Do I Need A Retention Holster?
Active retention holsters are certainly necessary for the uniformed officer or soldier, but the armed civilian might find themselves wondering if they should bother.
After all, the shooters on social media all seem to be using them. Doesn't that mean I need one?
The short answer is maybe. There are absolutely a number of use cases for retention holsters outside the line of duty, so it's hardly that there's no point. Let's dig in.
What Is A Retention Holster?
A "retention holster" is a colloquial term for a holster that has an active retention device, meaning a mechanical feature that locks the gun in the holster.
This can be a thumb snap or hammer loop on older leather holsters, or modern features like an ejection port wedge or locking backstrap bail.
Retention levels are the number of security features a holster has.
Level 1 retention is passive retention only, meaning the friction and fitment that keeps the gun inside the holster without any assistance.
Level 2 retention means only a single active retention device.
Level 3 retention means two active retention devices on the holster.
The more levels, the more secure the holster is.
Evolution And Use Of Duty Holsters
Retention holsters were developed for police officers and military personnel.
Early examples included the flap holsters of the late 19th and mid 20th centuries, eventually progressing into mid 20th century designs like the Threepersons and Jordan holsters and the Bianchi thumb break.
The need for retention is two-fold. First, a duty holster has to securely retain the gun during periods of vigorous activity. Open top OWB holsters are perfectly secure if you're not doing too much, but once you start running, moving over rough terrain and so on, gun drops become a much bigger risk.
Secondly is the risk to officer's lives in the event of a gun grab.
Suspects have been attempting to take police officers' and soldiers' weapons for ages, and many an officer obituary has been written because a suspect was successful.
The added security features significantly reduce the chance of a suspect getting a hold of the officer's weapon. Level 3 retention holsters aren't immune to gun grabs, but have greatly reduced the number of instances where an officer was disarmed of a holstered weapon.
Retention Holsters For The Citizen
As a civilian, you might question if a retention holster is necessary.
There are two use cases where a retention holster is not only a good idea, but arguably essential.
First is for open carry. While open carry is a subject of much debate in the gun community, some people open carry whether anyone likes it or not.
Using a retention holster for open carry is absolutely a best practice. By now, it's undeniable that people who open carry can be (and have been) targeted for gun theft, often by snatching the gun from behind the person carrying it.
Ergo, if you're going to open carry, it's better do so with an active retention holster. A proven duty holster is a best practice in this instance.
Some competitive shooters are known to prefer them as well, especially those who compete in the more active shooting events such as 2 Gun, 3 Gun, Brutality events and the like. Open top OWBs are known to not retain the gun as well as they should, resulting in gun drops. Dropping a gun will get you a DQ.
So, an active retention holster is definitely a good idea if you open carry, or if you engage in a level of activity where a passive retention holster is probably not sufficient to securely retain the gun, you'd absolutely be justified in purchasing a quality model.
But just between us...if you want to build a war belt just because? That's awesome too.