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In the world of carrying a handgun, everything is subject to change. One of the few fundamentals that remain constant over time is the concept of carrying your gun on your strong hand side so that it can be drawn with your (wait for it) strong hand. Well, that is of course, unless you use a cross draw.

Origins

So put yourself in a time machine and let us go back to the 1850s. Revolvers were new-fangled items but those sold in a caliber large enough to do damage were huge. For instance, the 1851 Colt Navy, a .36-caliber cap and ball six-shooter, weighed 42-ounces and was 13-inches overall-- and it was not the longest revolver on the market by any means. For comparison, a full-sized K-frame Smith and Wesson 38 of today comes in at 30 ounces and 9 inches overall.

With such beefy and out-sized revolvers, if you wanted to carry one of these so called new 'belt pistols' on your person the best way was in a cross draw fashion in which the holster was mounted on the offhand side (e.g. left side if right handed) with the butt forward so that it could be drawn across the midsection with the strong hand. These guns were simply too long to pull out of a holster located on the belt directly under the strong hand, especially if mounted on a horse.

Uniform

A Union Army horse solder with a rare Hall Carbine in its strap as well as his saber and a Colt cap and ball revolver stuffed cross-ways in his belt. Though they typically used holsters, you get the idea. Image from Library of Congress.


The cross draw was standard until shorter cartridge revolvers like the Colt Peacemaker came on the scene in the 1870s. Still, for huge long barreled revolvers such as the S&W Model 29 and the Colt Python, the cross draw remained in use with law enforcement officers as late as the early 1980s for the same reasons as in the Civil War-- it was just more practical.


Policewoman Florence Coberly preparing for undercover work luring rapists in Los Angeles. Note her 38 carried in a cross draw holster.

Female officers for generations were instructed to carry in this method as it assisted in retention as it forces the butt of the gun into the body and it was thought the female body shape (hips) worked against drawing from the strong side.

Black-and-white Film noir Monochrome Sitting Photography

Although as witnessed by this image of Policeman Randy Kennan (actor Ted de Corsia) carrying a Colt Commando revolver in the 1956 film The Killing, cross draw was popular with LE for generations.

Don't knock the fact that it's an actor in this image, De Corsia, who played gangsters and criminals in dozens of films and TV programs, was also for several years an LA County reserve deputy. Street officers of the time often wore a "Santa Claus belt" with just a 38, cuffs, and wooden baton.


In Europe, the cross draw was standard for generations. Here, a police officer comforts a crying boy who got hit by a car when he skateboarded over a street in central Malm, Sweden 1986, Inside the clamshell, leather holster located on his offhand side is a Lahti pistol


French Montfort Commando-marine Mose Saillant with a FM 24/29 LMG, in Ha Long Bay, circa 1950 note the crossdraw MAB pistol.

Problems of the technique

Today the cross draw is rare in both law enforcement and in personal defensive carry. The largest segment of the population that uses this technique is the cowboy-action hobbyists and Civil War reenactors who carry reproductions of the same guns that pioneered its use to begin with.

Probably the worst thing for concealed cross draw carriers is the fact that almost any technique where you draw your handgun is going to require two-hands: one to pull away the jacket or coat and one for the weapon. Bigger guys and girls with a good-sized belly will have issues reaching across unless the gun is carried more in the 11 or 1 o'clock positions.

Shoulder holsters by definition, are cross draw, but like the 1970s and the era of the six-inch S&W service revolver for law enforcement, their time has peaked. There are only so many carry options for shoulder rigs (sports coats, roomy rain jackets etc.) that don't print excessively unless you go with a small frame gun.

Upsides of the cross draw

Now don't get me wrong, there are those who prefer the cross draw and carry as such every day. If you are in a seated position, in either an office chair or automobile, the cross draw is a near ideal method of carry as it puts the butt-forward and within easy reach while seated. Remember this is why the old horse soldiers carried their Colts and Remingtons cross draw fashion in the first place.

While many standard holsters can simply be rotated around to the offhand side for crossdraw carry, a number are specifically made to take into the change in cant to place the grips flat against the body and within quick ergonomic reach. This has the bonus of allowing a draw from the offhand, which is usually not the case if carrying strong-hand only.

For those with limited strong-hand side mobility, cross draw can be a lifesaver. For instance, I know of a long-serving detective who had a spiral fracture of the distal humerus (which is actually even worse than it sounds!) who has a loss in his range of motion to the rear that physical therapy didn't correct, thus limiting his strong-hand draw. His solution? Cross draw and it works fine for him. He can draw and present, getting rounds on target in under 2-seconds when qualifying and his scores are just fine.

Waist Abdomen Arm Shoulder Hip

Using it with a belly band style holster

Handgun holster Belt Gun accessory Brown Buckle

A Wright Leatherworks Regulator Cross Draw Holster. If you shop around, there are plenty of modern options.

Bottom line, in most circumstances, cross draw is dangerous, easily accessed by an aggressor, and hard to present from. However, in certain conditions, with certain users (especially if you spend a lot of time in a car), and with certain guns, it works great-- but has to be practiced religiously to build up muscle memory.

With proper training and a good bit of sweat equity put into practicing your draw stroke to where you minimize muzzle flash, the cross draw can be fast and efficient.

Even for a 175-year old technique.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=TGpVVF1JLz8

Officer Jim Ritter uses a fully restored 1970 Plymouth Satellite police cruiser as his everyday cruiser. And the vehicle is attracting attention on the streets of Seattle. He also wears the 1970s Seattle PD uniform complete with service bars and a crossdraw S&W.

If you have any experience, good or bad to share with the cross draw, drop it below.
 
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