Appendix carry has been undergoing a renaissance in the last few years, but the biggest outstanding safety concern has been holstering a loaded gun in a way that, were it to go off, would put a bullet in your leg. One concern for reholstering is that, under stress, a novice AIWB user will forget to observe Rule #3 and holster with their finger on the trigger. The other is that “foreign matter” (a t-shirt) might get stuck in the trigger guard and will pull the trigger as the gun is pressed in to the holster. There has been a lot of internet consternation (mostly from people who don’t regularly carry with a gun pointed at their femoral) over this, and for the most part I don’t see this as a dire problem. I think a conscientious, deliberate, proficient shooter can carry AIWB with any viable carry gun safely, but whether you need or want it, there are a few ways to pick gear that gives you another layer of assurance. I don’t thin it’s a bad thing to add safety, as long as it doesn’t have a penalty in speed or accuracy (e.g. NY Glock triggers).
In this article, I’ll cover all the options I’m aware of with a few specific gear recommendations of each type. Options are in order starting with my least favorite.
Option 1: Traditional DA/SA
This is the most obvious and straightforward answer, and the one I personally like the least. Since roughly forever, militaries and police departments have loved DA/SA guns that require you to really mean it to shoot the first shot as a proactive defense against lawsuits. But to me, this fundamentally represents solving a training issue with gear. It seems backwards to me to solve a problem with holstering by handicapping your first shot after a draw. There are better solutions. That said, I’m not saying what works for me works for everyone. If you want to go this route, you’d want to look at polymer compact 9mms like the CZ P-07 in DA/SA mode or Beretta PX-4 Storm Compact.
Option 2: H&K LEM
H&K’s Law Enforcement Modification is, as far as I know, not widely deployed among police departments at least not the in the US, but that’s too bad because it’s a genuinely interesting and unique trigger system that doesn’t get as much respect as it should. The hammer in a LEM gun is “pre-cocked” in the way a striker is, where the recoil of the gun does the work of compressing the main spring of the gun and pulling the trigger only releases the tension stored therein. The feel of the trigger is striker-like with a long, light takeup, hard wall, and break. However, as a part of taking up the slack on the trigger, there is a “hammer” that has to travel through a full range of motion, and if it’s blocked the trigger is blocked. So in that sense, when holstering, the safety is very comparable to a DA/SA gun, since with the thumb on the hammer, the trigger can’t move through its full range of motion and the gun can’t go off. As the local LEM and AIWB afficionado is known to say “The trigger breaks before the gun goes off!” The pros of this are that you get all of the safety of a DA/SA gun when holstering, without the extra work on the first shot off the draw. And compared to striker fired actions, it gives double strike capability. The options for this are obviously all H&K guns, but you have a few options for size, either the full size P30 or the subcompact P30SK.
Option 3: Glock with a Gadget
The gadget, a somewhat-LEM-like device, works very similarly to H&K’s design, but is a drop-in part on most Glocks, giving you the safety while holstering with nothing to worry about while shooting. It works by replacing the rear slide plate on the gun with one that’s hinged and attached to a curved rod that goes in to the striker channel. Use your thumb on the striker plate to block it from moving while you holster, and then when you draw, forget it’s there. For a $50 retrofit, this may be the most successful option here long term. However, although the crowdfunding campaign to make them was successful, they have not actually shipped any production units yet. Whether they hit their January 2016 delivery date for crowdfunding backers, and how much longer after that they are in stock and generally available is a big question mark. There are also internet grumblings about the reliability of it. There was a huge internet backlash against the gadget when it was launched, and it’s not totally unfounded. To be successful, the gadget will have to not cause the gun to not fire, even when exposed to the dirt, dust, rocks, grains of rice, ball bearings, and miscellaneous other “stress testing” that YouTubers will inevitably do to it. If the answers to the delivery, availability, and reliability questions come up positive, this may become the solution of choice for the modern AIWBer. Hardware options for the first iteration of the Gadget only include old-school double stacks like the Glock 19 and 26. Maybe one day we’ll see one for the 43.
Option 4: XD with a grip safety
Grip safeties get a bad rap, especially 1911/2011 style ones where having a grip too high on the beavertail can un-press the safety. But if you find, with your normal shooting grip, you reliably depress the grip safety on your chosen gun, I think it’s a good option. That’s what I’ve found with my XDs, my single stack “summer carry.” When I holster the gun, I take my hand off the grip and press it in by the back of the slide (in a motion similar to what I’d use if I had a Gadget). Nothing presses the grip safety as it goes in the holster, so even with something jammed in the trigger guard, the gun isn’t going off no matter how hard I push. (I’ve tried.) XDs have a sketchy reputation among competitors because for a while Springfield refused to send out replacement parts and required shipping the gun to them. However, the new XDms are getting fairly positive reviews, and the XDs 9mm remains a good option in the single stack space. You can’t even buy a gadget to add to a Glock 43, and the only safety on a Shield is the wretched nubby thumb safety. In my opinion, the XDs 9mm is still the best option for an AIWB carry single stack.
Option 5: A thumb safety
I like a good thumb safety on a gun. When it’s shaped right, operates in the right direction, and is in the right place on the gun, it doesn’t just add safety, it makes the gun easier to shoot by giving you a more secure, high grip. Unfortunately, most companies get thumb safeties wrong. Off the top of my head, H&K’s guns, the S&W Shield, FN FNS, Taurus 24/7, and so on all get the shape or size of the thumb safety wrong so that it’s either painful or impossible to ride your thumb on. So that pretty much leaves 1911s and double stack M&Ps. As someone of average hand size, the 12+1 M&P9c is the best shooting, best carrying gun I’ve ever owned, which is why it stays in my rotation for double stack carry since the first day I ever carried concealed. I have one with a 4lb trigger and no thumb safety, which I’m comfortable with carrying, but if it were a recent manufacture one I could buy or retrofit with a thumb safety, I’d do it in approximately the amount of time it takes to order the parts from Speed Shooters Specialties.
As I mentioned, I own option #4 (an XDs 9mm) and, if I didn’t already have a perfectly good M&P9c, I would buy option #5. Those are just my preferences. But clearly, if you’re interested, there’s a gun out there for you that, with no penalty to your shooting performance, can give you an extra layer of safety when holstering a hot gun in junk carry.