In 2014, only days after Christmas, 29-year-old Veronica Rutledge took her 2-year-old son shopping at the local Walmart. Rutledge had her concealed carry permit and had tucked her gun—reported to be a Smith & Wesson Shield chambered in 9mm—in her Gun Tote’n Mamas concealed carry purse.The purse in question was not on Rutledge’s shoulder, but sitting alongside her son in the shopping cart. As she shopped, a horrific turn of events took place: her toddler removed the gun from the purse, pulled the trigger, and shot her in the head. Rutledge died immediately.At the time, the industry responded with the predictable split of those who advocate for purse carry (also called “off-the-body carry” to cover other types of bags or packs) and saw it as a terrible, rare occurrence and those who condemn purse carry. And then there are those of us who fall somewhere on the spectrum as realists.Do I suggest purse carry to women—or bag carry to men? No, I do not. There’s more to it than a blanket statement, though. What if purse carry is your only option? Is it better to go out with no gun rather than put it in your purse? No.Obviously this is a somewhat complex issue.The Fashion Show
During the NRA Annual Meeting (NRAAM) in Indianapolis I participated in a fashion show, “Firearms and Fashion: the Concealed is Revealed.” The show was put on by REALIZE Firearms Awareness Colation and the Indiana State Rifle and Pistol Association. It was emceed by Amanda Suffecool of On Target Radio, Sue Mogle of the Indiana State Rifle and Pistol Association, and Dawn Hillyer of Hiding Hilda.
There were a couple dozen models on the stage—including men—with the majority of the women given purses to model. Mine was the NORB by Offhand Gear. NORB stands for “No Ordinary Range Bag” and is described by the manufacturer as not being “your husband’s range bag.”
The NORB I was handed was a full-size purse and most definitely not a range bag. It’s a purse.
Walking the stage was a new experience for me, and judging by the photos, I failed to improve my usual RBF (if you know, you know). Carrying a purse is no longer something I do on a regular basis, so slinging the bungee-corded strap over my shoulder felt slightly foreign.
Prior to my brief time on stage, I worked with a Glock 26 blue gun for a smooth draw I could demonstrate to the audience. The NORB features a buckle-closure front and a zipper top placed where the bag would rest against your body. Unzipping the bag gives you access to a pair of large pockets, one of which is meant to be used for a handgun.
Here’s the thing: it wasn’t secure.
The compartment of the NORB made to hold guns is split in half. If you used a holster—as you should—and found a way to secure the holster to the bag’s interior you’d be good to go. As it was, I used two cell phones, a tube of lip gloss, and sunglasses to wedge the Glock 26 blue gun into firmer position. Otherwise the blue gun slid and dropped to the extent I was drawing it by closing my hand over the muzzle. Now imagine a mag-heavy pistol. It would topple even more quickly.
A lot of my friends love the NORB and I am not saying it’s a bad purse. It’s not. It just needs a little help for safe carry.
If I holstered my Glock 48 and put it in one of the pockets, the holster would draw with the gun, so straps to hold the holster down are a must. No, it does not have a locking mechanism, and it shouldn’t (in my opinion). Exactly how fast do you think you can fiddle with a lock prior to drawing your gun? Don’t you think those are wildly precious moments?
Side Note: There were bags with snugger compartments at the fashion show including the Sportsman Ukoala bag which was modeled by Kat Malik (yes, a second Kat). The Ukoala bag fastened around her waist and thigh, holding the bag in place and allowing relatively easy access to a more secure, snug compartment.
A Dose of Reality
I never suggest purse carry—or bag carry—to anyone. It shouldn’t be your go-to method for toting your firearm around; on-body carry is far superior for both safety and speed. However, if you have no choice but to carry your firearm in your purse or bag, do it right.
Firearms Instructor and Competitive Shooter Jennie Van Tuyl makes the following suggestion for purse carry:
“Use only a carry purse—don’t use a regular bag not designed for concealed carry. If you toss your gun into the bag, being the heaviest item in your bag-o-stuff, it will always end up on the bottom and it is very likely that something will end up inside the trigger guard, such as pens, lipstick, etc., and those items can engage the trigger and fire your gun.
“A carry purse will have a holster in it and the best ones have a holster that can be turned for left or right carry, such as the Gun Tote’n Mama‘s bags. Gun Tote’n Mamas also have different size Velcro holsters for different size guns.”
Van Tuyl went on to say she also “highly recommend[s] taking a class that teaches basic holster use as there are skills learned that carry over to other carry choices, such as for ankle, pocket, shoulder, bra or purse.”
Training is key.
Here’s a list of considerations for purse carry:
• You’ve made your purse your holster. Act like it. Keep it on your body. This means no hanging your purse over the back of a chair, plopping it in a shopping cart and ignoring it, or dropping it on a table at a friend’s house. Your purse and the gun within should be under your control at all times.
• Use only purses designed for the safest-possible concealed carry. This means they cannot have a giant compartment that allows guns to slide around, for a start.
• Use a holster. A firearm with an unprotected trigger is a negligent discharge waiting to happen. This also means a soft, formless holster like the ones many purses are sold with will not suffice. (It also means a single Velcro loop is not good enough.)
• Do not use a lock. As Van Tuyl notes, “If you need to unlock the gun section in an emergency, you will never do it in time.” Should you need to secure your purse, lock it in a safe or drawer. Locking it during use negates its purpose.
• Train accordingly. Just as you should be training from the holster you must practice drawing from a purse. Your draw stroke is sluggish enough from a bag without ignoring training altogether, so train.
• “I’ll just shoot through the purse” is not a wise plan. Not only is this a ridiculous method of point shooting but you do not know what in your purse could be blocking the muzzle of the gun. Then there’s the heat and gases emitted in an enclosed space directly onto your hand.
Lengthy tests carried out by both Van Tuyl and myself have also shown that although you might get that first round off with a semi-auto, the slide is highly likely to get caught in the purse liner that first time you fire.
In fact, Van Tuyl had a purse catch on fire when a J-frame .357 Magnum was fired inside it. It isn’t that you can’t shoot through a purse – technically you can – it’s that it is an unreliable method fraught with potential problems.
• Do not carry cross-body. You can be severely injured if someone attempts to steal your purse and drags or chokes you with it. If someone wants it, let them have it. It’s all replaceable. It’s just stuff. Van Tuyl suggests cross-body is permissible in a grocery store to free your hands to pay but states you should return the purse or bag to your shoulder immediately after you pay.
• Keep only your firearm in its compartment in the purse or bag. Loose change, ink pens, lip gloss—these are all things that can get in the barrel of your gun or simply impede your draw.
• Carry your phone and keys in your pockets. By doing this you ensure you can still call for help and get home if your purse is stolen.
Yes, you can carry in your purse or bag. If you must do so, do it right. One of the biggest problems I see is women or men who stick a gun in their bag and forget about it. Not only do they not train with it they don’t even consider how sluggish their draw stroke will be from inside a bag. They don’t stop to think those seconds could one day cost them their lives.
Then there are those who fail to maintain control of a bag that has a gun in it. If you are going to carry this way, take it seriously. It’s slower, it requires constant awareness of the bag’s location; there are far more pitfalls in general to this method.
To the women: you can carry on your body. Your purse is not your only option.
In fact, holsters marketed to women are not your only option. You can indeed carry a full-sized gun IWB. The right holster is key as is the willingness to wear slightly looser clothing. Yes, you might have to adjust your wardrobe but isn’t that a small price to pay for the ability to defend your life?
The takeaway here is to be familiar with your carry method – any and all carry methods – and to train. Train and take it seriously. Your life depends on it.
Kat Ainsworth is an outdoor writer from an eclectic background in K9 Search-and-Rescue and emergency veterinary medicine. As a freelancer she writes for an array of industry publications covering topics from hunting to self-defense. Kat is well into her second decade of concealed carry, has been hunting for more than 20, and has never met a firearm she didn’t want to run. She can be found hunting everything from feral hogs to pheasants but is also regularly at the range honing Mozambique Drills and shoot-and-move techniques. Email her with gun and hunting-related questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.