Securing pistols in cars

“The 3-year-old located a handgun that was in the vehicle and discharged a round which resulted in the striking of the 1-year-old,” said Sarasota Sheriff’s Office Lt. Vince Mayer.

This morning, yet another Negative Outcome was brought to my attention. In this incident, a young boy gained unauthorized access to his mother’s pistol, which was unsecured in her car, and accidentally shot his little sister.  I use the term ‘accidentally’ because from the little boy’s perspective, it was utterly accidental. In the broader context, it was a training and doctrine failure. Fortunately, her injuries are not life threatening, but I bet they will be life changing for all involved.

Informally, a number of people in our community are starting to include an addition to the cardinal Four Rules of Safe Gunhandling. ‘Rule 5’ tends to be worded something like “In addition to the Four Rules of Safe Gunhandling, always store weapons where they are not accessible to unauthorized persons.” It’s about time we break with tradition and make Rule 5 a formal part of our doctrine.

I don’t know if her pistol was in her purse, in the glove box, or somewhere else in the car. Whichever was the case is irrelevant. The little boy got hold of it and touched off a round. It’s inexcusable and irresponsible. More than getting stolen, I consider this kind of occurrence to be the major downside of off body carry. And when I say ‘off body carry,’ I’m not just talking about purses and briefcases.

The incident demonstrates yet another reason I am totally opposed to glove box carry, console carry, door pocket carry, etc. that are commonly used in vehicles These foolish methods people use to secure pistols almost always result from having a pistol that’s too big to carry on them or with them consistently. It’s a downside of the ‘carry enough gun’ doctrine espoused by the training community.

In that sense, I think the community needs to take some responsibility for recommending equipment that simply doesn’t fit into the totality of our students’ lifestyles. With regard to understanding the lifestyles of normal people, our ‘square range’ mentality is complete.

Many trainers tend to view their students in the military or law enforcement model where the students are molded into something new and different, as a result of the training. Sorry folks, that’s just not the case. What we’re doing is the equivalent of teaching people how to paint, not turning them into painters. Sometimes, it seems to me that the training community’s approach to ‘walk a mile in someone else’s moccasins’ turns into ‘put a load of buckshot into someone, then take their moccasins and walk off in them.’

When I first started writing this post, I had in mind talking about lockboxes for securing pistols in cars, which I still think is a necessary idea. But, as I began writing, I realized I was on the wrong track. In this case, trying to secure the pistol in a lockbox would most likely have entailed repeated instances during the trip of gunhandling in the car to secure the pistol. That’s dangerous and unrealistic. The less we handle guns in vehicles, the better. It’s a target rich environment with too much potential for a Negative Outcome.

SPIC cover

As the number of people who carry guns continues to increase, we trainers are going to have to focus more on ‘Living with Guns,’ as John Farnam put it years ago, rather than just ‘shooting guns.’ Shooting guns is fun and provides immediate gratification; we can see when our students get it. Teaching people about Living with Guns provides no gratification whatsoever because it happens after they leave our class. Are we performers or teachers?

Let’s consider a variant of my question “What’s the ‘worst possible case’?” Is it encountering a really determined criminal who soaks up whole magazines of bullets or having a family member accidentally shoot another family member? I’d really like to hear a definitive answer to that question.

Living with Guns is the tedious drudgery of the armed lifestyle that we, both trainers and gunowners, tend to ignore. It’s easy to focus on marksmanship, ballistics, legalistics, and equipment because those things are obvious and we’re reminded of them regularly. The hard part will be re-directing our attention toward the less obvious but just as important lifestyle aspects. That change in focus needs to happen quickly if we really want to consider ourselves responsible.

Perhaps a criterion we need to add to our selection list when talking about purchasing a pistol is something like “How convenient is it for this purchaser to carry, and secure, this particular pistol 18/7?” If it fails that criterion, that might be a deal breaker.

29 responses

  1. The military does a pretty poor job of teaching people to make firearms a part of their life. The only place I don’t carry is at work (and by extension, to and from work); I’m simply not allowed, and could lose rank for it. Other than a few token weeks in Basic, most soldiers don’t see firearms except for the twice annual (for active duty) weapons qualification, which is so formalized and carefully choreographed that there’s little sense of actually making guns part of your life.

    And then you deploy, and suddenly this inconvenient large black object is another part of your clothing, like your cover or your boots, that you never go anywhere without. The rules change with theater and command tenure; when I was there (long ago now), we could carry a magazine in the well but not have a round chambered. At some points, people were only allowed to keep a magazine in their pockets. Some couldn’t be trusted even with this; one individual augmentee from the Navy left her rifle in the porta-potty on two separate occasions. Just plain forgot it. It was just an inconvenience for most, not something they actually thought about.

    My experience in uniform has made me instantly skeptical about anything or anyone which claims to be adapted from military practices, which are much more about risk avoidance (in terms of commander liability) than actual realistic risk management.

    1. Your experience mirrors Farnam’s in Viet Nam. That’s why he wrote his original paper ‘Living with Guns.’

      The police experience is often similar. When they go to non-firearms training, they are often prohibited from carrying their weapons at the time when the possibility when they could get the most benefit from having them in a working environment. It’s ridiculous.

    2. impliedc0nsent

      @Venya – you nailed it. For 11B types, that mission everyday while in theater, the different FOBs, different rules. Always frustrating to see a CSM dress down a Soldier (who just got off patrol and is looking for chow in the unfamiliar FOB) who was just looking for the [insert here]. The frustration is further enhanced as those same guys are suddenly returned back to Garrison and are stripped of the item that made him feel secure.
      Then… we all become cops and wear [insert here] 18/5.

  2. Reblogged this on Brittius.

  3. “The hard part will be re-directing our attention toward the less obvious but just as important lifestyle aspects.”

    A cadre of those who have carried daily in all walks of life for 20 years or more would make for a formidable one-day class. “The Armed Lifestyle.”

  4. Reblogged this on RealDefense and commented:
    Awesome article from the Tactical Professor. I would say minimizing the amount of playing “put on gun, take off gun” is critical to safe handling.

  5. Having a family member sprout an unintended hole is far worse than the resilient opponent as I still have hand to hand and other options where the opponent is concerned, but nothing I can do will call a bullet back from a family member.

    Indeed, when I teach CHP classed I talk about safe, legal storage and transport techniques and advocate teaching kids firearm safety rules as soon as they can grasp them. Forbidden fruit and children often don’t mix well; the sooner you demystify guns and attach tangible consequences to their use and misuse the better, IMO.

  6. Richard Koefod

    The article reinforces the position I taught students: regardless of who you are; what your job is; whether you carry every day or not; how smart or pretty you are–if your firearm is not under your immediate control, you need to make sure it is in a condition NOT ACCESSIBLE TO UNAUTHORIZED HANDS.

    I would show students several news articles I had collected over only a few months (these incidents of negligence happen with depressing frequency), almost identical to this one. I would suggest that if they didn’t want to experience the life changing event this negligence brings, they needed to follow the 5th rule of firearm safety: firearms not under direct control of an authorized user need to be inaccessible to unauthorized users. It’s part of being a responsible gun owner.

  7. Claude, your comments should be reprinted in every newspaper and included with every gun purchase.

  8. […] Claude Werner, a firearms instructor I admire who writes a blog under the nom de plume tacticalprofessor, also wrote about the near-tragedy in Venice, Florida today. However, one of his lines of thought provided me food for thought that I think is worth sharing — especially for any of my readers who might also be firearms instructors. In his post Werner mentioned: […]

  9. While searching for any news about whether or not there will be any criminal charges, another tragedy came up, which took place in March 2015:

    Carry it or lock it up. Period.

    1. “Neighbors were astonished the boy could even reach the weapon.”

      Children are inquisitive, more clever than we give them credit for, and frequently have lots of time to figure out how to do what they want to do. We ignore these characteristics at their peril, as well as our own.

  10. Chuck Haggard

    Once again, very well stated Claude.

    I take note that a number of name brand nationally known instructors are among the people that I know do not routinely carry. IMHO if you are going to talk the talk, you should walk the walk, especially if you are taking people’s money.

  11. Reblogged this on Women and Guns and commented:
    Yet another excellent article from the Tactical Professor. Thank you, Claude!

  12. […] fall into the wrong hands. Melody Lauer discusses safe handling of firearms in general while the Tactical Professor talks about guns in cars. Good reading unless you want to see your name in the news for bad things […]

  13. One way to reduce the risk is to use a holster that you can put on and take off without removing your belt. I do that, so when I need to lock up my carry gun I take the holster off with the gun still in it and put it in the safe. The trigger is never exposed, so a slipping finger won’t lead to an unfortunate outcome.

    Even with that, however, I’m still very careful about where the muzzle is pointing.

    1. Joe, this is indeed a very safe way to handle a firearm, and when in a car, with restricted accessibility, leaving the gun in the holster keeps clothing and such from getting to the trigger, much less a finger. Unfortunately, I’ve found that this type of holster generally tends to be a bit less stable, moving around more than I prefer. It’s turning into an exercise of compromises, that’s for sure.

      1. When I cannot carry into a business I put my ‘snubby’ and its pocket holster in a Nanovault (sp?) The gun is always inside the holster and trigger covered. It is not too big of a struggle to get the holster in and out of my pocket and the holster usually stays put in my pocket.

  14. A few years, a woman asked a friend of mine what to carry if you were to carry most of the time. To better answer the question than from our limited knowledge and experience, we went to a gun show and asked the vendors (many of whom were firearms instructors or retired LEO) at the tables two questions:
    1.) Do you carry most of the time?
    2.) If so, what do you carry?

    Expecting to hear answers such as 1911 pistol, double stack 9mm pistol, snub nosed revolver, etc. we were surprised by the overwhelming majority of the answers – a .380 ACP pistol from several different manufacturers, the smaller and lighter the better The rationale was that you rarely had to remove the pistol from on your body, so that it was always with you. Seven rounds of .380 ACP on your person was better than other rounds of some larger pistol and “better” pistol that was not on your body. To many of them, a 9mm Parabellum pocket pistol, while it had a superior round to the .380 ACP round, was too large to carry most of the time.

    Placing a firearm in a console or glove compartment of an automobile, then allowing a three year old uncontrolled access to explore the interior of the automobile, is wrong. Allowing a three year old uncontrolled access to explore the interior of the automobile even when you do not place a firearm in the console or glove compartment, is wrong.

    1. Well said by everyone. But what no one has mentioned thus far, is that as tragic and heartbreaking as an AD/ND involving a family member is, it doesn’t even impact just THAT family. These events are used against us, for their emotional impact, by our enemies in the anti-gun community. It doesn’t matter that accident rates continue to drop – no one cares about that when they see toddlers shot by mommy’s purse gun all over the news.

      With more and more people (and young parents) joining the carry ranks, teaching subjects like how to LIVE safely with the gun do need to be a bigger part of the curriculum.

  15. […] When I first started writing this post, I had in mind talking about lockboxes for securing pistols i… Negative Outcome. […]

  16. I think the broom handle mauser had a pretty good idea long long ago. So long as it was in the box, it coudn’t be fired. You could change it from the holster you wear to the holster in your vehicle without ever getting in a position in which it could be fired. It could come out quickly to act like a pistol, and for a bonus, you could use the box to covert to a carbine.

  17. I work in a gun unfriendly workspace, so when I arrive at my parking spot, I have to remove the firearm and secure it. I keep the firearm in its holster as I remove it from my person and secure it somewhere in the car. Let’s just say it’s a legal, but not ideal spot. This has to be done while people are possibly around outside my car, so discretion is critical. After I work I return the firearm to its place on my hip.
    Because of this daily dance, I have to have a holster that allows me to remove the holster from my body fairly discretely, and small enough to secure somewhere.
    Every pistol box that’s on the market is the same. Great for a pistol but not for a pistol in a holster. Just because a box has has a cable doesn’t mean it’ll stay under the seat while I drive around, not to mention being discrete should someone see the marginally secured box from outside the car. Someday someone’s going to make a killing coming up with a mounting kit for various cars. While under the seat appears to be the most universal solution, I’m still, after all these years of carrying, looking for a solution that works best.

    This little piece of the drudgery is actually the most frustrating component of carrying every day. I sense an untapped market here.

  18. One aspect of daily carry that I think you overlooked is the plethora of places that you are not legally allowed to carry. I have a full size 45 that I normally carry and a Walther PPK that I carry when I am wearing shorts or other times that the 45 is impractical, but if I go to the Post Office (for example) I have to leave it in the car. Fortunately I don’t have children (or anyone else) in my car with me, but depending on state law there are often long lists of the places you can’t take your gun. You have two options: one, leave it at home if you are going to visit that one establishment during your errands (completely disarming yourself if you need to run into the post office just once), or two, leave it in the car when you walk in there. I guess option three is to carry illegally but that only works if you are carrying concealed, not open, and there is a risk there too of being jailed and losing your right to own firearms.

    1. I have to go numerous places where I can’t carry a gun also. For those instances, I keep a lockbox in the car.

  19. Your article reminds me of the old saying that “amateurs discuss tactics, professionals discuss logistics”

  20. I was an 11b, but grew up handling firearms. I carry daily except in the courthouse (for my sins I am a practicing trial lawyer ). Unrelated to any thing but a motorcycle accident, my left leg stops halfway down the femur. As a consequence, half the time I am on crutches, which adds a different dimension to things. But more to the point, my girls have been shown, taught and involved in, clearing all types of hand guns since they were old enough to open a cylinder latch. We don’t leave them out, everyone knows to not talk about them, we have clearing practice. They know rules one and two by heart. They also know that there are a 1000 people sleeping under bridges tonight because they forgot to drop the magazine first. My beautiful blonde AP students also know the first rule of gun fighting, which is, of course, “have a gun.”

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