Photographers have at least one thing in common with self-defense enthusiasts. They know the ability to notice the smallest detail can be a formidable weapon, a fact emphasized by a 2015 study based on images and video of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s “gunfighter’s gait.” It’s yet another of the signs someone has a hidden gun.
There are other “ticks” a lawful citizen can recognize to buy them a lifesaving second or two if the unthinkable happens. The nuances are also important to gun photographers recreating criminal encounters, although there’s no lack of “self-proclaimed expert” advice out there.
The U.S. Department of Justice’s “Violent Encounters: A study of felonious assaults on our nation’s law enforcement officers” provides an authoritative list of signs someone has a hidden gun. Published in 2006, it includes the results of two previous studies and some frightening perpetrator statements. I’ll spare you the hair-raising stories and distill to the point.
Leather and kydex give them a rash
Those of us with carry permits may find this strange, but none (as in zero) of the criminals interviewed used a holster. That’s a huge difference from lawful citizens and advantage because that lack of retention, “…may have made their actions more exaggerated or noticeable, or it may have affected their behaviors in varied but related ways,” according to the study.
• Hand checking—Without anchoring in some way, the urge to tug on, touch or adjust that gun is constant. “These acts become most observable whenever individuals change body positions, such as standing, sitting or exiting a motor vehicle,” according to the report. When running, a criminal will often hold the gun in place and citizens should watch for those hands chronically diving into a pocket.
• Jock itch—“Many offenders in the three studies revealed that they purposely transported weapons in their crotch areas…because of the reluctance of officers to thoroughly search this location,” the study said. Coupled with the above-mentioned urge to check an unholstered gun’s location/orientation, problematic itching is a giveaway.
• Blading—When approached, someone trying to minimize detection of an illegal gun will often turn their body to shield it from detection. One of the felons interviewed added a scary twist with, “Because they can’t see what I’m reaching for, I get that extra second.”
• Sagging—“Normally, personal items, such as wallets, keys, pagers, and cell phones, do not weigh enough to cause a pocket to hang substantially lower than the one on the opposite side.” Jackets droop or swing like a strong-sided pendulum when walking unless supported by a quality holster of some sort.
• Improper clothing—Coats in the heat, jackets open to winter precipitation, and, “Similarly, if a man is wearing a dress shirt, dress pants, and dress shoes, why would he have his shirttail hanging out?” the study asks. It also warns that criminals will often carry a gun under a coat or item draped over their arm.
• Hoodies—“One offender in the current study stated that he had several friends who carried ﬁrearms in their jacket hoods,” the report warns, noting hoods not worn during rain and snow might raise an alarm for officers.
“Twelve percent of the male offenders in the same study [‘In the Line of Fire’] reported giving their handguns to females to carry for them when approached by law enforcement ofﬁcers.” In general, the females also preferred storing their guns in places that will minimize chances of frisking. Ninety-two percent of the criminals interviewed carried their weapons somewhere in the middle torso—crotch, back, side, chest or belly.
If the unthinkable happens, retired Border Patrol Agent and Gunsite Rangemaster Ed Head said your observation should include another focus. “I always looked at their eyes, face and neck,” he said. “People tense up before they launch and you can see this as their eyes narrow or squint, their facial muscles tighten and their carotid arteries in the neck throb as their pulse quickens.”
The power of observation could buy a split-second advantage in a fight for your life—hopefully enough time to come home safely to your family and loved ones. The study, and Putin’s gait, are also things gun photographers/editors should keep in mind. Accurately depicting the average encounter reinforces the lifesaving information our readers and fans deserve.