I have to be honest with you, I personally believe that on-body carry is the safest, most effective method to carry a concealed pistol. Saying that, there are times when either what I am wearing or where I am going prohibits me from my preferred carry method. In those situations, I choose to carry a holster handbag rather than leave my pistol at home.
I turn to my Gun Tote’n Mamas (GTM) Shoulder Clutch. GTM has been manufacturing purses for more than 35 years and has been producing concealed carry handbags since 2009. These handbags are made by women for women and this company produces a well-made, sturdy product in an expansive variety of styles, fabrics and colors for the concealed carry consumer.
I am a pretty low-maintenance person. I do not usually carry a purse and I don’t have much to put in one when I do. The only reason for me to carry a purse is to conceal my Sig Sauer P365. With that background, the Quilted Shoulder Clutch is perfect for me. It is black (goes with everything) and is a little bit classy and a little bit down to earth, so that I can wear it when I need to dress up or with an everyday outfit. It’s made with luggage grade microfiber that makes it durable, lightweight, and easy to clean. The quilted padding keeps the pistol from imprinting over time.
My particular handbag has three pockets, with one pocket made exclusively for my pistol, and, for safety reasons, NOTHING ELSE. The inner side of the pistol compartment has a 5.5 inch by 7 inch piece of Velcro® securely sewn to accommodate their standard Velcro® holster, which is also provided. The standard holster is fine for my P365 with a Crimson Trace laser attached to the trigger guard, and GTM states it will hold up to a 1911 sized pistol. I would recommend their mini holster for the standard P365 that doesn’t have the extra bulk of a laser. After the holster is fastened to the Velcro®, I am not worried about it moving an iota once it is zipped in. The holster does have an open mouth making it easy to slide the pistol in place without having to use your off hand to prop open the mouth of the holster and potentially muzzling your hand.
One of the many ingenious design features, in my opinion, is that GTM uses a black zipper and a black liner (with the GTM logo – how fun) exclusively for the pistol compartment in order to differentiate it from the other partitions. The rest of the zippers are chrome on my bag and the other compartment liners are tan. I choose to wear my purse crossbody hanging off my right hip, so that I can draw with my dominant right hand. When putting it on I do not have to open all the compartments hunting for my gun to make sure the grip is pointed in the proper direction for the draw. I just put the black zipper toward my body. As this purse is made for left or right handed shooters, I place the Velcro® holster to the position that makes my draw stroke smooth and then close the two-way zipper in the corner just above the rear sight. The zippers for the other compartments are zipped to the opposite end toward the front, so that there is no confusion for me in the event I have to draw quickly. This is the way I set up my purse and this is the way I always practice. (More on practicing later.)
Another great feature is the 11-ply steel wire, slash resistance shoulder strap. I place the strap crossbody to prevent a criminal from snatching the purse off my shoulder, to distribute the weight of the loaded pistol, and to keep both my hands free. The reinforced strap prevents the criminal from slashing the strap with a knife which would make the purse easier to steal. Not only is the strap adjustable so that I can carry crossbody or the traditional shoulder carry, but it has a simple to use, sturdy swivel clip on both ends, so when I go somewhere nice I can remove the purse with the clip and not have to drag the strap over my face and fancy hairdo which I invariably do.
As a side note, but probably important to regular purse carriers, the other outside pocket is organized with pockets for glasses, cellphones, cards (like your concealed handgun license) and other items you want to get to quickly without digging out. The middle pocket is large enough for my wallet and keys including the Sabre pepper spray I carry daily. It also has an additional small zippered pocket which I assume is for secret love notes.
Drawing from a Purse
I am thrilled that I finally found a purse that actually meets my specific safety needs when it comes to off-body carry, but it does me no good if I can’t get to my pistol when I most need it. Practicing the draw from your concealed carry position is vital as pulling your gun from a purse rather than an on-body holster can add a significant amount of draw time and maybe even double it. You should practice with the gun you carry with an empty magazine and empty chamber (double and triple check!) and always follow all safety rules. Also practice from your purse with all the contents in it so you can get an accurate feel for the draw and to determine if anything in the purse could possibly get in the way of a quick, smooth draw.
My method to draw from a purse from my particular crossbody configuration is as follows. Use your non-dominant hand to hold the front strap of the purse as low as you can. With your dominant hand, yank the zipper down. (Remember the two way zipper is at the upper back corner, so one zipper will be pulled down and the other zipper, which is situated on the top, not the side, is out of your way.) Reach in to grab the gun with a strong, high grip on the pistol. While you are pulling the gun out with your dominant hand and indexing your trigger finger, the non-dominant hand is throwing the purse around the other side to get it out of the way. With crossbody carry the purse will settle back to your hip. If your initial grip is correct (this is where your practice comes in), your non-dominant hand comes up to meet the pistol and pushes out to the target.
Another method of drawing from this particular purse is from the top rather than the back. You will have to adjust the Velcro® holster so the grip is up and the zippers so they are at the upper front corner. Again use your non-dominant hand on the strap to anchor your purse. Use your dominant hand to pull the zipper back. Once you have your strong, high grip on the gun, draw straight up as you would from a belt holster. As with the first method, but even more important with the top draw because you are not sweeping the purse away, keep your non-dominant hand away from the barrel of you gun while you are drawing so as not to muzzle it.
Addition safely considerations include restroom use and traveling with companions. When I go to a public restroom, I never hang my purse on the back of the door or set it on the floor (just ewww). I leave the purse hanging crossbody. Not only does this decrease the chance of walking off without it, but it also prevents criminals from snatching it while you are otherwise occupied. If you are a purse carrier and have children or a significant other who is often at your side, coordinate with them what side you want them to walk on. I choose to have unarmed sidekicks on my left, so I can shoot with my dominant hand and corral them with my left arm. There is also no foul for unzipping the pistol compartment and having your hand on the grip in certain situations, like dark, vacant parking lots. This will significantly decrease your draw time.
As another safety point and coming from the Kathy Jackson “school of concealed carry,” I wish the internal holster that is included with the GTM handbags had a strap around the back to prevent the gun from falling out in the event the zipper inadvertently gets pulled out of position.
I have also heard quite a few comments, “Why take time to draw? Just shoot ‘em through the purse.” I would not recommend this unless you are very proficient at shooting from the hip and have had previous practice shooting through your particular purse of choice, which would get very expensive when you are looking at anywhere between $100 to $300 for a good carry purse. I might consider this method as a last resort if the bad guy was already physically on me with the purse/gun between us.
In the Car
A self-defense gun has to be accessible. If I put my purse on the floor board in the back seat when I get in my car, it is of no use to me. I usually place my purse in the passenger seat, or if someone is in the passenger seat then between the center console and my thigh. I also always lock my doors because I do not want to be at a stop light with an unlocked car door for a criminal to open and take my purse and now my gun. I seat belt my purse into the passenger seat through the doubled section of the reinforced strap. I do this first to keep my purse in place in case I have to make a quick stop and secondly to somewhat anchor it if I need to draw because I cannot hold the purse with my left hand anymore. In order to make sure that there aren’t any obstacles to reaching the pistol compartment, I tuck the purse strap in behind the handbag and I use a “chip clip” (similar to these) to snap the chest section of the seat belt to the lap portion out of the way.
Taking the Purse Off
One of the prime rules of gun safety is to always keep your gun from unauthorized users. As a purse carrier, that means the gun always has to be available ONLY to the owner. If I do take my purse off my shoulder, the purse goes straight to my lap or between my feet with the purse in the proper position for a clean draw. I choose not to sling the purse over my chair where I can’t visually see it or plop it down out of the way. Once I get home, my gun immediately goes to the safe. There have been too many dreadful news reports of children getting to guns in unattended purses that end in horrible outcomes.
The Purse Carry Choice
Although there are a group of vocal concealed carriers who are absolutely against purse carry, I believe this is a perfectly viable option. Most women carry purses on a daily bases and are already used to monitoring their purse constantly. By adding a gun to your purse, you must heighten your awareness of where your purse is at all times making sure your gun is not accessible to unauthorized users. Just like any other carry method, you must practice your draw. Taking these steps into consideration and purchasing a quality conceal carry purse, makes purse carry just another opportunity to protect ourselves on a daily basis.