A holster needs to be specifically designed for the make and model handgun you want to use it for. photo from Windigo Images

Most unintentional discharges of a pistol occur during its insertion of or removal from a holster. Such a discharge is almost always the result of one of two things: either the user put his finger on the trigger, or there was an issue with the holster.

Consumers spend a great deal of time researching the handguns they purchase, but rarely give as much thought to the holster that houses it. From my experience, this is a dangerous mistake.

I was a Range Master for a police department for several years. This position provided me with a bird’s-eye view of catastrophic problems holsters can pose. Below is a checklist of what to watch out for when selecting a holster to avoid potential hazards.

Be sure that your holster:

• is designed for the firearm

• is compatible with installed, aftermarket parts

• has been inspected for excessive wear, loose or missing parts, and absence of debris

• has not been modified beyond manufacturer’s recommendations

• does not have any safety recalls

Here’s why each one of those factors is crucial.

1. The holster must be designed for the firearm

Firearms are constantly being redesigned, and manufacturers might make significant changes from one year to the next. This means that holsters designed for a specific firearm model one year might not work with later versions of that model. When selecting a holster it is imperative to make sure it was designed for your specific firearm model.

This came to my attention when my agency switched firearms and purchased brand-new handguns and leather duty holsters for our 300 officers. When the holsters were issued, many officers were unable draw their firearms. I called the manufacturer and was told by a representative that the holsters needed to be “broken in.” I quickly realized this was much more than a break-in issue, and we sent the holsters back. The manufacturer then called us and advised that the holsters were made from a mold designed for a prior version of the same model firearm.

This problem might not have been identified if we hadn’t bought in bulk, because some officers actually could draw from their holsters. Even these looser versions were tight enough to push the guns’ slides out of battery when holstered, and remained that way even after being drawn. The issue would become evident when the officer experienced a dead trigger.

When purchasing a holster, even if it is compatible with the intended firearm model, make sure that the fit is secure, but that it does not induce malfunctions.

2. The holster must fit when aftermarket parts are installed on the gun

Holsters need to be compatible with any aftermarket part to prevent any chance of malfunctions or discharges.

One example is the installation of aftermarket sights. Elevated front sights have a tendency to catch on the interior of some holsters. This can cause the firearm to get hung up during when it’s drawn and possibly damage the front sight. Be sure that the firearm moves freely in the holster, and check the interior of the holster and exterior of the firearm for any signs of contact and wear in unusual spots.

Modifications to triggers also require close inspection of holster fit. Trigger changes can impact where the retention device rests, thus creating a potential for unexpected discharges.

3. Inspect the holster for wear

Most people like leather holsters that are “worn in.” But there’s a difference in safety between worn in and worn out.

Leather holsters that are flat, missing stitching, or lack structural integrity are worn out. If the retention strap flops into the trigger guard or if the leather is so soft that it folds or bends, an unintentional discharge can occur. Replace worn out holsters.

Holsters made from synthetic materials that have hoods, buttons, or latches should be regularly inspected and cleaned. During this inspection, it’s critical to ensure that there is no debris, no missing parts, and that all parts are fastened securely.

4. Don’t modify the holster beyond the manufacturer’s recommendations

No company will stand behind a failure with its product if it has been modified. Many police departments have a strict policy against any modifications to holsters or firearms because they can create safety issues, which increase their liability.

5. Check for safety recalls

Recalls are serious business because they involve holsters that have issues that can cause the firearm to discharge during drawing or holstering. I received regular notifications on recalls when I ran training for a police department. Sometimes those notifications came directly from the manufacturer, and sometimes they came from officers inside and outside my department.

My advice is to research a holster before purchasing it. A simple Internet search or visit to the company’s website may yield many results regarding recalls of holsters. If you experience problems with a holster, it is important to contact the manufacturer. The problem could be isolated, or it could represent a much bigger issue.

I have witnessed some catastrophic problems on the range as a result of faulty, worn out, and incorrect holster selections. Fortunately, I never witnessed an officer endure a physical injury as a result of their holsters, but I have seen some profound psychological ones! Some research and inspection of your holsters can save you a lot of trouble later.