I guess this is technically an extension of my “What Gun Should I Buy” series, though this isn’t actually about a gun. That doesn’t mean that holster selection is any less important. In fact, there is a good argument to be made that holster selection is more important than gun selection. For reference, read this story.
No one but the unfortunate CCW-er can really know for sure, but this is the Internet, so I’m going to make some hard-to-substantiate claims. The gun carrier was carrying a cheap gun in a cheap holster [The news story is written in such a way that doesn’t make it clear that a holster was even being used by the gun owner. I sincerely hope that this isn’t the case, because of the immense stupidity required for it to be true]. The holster failed to retain the gun as the carrier sat on a couch. The gun slid between the couch arm and cushion, and stayed there as it’s owner got up and went elsewhere in the store. A couple kids found the gun and accidentally shot a round off as they were looking at it. It was a small miracle that no one got hurt.
Now, what does this have to do with holsters? The linchpin of the entire incident was the the man’s holster. It failed, miserably, and since been charged with criminal negligence, to a criminal degree. And why? Because his holster failed. at its job.
What Makes A Good Quality Holster?
Holsters need to do only a few things:
- Hold the gun securely
- Protect the gun from being inadvertently fired
- Release the gun when required
- Do not inhibit the draw stroke
- Stay attached to the person carrying it
As you can probably tell, the Ikea shopper’s holster failed to do the first thing on the list. The failure of point #1 lead to the kids in the story finding it and setting it off, creating a deadly situation.
So, why do we think that the man’s holster was a cheap, nylon sack of failure? Because of profiling (this is the Internet, remember?). The gentleman’s gun was revealed to be a KelTec P3AT in the court documents of the case. P3ATs have a going rate of $250 or less. These are not expensive guns. In fact, KelTec’s pistols are among the cheapest one can find, and aren’t known to be high quality. I’m not here to argue one way or the other about the gun, but merely to say what that choice of gun suggests: that the guy is very budget-conscience.
This isn’t 2004, KelTec isn’t the only choice for small, ultra-concealable guns anymore. Ruger, S&W, Glock, Kahr, and others make objectively better options for guns in the exact same size in both .380 and 9mm. So, why did this guy carry a KelTec? Because KT’s are the cheapest option*. And not by a lot, but by enough for some people.
So, how does this relate to the holster? Well, KT’s pistols are well-known to be cheap junk. Doing any amount of online searching will reveal that. A similar amount of online searching will also turn up a similar if not worse opinion of Uncle Mike’s (and similar) brand holsters: total junk and a waste of money.
Quality holsters cost money. Not hundreds of dollars, but a good kydex holster should be expected to run somewhere between $60 and $100. Much more than $100 and you really need to see if the holster has that much value. Much less than $60 and you really need to make sure you aren’t buying junk. If you go the leather route, expect to start at $100 and quickly go up from there. Injection molded holsters can be made cheaper and still be good, but you have to look at each one’s design to make sure it isn’t crap. Serpa being an excellent example of a well made holster who’s design is terrible, terrible, and terrible.
Why Holsters Cost So Much Money
If you buy a relatively affordable gun in the $300-$600 range, another $60 is a non-trivial percentage of the gun’s cost itself. Holsters cost that much because of the labor involved in making them. A $75 kydex holster has maybe $10-$20 of materials in it. The rest is all manpower and overhead. Kydex must be molded by hand and finished by hand. Making one correctly and to a professional level requires hand fitting, and that takes time. In today’s economy human labor is expensive, skilled labor even more so. Selling holsters under $100 and not going broke is actually rather impressive. Some companies have moved away from the labor intensive old process of hand making and finishing and instead go for a CNC-made product. It requires less labor, but now those holsters have to pay for a CNC machine.
The costs of manufacturing a leather holster are similar to that of a kydex holster, except that the materials are much more expensive and require as much or more skill and time to make. Decent leather holsters are expensive.
Injection molded plastic holsters, like the Safariland ALS, can be made more affordably, but have their own quirks. Since the injection molded holsters are made in molds, those molds have to be produced for every single holster option. That means each model of gun needs a new mold to be produced, each weaponlight needs a new mold, each combination of gun & light needs a new mold, and the same for red dots mounted on the guns. Considering that each mold costs somewhere in the neighborhood of a half-million USD, selection is limited to models and combinations that will sell.
None of the above applies to the cloth nylon holsters, and that’s because those holsters are not quality products. They are glorified dump pouches that are vaguely gun shaped. Nylon holsters are not designed to hold the gun securely without a retention strap**, they are barely capable of protecting the trigger from inadvertent discharge, the retention strap inhibits the draw stroke, and their floppy-ness when holding the mass of a gun means that they don’t present the gun repeatably, further inhibiting the draw.
If you ever see any of these holsters or something similar, back away slowly.
Don’t buy cheap holsters. Good holsters cost money, and cheap holsters are not good. The things that make a holster design good cost money in manufacturing, and to get a holster significantly cheaper means cutting out things necessary to keep your holster from being a liability. The man from the news story I linked is being charged with a felony and will spend tens of thousands of dollars on his legal defense, because he didn’t spend the money to buy a quality holster from the beginning. It’s not that his holster didn’t keep a bad situation from turning out better, the holster created the entire problem! That’s not speculation, that’s the truth.
*Not all KelTec weapons are junk. Their rifles and shotguns are highly innovative and have a reputation from people who have actually owned them for being reliable. The sub-compact and micro pistols are where the reputation for KT being junk comes from, and for those pocket guns, the rep is well-earned.
**I saw that very thing happen yesterday, (as of time of writing). A friend of mine had his pistol fall out of his floppy nylon fail-sock right in front of me. It was at a friend’s home and we were all carrying guns so him carrying wasn’t a big deal in context, but in basically any other environment it would have been a massive issue. I also have the impression that he doesn’t carry a lot.
***Featured image stolen from this article also discussing the topic of holsters. Its a good article, you should read it.