I’ll be upfront: I don’t typically recommend purse carry and I personally don’t like it. No matter how well you do it, even with the best equipment, purse carry will never give you the same amount of immediate control over the gun that on-body carry allows you. That said, a lot of women opt to purse carry for various reasons: They find on-body carry too uncomfortable, they have physical concerns or different abilities that make drawing from concealment difficult or impractical, or they are unwilling to tweak their wardrobe to accommodate on-body carry. Whatever your reason for carrying a concealed handgun in your purse, you absolutely must have these three things in order to do it safely.
1. The Right Purse
Whatever you do, do not toss your handgun in your regular purse and head out the door. There are so many problems with this plan. The gun can get tumbled about in your purse, and you’ll have no way to know which direction it’s pointing. It will take you far too long to find the gun, orient it properly, and draw it safely in an emergency. Also, objects can get lodged in the trigger guard, either pulling it and firing the gun or blocking the trigger from use in an emergency. However, if you are absolutely attached to your current bag and won't consider another, use a product like CrossBreed Holsters' Purse Defender, an option that can transform it into a CCW purse.
Your other option is to buy a purpose-built concealed-carry purse. These come in all sorts of styles and varieties, but the good ones all have a gun-specific pocket that should hold your gun and nothing else. This pocket usually zips open from the top or the side, allowing you relatively fast access to the gun. Some of these will have a built-in universal holster that keeps the trigger guard covered, and I strongly recommend this type.
Yes, you still want a holster of some type when you’re purse-carrying. It can be built right into the purse or it can be detachable, but a holster will keep the trigger covered and protected, particularly if the gun pocket or the material of the purse itself is not very rigid.
Look for concealed-carry purses with slash-proof straps. One of the big safety objections to purse carry is that if a thief snatches your purse, he now has your firearm. You can make it a little more difficult for purse-snatchers by wearing your purse crossbody, but be aware that experienced thieves can slash a strap and strip you of your crossbody purse before you know what’s happening. Slash-proof straps will keep the purse itself more secure when you’re wearing it.
2. A Plan for Drawing and Shooting
Drawing a gun out of a purse is, by nature, a slower process than drawing from on-body concealment. This makes draw practice even more important for purse carriers, because the last thing you want to do in a self-defense situation is dig around in your handbag or fuss with zippers to get to your gun. Some instructors (and bag companies) will tell you to just shoot through the purse, but this is an absolute last-ditch measure because it’s fraught with complications and problems. You must practice drawing your (unloaded) gun out of the purse and presenting it in a proper shooting stance.
What are you going to do with the purse itself when you come into a shooting stance and it’s flopping around on your support arm? Is the gun going to come out of the holster easily, or will you need two hands to pry it loose? (Get a new holster if that’s the case.) Do you need to use your support arm elbow to hold the purse against your side while you draw the gun with your other hand? Is the hammer going to snag on the zipper when you pull the gun out? Does your puffy winter jacket make it hard to reach across your body with your draw hand? These are all things you want to find out in practice, not in an emergency.
When you’re practicing your draw, you’ll be working out the best way to carry the purse itself. You will probably want to carry it on the same side of your body at all times, usually your support side, so that the pocket is always oriented in the same direction, and you can always go directly to the gun in the same way every time. How long does it take you to open the pocket and access the gun? Work these things out in practice so you know exactly how you’re going to carry the purse, draw the gun, and fire if necessary.
3. Extraordinary Vigilance
The main reason why I don’t purse carry is that the extreme mindfulness it requires is nearly impossible for any human to sustain. If you’re going to carry a firearm in your purse, the purse needs to remain under your control at all times. I mean under your control, not “pretty close to you,” and at all times, not “most of the time.”
Think about where your purse is in the course of a normal day. Does it sit in an unlocked desk drawer in your cubicle, left for hours at a time while you attend meetings? Does it sit on your hair dresser’s couch while you’re getting a trim? Does it hang on the back of your chair, out of your sight, while you eat at a restaurant? Does it sit on the floor of your best friend’s living room while the two of you get coffee in the kitchen and your kids play upstairs? Do you set the purse down on the dining room table at home when you get done with the day’s errands? All of those things are no longer options if there’s a loaded firearm in your purse. We all think we’re careful with our purses, but we all—all of us, yes, even you—let our guards down.
The truth is that there’s no such thing as too careful when we’re dealing with loaded firearms. If you’re going to purse carry, you must develop extraordinary mindfulness about where your purse is at all times. Have a solid plan to secure the purse or the gun at home, at the office and anywhere else you will not be directly holding the purse against your body. This kind of vigilance is a learned skill, and it will take you time to develop. Be careful that you don’t slack off after you’ve been purse carrying for a while—there’s great danger in “Nothing bad has happened in all this time” thinking.