The one issue that comes up faster than any other, as far as concealed carry for women is concerned, is “Is it OK to carry my gun in my purse?”

It is a legitimate question, and one that deserves a careful answer.

Any method of concealed carry that is going to work, day in and day out, must satisfy three criteria: It must conceal the gun, it must be accessible, and it must be comfortable. Any method of carry is a compromise among these three requirements; personal circumstances dictate the priorities, so they will vary from person to person, and from time to time.

Occasionally, I am approached by a man who want me to help convince his wife or girlfriend that purse carry is a bad idea. His argument goes something like this: “A woman should never carry her gun in her purse because it will be unavailable easily if it is needed, and besides, anyone could come along and steal it.”

It strikes me as funny that a man who probably worked hard, patiently, and with real concern to encourage the woman in his life to become a responsible firearms owner suddenly gets cold feet when she wants to do something with a gun that he can’t do.

Invariably, he carries his own protective firearm in an on-body holster, usually at the waist, on the strong side just behind the hip, often in a high-rise holster that helps the gun stay close to his body while making the grip easily accessible. If I ask why he doesn’t use something else, a shoulder holster for example, he might say “They feel like they are made of barbed wire!” An ankle holster? “Are you kidding? I’d be afraid it would show every time I sat down!”

This reveals his true priorities: comfort first, then concealability, then accessibility.

These priorities are not at all bad. In fact, they are exactly the priorities most women have for ordinary, every-day, no-special-threat-but-I-just-want-to-be-prepared concealed carry.

In the face of an explicit, known, high level of threat (a stalker, or a very high risk job) accessibility usually rises to the top priority position, followed by either comfort or concealability depending on whether the threat is long-term or short-term.

But let’s get back to purses. The man who has a carry method that meets his priorities perfectly tends to see only the negative aspects of in-purse carry for women, not the positive ones.

Let’s take a look at some of those arguments against:

“It is too slow.” Slow compared to what? I’ve proven to my satisfaction that I can draw and fire from a holster purse faster than a typical man can draw from an ankle holster, so I have no qualms about the speed. It does take practice, and each purse/gun combination has its own quirks that you must work around. But if the choice is between carrying a purse that allows you a 6 second draw, at best, and leaving your gun at home, which do you think is safer? And by the way, 6 seconds is a lot faster than his hip holster draw, if he has to unbutton his coat as part of the process.

“It will get lost in a fight.” This objection has some merit, particularly if you carry your purse on one shoulder; it can easily slip off if you are using your arms for some defensive moves. One solution to this is to carry the purse cross-body; it won’t fall off when you raise your arms, but some experts say that it can be twisted around your neck. The ultimate solution might be a purse with a break-away strap, worn cross-body, but I haven’t heard of such a product being offered.

“It isn’t safe when you leave your purse somewhere.” If you are in the habit of forgetting your purse in public places, or of dropping your purse within reach of children when visiting or at home, then this method of carry isn’t for you. But if you responsibly keep your purse with you at all times, or keep it locked up, or remove your firearm and put it in a lockbox as soon as you enter your home, then this doesn’t need to be a major consideration.

“It will be stolen in a purse snatching.” This is one of those major fears that turns out to be unsupported by experience. Responsible gun owners cringe at the thought that a gun of theirs might be stolen and increase, even by one, the number of guns in the hands of criminals or children. Yet is a gun in a purse any more likely to be stolen than, say, a gun left at home while the owners are away? Remember, unless you unwisely telegraph by your body language that you have something of unusual value in your purse, nobody will know you have a gun in there. Nobody will try to grab your purse in order to get your gun. If your purse is stolen in a random criminal act, you are no more “responsible” for adding to the crime problem than you would be if you came home and found burglars had broken into your home and your gun safe and made off with the contents.

OK, enough negatives. What about the positive side of guns in purses?

Here are some of the positive arguments:

A purse can be more accessible when out on the street in cold or rainy weather. His hip holster under a long coat buttoned or belted against the wind is virtually unreachable. All she has to do, regardless of the weather or temperature, is swing her purse into position to draw.

A purse is extremely concealable. Because holster purses are made with a special gun compartment that is separate from the purse’s other contents, and sealed with a generous amount of Velcro, the changes of accidentally flashing your gun are virtually nil.

A purse is easy to use with a wide variety of clothing. This advantage cannot be overstated, because most women don’t wear the same kind of clothing day in and day out. Men can wear pants with a belt, and a jacket virtually all the time — whether it is jeans and a work shirt over a T-shirt or a suit and tie.

I’d like to see just one of those men cope, just for a few weeks, with the difficulties most women have with concealed carry.

Give him padded hips, so that the butt of his favorite carry gun digs painfully into his ribs whenever he sits down.

Give him a wardrobe full of clothes with no belts at all, or with soft, thin belts that could never support a holster. Give him a budget that doesn’t permit replacing that wardrobe all at once with clothes that are more gun-friendly.

Give him little children who must be picked up, held close, and cuddled frequently.

Give him an easily-strained lower back that can’t take the pressure of a fanny pack or a midriff holster.

Then see how he solves the concealed carry dilemma.

A lot of women are solving it for themselves, with the help of a lot of companies that make holster purses. Most of them advertise in this magazine. Be aware of the pros and cons. Match your mode of carry to your personal priorities. Then, if a holster purse makes the difference for you between carrying your gun and leaving it at home, you have my enthusiastic support for in-purse carry.

This article was reprinted from Women&Guns July 1997, Copyright © 1997, Lyn Bates