Pocket-Pistol Lessons

By Adam Heggenstaller, AmericanRifleman.org

Establishing a bond with a pocket pistol is similar to marriage—in one way: You have to be willing to accept compromise. To make any compromise worth the effort, there must be a clear objective. In this case preserving your life is the goal, and pocket pistols, whether diminutive semi-automatics or small-frame revolvers, do their part and offer a solution that is easy to carry concealed. Merely slipping one into the front pocket of your jacket, however, will not prevent a determined threat from causing you bodily harm. To stop a violent attack, you must be prepared to counter with force adequate to end the confrontation. Therein lies the compromise. In exchange for realizing the benefits of a pocket pistol’s small size, light weight and ease of concealment, you trade accuracy, capacity, ease of handling and power. So while a pocket pistol may be the most convenient tool to have at hand, it is often far from ideal. The first step in dealing with its limitations is realizing it will likely be more difficult to defend yourself with a pocket pistol than with any other firearm.

Unfortunately, many citizens who carry pocket pistols are lulled into a false sense of security and don’t recognize and plan for the relative deficiencies of their little handguns. That is particularly true of those who carry a pocket pistol as a backup to their primary sidearm. True, many pocket pistols are simple to fire because their double-action-only triggers or striker-type mechanisms eliminate the need to disengage a frame-mounted safety. It’s also true that most defensive engagements take place at short range. But to assume these factors warrant a nonchalant attitude is foolish, and potentially deadly.

Once you realize a pocket pistol represents a compromise that in many cases is necessary to accept if you want immediate access to a handgun, the next step is learning how to deal with the trade-offs. The process includes identifying the areas where pocket pistols come up short, and then tailoring your self-defense plan with those limitations in mind.

When considering the best way to cope with each downside, don’t be afraid to seek professional help. My Ruger LCP and I went to Gunsite Academy in Paulden, Ariz., where we found instructors willing to assist in ironing out our issues. We soon realized we weren’t alone. About a dozen other shooter/pistol couples were there with the same issues as us. Here is what we learned during our two days of sessions.

Session 1: Think Before You Carry
In any good compromise, both parties gain something. Because of their size, pocket pistols give you more flexibility than larger handguns in how and where you choose to carry them. “I carry a pocket pistol because it’s less visible and less cumbersome,” says Gunsite Rangemaster Charlie McNeese. “I usually carry it as a backup to my primary pistol, but if I don’t have the ability to carry a big, primary five-inch or four-inch .45 or .40 because of its visibility, I may go with a .38 revolver or a .380 pistol instead. At that point, the smaller gun becomes my primary pistol.”

Deciding whether you rely on a pocket pistol as your primary sidearm or as a backup could dictate where you carry it, McNeese suggests. For example, if you carry only a Kel-Tec P3AT during the warmer months because the heat calls for a lighter covering garment, the best place for it may be inside the waistband behind your strong-side hip—where you normally tuck your go-to compact. You’re already familiar with the carry location, so why change it? Familiarity breeds competence.

When serving in the backup role, your pocket pistol’s carry location becomes secondary to that of your primary handgun, but careful thought is still required in determining placement. The moment you reach for your backup, it becomes your primary. Presenting your pocket pistol from an unconventional position, such as lying on your back, or even with your support hand are scenarios to consider when choosing a backup carry location. Ankle, appendix and support-side, inside-the-waistband carry are all options.

“You want to make sure what you need to get a hold of is accessible,” says McNeese, “and you can do it safely.” Of course, a pocket can serve perfectly as a carry location, and it’s probably the most common place for a pocket pistol to reside. Depending on your activities, however, a pocket—particularly one in the front of your pants—may not be ideal, despite the popular moniker.

“What do you do if you’re sitting down,” McNeese asks. “How do you get it out of your pocket?” The answer is you don’t, at least not without quite a bit of movement. If you have to stand just to get your hand on your pistol, you’ve given a threat several critical moments to anticipate and perhaps avoid your defensive actions.

A jacket pocket is easier to access from a seated position, but like any pocket, its size relative to your hand and your pistol plays an important role in its utility as a carry location. When your hand wraps around the frame of a pistol, it forms a semi-fist shape that is nowhere near as streamlined as an open palm. You may have no trouble shoving your hand in a pocket and accessing the pistol, but your line of defense is worthless when you can’t put it into action. While it’s possible to fire a pistol from inside your pocket, that drastically limits your effective range and is best reserved as a last-ditch effort.

No matter where you choose to carry your pocket pistol, put it in a holster. That requirement seems obvious for methods such as inside-the-waistband and ankle carry, but it’s just as necessary if you carry a pistol in your pocket. A holster protects critical components of the pistol from foreign objects, such as lint or a forgotten coin, prevents your index finger from accidentally contacting the trigger, and keeps the handgun oriented in the optimal position for presentation.

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