According to a Crime Prevention Research Center study, the number of concealed handgun permits increased dramatically in 2020. The total number reached 21.52 million in 2020, a 48% increase over 2016 numbers and a 10.5% increase over 2019. Nationwide, 8.3 percent of American adults now have CCW permits and in 15 states it’s over 10 percent. With the rise in civilians arming themselves, comes a responsibility for firearm retention.

Firearm Retention for Civilians

I firmly believe that “an armed society is a polite society,” but I also believe that all CCW permit holders must train diligently. That training should also go far beyond marksmanship and gunhandling. It should also include combative skills, including weapon retention tactics.

To most people, “handgun retention” is a problem that applies to duty-bound personnel carrying handguns in open holsters. While that’s certainly valid, the relevance of that skill set doesn’t stop there. Whether you are a civilian or a duty-bound armed professional, if a bad guy knows you have a gun, he may very well try to take it from you. You must therefore have the skills to stop him.

Gun grabs typically happen in one of three ways: the assailant can try to take it from your holster, he can try to disarm you after you’ve drawn, or, while you and your gun are focused on one assailant, a secondary threat attempts to disarm you. Let’s consider all these possibilities from the perspective of the legally armed civilian.

Keeping Your Gun in the Holster

The operative term in the phrase “concealed carry” is “concealed.” The absolute best way to prevent a gun grab is to conceal your weapon so effectively nobody knows it’s there. While this may seem obvious, many novice CCW holders—and an alarming number of experienced ones—don’t do this well.

Whether it’s a poorly chosen or positioned holster, an inadequate cover garment, or self-conscious carry habits, if your gun is poorly concealed you risk having someone try to take it from you.

To address this problem, do your research and get good training from qualified instructors. Most instructors who grant CCW permits only do the bare minimum training. Look for real training that covers holster selection, carry strategies, and the details of concealed carry tactics. Based on that training, invest in high-quality belts, holsters, and cover garments. Then, learn how to carry your gun discreetly. Avoid the constant checking and repositioning that announces the gun’s presence and carry confidently.

The Guarded Draw and Weapon-Retention Shooting Position

The next weapon-retention context occurs when you draw your gun in response to a relatively close threat. I know, ideally, you should identify the threat early and address it with distance on your side. Unfortunately, things don’t always work out that way—especially if your would-be attacker is armed with a contact-distance weapon.

In that circumstance, his goal is to get as close as possible before launching his attack. And if he’s close enough to hit or stab you, he’s also close enough to grab your gun. To prevent that, you should draw to a sound weapon-retention position.

My preferred “guarded draw” places the palm of your non-weapon hand firmly against your forehead just above your eyebrow. Left hand, for right-handed majority. In this position, your arm is anchored solidly to your head to protect it and your neck. Because your arm forms a solid triangle, it can’t be pushed down in front of your muzzle.

Unlike many commonly taught contact-distance shooting stances, this position also does not raise your elbow above your shoulder. Doing so makes it easy for an attacker to push your elbow and knock you off balance. It also leaves your armpit exposed to edged-weapon attacks.

Your gun hand should grip the gun firmly in the holster with a straight trigger finger. Raise your elbow up, keeping your wrist straight, to draw. Then, drop your elbow and rotate the muzzle forward. Your gun hand should index firmly against your right pectoral muscle, so the base of your thumb is just below your right nipple.

“Flagging” your thumb creates an offset between the gun and your body, pinning any loose clothing to your body. This allows the slide to cycle freely and is more instinctive and arguably more effective than “canting” your hand outward.

Weapon retention shooting position.

Prevention is Better than Cure

This weapon-retention position protects you and positions your gun so it’s difficult to grab. It also allows you to use your guard arm to effectively prevent grabs.

If an attacker reaches for your gun, simply turn your shoulders and deflect his arm with your guarding elbow. This is far more powerful than fending with your hand and keeps you from muzzle flashing your own hand. The turn of your shoulders also naturally moves your gun further away from his attempted grab.

Preventing a grab.

If the threat does manage to get a hand on your gun, use the same tactic. Turn your shoulders and use the power of your entire body to drive his hand away. As you do, pull your gun hand back. The result is a powerful shearing action that will break even a strong grip.

To make this action even more effective, rotate your hand 90 degrees so it’s palm up. This “stacks” the bones of your forearm and anchors the gun butt firmly against your ribs, keeping your wrist from bending around your rib cage.

Once you’ve freed your gun, rotate back to your left and deliver a backhand hammerfist strike to the attacker’s head. Recover to your weapon-retention position and follow up as necessary.

Firearm retention for civilians after criminal grabs gun.

Third-Party Problems 

Bad guys often operate in pairs or even in groups. If you draw and aim at one assailant, a second attacker may grab your gun from the side. If this happens, pull your hands close to your body to maximize your strength.

Think of rowing a boat and use your back muscles to pull your elbows tight to your ribs. Then, pivot your body to orient your muzzle toward the attacker as you simultaneously raise your guard hand to create the same weapon-retention position described earlier.

Firearm retention for civilians from a side grab.

If necessary, step forward or backward to get your muzzle on line as you turn your shoulders to generate power. The ultimate goal is to move your body so you can employ the same shearing technique described earlier.

Pull the pistol away and return to a weapon retention position.

If you carry a handgun, you need to train to maintain control over it. The easiest way to do that is with a simple set of mechanics that provides both proactive and reactive solutions to the most likely threats in a single package.

Get a partner and a blue gun and work through the mechanics of these tactics slowly. As your skills and understanding improve, increase your speed, intensity, and realism. Also make sure to incorporate decision-making, verbal skills, and a logical assessment process to follow up appropriately.

Train hard, stay safe.

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