Pocket pistols are a fascinating breed of firearm. Carried properly and backed with good training and tactics, they can be extremely potent defensive weapons. However, if any aspect of your planning or tactics falls short, you could be setting yourself up for a deadly failure.
To make sure you have all your bases covered, let’s go step by step through the logic of carrying pocket pistols for realistic self-defense.

Clothing Concerns

Before you invest in a pocket pistol, open up your closet and take a hard look at the way you dress. This is the best way to determine if pocket carry is really a viable option for you. Think about where you think you’d like to carry your gun (i.e. front pants pocket) and then compare all the pants in your wardrobe to see if they actually support that option. Does the fit of your pants allow pocket carry, or are they too tight? Are the pockets the same cut and size? Are they the same depth? Does the material have enough strength to bear the weight of the gun? Is it heavy enough to offer good concealment? How does your dress change from season to season? What other things do you carry in your pockets that might interfere with your choice of carry?

If your plan is to carry in the pocket of an overgarment, like a jacket or vest, are you willing to wear that garment at all times, in all types of weather? If so, does it provide the low-profile concealment you really want, or does it actually draw attention to you (i.e. the “shoot-me-first” photographer’s vest). If you’re like most people, you’ll find that some of your current clothing choices won’t support your preferred carry method. That’s why charities accept clothing donations. If you’re truly committed to a specific form of carry, alter your wardrobe choices to support it.

Carry a Real Weapon

Pocket pistols are appealing because they are small and easy to carry. Unfortunately, that convenience can often lead to a false sense of confidence. “Having a gun,” while it may be technically correct, means a lot more when you’ve got a 9mm semi-auto than it does when you’re packing a .22 Derringer. If you’re going to carry a gun, carry something that truly gives you a fighting chance. Don’t settle for a placebo—especially if you only carry one gun.

In the stress of a life-threatening situation, fine and complex motor skills go out the window and gross motor skills rule. Under these conditions, operating a full-sized handgun can be difficult. The miniscule size of smaller guns makes them even harder to grip, draw and fire effectively.

When assessing potential carry guns, look for those that fit your hand well and offer a good firing grip without a lot of manipulation. Check your hand size relative to the size of the gun to ensure that you can achieve a sound firing grip and that you won’t injure your own hand when you shoot the weapon. If it has any type of safety or other controls, make sure they are large enough to operate reliably. If the grip and operation of the gun require too much care, you’re in for a rude surprise when you have to employ it under stress.

Size is not the only defining factor of a pocket pistol. Good pocket pieces should also be devoid of any sharp edges or points that could snag during a draw or make them particularly unpleasant to carry. Since all bodies are not created equal, a gun that fits one person’s pocket well may not work for another person, even when carried in the same basic position.

Handguns should not be carried loosely in a pocket. Instead, they should ride in a good quality pocket holster that is appropriate to the gun and your style of carry. Pocket holsters cover the trigger of the gun for increased safety, protect the gun from lint and other pocket trash, mask its outline for improved concealment, and keep it in a consistent position for a more efficient draw. Pocket holsters come in many styles and materials and are generally designed to remain in the pocket when the gun is drawn, typically via a grippy, rubberized exterior or an integral “hook” that snags the pocket as the gun is drawn. Fortunately, compared to typical belt holsters, pocket holsters tend to be very affordable, so it’s easy to experiment until you find one you like.

Time for a Test Drive

Once you feel you’ve got all the components of gun, carry position, and pocket holster sorted out, “test drive” your choices by wearing the gun around the house for a while. See how your combination feels when standing, sitting, walking, climbing stairs, and doing typical daily activities. Take a hard look in the mirror to see if the gun “prints” excessively or if it conceals well.

If it seems like a good fit, start thinking about the physicality of a defensive situation and the other skills you might have to bring into play. Try sprinting a short distance to see if the gun affects your mobility. If you have empty-hand fighting skills (you should), does it compromise those in any way? Can you achieve the range of motion you need to hit, knee, and kick effectively? If you are carrying in a jacket pocket, would the weight of the gun cause it to swing excessively during dynamic movement? There’s nothing like getting smacked in the groin with your own gun to motivate you to rethink your carry strategy.

Remember that real self-defense requires a broad spectrum of skills. Drawing and shooting a gun are just a small part of the process, so don’t let those criteria overshadow everything else.

Hands On
Pocket pistols are designed for use in close-quarters situations. In those situations, the odds of you having to employ the pistol while in physical contact with your attacker are very high. If full-sized pistols in more capable calibers don’t guarantee instantaneous incapacitation, the odds of your attacker bursting into flames when hit with a .32 ACP are pretty slim. As such, you should be prepared to fend, fight, and control with your off-hand while you employ the gun with your dominant hand. And to do that, you need to have a one-handed draw stroke. If your pocket-carry method conceals the gun so well that you can’t access it with one hand, you need to re-think your methods.

In the same vein, well-prepared defensive shooters acknowledge and address the fact that you may need to draw and shoot with your non-dominant hand. If your strong hand is injured or immobilized, could you access your gun with your other hand? If the answer is “no,” do you have another option available that would enable you to continue the fight with your weak hand? Many of the pioneers of modern concealed carry like J.H. Fitzgerald, author of the classic book Shooting, were big believers in pocket carry. They were also proponents of carrying two guns and spent a lot of time shooting with their weak hands. While that may not be the best option for your needs, it’s not an excuse to ignore the issue.

Prepared for Anything

Once you have the basics of your pocket carry strategy worked out, start putting them into context with your tactics to see how they work and what needs to change. For example, when shooting a full-sized gun from a belt-mounted holster, you may be well skilled at moving off-line while smoothly drawing your gun and returning fire. However, moving off-line and sticking your hand into your front pocket to draw a gun are activities that typically don’t go together well. The time to have that epiphany is now, during training—not on the street.

If you plan to carry a pocket pistol as your primary defensive arm, you should structure your tactics around that gun and your chosen method of carry. Although it’s gratifying and fun to shoot full-sized pistols from the holster because you’re already good at it, that time would be much better spent training with the equipment you’ll actually have and developing the skills you’ll really need.

If you train in empty-hand tactics, invest in a “blue gun” or airsoft version of your carry gun and incorporate it into your training sessions. Practice managing attacks with unarmed skills to create the opportunity to draw and employ the gun using the shooting methods described above. While not necessarily true “force-on-force” training, it’s an excellent way of integrating your skills and learning where to draw lines in your tactical decision making.

If you’re going to trust your life to a pocket pistol, make sure you back it with the best logic, training, and tactics you can. Hopefully, this reality check will help.

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