Crimson Trace

November 15, 2017

Guest Shot: What's Old is New Again

Editor's Note:Today's feature first appeared in our companion service, The Tactical Wire.

The S&W M&P9 M2.0 Compact in the Safariland GLS Pro-Fit Model 576.
Over the past couple of years there has been a trend in the conceal carry world of folks carrying AIWB, so-called "Appendix Inside the Waistband." Because of this sudden resurgence in popularity some think this is a new thing. It is not.

We know from descriptions of the times that carrying pistols in front of the body goes back at least to the days of the pirates, with wheel lock and flintlock pistols being carried in belts or sashes, and from photographic evidence of troops on both side of the Civil Way carrying in this manner. One can easily find pre-World War 2 photos of plain clothes coppers in places like New York City carrying a revolver either outside or inside the waistband in the appendix position. Ironically, even an icon of the modern strong side carry advocacy crowd, the IWB "Summer Special" holster designed by Bruce Nelson, was originally designed by Bruce, and worn by him, as an AIWB holster. This was due to Bruce being an undercover officer during that time period.

The reasons the resurgence of popularity of this carry method are likely just as old as the method, handguns carried AIWB are easy to access, especially in the middle of what may be a contact distance fight, concealable, comfortable to carry, easy to defend, and fast on the draw. Carrying AIWB also allows one to be in a crowd and avoid an accidental bump, or intentional "bump frisk", discovery of the concealed handgun, something that is a real danger with behind the hip carry.

A common criticism of AIWB carry from detractors is a flippant dismissal that "you'll shoot your junk off" or the perceived danger that one is in more peril with AIWB carry due to the thought that the femoral artery will inevitably be severed by an accidental shot. This criticism is off base for several reasons, especially considering that one can easily cause a life threatening injury regardless of holster position.

In my observation this was recently reinforced by an incident where a student in a handgun course hurried to the holster and didn't get the trigger finger indexed before trying to holster. This resulted in a top to bottom, outside to inside, through and through wound to the student's lower leg, with the tibial artery being severed, and the immediate need for a tourniquet to save the student's life. I'll note that this gunshot wound occurred even though the student was wearing a generally perceived as safe strong side hip "range" holster exposed on the belt.

The lesson here is that improper or unsafe use of firearms always has the risk of causing serious injury or death. It's incumbent upon us to avoid this behavior, regardless of method of carry.

Holsters from Keepers and Dark Star Concealment as well as a magazine pouch from JM Custom.
Both safety and comfort, as well as speed of draw and security of the handgun, can be greatly enhanced by the use of a well-designed AIWB holster. While almost any holster can be pushed into service for use in front of the hip instead of behind, AIWB works far better with a rig designed from the start for this carry method. Design of the holster, and how it attaches to the belt (or waistband if no belt is worn) can make significant differences in speed of the draw, and comfort level of the holster. Things one should look for in a good AIWB rig include adjustable ride height and cant, and a feature such as a foam wedge or wing that tucks the butt of the pistol in towards the body to aid concealment. This allows the wearer to best customize the holster to their build and clothing choices.

I prefer to use holsters that are made by practitioners of the art of defensive pistol, folks who have skin in the game and firsthand knowledge of what works and why. There are currently several holster makers that fit this description, including makers who both build AND wear holsters designed for AIWB. This includes holsters by Spencer Keepers of Keeper's Concealment (Spencer is also a talented pistol instructor specializing in AIWB use and safety), Tom Kelley at Dark Star Gear (Tom is a serious student of the art), and the good folks making gear at Raven Concealment Systems. I'll note that JM Custom and Custom Carry Concepts are also quality, proven choices for AIWB holsters and gear.

In my 30ish years of serious handgun carry, I've used AIWB for quite a bit of my concealed carry/off duty carry needs. In the past, I did what most cops did in the old school, packed a snubby revolver AIWB. I found that this was a comfortable, safe, and fast to access choice. In the days after cops carried wheelguns every day at work (me included) I fell into the habit of carrying a semi auto pistol behind the hip, inside the waistband. Fast forward to the 2000s when I became acquainted with, and eventually made friends with, one of the foremost practitioners of modern AIWB carry, Todd Green. Sadly, Todd is no longer with us, but his legacy is.

Detail of Keepers Concealment holsters includes the material at the bottom-back of the holster to press the muzzle out and the butt into the body. Longer guns tend to be assets in this mode of carry.
Having the chance to train with Todd, and others in the AIWB tribe, I noted that, contrary to conventional wisdom, with a well-designed holster a longer pistol is actually more comfortable and conceals better than a shorter pistol. This is due to the cantilever effect of the longer holster keeping the portion of the pistol above the waistline tucked into the body better. This allows one to carry service sized fighting pistols many would not consider concealable, such as full sized 1911s, Glock 34/35s, etc.

Along with this enhanced level of concealment, I find that I am faster on the draw from a well-designed AIWB holster and a full sized pistol; this is due to both holster position and not having to deal with a smaller grip on the pistol.

I'll note that I recently attended Craig Douglas' most excellent ECQC course, which is famous for pressure testing one's abilities and tactics in the grappling range fight. I used AIWB holsters from Keeper's and Dark Star Gear for the training evolutions. I found that it was much easier to fend off gun grab attacks when the pistol was carried AIWB versus a conventional behind the hip IWB, and that the pistol was more available to be drawn under the pressure of a full contact fight.

A bonus discovery, in wearing these same holsters on extended road trips, I find that I don't experience the back pain that I used to get after sitting in the driver's seat for hours on end with a behind the hip holster.

While I would never advocate that a person use a method of carry (or even carry at all for that matter…) that they are not comfortable with, I strongly feel with good training and good gear, appendix carry is one of the most effective methods one can choose for concealed carry.

Chuck Haggard has been a full time law enforcement officer for around three decades, and served his previous department as a firearms and defensive tactics instructor since the late 1980s. Chuck also served as member of that agency's tactical team for 17 years. Chuck is an instructor-trainer for the National Law Enforcement Training Center and an active IDPA and USPSA competitor. After retiring from full time law enforcement, Chuck took on public safety duties at an airport and started his own training company, Agile Training and Consulting.