Concealed Carry & Home Defense

When is something tactically unsound?

Guns and Gear Contributor
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By Ralph Mroz, American Cop Magazine

The notion of tactical soundness is one permeating the discipline of defensive handgunning. You’ll hear the soundness of this or that technique or tactic derided all the time with 5-cent words like “that sucks” or “that doesn’t work,” and sometimes with 50-cent words like “that’s tactically unsound.” Everyone has an opinion on the subject, and most aren’t shy about sharing it with you. Yet many of these opinions are themselves unsound — they lack appropriate context and information. I’ll talk about holsters here initially, but they are only as an example of the principle we’re talking about. The principle applies to almost every choice of tactic or technique we have to choose from.

The idea of tactical soundness struck home recently when I read a comment on one of those silly forums, from someone responding to a fellow who was looking for advice on ankle holsters. Several commentators offered their opinion on which ankle holsters they had had good experiences with, but this one left a simple, five word comment: “Ankle holsters are tactically unsound.” To me, that felt like a kick in the groin.

Because for about 20 years now I had been of the same opinion, even expressing it in print a few times. But for the last year, I’d sometimes been wearing my primary — indeed my only gun — on my ankle. Mr. Succinct Comment reminded me I’d been behaving like a hypocrite, something that made me feel very uncomfortable. This gnawed away at me for a couple of hours, until I realized ankle holsters are not, after all, tactically unsound. Rather, they’re just less sound than some other modes of carry, such as beltline carry.

Both the smaller J-frame and the full-service-size M&P are tactically sound in some self-defense situations — and both are not in others.

Both the smaller J-frame and the full-service-size M&P are tactically sound in
some self-defense situations — and both are not in others.


Does it sound like I’m giving into the ridiculous politically correct speech of our time? Actually, no. Referring to ankle carry as less sound is not the same thing as refusing to call your weak hand “weak” — in fact it is your weak hand. It’s also your clumsy hand and your stupid hand, and it should be called that. Referring to ankle carry as less sound is also not the same thing as referring to me as differentially handsome — there are more accurate words for that. Rather, I refer to ankle carry as less sound because all carry positions have weaknesses and strengths, and some have more of the former or latter than others. In other words, the soundness of a carry position is a spectrum, not a black-and-white proposition.

The Best?

Indeed, even the best, most preferred carry position (strong-side hip) pretty much sucks. It too is tactically unsound to a large degree. It’s just usually the best of the bad choices we have. Didn’t someone once describe tactics as making the best bad choice? The reason everyone prefers it, if they have a choice, is they can get to their gun more quickly, and under more sets of circumstances.

Measured by the realistic standard of “Can I get to my gun when I really need it?” rather than by the artificial standard of comparing it to other carry methods, belt-carry doesn’t look so good. It takes a trained person about 1.5 seconds to clear a concealment garment, draw their belt-holstered handgun, and get a shot off onto a reasonably sized target. Now compare 1.5 seconds to the time you’ll have in a spontaneous, sudden attack. Also, remember to consider this attack is likely to be very close in.

Consider all these factors, and you realize if attacked typically (that is, without warning and at close distance), you probably won’t have time to access your handgun, even though it’s carried in the very best — the fastest and most reliable location — possible. Suddenly, belt-carry is now “tactically unsound” when viewed under the brutally harsh light of the actual facts of encounters rather than compared to what happens on the range.

In this light, how does belt-carry compare to ankle carry? When evaluated with neurons rather than testosterone, you have to admit each has its advantages and disadvantages. As seen, belt carry is slow to impossible with a typical attack, likewise in many seated positions, particularly when wearing a seat belt in a car.

On the other hand, it’s reasonably fast if you have a little warning of the impending attack, it allows access when you’re moving and it allows access from most positions (on the ground, with the weak hand, etc.). Ankle carry is slow, and suffers from the serious fault that it usually renders you immobile while you access your gun. On the other hand, it’s easier to draw from your ankle rather than your hip when wearing a seat belt or sitting in a tight chair. Take it a step further and compare ankle carry to off-body carry, say, in a bag. While some excellent bags are made offering secure and reasonably fast access to your gun, all bags are slower to draw from than an ankle holster, and they suffer from all the other disadvantages of off-body carry.


So is bag carry tactically unsound? No, and neither is ankle carry or belt carry. It’s certainly true for most people, most of the time: belt carry offers more advantages and fewer disadvantages than the other two methods. It’s equally true that each method has pros and cons. It’s the matching of those tradeoffs to your particular circumstances, like time and place, which determines if a particular mode of carry (and by extension, any decision about equipment, techniques and tactics) is sound or unsound. Carrying a single J-frame on my ankle would indeed have been tactically unsound when I was on-duty as a cop. On the other hand, it’s not so terrible when compared to my other alternative — going unarmed — now that I’m no longer a cop and living in a low-crime environment. Also, since I spend much of my out-of-the-house time driving, it makes even better sense. It might even be less tactically unsound than a belt holster? At least in this situation.

Thanks to the team at American Cop Magazine for this contribution. If you want to know more police tactics click here