Alternative Concealed Carry Options; The Belt Bag

Sometimes I make things.  Actually that’s not really accurate.  I very frequently make things, but I don’t usually share them on the internet.  Consumables get shared with my husband, drawings usually are shared with my art school buddies and holsters are shared with our PHLster customers.

But today, dear friends, I made something that I am very excited to share with you.  I made my first (usable) prototype of a holster belt-bag.  And it doesn’t look like something your grandpa would wear to Disneyworld.  Great success!  Then I made another one, cause anything worth doing is worth doing twice, right?

I have been kicking this idea around for a while now, ever since I got my permit to carry a concealed firearm in Pennsylvania. You would think that living in a structure which also houses a holster-making business would mean that I would have no trouble finding a safe, easy way to carry my pistol, but that did not turn out to be the case.  It would seem that concealing any reasonable-sized gun in lady clothes is actually quite tricky.  Now, a quick Google search will tell you that there are a lot of options for women in the concealed carry market, but who wants to wear a velcro and elastic shoulder girdle in July?  I don’t.  In fact, I don’t want to wear anything called a “girdle” ever.  I don’t even like those Spanx things.  And as far as purses for carrying (or gun purses as they are sometimes called) are concerned, I am unconvinced that that’s a safe way for me to carry my pistol.  I live in a major metropolitan area with a reasonably high crime rate (that’s why I carry in the first place).  I’ve seen women get their purses snatched.  I wanted something more secure and at the same time, more convenient.  I don’t want to have root around in my bag in a moment of panic to find my gun.  I also don’t want to  accidently grab it when I’m trying to pay for my burrito at the Mexican spot.

In other words, I have long been on the search for a way to carry my 9mm or .380 caliber hand gun in a safe, secure and convenient way.  Enter the belt bag.  There are belt bags for this purpose already on the market.  I especially like this one, and thought about just buying it and being done with the whole mess.  But it’s not really my style and it’s more satisfying to make it myself, the way I want it.

So, here’s what I came up with:

You’ll notice that totally rad skeleton holster on the CZ-83 in the first photo, courtesy of Jon Hauptman.  He makes awesome things, and this project would not have turned out so well with out him.  He also took most of the photographs in this post.  He’s a swell fellow.

I had initially conceived of a belt bag that would work in conjunction with that skeleton holster, but I’m still working out the logistics on that one.  You might notice an opening at the back of the green bag.  It was designed to accomodate the lanyard that attaches to the skeleton holster.  It didn’t come out exactly the way I had planned, but I haven’t given up on the idea.  My brain is buzzing with all of these new ideas and potential projects, so I’m sure I will have some more holster solutions to share with you in the future.  In the meantime, I can’t wait to take these guys out for some R&D…

Unintended Consequences and Community

Starting a business is a crazy, wild ride.  It’s the kind of thing that you imagine will be a certain way, but once you’re in it, you realize everything is sort of the same, except now you are the asshole boss you’ve been trying to escape your whole life.  You are face to face with all of your hang-ups and worries and weaknesses and insecurities all day, every day.  There is no one to blame when things go poorly.  When you take a day off, you feel like a lazy jerk and when you work furiously into the the wee hours of the morning, you feel like you’ve barely scratched the surface.  You are Sisysphus, pushing that rock up that hill everyday.

Conversely, it’s awesome to be able to stay in your pajamas all day.

I’ve been thinking a lot about those weakness and insecurities lately, and the benefits and draw-backs of this path I’ve chosen.  Up until now I’ve been writing about my experience in the gun world and what has brought me to this point.  I’d like to briefly tell you about some of the unintended consequences of getting involved with guns, like starting a business out of my house, and how they’ve shaped my life.

As is frequently the case in the course of growing up and sorting out all of one’s baggage, I was angry when I was younger.  I was angry for a long time about a lot of things that I perceived as unfair, unjust and out of my control, thus making me the tragic victim of my own life.  This caused me to be guarded around people.  Being guarded kept most people away, which I wanted, but it also made me lonely.  Loneliness made me sad and more guarded, which in turn, made me feel more like the tragic victim of my own life.  You see how this is going, right?

And then time passes and things go on.  And I begin to see that this strategy of guardedness isn’t working out for me.  I have this weird dead spot inside of me, and I’m not sure what to do about it.  I’m not really the kind of person who craves the company of others, but I do desire connection, and at this point, I have no idea how to make connections.  Luckily, I know one person in the world who really understands me and it’s my husband.  Unfortunately, we share a lot of the same hang-ups, including the guardedness.  So, we identify the problem and set to puzzling out some solutions.  We quickly realize that there are two concepts that keep coming up when we discuss what we’re looking for.  Those concepts are self-sufficiency and community.  We both want to be able to do/make/build/repair/learn more things.  We want to live in a way where we aren’t forced to depend on others for all of our needs.  At the same time, we want to use these skills to benefit the people around us and strengthen our relationships.

So, we are feeling very smart.  We’ve come up with a kick-ass solution to our problem.  Except we have no idea how we are going to accomplish these things.  And where are we going to find these people who will be our community?  I’m not trying to live in some commune or join a weird-ass cult.  I tell that to Jon.  He seems a little disheartened, as he’s apparently always cherished the idea of infiltrating a weird-ass cult and tearing it apart from the inside out. He has no shortage of ambition, my husband. He quickly rallies however, and we move on.

Soon after we reject the idea of building our own farm as too rash and ill-considered (we can barely grow herbs in the backyard), Jon creates a YouTube channel as a way to gather and share information about the new Kydex holsters he’s been making.  At the same time, we join our local gun club and start visiting about once a week. At first, it’s a little awkward.  We feel like outsiders and we’re not sure how to talk to people. But we approach these activities as enthusiasts.  Both of us are relatively new to guns and holster making and we just want to learn as much as we can.  Jon makes frequent videos, and shares everything he learns in the hopes that someone else watching might benefit from his experience.  People begin writing to him to tell him how much they like his channel and to share their experiences.  Other patrons at the range stop us to ask where we learned to shoot and if we’d like to try out their guns.  The owner of the range offers Jon a job.  More people find the YouTube channel, and instead of asking Jon for advice on how to make their own holsters, they offer to pay him to make one for them.  They are an incredibly supportive group, full of suggestions and encouragement.  Jon answers every question that is emailed to him and makes videos about each step of his process–nothing is secret or proprietary.  The YouTubers respond by sending gifts.  First it is a couple of white marking pencils for laying out the holsters.  Then it’s a wooden blank for making molds.  A few days later someone shows up at our house with a hand-made book press, clamps and a reaming tool.  He refuses to accept any compensation, insisting that Jon’s YouTube videos were payment enough.

We are astounded.  It seems that, somehow, in the place that seemed the least likely to us, we finally found our community.  And we found it while pursuing an activity that makes us more self-sufficient.  Through the process of learning something new, and being open and enthusiastic, we have suddenly met many of our life’s goals and made a whole new group of very loyal, generous friends.  And it doesn’t seem to be slowing down any time soon.  It seems that the trick for us, is to stay in that initial head-space of  curiosity and enthusiasm for the project, and not get too overwhelmed or scared of our own success.  There are a lot of pitfalls, and it’s definitely a tall mountain to climb, but I can honestly say, I’ve never been more excited.

I’m less creepy than you think..

There’s something about December.  It always gets away from me in this really bizarre time-warp, worm hole kind of way.  I always think I can be totally Zen about it and everything will work out, and then all of the sudden, it’s December 23rd and I realize that I haven’t been Zen, I have just been procrastinating.  But now I have emerged on the other side, and am feeling positive about this new year.  Hopefully there will be less procrastinating.  The other bright side is that now I have a month’s worth of stuff to write about.

First up– “How To Talk To Your Friends and Family About Your Love Affair With Guns Without Seeming Like a Creepy Weirdo”.

As I’m sure happened to all of you as well, I was saturated with holiday social situations this past month in a pretty intense way.  I really like getting together with family and friends, especially if it includes the ingestion of  delicious foods.  Unfortunately, after about an hour my small-talk skills go down the toilet, my face starts to hurt from smiling and I find myself distracted by plotting an escape route.  This nearly never has anything to do with the other people in the room.  It’s just me.  I think I am what the interwebz would call an Introvert.  This isn’t usually a big deal.  A lot of people are awkward, and big family get-togethers are usually at least a little stressful for everyone.  This year however, unlike years past, I had to try to figure out how to explain to people who have known me for a very long time, how it is that I came to be an enthusiastic gun owner and a partner in a gun holster making business, seemingly out of nowhere.  This is the kind of epic awkwardness that episodes of The Office are made of.

The problem for me is that I understand why they are so confused.  I imagine myself in their shoes, and someone that I have known to be a Green party registered, art school alum who has never expressed anything other than disdain for firearms, is suddenly telling me about the Ruger Mark III she got for Christmas (more on that later) with an embarassing flush of enthusiasm on her face.  This is difficult for people on a couple levels.  First, it’s hard to know how to react  when someone  does a complete 180 on a point that previously didn’t even seem like it was up for debate.  It’s easier to think you know how people will act based on the political/religious/lifestyle labels they subscribe to.  I think my family would be almost as confused if I was suddenly really passionate about lizards.  I have never expressed even a passing interest in lizards (although, if you think about it, they are pretty rad…), so if I suddenly announced that I wanted to go to grad school for Lizardology, I think great Aunt Peggy would probably give me the same blank nod and the, “Isn’t that nice, dear!”  hand pat.

But the second point is where we really get into the meat and potatoes of the thing.  Guns are an uncomfortable topic of conversation.  It’s kind of like bringing up abortion on a first date.  The record screeches to a halt.  As someone who is not trying to proselytize the necessity gun ownership to the ignorant masses, I am reluctant to even bring it up.  This is tremendously difficult since I now primarily make my living helping to fabricate holsters for guns, write this blog about being a gun enthusiast and am the proud owner of 4 pistols and 1 rifle.  I am not ashamed of any of that.  In fact, I am really excited about the new course my life has taken.  I love writing this blog.   All of those guns I own are beautiful pieces that provide me with hours of enjoyment.  Shooting as a hobby is incredibly satisfying.  The custom holsters that I work on for PHLster are well-designed, and well-received by the growing number of customers who order them.  Gun ownership makes me feel empowered to take responsibility for my own safety, and that dovetails nicely with the sense of civic responsibility that I have for my community.  In other words, it’s become a lifestyle.  You can imagine how this might be difficult to convey in small-talk over the holiday punch bowl.

The kicker is that I was once that person who would have been confused, and frankly, squicked out by excitement over guns.  It’s hard to express excitement over firearms to most people without sounding like creepy nutjob.  And I totally get that.  Being excited about guns seems more than gauche.  It seems insensitive, unaware and possibly psychotic. However, I am not any of those things.  I’m acutely aware of the responsibility and awareness needed to own and operate firearms.  And I hope with everything that’s in me, as I’m sure you all do too, that I am never in a situation where I would be forced to point a gun at another person.  I have a love of guns and a hatred for violence.  These can be tricky things to reconcile, especially if your experience with guns is solely academic.  Because, for me, the doing is much more important than the talking.  You can’t really understand why someone would be excited about guns until you’ve shot one.  Shooting is basic and primal and simple.  How can I explain why I like to eat bacon if you’ve never tried it, and have been raised to believe that eating meat is unethical?  Why would I bother trying to explain it to you?  It’s unlikely that I will be able to convince you, and we’re probably going to get into an argument over some political bullshit that really isn’t very productive.

So this was my holiday impasse.

But then I had a breakthrough.  I thought to  myself, “Rebecca, you are totally over-thinking this, as per usual.  Just do what you do and be happy with it”.  People pick up on cagey weirdness, and that’s not a great vibe to be putting out when you’re talking about the small arsenal you have in your bedroom.  So, my  new strategy is to be positive and excited about my new endeavors, and not worry too much about other people’s reactions.

We’ll see how Easter plays out…

(Also, next time I will have pictures of the Ruger.  I promise.)