Saturday, December 13, 2008

Pistol Packing Perp

by Ben Small

When my editor read my “polished” draft of Alibi On Ice, my first entry into the mystery/thriller market, he phoned me, outraged, fit to be tied. I imagined foam spewing from his mouth, a geyser at Yellowstone.

What had I done so wrong?

“Snub-nose revolvers don’t have a safety,” he said, so loudly I tilted the receiver away. “Anybody who knows anything about guns knows that.”

Well, I didn’t. But then I didn’t know anything about guns. I thought every modern gun had a safety.

“Look,” he said, “if you’re gonna write mysteries and thrillers, you gotta understand that there’s a huge gun culture audience reading the genre. And there’s nothing they’ll spot quicker than a gun error.”

I must have sounded a bit doubtful. More likely I was just embarrassed.

“Do you have any idea how many NRA members there are?" he said.


“Neither do I. But look it up. You’ll be shocked.”

I was. The numbers were enormous.

So my editor suggested I purchase some guns and get to know them. He suggested I obtain a concealed carry permit, not just for personal protection, although more and more that alone seems a good enough justification ― especially when one has white hair. No. He wanted realism, not boring page-after-page Clancy-style engineering detail, but pixie dust particulars that fit the character, his knowledge, his planning and his execution. For instance, a pistol-packer will walk, sit and act differently from an unarmed person. Cops know this. They look for people not walking normally, maybe not swinging one arm as much as the other. They’ll look for the reassuring pat, the yup-it’s-still-there touch to the cargo pants pocket, the upper chest-armpit junction or the belt. Or if it’s an ankle holster, the packing leg’s stride will be just a bit shorter than the free leg. Or they’ll look for the print, the telltale lump, sag or barrel outline.

Cops can spot these things from a distance. And so can you if you know what to look for. Adding some of these considerations to your perp’s conduct will make him or her more real. (Note: I’m addressing the perp here. While the same considerations apply to protagonists, I prefer messing with bad guys.)

It’s a simple fact that carrying a pistol is not comfortable. Pistols are heavy and mostly made of metal. No matter where you put the thing, you’re gonna be aware of its presence.

Most Inside the Waistband holsters (“IWB”) are placed on the side, either strong side or cross-draw. This means an added two inches to your belt and waist. Think about that after a large meal. And what about material? Your IWB holster most likely will be made of leather (cowhide or horsehide) or Kydex, a hard plastic mold. Expect chafing; there’s a direct correlation between your girth and how much skin you lose. And of course, the larger the pistol, the greater your skin lotion outlay. Add in hot weather, and you’d better line up a dermatologist.

Obviously, an Outside the Waistband holster (“OWB”) presents more concealment challenges than the IWB. The thing is hanging off your belt, for Chrissakes. An untucked shirt may adequately conceal an IWB packed with a Baby Glock (a G26 or 27), but good luck concealing a bazooka tugging at your belt. You’ll need a long winter overcoat.

A pistol-packer will find sitting no joy, especially in a car. Imagine the fun of managing the seat belt/carry position alternatives. Move your holster to your back? Then you’ve got metal resting against your backbone. Take those speed bumps slowly, and pray no one rear-ends you.

Shoulder harnesses aren’t comfortable either. They need support, which means the carry side is offset by straps around the non-carry shoulder and maybe a tie-down on the belt. Need a loose shirt or a jacket to conceal that arrangement. And get used to feeling constrained, as both shoulders and maybe your belt are all tugged together by hanging pistol weight. A man will quickly learn why a large breasted woman hates her brassiere.

What about an ankle holster? Truth be told, they’re not practical. Cops only use them as backups. And for good reason: extraction and re-holstering are not easy or fast. Ankle holsters are tight; they have to be. Lots of wrestling with taut elastic or leather and snaps. Driving is difficult with an ankle holster, and you’ve got hard metal close to your very sensitive ankle bone.


Of course, many of these considerations apply only to men, if women are smart and use a purse holster. A fanny pack is about as close to this option as a man can get. A man wearing a purse might as well be wearing neon shoes. People will stare.

Some pistol-packers worry that a fanny pack screams GUN, but that’s nonsense. Athletes wear them; hikers wear them, and tourists wear them. Coupled with the right clothing, a fanny pack may well go unnoticed.

Regardless, however, what concealment option your perp chooses, he or she will remain very conscious of what they’re carrying.

And that’s the biggest tell of all.

Drop some of these considerations in your character’s conduct like pixie dust. Don’t overdo it, be subtle. You’ll draw your reader deeper into your character and your story.


Morgan Mandel said...

Well, you certainly know your guns now. Lots of good info here.
Morgan Mandel

Mark Troy said...

I'm not a gun owner, but I do have friends who are and some who carry. They have been very helpful when I needed information on guns. As you've discovered, there are NRA members all around--probably on your block. Most of them love talking about guns.

Jean Henry Mead said...

I had a computer crash so am late in commenting. Very good post, Ben. Guns and ammo sales are at an all-time high despite the recession, so more of our protagonists will probably also be totting guns.

Dana Fredsti said...

I've been crazed (anyone need a kitten? I know 15 who need homes) and am also late commenting. Excellent post and as one of my writing partners is a total gun expert and has conniption fits whenever a movie/book gets their facts wrong (yes, we count how many shots come out of particular types of firearms in both our houses), I'm in total agreement with your editor.

Funny and informative!