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To some it would seem pretty simple. Take a pistol (A), place it in your pocket (B), and you’re good to go (C). And sometimes simple is good. But the problem with applying this simplistic A+B=C formula to carrying a pistol in a pocket for armed defense is that the resultant “C” can be flawed, leading to a “D” or even worse, an “F”—which, in case you don’t remember, means failure. An “F” in self-defense can cost you and your loved ones serious bodily harm or even death.

Plan Ahead

Carrying a small-framed pocket pistol as your primary means of self-defense is usually associated with clothing. It may mean that you are unable to carry a larger-framed pistol because attire, such as a T-shirt and shorts in the summer, prevents it. In the winter, a pocket pistol can be discretely and easily carried in an overcoat pocket or parka, and it’ll actually be quicker to deploy than a larger pistol carried under your coat. If you are small statured and cannot conceal a larger pistol, you may have to carry a small-framed pistol or revolver in a pocket out of necessity. A handgun in a pocket is usually more accessible than the same handgun carried on your ankle. It’s easy to imagine someone drawing from an ankle holster and hopping on one foot.

Many cops as well as citizens lawfully opt for a backup or second gun, and pocket carry is perfect for that. While approaching the driver of a car during a traffic stop, a cop may look ill prepared with his right hand in his pocket, when in fact he’s actually holding onto the grips of a small six-shooter or semi-auto. The same goes for the traveling businessman or woman walking from their car to their motel room. They may appear as if they are simply keeping their hands warm, but they’re prepared to stop a deadly threat with gunfire if need be.

More and more, home defenders are opting to carry inside their domicile. The clear understanding that having a handgun on your person while at home always beats the time lag in accessing one from a gun safe. Also, if the threat is between you and your safe, a small handgun easily carried in your pocket is better than good but unarmed intentions.

Pocket carry is even a good idea for those short trips from home, whether on foot or in your car. We’ve all been asked to make the proverbial evening trip to the corner store for a gallon of milk or take the dog for a walk, and a small handgun placed in your pocket provides you with a better chance of survival when backed into a deadly-force corner. Regardless of the situation, you should plan and prepare for pocket carry.

Proper Equation

What we want is a planned, practiced response. Firemen don’t “wing it” when dousing large fires, and SWAT cops don’t develop tactics after they enter a house looking for an armed fugitive. They, like you and me, must have thought through their TTPs—Tactics, Techniques and Procedures—prior to their application.

The formula or equation we use: Stimulus (threat or perceived threat) = trained response. Our response must be a trained and consistent motor program (what laymen call muscle memory) to be effective and reproducible under stress. We don’t want our drawstroke from the pocket to resemble a panicked floundering or flailing motion. In order to facilitate an effective response, we must train or “pay the sweat equity” to ensure we have the skills necessary to save lives.

As in all defensive firearm designs, functional reliability is mandatory. The pocket pistol will be exposed to dust and must function reliably in these conditions. Many small-framed autos have lousy sights and triggers. Select a pocket pistol of the largest caliber possible that you’re still comfortable carrying all day, and make sure it has decent sights and a smooth trigger pull.

Pocket carry also requires you to use a pocket holster. Only by properly positioning the pistol or revolver in our pockets can we achieve the consistency of motion required. Right-handers typically carry their gun in the right-front or right-rear pants pocket. Backup guns may be carried in the off-side front or rear pants pocket. If you wear an outer garment like a coat, gun-side exterior pockets allow you to wrap the fingers of your dominant hand around the weapon’s grips. Pocket holsters prevent shifting in the pocket, which in turn reduces fumbling and an ineffective response. Modern pocket holster designs incorporate a “sticky” or “tacky” material (or, if made from leather, have the rough side out) to keep the holster in the pocket so both are not drawn together.

If you carry a handgun in a pocket, then you must not carry anything else there. No keys, knives, coins or cash—nothing should be carried in the designated pocket but the handgun in its holster. Drawing your car keys or other items rather than your handgun could be disastrous at a time when “time waits for no one.”

Carry spare ammo for the pocket pistol on the off-side. Small-framed semi-autos will not by definition have the magazine capacity of their larger brethren. Since we cannot foresee how many rounds we will need in a fight for our life or if and when a malfunction may occur, spare ammo must be carried. Effectiveness demands that spare ammo be carried in the weak-side pocket; otherwise, you’ll have to transfer the pistol to your off-side for a reload, and having seen this too many times on the range, I can state that it is extremely slow and prone to failure. There are spare magazine carriers that allow magazines to be more comfortably and effectively carried in a pocket. In many cases, the off-side rear pants pocket is a good place to carry a spare magazine or two.

You should also plan for contingencies. Carrying in the front pocket of your trousers limits access while seated, and you’ll have to move a bit if you’ve dropped to the floor. In order to draw while seated, extend your leg on the same side as you lean back. Turn your non-gun side slightly in the chair or booth. This allows your gun hand to “spear” into the pocket to complete the drawstroke. Do not insert your finger into the triggerguard until the pistol is coming up on target. That way, there’s less chance of an accidental discharge in your pocket.

If you carry in an outside coat pocket, you can fire the handgun from inside the coat. The handgun must be retracted slightly from the holster to allow access to the trigger. Semi-auto pistols are more prone to malfunction in this method since the slide may be slowed down or inhibited from reciprocating due to the clothing. Firing from the pocket for the first shot to drive off an attacker, then pulling the pistol from the pocket for follow-up shots, may require a “tap-rack” of the magazine and slide.

Reading, Writing & Readiness

Recently, a retiree and his wife were in an internet cafe in Florida when two thugs attempted to rob the joint—one armed with a baseball bat, the other with a handgun. The 71-year-old armed citizen wearing a tucked-in shirt and shorts was carrying a small .380 concealed. The old man was seated on a stool. When one of the thugs turned his back, the armed civilian drew his pistol and effectively shot and moved, hitting both robbers and driving the armed men from the premises to save the day. Although it was not released where our heroic senior carried his pistol, pocket carry may have been used in this case.

To continue our education, we focus on the basics. Read about self-defense laws, tactics and techniques, and select, plan and train with your pocket pistol. A proper education prepares a student to be successful in their career and workplace. Schooling and training in the world of hard knocks prepares you in another way—one that will get you home to your loved ones safe and sound. “Book smarts” are important, but “street smarts”—learned properly and attended to with vigor—are mandatory in this world. Go forth and study!

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