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Battle of the bulge

Concealed handguns are an enormous problem to law enforcement officers, security professionals and ordinary citizens worldwide, writes Steve Collins, pictured, of personal safety trainers PS5.

Tomes have been written on the techniques used to carry a gun in a concealed manner. However, whether you are a police officer, a soldier or a bank robber, if you carry a firearm as a tool of your trade there are two simple rules to remember:

1) Take it with you when you go to work.
2) Keep it in a safe and convenient place until you need it.

Please do not think I am being glib, I’m just stating facts and those rules do apply, whoever you are and whatever your motives are for carrying a weapon. The police officer and the soldier will happily and overtly display their weapons most of the time. However, the criminal, for obvious reasons, needs to conceal his weapons at all costs.

It is possible to spend a fortune on sophisticated concealment holsters and carry systems. You can, of course, just stuff it down the back of your pants and spend nothing. There are countries where it is perfectly legal for a civilian to carry a concealed weapon for personal protection. The second amendment of the United States constitution will immediately spring to mind. American courts have clearly stated that police officers are not responsible for protecting individual citizens. Those of you that have read my work or listened to me lecture will know that ‘your safety is your responsibility and not the police’s’ is one of my long term mantras. It stands to reason that the police can’t be there all the time to look after everyone. Therefore, the brutal truth is, you’re on your own, which is why many American citizens carry concealed.

There are, however, many places in the world where you are not, under any circumstances, allowed to carry anything for personal protection and especially not a firearm, but as we all know to our cost, the law does not apply to the criminal, it only applies to law-abiding citizens, so bad guys are going to carry guns because they can, which is of course one of the reasons why gun related crime is on the increase in the UK.

Professional carry

First let’s consider the physical act of carrying a gun. It’s probably going to be quite heavy, a couple of pounds, almost a kilo (about the same as a bag of sugar). It’s hard with no flexibility and it has very defined edges. It has to be instantly accessible; ideally, somewhere near the waist line or upper torso, and you don’t want anyone to see it until you want them to. There are some law enforcement and government agents that are experts in concealed carry. Operatives will take great care to match the method of carry with their mode of dress. Some will have specially tailored suits to disguise bulges caused by holsters. Weapons accessory manufacturers produce a vast range of holsters specifically for concealed carry, i.e. shoulders holsters, inside the belt holsters, ankle holsters, small of the back pancake holsters, handbag holsters, briefcase holsters and bum bag holsters. The list goes on and on. Also many firearms manufacturers have a range of ultra slim, sub-compact pistols especially for covert operatives.

Criminal carry

The average thug, fortunately, is not very sophisticated or indeed, often has little access to specialised equipment.
More than likely their weapon will be a full size, full frame model that they will simply tuck into their waistband or shove into a pocket and, unless highly trained, will give away visual clues that they are carrying.

Of the many ways to detect whether or not a concealed firearm is being carried, the most obvious is to conduct a meticulous body search or use modern technology such as metal detectors, scanners and X-rays. It is, however, possible to detect those tell-tale signs with simple observation techniques. How can police or Security tell?

The following list of visual clues is based on information and hard-won experience from police officers around the world:

1) A coat or jacket may hang unnaturally, or the hemline or collar may be pulled down on one side by the weight of a gun in the pocket. Also the collar may be pulled tight against the back of the suspect’s neck.

2) Clothing can be inconsistent with the weather, eg. a heavy coat on a warm summer’s day, or a coat left open in bad weather makes for easy access to a concealed weapon.

3) Shirts that are not tucked in are a modern fashion, but it is a common technique used to conceal a weapon. Also a shirt that is only partly tucked in can be used to create an improvised holster for carry inside the waist band.

4) If a handgun is in a holster or just tucked in the pants under a shirt, the shirt will often be customised by replacing the buttons with hook-n-eye type fastenings or Velcro. The buttons are removed and restitched on the outside to give the appearance of a normal shirt. This technique gives easy access to a weapon.

5) If a firearm causes any unnatural bulges or outline in the clothing this is known as ‘PRINTING’ and is a very obvious clue to clumsy concealed carry.

6) To prevent a handgun from bouncing around, it is common to see a suspect grab hold of their clothing to stabilize the weight.

7) If a suspect is wearing lightweight clothing such as a tracksuit, a firearm is commonly concealed down deep in the groin under the crotch. This often results in the need to frequently adjust the clothing.

8) Movement of a suspect can give physical signs of concealed carry. An unnatural gait may imply trying to favour the side where an upholstered handgun is kept. Awkwardness in walking can sometimes indicate a weapon has been stuffed into a boot. Arm actions can also be a give-away, if only one arm swings the other may be steadying a firearm in a jacket pocket. Alternatively, if one of the suspect’s arms is bowed out unnaturally away from the body, they may be trying to avoid banging into a gun in their pocket.

9) Avoiding eye contact can be an indicator of all kinds of suspect activity, but one thing is always a give-away… In my REACT self-defence, I teach that one of the many signs of an imminent attack is ‘the target glance’. Unless very highly trained, an aggressor will always quickly look at the part of the body they are about to attack.

In the case of a concealed weapon, the untrained person will glance at, or even touch the clothing that conceals it. This is an almost unconscious reaction that gives them confidence in the knowledge that the weapon is still there and still concealed.


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