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Signs That Let You Know Others Are Carrying

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By Guy J. Sagi

Noting the nearest emergency exit and determining the quickest and safest escape route is sage advice anyone who’s attended a reputable self-defense course has heard multiple times. Things can fall apart quickly, though, and if the unthinkable happens, can you harness all your powers of observation to giving you the ultimate advantage?

The sharp edges of this concealed Makarov are noticeable, but easy to overlook if a criminal is approaching with threatening intent. It is illegal for concealed-carry permitees to draw just because they suspect a person has a gun and is going to do them harm, however, if your observation issues a forewarning they’re armed, you can often avoid contact completely or at least react a little faster. Photo by Guy J. Sagi

Situational awareness is often discussed in self-defense classes, but a study published late last year in The British Medical Journal added an all-new dimension to the term when it labeled Russian President Vladimir Putin’s asymmetrical walk “gunfighter’s gait.” Some speculated the swing in his left arm while his right arm remained relatively motionless was an early sign of Parkinson’s disease, but the neurologists who penned the article contend it’s the result of KGB training to keep your dominant hand close to the handgun.

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s unorthodox walk, one in which his right arm remains very close to his side, led some scientists to speculate he was suffering with a medical malady. Researchers now think the opposite, and named that style of stride a “gunfighters gate,” one in which his years of KGB training forces the dominant hand to stay close to a handgun. Photo courtesy of Russia

The simple conclusion makes sense, but are there other “ticks” a lawful citizen can recognize to buy them a lifesaving second or two if the unthinkable happens? There’s plenty of “expert advice” out there, but the most authoritative answers I found are in the U.S. Department of Justice’s Violent Encounters: A Study Of Felonious Assaults On Our Nation’s Law Enforcement Officers. Published in 2006, it includes the results of two previous studies and some frightening perpetrator statements.

Identifying common traits, even among shooters, isn’t an exact science. Russian President Vladmir Putin, for example, has firearm skills honed by years of KGB training, but the right hander wears his wristwatch on his dominant hand, despite the fact most right handers keep their timepiece on their left. His practice could mislead you into watching his southpaw side exclusively. Photo courtesy of Russia

Those of us with carry permits may find this strange, but none (as in zero) of the criminals interviewed used a holster. That’s a huge difference from lawful citizens and advantage because that lack of retention: “…may have made their actions more exaggerated or noticeable, or it may have affected their behaviors in varied but related ways,” according to the study.

Hand Checking

Without anchoring in some way, the urge to tug on, touch or adjust that gun is constant. “These acts become most observable whenever individuals change body positions, such as standing, sitting or exiting a motor vehicle,” according to the report. When running, a criminal will often hold the gun in place and keep an eye out for those chronically pocket-diving hands.

One of the best ways to determine if someone is carrying—particularly a criminals with a handgun unsecured in a holster—is to watch their body language during movement. When running or walking the gun will move slightly, forcing them to adjust. The same is true, to a lesser extent, when they get out of a car, bend or carry a heavy item. Photo by Guy J. Sagi

Jock Itch

“Many offenders in the three studies revealed that they purposely transported weapons in their crotch areas…because of the reluctance of officers to thoroughly search this location,” the study said. Coupled with the above-mentioned urge to check an unholstered gun’s location/orientation, it might be wise to notice that problematic itch.

Most criminals in the Federal survey indicated their favorite concealment position was in the crotch area—much lower than shown in this position—because law enforcement and average citizens shy away from glancing there. Sagging belt and jeans are telltale signs. Photo by Guy J. Sagi


When approached, someone trying to minimize detection of an illegal gun will often turn their body to shield it from detection. One of the felons interviewed added a scary twist with: “Because they can’t see what I’m reaching for, I get that extra second.”


“Normally, personal items, such as wallets, keys, pagers, and cell phones, do not weigh enough to cause a pocket to hang substantially lower than the one on the opposite side.” Jackets droop or swing like a strong-sided pendulum when walking unless supported by a quality holster of some sort.

The manner in which the unweighted—handgun free—side of the jacket is moving naturally should be a tipoff for observant people who carry. The pistol side droops and doesn’t swing freely as the person moves. Photo by Guy J. Sagi

Improper Clothing

Coats in the heat, jackets open to winter precipitation, and, “Similarly, if a man is wearing a dress shirt, dress pants, and dress shoes, why would he have his shirttail hanging out?” the study asks. It also warns that criminals will often carry a gun under a coat or item draped over their arm.

The lack of a pocket holster to distribute weight and camouflage form make this handgun stand out in this jacket pocket. Although it was left out slightly for the photo, even if completely concealed the bunching where the barrel concentrates weight is very noticeable. Photo by Guy J. Sagi


“One offender in the current study stated that he had several friends who carried firearms in their jacket hoods,” the report warns, noting hoods not warn during rain and snow might raise an alarm for officers.

“Twelve percent of the male offenders in the same study [In the Line of Fire] reported giving their handguns to females to carry for them when approached by law enforcement officers.” In general, the females also preferred storing their guns in places that will minimize chances of frisking. Ninety-two percent of the criminals interviewed carried their weapons somewhere in the middle torso—crotch, back, side, chest or belly.

This holster by DeSantis, is designed for the small of the back, and it has a stance wide enough to distribute weight and minimize printing. Thankfully most criminals don’t use any kind of rig, although they add a special twist in passing their firearms off to female accomplices because they aren’t perceived as much of a threat.

We can’t and shouldn’t call law enforcement every time we suspect someone is carrying illegally. Their numbers are already stretched too thin, but by maintaining our situational awareness the chances of avoiding a potentially deadly criminal encounter are greatly increased.

If the unthinkable happens, though and you’re caught up close with no escape even before the criminal has presented a weapon, retired Border Patrol Agent and Gunsite Rangemaster Ed Head said your observation should include another focus. “I always looked at their eyes, face and neck,” he said. “People tense up before they launch and you can see this as their eyes narrow or squint, their facial muscles tighten and their carotid arteries in the neck throb as their pulse quickens.” At the least, it’ll give you time to mentally prepare, but it might also give you the life-saving, split-second advantage it takes to come home to your family and loved ones.

It doesn’t require a huge, heavy and bulky rig to carry concealed, but a holster should always be used to secure the handgun and minimize the chances of alarming lawful citizens. This one from Fobus is compact and efficient in those duties. Photo courtesy of Fobus

Guy Sagi

Guy J. Sagi has been reporting on the outdoors for more than 30 years. He was editor in chief of Shooting Illustrated, the NRA’s newsstand monthly, NRA InSights, Shooting Sports USA and Free Hunters during his 10 years with NRA publications. His byline has been seen in most major outdoor publications and he was editor in chief of Safari Times, Safari Club International’s monthly, for decade. The author of Fishing Arizona and Hunting Small Game in Arizona also has of 15 years of search and rescue experience with a Mountain Rescue Association-affiliated organization in Arizona.

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