Weapon Retention (Long Read)


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I posted this over on OCDO and thought you all would like to read it too!

It seems this write-up is directed towards law enforcement. However: it seems like good information until one can attend a formal class/training. Thought some of us could benefit from this information:

Weapon Retention

© Copyright 2005 by Bradley J. Steiner

Quite some years ago, Col. Rex Applegate mailed us a copy of a (then) current in house FBI publication. The issue featured an article describing the essentials of what was (and perhaps still is) one of the popular “weapon retention systems” that at the time (early 1980’s) was all the rage. “Do you know what this bull@#$% is about?” Col. Applegate’s accompanying memo read.

After reading through the article and concluding that the good Colonel’s terse assessment pretty much summed the matter up, we telephoned him. “Sir,” we said, “I’d say that the article you asked about is just that – bull@#$%.” We then went on to have one of our typically lengthy conversations on what was our mutual passion: real world armed and unarmed close combat. The matter of sidearm retention skills for law enforcement officers dominated that particular conversation, and we presented our view of what really should be taught to our uniformed protectors and sworn enforcement personnel. “Dammit, Brad! You should publish your system!” Col. Applegate said. “That’s the stuff that these cops need. Not the bull@#$% they’re getting!”

In obedience to our senior friend and colleague of a quarter century, who was also one of our greatest mentors, we proceeded to write a descriptive article about our weapon retention method for the mainstream handgun publication for which we were writing at the time, and in which we had a monthly column. Some pretty enthusiastic feedback began to come our way. Letters from accomplished, seasoned law enforcement trainers and military instructors came in, and we appreciated such notables as the great pioneer of martial arts in America – Jim Harrison – paying us the compliment of saying that he thought our method was so good and so practically sensible and reliable, that he was photocopying the article and seeing that police officer attendees at his own prestigious seminars and courses received a copy, Harrison himself is a battle-hardened combat veteran; having experienced lethal action in both a military and law enforcement context, during his impressive career. But we must say that the praise that touched and impressed us the most came from Col. Rex Applegate: “That was a damn good article, Brad,” he told us. “Of course there’ll always be the bull@#$%… but at least the guys have access to something good now.” Subsequent to that, we went on to teach a couple of sessions to Seattle, King County, and University of Washington officers who showed up for a training session that we gave at the old Seattle Criminal Justice Training Center. One or two police instructors who attended that session “borrowed” some of our material and proceed to adapt it – albeit in a regrettably watered down fashion, and (shame, shame, shame!) without giving so much as a mention of due credit for their source – to their instructional presentations. The “full blast”, however, is pretty much available only from our self, directly. (Political correctness, and all that…)

We wish to present here and now a basic sketch of the fundamentals of our weapon retention method, which if studied and practiced seriously should go a long way toward preparing armed personnel to remain armed, and to avoid that catastrophe that too often arises when a felon succeeds in snatching a cop’s gun. Study this article, please. It could easily mean the difference between life and death for you – or for a fellow officer or/and an innocent private citizen.

Getting Ready

Think about this, and think about it real hard: The likelihood of a police officer being killed with his own sidearm is not far-fetched. In fact, a substantial number of officers who are killed in the line of duty are in fact shot with their own weapons.

Although the mechanics of effective handgun retention obviously constitute a “must study” subject for every law enforcement professional (and in fact, we believe, for anyone and everyone who goes legally armed) the FIRST priority is to establish the intangible mental factors of ALERTNESS and of SITUATIONAL AWARENESS, coupled with ATTACK-MINDEDNESS. This is the beginning. Technical ability and knowledge that is unsupported by a ready and proper mindset is useless.

Another thing: The officer needs to be certain that his holster and carry mode is as secure as possible. How he wears his sidearm will affect not only its accessibility to him in an emergency – but also to any would-be attacker whose intention it may be to disarm him.

Alertness and Awareness

An officer’s sidearm cannot be snatched away from him if he can anticipate the action. Thus, the officer who maintains a commitment to holding the necessary state of perpetual alertness (a commitment which every officer should maintain), need have little fear of being “surprised” by a suspect’s attempt to go for his sidearm. This means, during suspect-interview situations, securing proper distance, paying attention to suspect hand positioning and movement, and to being wary. It goes without saying that an officer NEVER takes his eyes off a suspect until or unless that suspect is being surveilled by other officers. This level of personal attentiveness will not guarantee that a weapon snatch attempt will not occur; but it will provide the officer with every possible means of discouraging such an attempt, and of being prepared to cope with one, if one should occur.

Now let’s be very blunt: If any suspect should attempt to go for the officer’s sidearm the officer MUST BE WELL-TRAINED TO FEROCIOUSLY ATTACK AND TO PRE-EMPT THAT FELON’S ATTEMPT! In essence, when a suspect goes for an officer’s firearm, that suspect is going for a gun. It remains bewildering to us that such a life-threatening emergency is not generally treated as severe, in current law enforcement training circles, as one in which a suspect attempts to go for a weapon that he has on his own person! (We suggest that, in addition to being presumed immediately to be a potential killer by going for an officer’s gun, a criminal attempting to snatch a cop’s weapon is also a thief! (And a felonious thief, at that! Handguns are expensive!) As any individual makes the attempt to go for an officer’s weapon he should be unceremoniously taken off the count, forthwith. Period. Finis. The officer who is not prepared - and who is not being prepared – to do this, is not prepared to handle any weapon snatch attempt, regardless of how many absurd eight or twelve or sixteen hour “seminars” he may have attended, and regardless of what “certification” any agency may have bestowed upon him.

A Good Holster

Never should any officer be dependent upon equipment, primarily, to protect himself. Still, an officer who is mentally and physically ready to handle himself should certainly make every effort to be properly equipped and to have access to the best gear that is available. An accomplished race driver can do some pretty nifty vehicle maneuvering with a standard car. But give him a top-flight racing car and – well, you get the point.

Whenever a department fails to provide the finest “leather” to its officers, that department is negligent. The only solution is to purchase one’s own holster (if that is possible), or to compensate with physical preparedness and good tactical readiness, insofar as one is able to do so.

We know all about “kydex” and “nylon” holsters, and we must admit that from what some officers have told us, they can be excellent. Still, being a dinosaur, we confess that – for us – only top quality, stiff leather is the way to go for a uniformed officer’s handgun rig. We won’t doctrinaire here: Just see to that your holster is the best quality you can obtain. And you might consider sliding your pants belt through your sidearm holster’s slots, in addition to whatever other gun belt you may be wearing. This increases control and stability.

Our Technique

Now, with the fundamentals understood, let us proceed with the mechanics of our sidearm retention method. We have personally found that it takes about five to fifteen minutes to teach anyone of average physical ability and intelligence our technique. Thereafter, a few minutes of daily practice for several weeks will instill it; and a once every two week review will keep it embedded in the motor memory. Only one caution: Learning the techniques requires a fundamental capability with sever basic unarmed combat techniques:

The side stomping and low shinbone scrape-stomping kick
The hammerfist smash
The chinjab smash
The handaxe chop
The tiger’s claw attack
The knee attack
Proper head butting
Eye gouging, throat-locking, ear ripping or ear “boxing”

A person can sometimes “get by” by knowing only a few of the eight natural weapon actions listed, but we respectfully suggest that when survival preparation is the objective, the ability to just “get by” ought not be regarded as sufficient. The time requirement for a physically fit officer who possesses the proper mindset for becoming competent in the eight actions we advocate would likely be around fifteen to 20 hours of hard drill in repetitious practice. This can be accomplished over a period lasting no more than two or three weeks, if the hours of practice drill, after learning, are reasonably apportioned and spaced. Hardly a major undertaking.

Learning and practice should be done with officers in their duty equipment, and with their carry weapons. Obviously, all weapons must be triple-checked to ensure that they are unloaded before training. If dummy weapons are employed, they should be model duplicates of the weapons that the officers carry. We wish to make it clear, however, that in our opinion and experience, extremely cautions practice with the real weapons is the best way to go. Full uniforms (or whatever clothing the officer wears when he is on the job) should, regardless of “discomfort” or “inconvenience”, also be worn. The more realistic the training, the better.

“Pin and Attack!”

Since it is (or ought to be) obvious that any snatch attempt for a holstered sidearm will be initiated by surprise – usually from either behind or from a side-rear angle that denies adequate visual perception of the onslaught to the victim – there is no possible way to respond to each possible variety of snatch attempt by reacting with a separate and distinct – or “situationally specific” - defensive move. That popular methods so often teach… “If the attacker approaches from behind and grabs for your weapon with his left hand, do this; if with his right hand, do that; he also grabs your shoulder, do something else, etc.” … is mind boggling. Those who advocate such specificity of reactive force are, forgive me, fools. That their enthusiasm for such drivel may derive from the thousand and one serious errors and misconceptions that their classical or traditional “martial arts” instruction left them with (if in fact they ever had any protracted training, at all in the martial arts) perhaps should be taken into consideration. But still – cops who have been on the street doing patrol work for five or more years in virtually any major city in the country couldn’t be so foolish… could they?

This is what you do when and if that awful moment in time ever arrives, and you suddenly realize that a hand is reaching for, or is already grabbing hold of, your holstered sidearm:

1. Slam your closest hand directly over the butt of your holstered pistol, exactly as though you were attempting a desperate quick draw. Clamp your hand down using every ounce of strength that you can muster over the weapon. This action will result in your either – a) “Beating the attacker to the punch”, and getting your hand over your weapon before he is able to do so. (Unlikely – but it could happen) – or – b) Trapping and pinning the assailant’s hand in place, over the butt of your weapon. In this case you will have tremendous leverage, and your hand can easily prevent even a very powerful and determined individual who is larger and stronger than yourself from pulling your weapon out, or even freeing his hand. (This position is the most probable in an actual situation).

2. IMMEDIATELY lash out with a side kicking action (stomping or shinbone scrape –stomping) into either of the attacker’s legs, repeating this stomping / kicking action viciously and powerful, if necessary, several times. Then apply repeated and ferociously aggressive chinjabs, handaxe chops, knee to the attacker’s testicles, hammerfist blows across his temples, nose, or jaw hinge area, and/or tiger’s claw gouging thrusts into his face. Kick again! Keep following up and do not relent or pause or hesitate for a fraction of a second, until your assailant is unconscious or/and until he has clearly and obviously lost both the will and capacity to pose any further threat. Note: It is perfectly acceptable to launch, as a first blow, one of the hand strikes instead of the side kick. However, it is generally the case that when a snatch attempt is made, the assailant will attempt to press with one of his hands against the officer’s shoulder or back – to gain force and leverage in extracting the officer’s sidearm with his other hand – and this makes a stomping kick very, very compatible with the position that the officer is forced into at that moment. (Try it in realistic training, and see for yourself).

We developed that weapon retention tactic about 20 years ago. Learn it. It works. Forget all about the crap that the P.C. “academy crowd” may have corrupted your survival mechanism with.


Shoulder holsters have, among their several outstanding advantages, the advantage of being worn so as to nearly render impossible any successful weapon snatch attempt. Not that a felon might not make a try, mind you.

Best response is to reach in pretty much the same manner – i.e. pin your holstered weapon in place with one hand as you perceive (he will have to make the attempt from in front!) the initiation of the reach. Now swivel your hips and lash out with a kick or kicks. Follow up by gouging his eyes, smashing his throat, bridge of nose, testicles (with a knee), etc. Better still! Be so alert and situationally aware that upon perception of the snatch attempt being initiated, chop the attacker in the throat! Or kick him in the testicles, knee, etc., or tiger’s claw his face… and follow up!

For frontal snatch attempts, ditto. Consider here the possible value of concealing a small but efficient “boot” type knife (like Randall’s little gem) or a push dagger, under your gun belt. Sneaky? Yep. Illegal? Against policy? Hell – we don’t know! Readers will need to check for themselves. The tactic works, and so we mention it. Obviously, no officer (or anyone else) should ever violate any laws; and we wish to make it clear that we specifically urge against any law breaking or compromising of any departmental policies.

“Hell! That gun ain’t loaded!”

Here is a very ticklish predicament. The officer is holding a suspect at gun point. The suspect makes a remark indicating that he is probably intending to attack the officer by distracting him (a tactic that we teach, in a somewhat different manner, when we instruct in counter-weapon actions). Ordered to “freeze” or to assume a particular position, the suspect, apparently undaunted, boldly sneers at the officer and says that the officer’s weapon “isn’t loaded”, that the “magazine is loose”, or that the weapon’s “safety is on”, etc. What to do?

We believe that anyone who attempts to disarm a sworn law enforcement officer is undertaking a deadly attack. Therefore, in our personal opinion, the officer is foolish not to treat the predicament as such. Confronting such a threat he should pull the trigger! (If, for any reason, the sidearm actually is disabled and does not fire, then the officer should ram the barrel end straight forward into the felon’s solar plexus, throat, or sternum, and rip upward, striking him under the jaw with the barrel, then follow up by cracking the felon across the face or head in order to knock him out. Kick! Strike! Attack! Anyone who would attempt to disarm on officer must be dealt with severely and at once!

SWAT Entry Cautions

We have been told that SWAT personnel are in some quarters being instructed in rather elaborate and complex “wrestling” skills – to be employed if, upon, entry, they encounter a suspect who, while unarmed, attempts to seize their shoulder weapon. Consider these facts:

IF the felon succeeds in wrestling the officer’s weapon away, he might perpetrate mass murder

IF the officer attempts to wrestle his weapon from the felon’s grasp that weapon might discharge and kill – a) a fellow officer, b) a submissive suspect in the immediate vicinity, or c) a completely uninvolved private citizen who is not even on the premises (assuming that rounds fired went off into the street or into an adjoining house, etc.)

The felon must be stopped. He has initiated a deadly attack (i.e. he is going for a gun!)

That understood, the proper tactic for retention of the entry officer’s shoulder weapon is: pull the trigger while the weapon is aimed where it should be aimed: i.e. at the assaultive felon. (NOTE: We do not suggest that what we are urging here is any more than our personal opinion about what should become standard operating procedure. Officers must always reference and abide by departmental policy and the prevailing and current laws.) We offer, in this regard, fuel for thought.

A Final Caution and Reminder

We hope that we needn’t remind readers of a simple truth: Anyone who warrants being held at gunpoint must be kept out of arms’ reach. While the situation we are now alluding to falls more under the heading of “prisoner control” or “suspect control”, we do not feel that we are wasting the reader’s time by mentioning it. Officer must constantly remain aware that desperate men attempt desperate actions – and that, sadly, many officers over the years have been overpowered and killed simply because they underestimated, or were never even aware of, the level of determined desperation that possessed the individual whom they were endeavoring to take into custody.

It happens all of the time. Check the daily teletypes. The history of law enforcement is peppered with tragic incidents during which good officers lost their lives because they were not wary, suspicious, alert, and cautious enough. In a fatal moment they underestimated their situation. Don’t let this happen to you. We sincerely hope that this presentation will contribute to the safety, well-being, confidence, and survival of the men of American law enforcement. And, once again, this means YOU.

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