Safe Handling Practices in Awkward Situations - Watch Your Back: How to Avoid the Most Dangerous Moments in Daily Life (2016)

Watch Your Back: How to Avoid the Most Dangerous Moments in Daily Life (2016)

Chapter 8 Safe Handling Practices in Awkward Situations

Once you understand and can perform the safe handling protocol specific to the design of your handgun as listed in the previous chapter, it is not difficult to avoid accidental discharge. In short, any handgun designed with an exposed hammer or a rotating cylinder will allow the operator to monitor unwanted movement of the trigger. Any handgun with a mechanical safety allows the operator to physically reinforce the safety in its on-safe position. The trigger of striker-fired pistols without a mechanical thumb safety should be monitored visually when holstering or whenever there’s a possibility something could make contact with the trigger. In addition, pressing the thumb against the rear of the slide will help keep the slide of most pistols from moving out of battery to avoid a malfunction. If a grip-operated safety is present, then placing the thumb atop the rear of the slide will help make handling safer by leaving a gap below the web of the shooter’s hand in order to avoid compressing the grip safety. It is important to utilize these methods habitually no matter what the distraction or how awkward the situation.

When it comes to handling a gun inside an automobile or getting it out of the way for a doctor’s visit, massage therapy, or a trip to the men’s room, awkward is the correct word, but not a new one. As listed in Webster’s 1913 dictionary, entries found among the definitions for awkward include wanting (of) dexterity, causing inconvenience, embarrassing, and not at ease socially. The problem is that no matter the circumstance, awkwardness can be enough of a distraction to interfere with safe gun handling practices even if they are deep-seated enough to be considered habitual.

Notice that I referred to a trip to the men’s room and said nothing about the ladies. That’s because the vast majority of women carry their concealed weapons in a bag slung from the shoulder. As much as I’d like to see women find ways to carry on the belt so that a purse snatch is not also a gun grab, the habit of maintenance and control of one’s handbag is an effective safeguard against leaving a sidearm behind in a restroom or anywhere else. I’m told that purse confiscation is going to be more difficult than gun confiscation because the incidence of women leaving behind a purse anywhere is almost unheard of if not unthinkable. One might ask if men should keep a shoulder bag or attaché case handy when they are going to the restroom while carrying a firearm. If this sounds like a good idea it might still be defeated by the absence of habit, leaving bag (and gun) behind. Sound impossible?

Men are not nearly as indoctrinated with carrying or maintaining control of shoulder bags as women are. I’m not able to come up a statistic of how many times a concealed-carry bag has been left in a supermarket shopping cart, but I’ve done it and been lucky enough to retrieve it upon my return. Ten steps outside of a restaurant, the SWAT operator I was having lunch with realized he had left his Vanquest EDC (Everyday Carry) Maximum Organizer hiding a Glock 26 in the booth where we’d been sitting. No matter how tactical the gear, men are just not wired like women are to be attached to a bag.


Women are far less likely than men to leave behind a gun carried in a purse than are men toting a pistol in the latest tactical shoulder bag. While most holsters are admittedly designed for the male body, the purse or shoulder bag is truly the women’s domain. The Galco Pax is a perfect example of how well firearms can be integrated with women’s couture. Photo courtesy of Galco Gunleather.


Few, if any, holsters are designed specifically for the female body. Add to this that women’s clothing rarely utilizes a belt, let alone one sturdy enough for carrying a handgun. The Lethal Lace Universal Concealed Carry Holster provides a dedicated holster for small handguns that is integrated via decidedly feminine means. This enables the gun to be carried in numerous positions on the body including ankle, thigh, waist, and beneath the arm.

In July of 2014, the Rock Hill (South Carolina) Herald reported that a loaded Smith & Wesson .38 Special revolver was found on a toilet paper dispenser at a local Wal-Mart. The report says that a man had called police about the gun, described it accurately, and explained that he had indeed left it in the bathroom. Imagine having to make that call.1

In March of 2014, a Bridgeport, Connecticut, woman was charged with second-degree reckless endangerment after leaving a handgun in the ladies room of a Milford restaurant. The gun was discovered by an employee and turned over to police.2 Thankfully, the restaurant staff was honest. The woman to whom the gun was registered was contacted by police and arrested. Whatever the penalties meted out in either of the above cases, I’d bet they got off cheap compared to anyone who might have been injured or killed should either of the guns been used in the commission of a crime. However, such negligence is not limited to private citizens. Even professionals have been accused of abandoning their firearms in the john.

The United States Capitol police were under the microscope during 2015 for losing control of duty guns, made worse by a photograph published on the Roll Call website. The photograph shows a Glock pistol and loaded magazine wedged into a toilet seat shield dispenser reportedly “inside the Senate office portion of the Capitol Visitor Center on Jan. 29, according to a source.”3 In the accompanying article, Hannah Hess wrote that “CQ Roll Call reported Friday three instances since January in which workers or, in one case, a child, have found unattended Capitol Police handguns—two left behind in bathrooms.”3 But at no point throughout the article is it established categorically that the weapon in the photograph belonged to police.


If you think the incidence of loaded guns left in restrooms is a fallacy, a photograph similar in content appeared in the news as recently as January of 2015 in connection to unattended Capitol Police handguns found in the restroom of a government building.

“I was unaware of these instances until this morning,” said House Rules Chairman Pete Sessions, R-Texas. “The Capitol Hill Police are awesome people who need to retrain everyone that carries a gun. It does not surprise me that mistakes can be made, what would surprise me is if we did not retrain every single person with better procedures.”

One might assume that the owner of the gun, if they were indeed a member of the Capitol Police, was dressed for undercover work or at least not wearing full uniform including a high retention holster. Here’s why. While a shoulder holster system would offer less interference during a trip to the bathroom, the difficulty in controlling a weapon carried in the typical belt-mounted open top concealment holster could easily lead to the inappropriate practice of removing the pistol and magazine.

Referred to in the article as the “go-to guy” on police issues for the Administration Committee, former sheriff Rep. Rich Nugent, R-Florida, reportedly suggested looking at better technology, such as lockboxes, to be taken into the bathroom. Would that mean a wall of lockers or a lock box in each stall? Personally, I have never been in a bathroom outside of my own home in which I felt so comfortable that I could bring myself to take off even a Cub Scout ring and leave it by the sink. But if I were tasked with training plainclothes police or citizens how to maintain control of their concealed carry sidearms, there are some practices I would ask them to consider.

First of all, at no time should the weapon leave the holster. The gun and the holster should be handled as a unit. If the operator is wearing a shoulder holster or harness system, the unit should stay on the body. Pull the shirttails up and fold them over the holster to keep the unit close to the body.

If the operator is wearing a belt-mounted holster, the gun, holster, and strong side of the waistband must be held together as a single unit as you lower your pants. I offer the following step-by-step example that you may be able to improve upon, but the key is to control the gun at all times without removing it from the holster. You must also recognize the necessity of reconnecting the belt.


For anyone wearing a shoulder holster rig, removing the gun in a restroom is seldom necessary. Concealment and control can be maintained by merely folding the shirttails up and over the unit.


It’s easy to appear at ease and maintain concealment when wearing a shoulder holster because the outline of the gun does not follow the hips nor weigh down the belt.

The process of lowering the pants begins with unzipping the fly, then disconnecting the button above the zipper. The belt stays connected. The next step is to grasp the gun and holster as a unit. Thumb on the inside of the pant pressing against the inner side of the holster. The fingers are on the outside of the holster with the web of the hand bridging over the back of the slide. Do not grasp the handle of the gun. The gun and holster are always handled as a unit even if the holster is clipped to the inside batting of the pants alone.

Disconnect the belt without letting go of the holster/gun unit using your weak side (non-gun side) hand. Return the weak side hand to the opposite side of the pants and sit down. Maintain a grip on the gun/holster unit and reconnect the belt, applying pressure by spreading your legs to keep the gun upright.


One way to reduce the risk of your gun falling out of the holster when lowering your pants is to grip the holster, gun, pants, and belt as one. Buckling the belt provides additional control.

When the time comes to stand up, take hold of the gun/holster unit, unlatch the belt, return the weak hand to the opposite side of the pants and pull up as you stand. You may have to immediately refasten your belt, but the key is to control both sides of the pants as you zip up and reconnect the top button.

If you can find a shortcut around some of the above step-by-step instructions, the one practice that shouldn’t be skipped is how the gun and holster are handled as one piece. Be aware that even a snap retention or locking holster will not prevent the unit from flopping over and hitting the floor, hence the need for refastening the belt.

If there were any acceptable variation from the instruction to not separate the gun from the holster, it would be the following, but be sure to pay attention to the second part of the process. It is inevitable when traveling to stop to use a public restroom. And it is certain that you will from time to time be invited out to a restaurant. Consider keeping a shoulder bag in the car for temporary transfer. Certainly more and more people are keeping a “bug-out” bag filled with emergency items inside their cars, but what I like to call a temporary transfer bag does not necessarily need to be elaborate. In fact, a low-profile bag of common appearance is probably a better idea than one offering a military or tactical style. Make sure it has a zippered compartment somewhere in the interior. Nothing else should share this compartment. Better yet, you can buy a separate panel that fits inside the bag that includes a holster. There may be slots for spare magazines as well. Some panels are backed with heavy Velcro so the matching holster can be positioned and canted to match the bag. Bring the bag with you to the restroom. In choosing a private stall, check to see that it has a hook on the back of the door. Place the gun inside the bag and hang it directly in front of you.

If you think having the gun directly in front of you and/or located between yourself and the exit is not essential, there is one small detail about the Glock pistol and magazine left behind in the January 2015 incident at the Capitol Visitor Center. While not explicitly stated in the caption, the seat guard dispenser is shown mounted on a tiled wall. This is an important detail because solid walls are more often than not in position behind the toilet and “out of sight out of mind” could very easily have played a part in this incident. Whether or not this assumption is true, multiple cases of guns left behind in restrooms proves that it is possible to become mentally numb to the responsibility of maintaining control of one’s firearms.

Keeping a temporary transfer bag can come in handy for situations other than when meeting personal needs. For example, a trip to massage therapy will require disrobing. So would a trip to the doctor’s office for even a routine examination. Leaving the gun holstered and hidden beneath a pile of clothing is ill-advised and irresponsible in my opinion. Some may choose to hide their personal defense gun inside the car before entering the facility, but this is also not a good idea. Leaving a gun unattended in a car is always risky, but first let’s focus on the risk of not having it with you for your appointment. Structurally, a licensed commercial massage therapy business consists of little more than a series of small rooms connected by one or more hallways. The interior is kept in varying degrees of reduced lighting for the purpose of relaxing the patient. (A small flashlight, handheld or capable of being attached to the handgun, should also be kept in your temporary transfer bag.) At any moment, most of the people inside are at least partially undressed and lying down, increasing vulnerability. No way am I leaving my gun in the car.


Leaving a personal defense gun behind when using the restroom is a much more pervasive problem than anyone is willing to admit. Problems begin when the weapon is removed from the holster without anywhere to store it. If you should choose to store it temporarily in a briefcase, purse, or shoulder bag, just make sure you hang it up on the back of the bathroom stall door or in full view of the exit so it doesn’t get left behind.


Just about any type of bag can be accessorized to secure a handgun as well as extra ammunition with products such as Galco’s CarrySafe Gen II. Photo courtesy of Galco Gunleather.

Leaving firearms in an automobile is a crapshoot. Not letting anyone know there are firearms in the vehicle in the first place is important but it’s not always possible to keep a secret. Automobiles themselves can be secured, but access to the interior is not difficult. Furthermore, any gun left in a position that can be quickly accessed is not going to be difficult to find. Small safes can be bolted into the glove box and secure compartments such as those made by TruckVault can be installed.

Professionals that keep an emergency arsenal have a designated area but these reinforced drawers and boxes do not make the weapons immediately available without exiting the vehicle. Nevertheless, there are circumstances when one’s concealed-carry firearm must be left inside the car.


Automobiles themselves can be secured, but access to the interior is not difficult. This means guns lefts behind are at risk of being stolen. The best way to ensure security when you must leave your gun inside a vehicle is to install a high-quality safe. TruckVault, a leader in the field, offers the ShotLock Console quick-access safe specifically for this purpose. Photo courtesy of TruckVault.

It should be expected that certain facilities are off-limits for personal firearms even when in possession of a state-issued concealed handgun permit. Such facilities include hospitals (but not necessarily a professional building attached to the hospital), most sports arenas and stadiums, plus any event where there is wagering. It’s easy to see the reason why since they can all be emotionally-charged environments. In the case of hospitals, that’s not the entire reason. While gunshot victims and perpetrators alike (rival gang members, for example) have been known to mete out revenge right there in the emergency room, the original reason for banning guns in hospitals stems from it being an oxygen-rich environment. With so many patients directly or indirectly being fed high quantities of O2, there is risk of explosion. Public schools (at least the building interiors or in some states simply the grounds outside the boundaries of your automobile) are generally off-limits as well. Other establishments include privately owned businesses, bars, and restaurants that either derive at least 51% of their income from the sale of alcohol or otherwise choose to deny entry so long as they post a sign with the proper quotation of law clearly in view of the entrance. It is the responsibility of each citizen to know how the laws apply in their city or wherever they travel. Every citizen, armed or otherwise, has the choice to spend their time and money in establishments that believe its patrons have the right to defend themselves, which is what the Second Amendment essentially boils down to.

Other than the necessity of visiting the hospital, I don’t recommend anyone willingly patronize a gun-free zone. But there are times when the necessity to visit a facility that is off-limits to carrying a firearm comes up unexpectedly or the visit comes at an interval that fills just a few minutes out of a highly-active day. The gun or guns must be handled safely without attracting attention, and stowed out of sight if not secured under lock and key. Using the techniques outlined in the previous chapter should be helpful but let’s examine some of the specific challenges to handling a firearm inside of a car. Not during a gunfight, mind you, but administratively as in the course of normal operations.

Removing the gun from your mode of carry should not begin until the car is stopped and the car is placed in park. You should already have performed a visual search of the general area before choosing a parking space. (Actually, your surveillance or rather countersurveillance of who is watching you should remain ongoing.) Parking areas are for people coming and going. Populace in motion should be the norm. Someone standing around looking at the cars would be one red flag. Anyone walking around aimlessly without keys in their hands would be another. The body language of other people in a parking lot should reflect some level of concern. Be wary of anyone who is not putting away their keys and taking stock of their belongings. People seen approaching parked cars with packages from the adjoining store would be an appropriate sight. Anyone motionless should stand out.

Taking a moment to look forward, left, right, and to the rear before turning off the engine is always a good idea, but don’t forget to look at the interior of cars right next to you. If you intend to put up a sunscreen behind the windshield to provide extra security for your actions, do it before making a move for your handgun.

You should be familiar with boundaries in your car such as the center console, steering wheel, column mounted selector, or stick shift. Typically, the seat belt is the first source of constriction. With the luxury of already being parked, you can release the seat belt before taking the gun out of the holster. Even if your gun is in a briefcase or bag next to you, unbuckling the seat belt will give you more freedom to move. The question of where to stow the handgun should already be determined. The best option for retention is a lockable safe bolted beneath the seat or to the interior of the glove box.

No matter where you place the gun, position it so that access from the driving position promotes a normal strong-hand grip with the muzzle pointing away from you. The same way you place the gun down is the same way you will pick it up, with index finger straight alongside the frame or cylinder and the thumb at the rear of the slide or atop the hammer. Make sure there is nothing loose inside the compartment that can find its way inside the trigger guard or barrel. This would include loose change, any sort of small object such as nuts and bolts, keys, pencils, or trash such as a wadded-up candy wrapper. Think of this space as your holster and recognize that, for the time being at least, it has no other purpose than to maintain a clear opportunity for presentation of the weapon. It’s okay to place something over the gun so that it is not immediately visible when opening the compartment. A cardboard CD cover or small notebook works well as long as there are no loose ends dangling that could get inside the trigger guard or snag on to the weapon. Otherwise, make sure there is nothing around the gun that can block your hand from retrieving it.

Safely returning the gun from its hiding place inside the car to one’s mode of carry is more challenging if for no other reason than change of direction. As the gun is being pulled from a holster or compartment, the predominant movement is to the rear and anything that contacts the trigger is more likely to push it forward which is in the opposite direction to a press towards ignition. Shoving the gun into a holster causes anything that contacts the trigger to push dangerously to the rear. Before placing the gun into the holster, look at the opening to make sure it is clear. If you are going to put the gun inside a briefcase or purse compartment, clear the opening first but do so before picking up the gun.

Don’t cheat by holding the gun in one hand while probing the compartment with the other. Beyond the likelihood of sympathetic hand movement (in a moment of stress or even mild surprise it is common for the actions of one hand to duplicate the actions of the other), you’re probably going to need a second hand to inspect and/or clear the interior anyway.

In handling the gun as it is returned to the holster, remember that striker-fired guns with nothing more than a trigger-mounted safety will need to be looked into the holster. Many “high speed, low drag” operators preach that you can bypass this step by learning the correct angle to insert the handgun, but I’ve caught just as many giving the mouth of the holster a quick look. If anyone tells you that concentrating on forward vision while reholstering ensures against an emerging threat, tell them you prefer to keep the gun out in a ready position until it is more positively clear. Simply put, a great many accidental discharges occur upon holstering and there is more to fear from being careless than there is to not appearing to be cool.

With so much emphasis on safe administrative handling inside your vehicle, I would be remiss if I didn’t offer some key advice on making it easier to draw the gun. If you’ve ever timed your draw from a seated position it was probably without a seat belt in place or the effects of wearing a cover garment. Even if you live in a state where open carry can be practiced legally, at some point you’re going to be wearing a sweater or sweatshirt, leaving your shirttails untucked, or wearing a jacket to suit the weather. Once you take your position in the vehicle with seat belt in place, you’ll probably need to pull a portion of your garment from beneath the belt or from wherever it may be bound. If you do not preset a clear path of access to your gun, you’re going to add seconds to your draw, not to mention an edge of confusion or even desperation to the process. In addition, the act of pulling clear any such garments can serve as a furtive action, giving notice to whoever is watching that you are drawing a weapon. Naturally, you shouldn’t actually draw unless you are threatened, but if you can put your hand on the gun cleanly without drawing attention you will be all the more ready.


Handling firearms quickly within the confines of an automobile presents a number of problems, not the least of which is the steering wheel. Be prepared to move the gun in an arc over the top of the steering wheel to avoid catching the muzzle as you move toward point of aim.


Reholstering while seated inside a car is not the time to try to look cool and show off that no-look holstering technique you’ve been practicing. Perhaps if the operator had taken the time to look he would have seen that the knife in his pocket was pressing up against the slide of his pistol and pushing the barrel out of battery. But if the operator had placed his thumb atop the rear of the slide before holstering, he certainly would have felt the resistance and repaired the situation. Whenever possible, such as when parked, put up a sun shield for added privacy and take your time to handle the gun safely.

Safe Handling in Awkward Places


Never separate a gun from its holster outside of your home or automobile.


Should it become necessary to remove a gun from a holster in a bathroom (public or private) place the gun immediately in a shoulder bag, purse, or briefcase.

Hang the bag on the inside of the stall door or on the door handle on the interior side of the bathroom exit.

Do not place a bag or briefcase containing a gun in a shopping cart.

If you must leave a handgun inside your vehicle temporarily:

Create a designated position inside your car for temporary concealed storage of your handgun.

Adapt a lockable compartment within reach of the driver’s seat.

Make sure any storage compartment is free of loose items that can travel inside the trigger guard.

Make sure any storage compartment is clean and free of small items that can enter into the action of the firearm.

Position the firearm so that it is accessible via a secure finger off trigger pre-shooting grip.

When reholstering or rebagging while seated inside a vehicle:

Check to see if the holster or bag is clear before picking up the handgun.

Attain a safe grip with index finger outside the trigger guard.

Look the gun all the way into the holster whether it is belt-mounted or inside a dedicated carry compartment.

When seated in a vehicle with a holstered gun, make sure your clothing does not bind or otherwise hinder a direct path to the gun.