The first time I saw an ankle holster was in the 1971 Academy Award winning movie, The French Connection. I was in high school at the time and I hadn’t even thought about a law enforcement career. My total focus was on two things: girls and sports – in that order! I saw the movie at the drive-in and I was immediately taken by the concept of strapping a gun to one’s leg. It was so cool looking and it’s something I have learned to avoid as the years have gone by.
When I graduated from the police academy, one of the first things I did was buy a snubby revolver and an ankle holster. Carrying the gun was easy because of the pants style at the time (large bell-bottom trousers) and I (admittedly) fantasized about confronting armed robbers and being able to swiftly draw my gun from my leg while saving every damsel in distress in the area. But, once it happened, I realized that relying on an ankle gun for primary carry was/is a huge mistake…one I will never make again!
Off Duty Danger
Like many young officers trying to make ends meet, I took a series of off duty security jobs. One was at a local hotel located along the interstate at the southern end of my county. Known as an upscale location, the hotel in question had indoor and outdoor pools, a fine dining restaurant and a nightclub which stayed open late. With the exception of a few vehicle break-ins, this business was considered a low crime area. That said, the thought of not carrying a gun while working an off duty job was out of the question. And, let’s be honest, that’s why these businesses hire off duty cops. But, as we all know, carrying a concealed weapon can be a hassle, especially since nothing ever happened at this hotel, so I succumbed to the simplicity of the ankle holster and carried a Smith & Wesson Model 60 as my only gun. It was convenient and out of the way, and I didn’t have to wear a jacket. For a while, I carried a Bianchi Speed Strip in my front pants pocket, so I’d have some spare ammo. As time went by, I even quit doing that. I’d fallen into a complete state of complacency and it almost cost me my life.
One evening, I’d just reported for work and walked back to the office located behind the front desk to punch my time card. After doing do, I took off my glasses and was cleaning them as I walked around the corner to talk with the desk clerks. It was at that moment I noticed their hands in the air. I looked up into the muzzle of a .38 caliber revolver and noticed it had a cheap looking Colt Python-like rib on the barrel. It’s interesting what you notice at the strangest times. The robber told me to raise my hands and it was at that moment clarity came over me. I was facing a gun with my hands in the air. Not only could I not see clearly (my glasses were in my hands), my hands were at the opposite end of my body from my holstered firearm. I couldn’t protect the hotel and its staff – hell, I couldn’t even protect myself! I’ve never felt so helpless. I might die and there was nothing I could do about it.
Fortunately, the suspect decided not to shoot anyone, took the cash and fled out the front door. I immediately went into “superhero mode” as I put my glasses on and went to leap over the counter to give pursuit. Unfortunately, my left foot became entangled in a wire brochure rack which was sitting on top of the front desk and I slammed face first into the floor. Not to be deterred in my heroic pursuit, I got up and ran to the same doors the suspect exited. This was a double door with a carpeted mat in between and, as I opened the first set, I thought it wise to draw my gun. As I tried to both run and draw from my ankle rig, I slipped on the mat, going facedown for the second time in a minute – so much for being a “hero.”
I finally cleared the Model 60 from the holster and exited the second set of doors, looking left and right, but not seeing the suspect. I went to my right because it offered the quickest path out of my field of view. As I rounded the corner of the hotel, I saw the suspect in the distance, just as he fired a round in my direction. At that moment, I did the only thing that I could possibly do…I tried to crawl into a crack in the pavement! Finally, realizing this wasn’t a good idea, I moved to a wall and tried to get my bearings. It might come as a surprise that the suspect made a successful getaway. It’s hard to believe, isn’t it? After all, I was so “tactical”…
The “Never Again” Attitude
My life changed that night. It wasn’t my finest hour and I admit to a great deal of embarrassment regarding my preparation and performance. But, as a professional trainer, if my mistakes can save a life or help drive home a lesson, then a bit of embarrassment is a worthy price to pay. I became a “training junkie.” A “never again” attitude enveloped me and I never used an ankle holster for primary carry again. Only a “handful of gun” would be mounted on my belt. Even when carrying a backup gun, I leaned toward pocket holsters because they required less movement. I was fitted for contact lenses and tried to minimize my wearing of glasses. Looking back now, it’s a humorous story, but one which also changed my life. Don’t take your security for granted. Bad things happen to good people in nice places and I had to make sure it never happened to me again.
The Model 60 was replaced with a four inch Smith & Wesson Model 66 and, once semiautos were approved, an S&W 669 9mm. I carried the gun in a belt mounted speed scabbard on my right hip which I soon realized was the closest position to my shooting hand. I practiced drawing, so I could get a solid hit on target in less than two seconds from concealment, regardless of the position I was in, and this included seated and laying on my back.
I still have a snubby revolver and a few ankle holsters, but they were long ago relegated to backup gun carry only. While seated, the ankle gun can be accessed reasonably fast, but it will never be as quick as belt carry. Please keep in mind that trousers with enough space around the ankle are required, meaning something like a boot cut jean or larger. Uniform trousers usually have enough room for ankle carry and there are two methods of ankle draw which work well, but the ankle holster will always require more movement and time than more conventional carry modes.
If you choose to carry an ankle holster, please understand the potential drawbacks and complications: It’s not as easy as it looks and it certainly isn’t “cool.” Although they’re certainly convenient, they’re also slow and complicated from which to draw. Think about your real world of work and the threats you are likely to face and decide if an ankle holster is right for you or potentially life threatening. Keep in mind why you carry a gun and decide if it’s a fashion accessory or a lifesaving tool. This will be an important decision. If you choose to carry your primary weapon on your leg, practice, practice, practice. Nothing else will allow you to be an active participant in your own rescue.
About the Author: Dave Spaulding is a 34 year veteran of law enforcement and security operations. He retired with the rank of lieutenant and worked in all facets of law enforcement, including communications, corrections, patrol, court security, investigations, undercover operations, SWAT and training. He is the author of over 1,000 articles which have appeared in law enforcement and firearms publications and is the author of two bestselling books. He was named the 2010 Law Enforcement Trainer of the Year by ILEETA and Law Officer magazine.