Another purse carry tragedy that didn’t need to happen. Can we prevent the next one?

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You’ve probably read stories about how women are buying guns, and getting concealed carry permits, at a higher rate than ever before. I think that’s great; women should be able to avail themselves of the recreational and self defense opportunities that properly handled firearms provide. There’s no reason women shouldn’t become just as proficient with firearms as men, and many go on to do just that.

Unfortunately that’s not true of all women, and frankly it’s not completely their fault. The shooting community makes it difficult to access solid gun handling information, if for no other reason that so many educational sources — gun clubs, ranges, and stores — are steeped in “good ol’ boy” attitudes. That’s changing, thankfully, as women-only shooting fraternities like A Girl And A Gun and The Well-Armed Woman are taking new shooters under their wings and teaching them what they need to know.

The downside is that those of us who’ve been at this for a while are a little, well, intimidated when we offer well-intentioned and well-reasoned help or guidance. We’re seen as interfering or “talking down” to them. For instance, there are a lot of really shady concealment products being sold to women these days; if a man questions the applicability of those products, he’s often told that he’s “squelching innovation” or “holding women back”. I understand the genesis of that feeling, and there is a kernel of truth in it.

At the same time, people are getting hurt because there are women who aren’t being told the naked truth about their choices.

Case in point: in Jackson, Mississippi a woman dropped her purse, which contained a gun, on the floor in a hospital. The gun fired and the woman’s 2-year-old daughter ended up with a bullet in her cheek. The child is okay, but the incident underscores a significant increase in the number of purse/gun issues that we’ve seen in the news. Some of them turn out to be far more tragic than this case (not that this isn’t sad occurrence, you understand.)

At the root of this is the practice of off-body or purse carry. If not done carefully and properly, the downsides far outweigh any benefits. (If you men are feeling holier-than-thou right at the moment, think again; there are a lot of men who engage in off body carry these days — and what I’m about to say applies just as equally to them!)

Is there any good reason to carry a gun in a purse?

Let’s get the “pro” side out of the way first. Yes, it is a convenient method of carry, one which imposes the least demands for accommodation on the person carrying. In point of fact most women’s attire makes it quite difficult to conceal any sort of a handgun; if a woman wants to remain somewhat fashionable, the opportunities decrease dramatically. I understand that, and I also understand that many women don’t want to make a wholesale change in their wardrobe and their lifestyle just to accommodate a piece of equipment that has a very narrow range of application. Off-body-carry becomes one of the very few, if not the only, options for them.

The “con” side is that it’s simply a lot more difficult — like an order of magnitude more difficult — to carry off-body safely. What we’re not telling women, and what too few women (particularly those who sell the holster purses) are telling each other, is that carrying a gun in the purse is more work on a minute-to-minute basis than any other carry method.

First, the vessel carrying the gun must have a quick-access opening to be able to reach the gun, and the area where the gun is carried has to be separated from the rest of the purse so that foreign objects don’t interfere with the gun itself (or the carrier’s access to the gun.) In other words, we can’t have things getting into the triggerguard and causing the gun to fire!

That segregated compartment must also have a holster (which properly fits the gun) which attaches in some way, rather than simply flopping around. Off-body-carry is generally slower in terms of access than on-body, and to minimize the time lag the gun has to be in the same position every time the owner draws it. That’s the purpose of the holster.

The user has to be trained and dedicated

So far so good; there are a lot of products out there which have these features. Here’s where we get into the user’s contribution: if the woman wants to be able to access it quickly, she’s going to need to carry the purse in the same manner, and more importantly in the same orientation, all the time! Having the purse pointed one way when the gun needs to be accessed another makes it far more difficult than having the gun in a predictable, consistent relationship to her body. If she’s going to carry the gun and considers it a serious part of her self defense plans, she’s going to need to pay careful attention every time she picks that purse up. Every. Time.

What about putting the purse down? Here’s where the real work starts: the purse has to be treated just like the gun that’s inside. In other words, she can’t do anything with that purse that she wouldn’t do with the bare gun. That means it needs to be in her immediate care and custody at all times; it has to be both within reach and under observation. The purse can’t be set down on a coffee table while she runs into the bathroom, nor in the shopping cart with the toddler when she turns her back to pick out a cantaloupe (to describe two incidents in the last year or so where a child found a gun and ended up critically wounded — or, in one case, with the mother dead.)

This is starting to sound like a lot of work, isn’t it? That’s because it is! Off-body carry, whether for a man or a woman, requires constant vigilance; the carrier has to pay attention not just to where the purse/messenger bag/backpack is, but also how it’s being carried and how to best access it. Even in the car the work continues, as the purse needs to be secured so that a sudden stop won’t send it flying. If you wouldn’t just drop a gun on the ground, you can’t just drop the purse either!

The case above (and many others I could cite) shows that women aren’t being told these things. (Men who carry off-body aren’t being told these things, either.) We need to open the discussion with any woman who thinks she’ll get a gun and just “throw it in the purse”. That isn’t an efficient way to carry a defensive tool, and not a safe way to do so either.

Women need better education, but at the same time we need to get over our fear of offending those women who need that education. We can do it with respect and honest concern for their well being, but mostly we just need to do it.

No toddler should take a bullet because her mommy didn’t know the right way to carry her gun.

– Grant Cunningham

Picture: Wikimedia Commons

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About the Author:

Grant Cunningham is a renowned author and teacher in the fields of self defense, defensive shooting education and personal safety. He’s written several popular books on handguns and defensive shooting, including "The Book of the Revolver", "Shooter’s Guide To Handguns", "Defensive Revolver Fundamentals", "Defensive Pistol Fundamentals", and "Practice Strategies for Defensive Shooting" (Fall 2015.) Grant has also written articles on shooting, self defense, training and teaching for many magazines and shooting websites, including Concealed Carry Magazine, Gun Digest Magazine, the Association of Defensive Shooting Instructors ADSI) and the popular Personal Defense Network training website. He’s produced a DVD in the National Rifle Association’s Personal Firearm Defense series titled "Defensive Revolver Fundamentals" and teaches defensive shooting and personal safety courses all over the United States.
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