So far in this multi-part investigation of situations in which we might carry guns concealed, we have looked at the workplace, in vehicles and in restaurants. This time, we will look at what—regardless of the shape our economy might be in—is another common activity for us all: shopping in both freestanding stores and malls.
While some people live in urban environments and can still walk to the store, many will have to drive there. And those folks will have to find a holster or other carrying means that will provide them with a satisfactory balance between both the shopping and the driving environments. But once "on site," everyone has a number of things to consider.
From our previous discussions, you already know I generally favor strong side, near the dominant hip, inside- or outside-the-waistband holsters for general use. I also have no problem with well designed cross-body (worn on the non-dominant side but drawn with the dominant hand) holsters, if the user understands that they might not be as efficient because they don't provide as much of a straight-line presentation to the deadly force threat. Furthermore, these holsters can create tactical concerns regarding the gun arm being pinned or controlled by a close-in assailant.
Each of these holster families obviously require some sort of covering garment. The problem this time is that such clothing might often be out of place because of the season or the type of store you're in. A suit or a sport coat might be great in the workplace, but it looks a little out of sorts in a hardware or home-and-garden store on a Saturday morning. And while a jacket or a raincoat might work some days, they're not going to make you blend in on a hot and sunny afternoon in the summer. Once again, none of this is insurmountable; it just requires you to think ahead.
Vests are popular with a lot of gun carriers, but I'd look at something from an outdoor/sporting goods shop and not something with 30-round mag pouches sewn on the front that scream "firearm" to anybody who has been to the movies or leafed through a gun publication on the rack at the supermarket. The right vests will work with firearms carried on either side of the body, as will zip-front sweatshirts. A non-hooded, conventional sweatshirt can be worn a good deal of the time, as can a pullover sweater. Both can be worn over a gun carried on either side as well. Even a loose-fitting T-shirt can be draped over some guns, especially if the pistol is tucked into the waistband and not worn on the outside. You just have to make sure its butt is of the right size and configuration to avoid printing.
I'm not a big fan of switching out rigs every time you turn around, as I feel sticking with one gun in one location can minimize all kinds of issues that can occur under stress. But, I will be the first to tell you I routinely switched to an ankle holster for the summer months when I lived in the Midwest. It worked well for me. Today, however, with the literal explosion of well-designed pocket holsters made from materials that resist moisture, I think I might opt for such a holster instead. There are issues with production of the weapon from a seated position when using a pocket holster and the location does limit the size of the gun, but I think it could make a great year-round choice in regard to what we are discussing here.
Looking at the activities involved while shopping only furthers my belief that a deep cover means of concealment is best for this application.
First, you will be around people—perhaps a lot of them in close proximity. Granted, many of them will be walking around, oblivious to their surroundings, and wouldn't recognize a gun unless it was waved directly in their faces, but you can't take that chance. I've lived places where inadvertent exposure of the firearm would result in the revocation of the permit to carry, but even if that isn't an issue, you still don't want someone reporting you to mall security as a possible armed robber.
Second, you might be performing a variety of tasks in the shopping environment. You'll be walking, standing and maybe climbing stairs. You might have to reach for something on a shelf or maybe for a wallet in your pocket. Perhaps you'll be trying on clothes, or you might be sitting down to try on shoes or to have a bite to eat. These actions, and several others, could expose the gun you carry. A few could make drawing from particular holsters difficult. Others might require the handling of the holstered firearm in order to accomplish the task at hand.
So choosing a holster-and-clothing combination that will remain concealed when performing any and all of these actions is very important here. The four styles I have mentioned so far should work for many people. Off-body devices (purses, pouches and fanny packs) have value in this environment as well. Value, however, that must be weighed against the potential of such a device being the reason for an event occurring as much as it is a means of dealing with it.
Finally, there's the whole purpose of going shopping: to buy things and carry them home. What do you do if you need to produce the firearm when your hands are full? Have you ever practiced such a thing? It is amazing how people will cling to what they possess rather than drop it or throw it as a distraction and then fight with the gun. The unpracticed can get confused, and even the experienced can be reluctant. In a deadly force engagement, you can be neither.
The purpose of these articles is to get you to think about the things we say. What is offered up here is not intended to serve as "be all, end all" solutions to every gun-carrying problem. Instead, they are meant to show you how complex many of these simple situations really are and to get you to think in that big-picture way. I hope that in so doing, you'll also see that a step-by-step approach to addressing them clearly demonstrates all of these issues are, in fact, surmountable.