The final verdict on concealed-carry bags

Or pretty damn near final.

I like bags.  Packs, sling bags, shoulder bags.  Office-orientated, tactical, outdoors-focused, and pretty much everything else (can’t stand those silly little leather European-style metrosexual “man” bags though).  You know there’s a whole sub-culture devoted to bags?  Blogs, websites, discussion forums, the full Monty.  I dove in for a few years.

And the ironic thing is that I never go anywhere anymore, so have very little need for a bag or extensive EDC kit.  But they still fascinate  me.

So anyways, being a gun guy and all, I spent much of the last decade getting a hold of most every new concealed-carry bag that came onto the market, and reviewing them for or American Handgunner.  I carried a lot of bags and formed a few opinions.

Too slow?  Most trainers will tell you — and I agree — that a bag, or anywhere off-body, is a poor way to carry a gun.  The primary reason being that access is slow.  But how slow, and in what context?  I used to say that the more-or-less standard standard for a draw and a shot — onto a reasonable target from, oh, seven yards or so, and from realistic concealment (not just a vest) — of two seconds, mo’ less, was only a reasonable standard because that’s what trained people could accomplish.  I used to posit that, by contrast, compared to what was required in an emergency situation, even that was too slow.  In that context, a draw and a shot from a well positioned and well-designed sling bag of, say four seconds, while also too slow, was not really significantly slower.

But Tom Givens changed all that when his data on what really happens in civilian self-defense shootings indicated that indeed a 1.5-second presentation and shot is fast enough…even, to my great surprise, against the drop (because of the OODA loop and all that, and also because your basic thug isn’t a Russian Spetsnaz veteran).  So in this new context I have to concur that a four-second bag-draw is too slow…to defeat a surprise encounter.

But not too slow  That conceded, I have never considered a bag-carried gun to be suitable for defense against a surprise attack, nor the reason you carry one there.  To me it has always been a way to have a gun quickly accessible because you believed that it might be needed real soon but not right now: that is, several seconds or minutes in the future.  As I’ve said many times: every gun-related choice you make is a trade-off.  Carrying a J-frame?  Well, you’ve effectively written off engagements at more than 15 yards, and against more than at most two assailants.  Carrying a service-size pistol and spare mags?  You’ve pretty much ruled out much strenuous activity and three-fourths of your wardrobe.  Every choice is a trade-off.  So’s bag carry: you’ve ruled out right-now access.  Right-now access might be the kind that most civilians need most of the time, but still, having a gun is better than not having one, especially if the target of the attack isn’t you personally and you choose to get involved (think active shooter, for example).  One of the tricks that I use is to put my bag gun in an easy-on IWB with spare mag pouch, so that I can grab that rig from the bag, stick it in my waistband, and voila!, my gun is now on-body where I usually carry it.  My current rig for this purpose is the Pro-Stealth from Gino and Sons (better known as DeSantis Holster), although a Kydex rig would be better.

Other disadvantages  Besides the slower access there are some other disadvantages of bag-carry that will frustrate you :

  • The access stroke pretty much requires that you not move during it.  Unlike drawing from a belt holster, during which you can be in motion, accessing a gun from a bag pretty much requires you to be rooted.
  • Bags are just inconvenient to schlep around.  If you’re driving around town running errands, the damn bag has to go on, then off, then on, then off again, etc. for as many stops as you’re making.  Gets real old real fast.
  • More inconvenience.  Bags have to be taken off if you’re in a meeting, working, eating, or for many other reasons when you’re inside.  Where do they go?  You have to keep track of them as you move around the room or building.  And a man taking a bag to the rest room looks plum weird.  In some places, bags aren’t even allowed (some museums, for example).
  • Some jurisdictions have laws about having your gun “under your immediate control”, which means different things in different places at different times in different circumstances.  A gun in a bag on the back seat?  In a bag on a poolside chair while you’re swimming?  You better check your state’s case (not just statutory) law.

As of right now (January, 2018) I think the best concealed-carry bags on the  market are the ones from Vertx.  They are of superior build quality, extremely well thought-out and laid-out, and have very fast (and also extremely-well thought-out) gun access.  They are also low-key; really, carrying a gun in a cameo bag or a molle’d up one is, besides the strange-rangerness of it, defeating the purpose.  These bags were designed with input from serious SMEs and with the help of an industrial designer, and the contribution of both shows.  There’s many YouTube videos demonstrating them.

Finally, here’s a trick you can use to turn any bag or pack into a concealed-carry bag.  Yes, you can stuff a gun into any old bag, but please don’t do that: the gun, particularly its trigger, needs to be protected and you need to be able to access it without having to perform a search-and-rescue mission inside your bag.  Instead buy a few cheap nylon gun rags (a few dollars each).  Position them inside your bag(s) strategically.  Using the zipper and maybe some heavy-duty needles and thread, close off part of the rag, leaving a strategic opening for easy access.  Put your gun  inside the rag, the rag inside your bag, and you have achieved safe and effective off-body concealed-carry…with all of the disadvantages above, plus the additional one of increased access time because the bag wasn’t purpose-designed for quick gun access.



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