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I am always amazed at the number of people I encounter at gun ranges who practice their draw. Excluding law enforcement officers, the current count stands at one. One young, Army-bound kid who’d been given a Level III retention holster for Christmas. His draw sucked. His ability to re-holster was worse. It was like my first sexual experience: fumble, look, fumble some more, look some more, success. When it comes to self-defense, knowing when and how to draw, and when and how to reholster, is more important that marksmanship (which is important just not that important). If nothing else, if you don’t reholster your gun at the appropriate time, you are in very real danger of being shot by the police . . .

Every day I surf stories where cops shoot people holding guns; they’re so frequent I don’t bother blogging them. (Click here for today’s armed encounter, where a cop honored a woman’s last request.) While the media is usually sympathetic to the police point of view—assuming that anyone holding a gun near or at a cop is fair game—careful reading often indicates that the Boys in Blue are a bit, how do I put this delicately, trigger happy. Man with gun. Shoot. Done.

Let’s say you shoot someone who needs shooting. I hope and pray that you and I never find ourselves in this situation, but if you’ve got a firearm, then the possibility exists. Given the cops’ proven predilection for targeting the guy with the gun, you need to re-holster that bad boy ASAP. BUT—it’s not a good idea to immediately re-holster your weapon. You need to know that A) the threat is over and B) the threat is over. The bad guy is no longer a danger and there are no more bad guys.

Problem: how do you know that? You have to put your head on a swivel and look—without losing track of the downed perp. Scanning is a vital part of your self-defense training. I blogged an incident where a self-defense shooter killed a man. Emptied his gun. Another man walked up to him and asked our guy if he was the shooter. And then the bystander shot him. Killed him dead. Damn.

The first thing you need to do after a shooting: reload. (Even if you have a thirty round magazine.) Oh wait, you didn’t bring spare ammo? OK then, heads-up times two. You are now defenseless in a highly dangerous situation. Well, almost defenseless. You’re holding a gun. And the people around you may not know it’s empty. So that’s something. But not much.

The second thing you need to do: scan for threats. The third thing you MAY need to do: leave. If your life is in danger, get the hell out of Dodge. As soon as it’s safe to do so, re-holster your gun and find a safe place to shelter. Call 911. Tell the cops what happened, what you look like and where you are. If it is safe to do so, put the gun on the ground nearby and wait. When they arrive, put your hands up and don’t move.

If you’re OK to stay, reload if you can and need to. But don’t immediately re-holster your gun. Get some distance from the bad guy (while looking for other threats). Get to cover if you think it prudent. Keep your weapon at a low ready, finger off the trigger. If the BG becomes a lethal threat again, shoot him again.

As soon as you’re 100 percent certain that you and your friendlies are safe, both from the perp and any potential perpettes, either re-holster your gun. Either way, dial 911. Even if someone else has already done it. You must call 911 to establish yourself as a victim.

[There is a school of thought that says you should place your gun on the ground nearby—if it is safe to do so. Some believe this is the best way to avoid death by cop. I don’t hold that view. I reckon a post-self-defense shooting shooter lacks enough mental clarity to adequately assess the safety of their immediate environment. They may need their gun again at a moment’s notice.]

If the cops arrive before you re-holster, DO NOT RE-HOLSTER. Drop it like it’s hot. That’s right: let your pristine, expensive gun fall onto the pavement like a cheap toy. Every second that gun stays in your hand is another second where you might die from friendly fire. Remember: one bullet can ruin your whole day.

In any event, or no event at all, practice unholstering and re-holstering. It’s not easy. It’s ten times as hard when you’re shaking with adrenalin. As there’s no guarantee your finger won’t be on the trigger (the Suarez syndrome), you need a safe re-holstering technique. You must learn to avoid lasering yourself (pointing the muzzle at your body). If you can’t re-holster without fumbling, ditch it and buy something else. Yes, it’s that important.

The more I train for self-defense with the rabbi and others, the more I realize that standing still and shooting at static targets is not it. Instead of blasting through thousands of rounds Steven Seagal style, I practice my draw and re-holstering for ten minutes a day and visit the gun range once a week. Where I practice my draw. ‘Cause unlike punching holes in paper, holstering and re-holstering is a matter of life and death.

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  1. If you go to an indoor range (pay to use a commercial range) they probably won’t let you practice drawing. Too much liability. If you have access to private land, or own your own range, practice. A lot. Get some snap caps and practice in front of a mirror: draw, change magazines, look left, look right, holster your weapon. 15 minutes per day will give you “muscle memory”.

    As for what’s wrong with the picture? Um….nevermind. She’s hot, with guns. ‘Nuff said.


    • That’s the case for most of the ranges I’ve been to around here (Seattle area). They specifically disallow drawing from a holster. The range I am a member of has a separate “LEO Training Bay” that can be rented by certain member levels for that purpose I assume.

    • I’ve worked for and belong to a range that permits holster draw – our boards can be removed and hung on the side of the bay, leaving nothing to hit your handgun on through the draw. All of our stalls are set up for this and we use them for action pistol matches (where the carriers run and spin). We require all shooters to have gone through a practical demonstration of holster skills before allowing anyone (police, military, or civilian) to remove the bench.

      Some range owners don’t believe shooters can be responsible enough for themselves to allow it. Other facilities aren’t set up to give you a clean, unobstructed view downrange. I strongly feel it’s important to give people with a demonstrated ability to safety work from the holster the opportunity to train with live fire.

      As for reholstering… whatever you do, don’t get in a hurry to put it away. Period.

  2. After very careful, long and intent study, I have come to the conclusion that she doesn’t have even one holster, much less two.

      • Oh go on: tell me more. I’m always ready, willing and able to consider the idea that I am completely wrong. There’s nothing more dangerous than an idea—if it’s the only one you have.

        • I’m guessing KW’s response was to Bob H and the holster, but I could be wrong. Is Ralph out sick today??? He would certainly have the answer to “what’s wrong with this picture”…

        • Yes, my reply was to Bob H and more along the lines that YOU, RF are right. Reholstering is where a ton of ADs take place, and should be done slowly and deliberately.

          What’s wrong with the picture? Two guns and only one holster. Sorry. You asked.

        • Ok, here’s what is “wrong.”

          1) You NEVER EVER EVER say ANYTHING like; “I have a GUN…,” whether you have a license to carry it or not, when the police arrive at a shooting.

          2) After a shooting you are NOT going to want to re-holster your weapon. You WILL want to put it down somewhere VERY apparent & where you are handy to it before the police arrive. You DO NOT want to be “holding” a weapon which was just used in a shooting situation. Put it down and sit down and BE QUIET.

  3. This was one of the reasons I started competing in ISPC/Steel matches at my local range. Since I couldn’t “draw” or “rapid fire” (anything more than 1 shot per second), I took the mandatory safety course and have been competing ever since!

  4. After spending so many repetitions on drawing and holstering when I had the county LEO range to practice at, I find that your typical public shooting range constrains you when it comes to “real world” practice. The private ones that don’t are just too expensive to join for that privilege. It’s a shame. People are left practicing for an armed encounter that will never happen; one where they will be standing with a large bench in front of them and engaging violent bullseye targets.

  5. So, when you reholster do you look down at the holster first or do you practice so much that you reholster without looking? (this is a retorical question, or is it?)

    Thanks for the edit button.

  6. Excellent piece.
    I think a lot of people have holsters that don’t work very well for their firearm and carry style. One of the better pieces here was one on holsters and the number you will buy attempting to get things just right…

  7. For the first 6 weeks after I got my PTC, my weapon and holster, I practiced at least 100 times a night: draw, safety off, pull trigger (on snap cap), safety on, holster. I have since switched to a weapon that I am comfortable carrying ready to fire in all respects. I still practice drawing, but not every night. And since I carry in a shoulder holster there is no range in the world that will let me practice drawing and shooting. And if I ever find one that does, I’ll stay the hell away from them!

  8. Outstanding article.

    You left out one thing, however – a most important thing, at that.


    If it “grows feet”, you have a REAL problem.

    When America’s Finest arrive, have your hands in the air, your gun in your holster, and tell them where it is, and that you’re licensed and the victim; then tell them “His gun is under my foot.”

    More often than not, that will slow down their adrenalin, at least to the point where you won’t be shot.

    • Hmmm. The problem is that you may have to get close to the perp to step on the gun. That’s not a recommended procedure. If you can kick it away, that’s nice. But distance from the BG is always your friend. Unless he’s pointing a gun at you and there’s no cover. But that’s another story.

      • True, but if that gun “walks”, you have an immediate problem.

        If you have to shoot you have to then control the entire scene, witnesses included if possible.

        If you don’t, you may become a victim twice over.

  9. “If you’re OK to stay, reload if you can and need to. But don’t re-holster your gun.”

    Why not? It seems to me it’s safest to retain control of your firearm. I’d prefer to secure it ASAP lest a cop or armed citizen show up unexpectedly.

    Also – if one is following your advice, what about your backup gun(s)?

  10. After writing this post, I’ve been approached by gun gurus. I’ve taken on board the suggestion that it may be prudent to place your weapon on the ground at some point after a self-defense shooting.

    I’ve spoken with some of my go-to gun guys. Some think that’s 100 percent stark raving nuts. They believe that you MUST stay in control of your weapon at all times, right until the cops arrive. Others recommend the gun on the pavement routine as the best way not to get shot by the cops.

    Personally, there’s no way I’m going to put my gun down until I see a cop. No effing way. But I understand and appreciate the alternative view. So I’ve put both here. I reserve the right to alter the text again. In fact, I think I’ve found a question of the day . . .


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