Everyday Tactical: Keeping Your Hands Free

keep gun hand free

I would like to pass on a concept that was ingrained in my mind when I was in Marine Corps Bootcamp. While in uniform, we were not to carry anything in our right hand. Reason being, your right hand should be free to render the appropriate hand salute to an officer.

We were taught the same concept at the San Diego Regional Police Academy. Except for this time, the reason was different.

Recruits were drilled on not carrying things in their dominant hand. This may seem like an insignificant lesson. However, when it comes to a deadly force incident, you will already be in a reactionary mode.

Anything we can do to minimize the tasks we must perform is beneficial and frees our mind to focus on the other critical decisions.

Keep your dominant hand free:

One simple thing you can do is keep your gun hand free. If possible carry your bags or your keys in your off or support hand.

Obviously there are times when both hands are needed for a task. Nevertheless, try to free up your dominant hand whenever you can. If you are walking with a child, try to keep them on your non-dominant side. This makes it easier to move them out of the way and facilitate a one-handed draw and presentation if it is necessary.

Enlist the help of your significant other or friend to “call you out” when they see you with something in your gun hand. You would be amazed at how many times you have something occupying your gun hand. If it isn't necessary why would you want to hinder your ability to get to your firearm?

Sure, most draws that come from concealment involve two hands, so some would say ‘what's the point? I am not going to keep both hands free.'

It is possible to draw from concealment with one hand, and if you can't, it is either because you haven't practiced, or your set up is not ideal and should be changed. Be that the holster or the location you carry your firearm.

Which finally brings us to the last point —

Practice Dropping Things From Your Support Hand:

Another thing to consider, and is worth practicing, is the ability to drop what you're carrying. It sounds silly, but there have been instances where people have gotten hurt because they were so focused on the thing that they were carrying that they couldn't get their gun out properly.

It's a good idea to pretend you're holding your phone at the range. Then, when a shot timer beeps signifying a bad guy, you drop the simulated phone (an old flip phone or one you still have but no longer use), cup of coffee, etc., to practice getting your gun out.

Training like this will help strengthen the fact that when it's time for a deadly force encounter, you're actually ready to defend yourself. Understandably, dropping what you're holding may not ALWAYS be the best plan. Your phone is, of course, your fastest connection with law enforcement or EMS. The likelihood, however, of someone calling the police during a shooting in a crowded location is higher than if you're in a remote area by yourself. So you will have to decide which is best given your circumstances. Weighing the ability to make one-handed shots, vs dropping your phone, or stashing it in a pocket. It all is situationally dependent. But understanding how to operate and the realities of how quickly you can draw one-handed, or throw your phone in a pocket and then draw will help you react better if the situation presents itself.

Stay safe and keep training.

About Matthew Maruster

I follow my Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ who is the eternal co-equal Son of God. I currently live in Columbus, Ohio with my wife and daughter. I served in the Marine Corps Infantry. I was a Staff Sergeant and served as a Platoon Sergeant during combat in Iraq. After I was a police officer at a municipal agency in San Diego County. I have a Bachelors's Degree in Criminal Justice from National University. MJ Maruster Defense.


  1. Ron W on October 5, 2015 at 4:37 pm

    Sounds like good advice. Won’t work well for me though as I need a cane in my left hand to walk more than a few steps. So when I have anything to carry my only option is to use my right, dominate, hand. I just have to be ready to drop anything I might be carrying if need of my ccw is need.

    • Matthew on May 2, 2016 at 12:29 pm

      Hi Ron,
      Thank you for responding. I am happy you haven’t let the fact that you use a cane dissuade you from carrying and training with your firearm. The fact that you have thought about and trained the response of dropping your cane and transitioning to your firearm is building good muscle memory. Adapt and overcome. Thanks again and Stay safe Sir!

  2. greg shafer on October 9, 2015 at 5:02 pm

    I can tell you from police training, range was twice a year, about 300 rounds a day. One round from stationary positions , one round was moving from one spot to another,r taking cover, reloading, standing, kneeling and from the ground. During each round we where on the clock, inducing stress, to get all your rounds off. You wore your duty holster, this helps with muscle memory. When under stress you will do what you were trained, without a thought. So if you should use your conceal holster, your purse or however you carry when at the range. Every officer tries to think of every situation a shooting incident would occur. While that has some pluses, it always happens different then you expected and much faster. I was chasing a suspect on foot, back then I did a lot of running, most suspect are tired after the first minute. We had jumped fences went through back yards with clothes lines, and when we got back out to the street, I saw a large grassy area ahead and a street light right over it. I moved closer getting ready to tackle him, then he took a Buck knife off his belt, and I heard it click open, at this point I was well within his arm reach, that’s too close. As I pulled up to get out of reach, I slipped and went to one knee, he was now turned facing and moving towards me with the knife. With out a thought I drew my weapon and fired one shot, that dropped the suspect to his knees. I told him, put the knife down or I would shoot him again, and he threw the knife out onto the street. I told him to get on the ground and he laid down. I pulled out my radio and reported a shooting at that location and the suspect was down, I needed, an Ambulance and a Supervisor there. It took about one minute for the first 2 backup cars to arrive. That one minute seemed much longer. The suspect was in a stolen car, that had 2 stolen guns and a big bag of pills. The suspect was on parole, and decided he was not going back to prison, he was right, he died during surgery. Be careful out there. You just never know when……..

    • Matthew on May 2, 2016 at 12:31 pm

      Hi Greg,
      Thanks for sharing. the world is a dangerous and unpredictable place. Train as much as we can and rely on our instincts and training. Stay safe out there!

  3. Paul Thomas on August 7, 2018 at 1:08 pm

    Throughout my training and career I have been instructed to always use my support or off hand as much as possible, even my neurologists and surgeons, but Chris Caracci used to really drill this into our heads. Thank you for the reminder.
    Stay safe

    • Gene B on July 19, 2019 at 2:13 pm

      I learned the same thing in the service. And even being out since 1980, I find myself still doing the same thing. I never thought about it, or even realised I was still doing so, untill I read your article. CCW for daily for 15 years.
      Nice to know some training sticks with us, even if we dont realize it.

  4. Maurice L. on July 20, 2019 at 2:17 am

    This is great advice & something I’ve been considering recently. After reading this article I moved my cellphone and belt clip to my support hand side. Soon I will be relocating from California to a free state (Texas) and have my Arizona & Utah non resident CCW permits. I’ll finally be able to carry and will be able to use these tips and apply them in in real life.

  5. Robert McCarty on July 23, 2019 at 11:11 am

    I teach my CCW holders and all off-duty Cops to keep their folding money in a clip with the largest denomination on the outside. The first one the bad guy sees. I emphasize keeping this in the support side front pocket. If an armed robber demands your money attempt to hand it to him and drop it. When he goes for it, draw and shoot. You can practice this at the range also. AZ CCW and AZPOST instructor.

    • Jacob Paulsen on July 23, 2019 at 2:37 pm

      Robert, I assume you add some qualifiers and context to your instruction to your students to shoot armed robbers? I’m no expert on AZ law but ethically and legally I feel one has an obligation to only use a firearm in defense of a deadly threat. Armed robbery is dynamic and so I’m not suggesting it always ends without shots fired when the bad guy gets what he wants, but on the flip side to teach that if you are ever the victim of armed robbery you should create a diversion and then use deadly force seems equally problematic. On a case by case basis, I think each armed citizen has to use their best judgment in determining if their life is really on the line or if providing the cash (in this example) will be enough to deescalate the situation. So while I think the idea of dropping the cash on the ground sounds like a fine strategy to divert their attention and create enough time to draw; I think it should have a qualifier to clarify that one shouldn’t always be intent on shooting bad guys when one feels the confrontation can be ended without violence.

      • Robert McCarty on August 4, 2019 at 7:44 pm

        AZ Revised Statute 13-411A specifically states that deadly force can be used to prevent or stop the crime of armed robbery and there is no duty to retreat. If you point a firearm toward anyone you are then subject to the consequences of this act and the citizen (or Peace Officer) is justified in the use of force or deadly force. No warning is required by the victim of the armed robbery. To do so would add additional risk to the innocent person.

        • Matthew Maruster on August 7, 2019 at 11:39 am

          Robert as far as your interpretation of the law, I am sure you are correct. But I am sure you know that there are times people do unlawful things, but there isn’t enough evidence to win a guilty verdict in court, or they are not ever charged because the evidence is just not clear. So the question is, did they act legally or appropriately because they were not convicted? Of course not.

          I believe that when we look at the actual application of deadly force you cannot just look at what is legal and illegal conduct. Because these terms become subjective when looking at the totality of a case. That is the problem with the notion that ‘as long as it’s legal, I can do it’. There is way too much nuance involved in deciding to use deadly force. A better approach would be to teach carriers that their response must be based on that specific situation’s set of facts and not a general rule that one can shoot anyone who robs them with a weapon.

          How many shots do you instruct the student to fire in this hypothetical robbery scenario? You probably would say, ‘it depends,’ and that would be correct. But it depends on what? Do the students know? What are they looking for and what are they doing while they shoot? Are they moving to a better position or standing still? How do they figure out how many rounds to fire? Are they assessing if the rounds are having an impact on the threat or do they just fire until they run dry? Are they observing the backdrop for any innocent that has come between them and the attacker, or once it’s go-time they just crank off rounds? All these things require brain-power and are situationally dependent.

          Again, while the law may allow it, it may not always be the best course of action. So can you shoot an armed attacker? Probably. But Should you shoot? The answer would be, it depends.

          Many people say that responding to a deadly threat is entirely reactionary and your instincts will completely take over. It is true that it is more difficult for the brain to focus on multiple things during a high-stress incident. And it is true that you will reflexively do things you have trained. But it is possible to use your brain and react to changes in the environment. This is the part that is lacking in a huge portion of firearms training. We set up scenarios on the range, or practice skills and believe that a sub-second draw or a successful drill means I will survive a deadly force incident. It simply isn’t true.

          Think of a martial arts fight. Each student may have the same physical skill set. But the one who can read the opponent and choose the right techniques at the right times will likely win. This is the difference between relying solely on technique and relying on an assessment of the situation to help you apply the best technique at the right time.

          There are about 2 million defensive gun uses in the USA each year. The overwhelming majority of these are by people with little to no training. Getting shots on a bad guy at 9 feet is not difficult, even in the most stressful situations. But we shouldn’t just train people to survive an incident. We should teach them to a higher standard. After all, each round they fire can potentially end not only the bad guy’s life but an innocent person’s or their own. So let’s teach not only how to survive, but how to best respond based on sound moral, legal and tactical considerations. But if we don’t teach them different techniques, or we only focus on the legal side and not any moral or tactical side of the decision-making process, what do they have to go off of? Just a carefully choreographed responses they were taught on a range. Let’s help them get the mechanical aspects of shooting to become reflexive, and free up the brain to focus on more important things, like how to best respond to the threat.

          Again, you’re not wrong to teach that technique, but if it is the only technique being conveyed, it isn’t helping the student to use their brain. This is obviously just my opinion and I certainly wouldn’t say I am the sole owner of all the correct answers.

  6. Joe on July 24, 2019 at 10:25 am

    Learned this about 40 years ago from a retired LEO

  7. Roger on July 24, 2019 at 8:01 pm


  8. Steve on July 24, 2019 at 8:27 pm

    Jail time in MA for sure. LTC cards used to say “ defense of life and property” They removed property several decades go. In MA DA would probably say putting the highest bill outside was enticement to commit a crime.

  9. Thomas F Malcom on July 25, 2019 at 11:02 am

    I wish there were a share button for facebook.

  10. Matthew A Carberry on August 2, 2020 at 8:45 pm

    I know it’s kind of thread necromancy, going backwards through a list.

    Bigger picture point, why is your phone in your support hand for any longer than to make a call or text? If you have to make even a brief call or text, why are you out in the open rather than inside a semi-secure location?

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