straight down) before being brought around to the front and presented to the target. During the process of orienting the shooting hand and handgun, it is possible that the shooter will also sweep across the right hip or thigh before bringing the weapon up to a forward presentation.

An appendix holster, say, for instance, at the 1 o'clock position on your belt, is not going to present the issue of sweeping in most cases. The draw will be mostly vertical. The only orientation of the firearm is to twist it clock-wise to bring the handgun so that it is oriented perpendicular to the shooter's body rather than roughly parallel to the body. Someone could draw the firearm and sweep it up in an arc from a low left pointing position to a high forward pointing position; but even in that case the area of sweep is no more than that with a vertical shoulder holster. 

The strong side, hip carry (generally 3 or 4 o'clock) is considered the safest because, in theory, the muzzle of the handgun is pointing straight down while carried, and should not sweep anyone (other than possibly the shooter's leg) when being brought up and presented forward. I say "in theory" because many holsters are canted so that the muzzle actually points in a low-rear direction. Thus, if someone were standing closely behind you, that person's lower extremities could be swept during the draw stroke.

Of course, the concern with sweeping the muzzle across yourself or others is primarily one of trigger safety: that is, the firearm could potentially discharge during the draw stroke and strike a bystander. This is an issue for ranges and trainers who are fearful of legal liability for a death or injury at their range or in their class, and thus the reason why target ranges or instructors generally forbid anything other than a strong-side hip carry. However, the appendix carry is better than any form of carry (other than strong side) when it comes to muzzle sweep. 

Problems with the Trigger Hanging Up:

Another factor I've heard mentioned is a supposed greater possibility of the trigger hanging up, whether on an errant finger, bit of clothing, or even the holster. 

To me, though, this does not appear to be any greater of an issue than any other form of inside the waistband carry. If you have a problem with your finger remaining on the trigger, that is going to be a problem no matter what type of holster that you use or where you carry. 

The issue with clothing possible getting caught up when reholstering is an issue in any sort of inside the waistband carry, or any other case where there is loose clothing (which is most of the time for concealed carry). The typical answer is to slow down your reholster and pay more attention (i.e., actually watch) what you are doing. If this is a concern to you, my advice is to use a firearm with a manual safety that you can click off when you draw and click back on before you reholster. The Glock Gadget, when it is finally available, should provide the same measure of safety for the standard sized Glock pistols.

It is possible, with a soft holster, that the holster could actually catch the trigger when reholstering the firearm. But this could occur with any soft-holster used for inside the waistband carry which wholly or partially collapses when the firearm is drawn. The solution is to use a holster made of a reasonably stiff material.

"You'll Shoot Your Junk Off":

The main objection to appendix carry in Boch's TTAG article (and echoed by others) is that the consequence of a mistake when reholstering with appendix carry is greater than other methods of carry. That is, if the firearm goes off while reholstering, the barrel will be pointed toward your pelvic or inner thigh (where there is a possibility of damaging the femoral artery), and therefore more likely to result in death or permanent injuries. In other words, it only takes one mistake and your life will be over or permanently changed. Or, as Boch puts it, "If you’re an appendix carry devotee, you can’t practice until you get it right. You better be practicing until you can’t get it wrong."

The problem I see with this argument is that there is no statistical evidence showing that an accidental discharge** while reholstering a firearm into an appendix carry holster is more likely than other forms of carry to result in a negative outcome (i.e., you or someone else dying or being permanently maimed). (See, e.g., "7 June 2015 Burro Canyon Gunshot Wound Incident," at Gun Free Zone, describing the wound received from an accidental discharge in the appendix position). It seems, by exercise of reason, that it could result in a worse wound in comparison to strong side carry, but not necessarily more than some of the other methods such as shoulder holsters, cross-draw, or small of the back where you are sweeping yourself or others while drawing or reholstering a firearm. Thus, in the end, this is not so much an argument against appendix carry as it is an argument for strong side hip carry.

Fouling Of The Draw:

Most writers have conceded that appendix carry is faster on the draw than other forms of carry (except, maybe, for a true quick draw rig) and, in most other ways, superior as to concealment. However, in an article by Darren LaSorte (cited in my April 2015 post), he argued that appendix carry was inferior because it was easier for an opponent to foul the draw. LaSorte gave the following example:
Try this: Get a training partner to come at you aggressively while you are carrying a blue gun appendix style. Let him get fist-fight-close and see how easy it is for him to jam your draw. Then, move the blue gun to a more comfortable spot (4 o’clock on the strong side) and try again. With the latter, you can use most of your body as a shield in order to provide time and space for a draw. It all becomes really evident if you simply try it.  
That is one scenario. But I also cited to a detective's account in my April 2015 post, where he described being surrounded by a crowd of men that were bumping into him, pressing up to him, or pinching him in such a way that he wouldn't have been able to draw his pistol from any other position but appendix carry! And one of Greg Ellifritz's students wrote about a training class where Ellifritz went very aggressively for her firearm, assuming it was concealed on the strong side hip, and the only reason he didn't get the firearm from her is that she had carried it in the small of the back.

As I see it, you can always find a scenario that justifies one method of carry over another. Unfortunately, to quote from Ron Martinelli in his article "Revisiting the '21-Foot Rule', "each high-risk encounter during a rapidly evolving situation is unique." Moreover, that a person might be able to foul your draw from the front (or any other direction) is probably irrelevant. Although he was discussing the issue of someone taking your gun from you and using it against you, Robert Farago noted recently
Bad guys can stab, club, strangle, or beat you to death. They may want your gun, but they don’t need it. That’s setting aside the fact that many if not most potential perps are already armed. And all of them are potentially armed. 
A firearm is the most effective tool for personal self-defense. It gives you the best possible fighting chance against a lethal threat. 
Truth be told, you may lose that fight. But there’s no reason to surrender your chances of a successful outcome in the vague hopes that an attacker will be less lethal without your gun. Or the fear that you won’t be able to use your gun to stop an imminent, credible threat of grievous bodily harm or death.
I think the same attitude carries across to how you choose to carry. That is, although it may be possible for an attacker to foul your draw (or take the weapon from you), that possibility should not stop you from carrying a handgun in the style or method that is most effective for you to carry and present your handgun.

Closing Thoughts:

All methods of carrying a handgun come with trade offs. It is up to you to decide whether the benefits from a particular method of carry outweigh the risks involved, and once you have made that decision, to attempt to mitigate those risks. For a large number of people, appendix carry offers a more comfortable and effective method of carrying a firearm that is faster than most other systems. It may not work for you for various reasons--weight or body shape, type of clothing, the size or type of gun, lack of training or experience, concern over an accidental discharge, or that you participate in pistol competitions and have therefore developed your skills around drawing from a strong-side holster.

What I would contend, however, is that if an instructor or range allows you to use other "non-traditional" methods of carry such as shoulder holsters, cross-draw holsters, or small of the back holsters, there is no cogent reason to prohibit appendix carry.

- - -


* Referring to appendix carry as "non-traditional" is a misnomer, as most locations to locate a holster for a handgun have been used throughout recorded history for holding a knife or dagger; and, given that early handguns were tucked through a belt for carry, the cross-draw and exposed appendix carry have probably been used far longer than strong-side hip.

** There are some firearm writers who claim that there is no such thing as an "accidental discharge," but that all such occurrences are the result of the negligence of the person handling the firearm. "Negligence," however, requires that the person acted with a lower standard of care than a reasonably prudent person under the same circumstances. The "reasonably prudent person" standard does not require perfection. Therefore, I don't believe that it is impossible for a "reasonably prudent person" to discharge a firearm unintentionally (unless you believe that a reasonably prudent person would never possess a loaded firearm), and, for that reason, reject the argument that all unintentional discharges are negligent discharges. 

As an example, I remember a video that was widely spread around the internet of a police officer that was in a gun store inspecting a firearm just handed to him by the clerk; the officer pulled the trigger and shot himself in the hand. While most comments (including from myself) were that the officer should have checked the weapon first to make sure it was not loaded, I'm not sure that what he did qualified as negligence because a reasonably prudent person would not foresee that a firearm in a sales display case and handed to him by a clerk would, in fact, contain a loaded magazine.

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