Years ago, I heard a student describe an attempted invasion of his rural home. He was puttering around one Saturday morning, wearing painter’s pants that lacked the belt loops allowing him to wear a holster belt and his usual 1911, .45 ACP pistol. However, having been taught by John Farnam not to mistakenly partition his life into “safe” and “unsafe” time, he was carrying a smaller .380 ACP pistol in a pocket of his pants. Hearing some suspicious voices out in the carport, he was moving to the cover of the refrigerator when the door between the carport and his kitchen was kicked open. Many of us place the .380 in the “mousegun” class but the sight of it coming up was enough to remind the first housebreaker and his companion behind him that they had an urgent appointment in the next county.

Most of my early exposure to pocket carry came during my volunteer years with the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department. Frankly, most LASD deputies did it wrong. Ostensibly because LASD uniform pants have the pockets cut differently from those of LAPD uniform pants, deputies who used a backup gun usually carried a J-frame S&W revolver in the back pocket, on the non-dominant side. Few people claim to be able to draw reliably from a pants pocket while seated but my beef was not with placing the backup gun in a back pocket (which does pose the potential to set up asymmetric pressure on the spine). Rather, a significant proportion of the deputies mounted the oversize Pachmayr Compac grips on the small-frame revolvers, then left the grip sticking out of the top of the pocket for easier access. I recall standing behind one such deputy on a line at a fast-food joint. I was thinking, “You’ve got your Beretta in a level-2 security holster but I could use one hand to shove you forward as I take your backup gun with the other hand. I’ll bet that you’d not be that much more mindful if it weren’t someone you trusted in line behind you.”

Perhaps the most valuable lesson taught to me by a friend who had been through the LASD academy but whose department uses LAPD-style uniforms is to carry a backup gun in the left, front pants pocket, regardless if you’re left-handed or right-handed. When I was in the Army, the pejorative term “Air Force gloves” referred to putting your hands in your pockets. Still, unlike in many other countries, hands in the pockets is normal for American men. (In fact, in many countries, hands in the pockets is a “tell” that a man is American, even if he has taken the precaution to acquire and wear local clothing.) My friend pointed out that, in the US, a man can transact a great deal of normal business–including shaking hands–with his left hand in his pocket. He had used that principle to make a few low-profile arrests in public places while working undercover. As he shook hands with his “meet,” he’d slip his left hand and gun from his pocket, poking the barrel into the guy’s gut and said, “You know what this is. You and I are going to walk out of here very quietly, understand?”

Even with the passage of Arizona’s defensive-display law, if someone gets confrontational with me, I cannot lawfully tell him or show him that I am armed nor can I visibly place my hand on a firearm until I have would reasonably be justified to use physical force. However, if my hand’s in my pocket, he has no way of knowing that I’ve already acquired a grip on one of my guns.