BULLSEYE: Off‐Duty Carry


BULLSEYE: Off-Duty Carry
By Warren Wilson
Trouble doesn’t take a day off.

Cops carry a bunch of emergency equipment on duty: sidearm, extra magazines, OC, Taser, flashlight, etc. However, I would guess only about 25 percent of the officers I know consistently carry a gun off duty. As someone who has always carried a gun when off work, that has always struck me as odd. Do these officers live in a different world when they’re off the clock? It only makes sense that law enforcement officers need sidearms while on duty, but how much does our situation really change when we’re off work? Granted, off-duty cops are less likely to run toward trouble, but sometimes trouble finds you. Obviously, when off duty we don’t have to respond proactively to calls, but how many of us would turn a blind eye to an assault or battery in progress? Not many, I would guess. So, why not have some tools to aid in dealing with the situation? Instead of covering the ‘what’ of concealed carry, let’s take a look at the ‘why.’

Are We Ever Off Duty?
Have you ever been recognized when you were off duty by one of your ‘customers?’ I have, unfortunately. I’ve encountered several people ‘after business hours’ that I have investigated, arrested, or cited. Most of those encounters were no more threatening than a harsh glance or two, but a few of them involved hand gestures. There were some I perceived that might become violent. Too many of those particular instances were during family outings, but thankfully, I always had a firearm and the good sense not to be confrontational.
Some years ago at a grocery store in town, I saw an LEO acquaintance from another agency. He was visibly excited. He said that two suspects from a previous arrest he had made were currently at the entrance to the store and had challenged him to a fight. Being in exceptional physical condition, he considered obliging them, but backed down fearing one of them might have a weapon. I didn’t outwardly critique his tactics, but I did ask if he had a gun on his person, even though I already knew the answer. He was wearing tight-fitting exercise pants and a t-shirt; both of which had his agency’s logo on them. (I understand being proud of your career, but cop logos on clothing may as well be bullseyes for bad guys. They’re great for the friendly barbecue, but not advisable for public appearances.)
We walked out of the store together. I was comforted by the presence of my Glock 27 on my right hip, the S&W model 642 J-frame revolver in my left front pocket, and the 15-round spare Glock magazine on my left hip. This carry combination gave me the option of handing my buddy the J-frame if the situation really escalated. The 2 oz. Oleoresin Capsicum (OC) spray I had in my right cargo pocket could have also come in handy. Thankfully, none of it was necessary. The defective duo had apparently pursued less perilous activities and vacated the premises before we did.
I wondered what would have happened if those two nefarious ne’er-do-wells had actually attacked my friend. Short of a sudden late-life growth spurt, the scrawny cretins would likely been taken to the proverbial woodshed by this fellow. This cop was sharp, well schooled, and well muscled. I would not want to be on the receiving end of what I could only imagine as an angry buzz saw of flying fists and knees. However, he was completely unprepared for an armed encounter. If weapons had been involved, he would have had almost no chance to prevail. Thankfully, this incident ended only as a lesson.

Patrolman Paul E. Annah
A lot of us do keep a pistol on our person at all times. So, how do we convince these other guys and gals to join us? We all know that officer who thinks cop work is just a job. We’ll call him Officer Paul E. Annah. He does not see the need for defensive tools when he’s out on the town with his family, even when visiting the same movie theater where he helped catch a predator. He has no issue walking his family down the alley between the theater and the parking lot where a girl had been attacked the previous week. When the Annah family finds their way to the parking lot where their car is parked, he will not be looking around for potential danger. He will be fumbling with his keys, looking down and thinking about the court subpoena he has for the following morning. Most likely, nothing bad will happen to Paul and his family. But, sometimes, bad things do happen. As cops, we should know that.

It Happens
In Texas, an off-duty officer was ambushed and killed by two gunmen as he was closing his side business. In Michigan, an off-duty officer was robbed at gunpoint and was forced to shoot his assailant to save his own life. Both of these incidents happened within days of this writing. I found more than a dozen similar stories in news articles from all over the country from this year alone with little effort, from Texas to Michigan and everywhere in between.
I am a dilettante runner and go once or thrice a week. I’ve had stray dogs chase me on more than one occasion. I’ve successfully used OC in these situations and have never regretted having this option. My family and I were attacked by an elk during a hike at a national park. Not a bear. Not a bison. An elk! The entire quasi-comedic saga was documented in the Sept/Oct 2013 issue of The Police Marksman in the article, “Carry a Big One.” It goes to show that not all attacks are by two-legged animals.

Every Day Carry
As stated above, there is a lot of stuff on the modern cop’s duty belt. I won’t recommend that you lug all of that gear to that weird shop in the mall with all of the smelly soaps and bath stuff where your spouse drags you on your day off. What I will recommend is that you, at the very least, consider carrying a firearm when not on active duty. While it’s true that it does make life a little more inconvenient, it’s a small price to pay. Everyday activities like going to the doctor, a concert or a sporting event become more complicated and require some planning. Are there signs prohibiting firearms in those areas? Does your state allow off-duty LEOs to carry in spite of these signs? Laws vary from state to state and it’s our individual responsibility to be aware of them. That being said, one moment of unpreparedness in an off-duty encounter can last the rest of your life.
You truly can carry whatever size pistol you choose if you wear the right clothing. As a more youthful and less middle-heavy fellow, I concealed a full-size Beretta Model 96 pistol for several years in an IWB (Inside the Waistband) holster from Bianchi. I learned to buy my T-shirts one size bigger to accommodate my EDC.

Whatever you decide to carry for an off-duty pistol, it’s equally important that you practice with your chosen equipment. I probably spend more time at the range and at home practicing my draw stroke from my concealed-carry holster than I do from my duty gear. If you decide on a loose T-shirt as a cover garment, you must practice pulling up the shirt with the weak hand while acquiring the pistol with the shooting hand. After both are clear, the hands come together into a firing position as they normally would. With a jacket or vest, the gun hand must brush away the cover garment and then quickly acquire a grip before the material comes back in the way.
Legendary lawman and 20th-century gunfighter Delf “Jelly” Bryce used his weak hand to reach around the back of his jacket and pull his sport coat away from his holstered firearm for quick access and a lightning-fast one-handed draw. I’ve experimented with this technique and it is not without merit, though it was originally invented for use in a one-handed draw and shoot. So, the support hand has a long way to return in order to take its proper two-handed position. Bryce was in many armed encounters, but died peacefully in a hotel room later in life. So, there is something to be said for anything he considered successful.

Some might look at my every day carry (EDC) battery as excessive: gun, extra magazine or two, flashlight, OC, folding knife, extra car key, cell phone, and sometimes an extra gun in the form of a Ruger LCR in my front left pocket. Many cops might even say I was looking for trouble and ask why I need to carry all of that equipment when on my own time. I would ask those same officers what they carry on their duty belt and ask why they need all of that stuff. The answer is invariably that they need to protect themselves and the citizenry with that equipment.
Obviously, law enforcement officers are much more likely to become involved in a physical encounter when on duty than when off duty. On duty means we are actively running toward trouble, but the world isn’t all rainbows and gumdrops after we punch out. I know many, if not most cops, will never carry a gun off duty regularly. Each of us must decide how far we are willing to go in our quest for balance between protection and comfort. What I hope is that after reading this, a few more will see the benefits of off-duty carry and exercising that option. PM

Warren Wilson is a Lieutenant with the Enid Police Department in Oklahoma. He is a former SWAT team member/leader and has been in law enforcement for 19 years.


  1. The author encourages officers to carry a firearm off duty at the very least, but also carries an extra magazine, OC, and a small flashlight in his own everyday carry battery.
  2. A quality IWB holster like these from Ozark Leather Company and a pair of cargo pants can make carrying emergency equipment in ‘civvies’ a snap.
  3. The typical 2-inch, five-shot .38 special revolver conceals easily with almost any clothing choice and can also be readily carried in a front pants pocket.
  4. Regular practice is the only way to guarantee a good draw stroke while under stress.
  5. An M&Pc disappears with the proper holster and cover garment, even when the officer concealing it is of less than average size.
  6. Sgt. Tim Doyle demonstrates drawing an M&Pc from concealment in an IWB holster.

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