Holster Requirements for Open-Carry

Why do some open-carry bills talk about holsters?

While the hot-button issue dealing with open-carry bills is licensed open-carry v. so-called “constitutional carry,” there is another issue that concerns gun owners who may choose to carry a handgun openly in the event it becomes legal in Texas. At issue is whether to require that a holster be used and, if so, to what degree should Texas law specify the retention features a holster must incorporate. Folks who do not carry a concealed handgun on a regular basis may find this to be an insignificant point to generate much debate, but they would be mistaken.

Texas enjoys a vast community of people who are truly experts when it comes to carrying a self-defense handgun and they come from all walks of life. Some are current or former law enforcement officers, active and former military personnel, competitive pistol shooters and over 800,000 Texas Concealed Handgun Licensees (CHL), many of whom have carried concealed handguns for decades. This community of experts is a great potential resource to Texas legislators considering open-carry bills, but there is a problem. They also represent a wide variety of opinions as to whether holsters should be addressed in the law and, if so, what specific features should be required, if any.

Safety v. Civility

It is speculated that some legislators want Texas law to require that openly-carried handguns be in a holster solely to prevent a person from simply walking around with a pistol in their hand as some open-carry demonstrators have been doing with rifles and shotguns. This could certainly be the motive of some, especially if they are opposed to the open-carry concept. It is doubtful that law-abiding Texans would be so brazen, but it must be acknowledged that this could well be the motive for a small number of legislators.

It is far more likely that requiring the use of holsters is based upon safety concerns, rather than a civility concern. It is also likely that some legislators do not want people to simply put their handgun in their waistband where it could be easily dislodged.

Security v. Accessibility

Currently, the two open-carry bills with the best chance of passing are SB17 and its House companion HB910. These bills require that handguns carried openly be either in a “shoulder or belt holster,” but no specific type of retention features or devices are required. Other licensed open-carry bills do address the types of holsters and often incorporate law enforcement-style language like “two [three] points of contact.” Such definitions are vague and problematic at best, but the intent is to require some type of retention features to prevent an unauthorized person from snatching the handgun from its owner’s holster.

Not Just Holsters

The approach taken by SB17/HB910 is probably the best option, but the limitation of using only shoulder or belt holsters is too restrictive. There are numerous very good devices designed for carrying handguns in wide use by knowledgeable people other than shoulder or belt holsters.  This is especially true for women whose body-type, height and manner of dress often make traditional belt or shoulder holsters impractical if not impossible to incorporate in their daily routines. While many of these devices are currently used for concealed carry, if open-carry becomes legal in Texas, then some of these devises can be used in that role as well.

“Retention” Holsters v. Non-Retention Holsters

There is an old saying among experienced handgunners, “Every step toward holster retention is a step away from rapid deployment.” In layman’s terms, this means that the harder it is for a bad guy to get your gun out of your holster, the harder it is for you to get it out when you need it.

“Retention holsters,” are popular with law enforcement officers, competitive action pistol shooters and handgun hunters and the requirements of each community are markedly different. Handgun hunters typically use a holster that has a retention strap or flap to keep the handgun from falling from the holster when walking in the woods, stepping or jumping over streams, crossing fences or climbing into blinds. Quick access to the handgun is rarely a requirement, so it is not a factor in choosing a holster for hunting.

Action pistol competitors run, jump, climb and shoot from unusual positions, so they need a holster that will prevent their handgun from falling out during such activities, yet will allow the handgun to be drawn quickly during the competition. Holsters that meet this criteria often have a tension screw or knob that can be set as needed and that provides tension close to the muzzle. When a competitor draws the pistol, the tension is fully released with very little upward movement of the muzzle. Some competitors use holsters that are molded or “boned” to the handgun such that there is tension the full length of the handgun. (These types of holsters are also very popular with concealed handgun licensees.)

Uniformed law enforcement officers have the greatest need for retention devices on their duty holsters for obvious reasons. Their job requires them to deal with violent offenders and they often find themselves in physical altercations with suspects and their holsters must keep criminals from having easy access to the officer’s handgun. Retention devices on holsters for law enforcement officers vary with some holsters requiring two and in some cases three distinct physical manipulations of the handgun to free it from the holster. This is a very secure holster that is relatively slow to draw from, even with frequent practice.

Should Texas Law Require Holsters?

In terms of citizens carrying self-defense handguns, a threshold question needs to be addressed. Should Texas law require that handguns that are carried openly be in a holster? If the answer is yes, then the decision must be made as to whether a holster must have any specific level of retention features.

The law should require a “holster” but in the broadest context. It is likely that open-carry demonstrations with rifle and shotguns will prompt the Legislature to require that a handgun be put in “something,” but that “something” should not be limited to a traditional shoulder or belt holster. “Holster” should encompass any device designed to hold a handgun securely while being carried on the body.

If a holster is required, then there should be no specified number of retention devices or features as there is no one-size-fits-all that would be appropriate throughout the State. It could also prove problematic for certain persons such as women, the elderly and those with certain medical problems like arthritis to draw from a law enforcement-style retention holster.

Plus there is the practical aspect. If a person is carrying a handgun openly in a high crime area where attempts to snatch their handgun might be greater, then they should strongly consider a true retention holster and practice accordingly. Another person living and carrying in areas where there is little if any violent crime may decide that a law enforcement-type retention holster is not needed.

The bottom line: It is unlikely that the Texas Legislature is going to remain silent on how a handgun can be carried openly, if for no other reason than the need to pacify some legislators who fear Texans walking around with guns in their hands or simply shoved into their waistband. If the manner of carry is included in Texas law, then it should be limited to requiring the use of a “holster, scabbard, or other similar device to hold the handgun.”