Home » Gadgets and Gear » Time to Ditch the Thigh Holster?

Time to Ditch the Thigh Holster?

by Ward Carroll on May 10, 2007

Alright, so you all have probably learned by now that under new management, Defense Tech hasnt shied away from attacking a few sacred cows here and there.

Witness the MRAP obsession and M4 vs. 416 dustup.
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Well, here comes another one folks.

I had a little chat the other day with my good friend, inventor and ballistics expert, Dave Woroner, who said hed been getting red in the face over the current love affair with thigh-rig holsters in the war zone and their increasing use by law enforcement personnel.

He enlisted two of his fellow gun nut buddies noted experts in the defensive handgun business to lay out the case against thigh rigs in favor of chest-mounted holsters. More and more Ive seen special operations forces adopting the chest-rig concept, with regular grunts sticking to the thigh holster almost as a Western movie flashback or status symbol.

Everyone knows wearing body armor makes it difficult, if not impossible, to employ hip holsters. But Dave and his amigos argue the thigh rig is a worse option.

Ive excerpted their debate below:

From David Woroner:

There comes a time to question the “status quo. This is how we move forward as professionals — adjust, adapt and overcome.

The focus here is on where our pistols are carried. Currently beat/street officers and certain military personnel carry their pistols either in shoulder rigs or hip holsters. And for them, that is fine.

But an increasing population of military and law enforcement personnel on the front lines are opting for the cowboy style thigh holster. But the time has come to make it standard procedure to carry your pistol on your chest instead.

There are several products out there that make such a move a lot easier, including the BlackHawk STRIKE Bandoleer and the Specter Gear Holster for Molle Mounting.

Heres the deal: The drop-leg thigh holster is horrendous specifically in two areas. 1) Its a wide-open target for retention and grab problems. 2) The doggoned thing loves to snag on everything (as Dave and John will attest below) not to mention the greater risk of being disarmed wearing a thigh rig.

Wearing a chest rig, however, the weapon is pretty much right in your face and if you need it in an instant, you dont have to look around for it on your leg.

Moreover, anyone who has had to run for his life with a thigh holster on knows it wobbles and wiggles all over the place — not ideal for drawing quickly on the run.

So heres the rub troopers: Loose the thigh rigs. Theyre no longer a status symbol and its gonna be mighty hard for an enemy to grab a pistol off your chest. The chest rig puts your handgun in a place that you will not forget under duress.

And besides, it adds a little additional armor to your vest.

Dave Spaulding adds

Ive spent 30 years in law enforcement, including 12 years in SWAT and five years on a drug task force. Ive been involved in hundreds of raids and forced entries and Ive tried all types of holsters.

I admit that I have never been a big fan of the leg or thigh holster, as I could never find an elevation where the thing was comfortable. If the rig was left low on the leg, it swung around the leg when moving and the gun snagged on every doorframe or fence railing that it encountered. Of course, a moving holster is difficult to draw from quickly.

If the gun were pulled up high and tight, the leg straps would cut off circulation to the leg as well as “pinch the boys” on occasion. The short vertical strap also limited movement in regards to how well the leg could move when climbing or running.

So, I mounted a holster on my carrier vest over my body armor in a low, forward cross draw position before such rigs were readily available.

Most carriers of the time had the holster located under the offside arm like a shoulder holster, which made rapid access difficult, but moving the gun to the front of the body eliminated this problem.

The lone drawbacks, at least in my experience, to mounting the gun to the chest was when you slung your rifle or went face down prone. Taking note of where the pistol is suspended in relation to where the long gun hangs could easily minimize these concerns.

Nothing is perfect, but I admit that if I were involved in entry work at this stage of my life, I would be holstering my handgun on the front of my vest in some place so that I would have both rapid access as well as freedom of movement.

Some will say that if the vest comes off, so will the pistol. Well, in a hot zone, the vest shouldnt come off and in a LE situation where the vest might come off while an evidence search is conducted, the pistol can easily be transferred to a simple hip holster…maybe one of those nylon styles that will push flat when not needed.

Everything is a compromise and nothing is perfect.

John Farnam puts in his $.02

When we carry pistols, openly or concealed, we like the gun to be within the elbow arc. That is, we want it high enough that we can strongly defend it against snatch attempts. Unfortunately, when we don heavy body armor, our normal waistline often becomes ineligible as a carrying place for pistols.

One popular option is to move the pistol down until it rests on the outside of the thigh. As with all solutions, there are strengths and weaknesses. A great strength is that the gun is still reachable via the strong-side hand, and the existing draw-stroke need be only slightly modified. The bad news is that this pistol is now well below the elbow and thus not particularly retainable. In addition, the system significantly adds to the carriers body width, so it will routinely snag it on doorframes.

Another option is the chest carry. The draw-stroke is different, and the pistol is still vulnerable, but one can get both hands on it quickly when it needs protection. In addition, it won’t bang into door frames and furniture, and it can be readily concealed.

When the normal waistline is available, it should be used. High-on-the-waist is still the best carry position, open or concealed. For domestic patrol officers, this is usually the best way to go. Putting the pistol low on the thigh when the waist is available is silly.

Christian

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{ 34 comments… read them below or add one }

Sven Ortmann May 10, 2007 at 6:11 pm

A Chest rigadds weight to the upper body. That means more fatigue. This effect should be considered as there’s already a lot fo weight far up with he vest, helmet and so on.
A pistol is also not nearly as important to a soldier as to a policeman – most armies in the world do even believe that they’re obsolescent and unnecessary bulky ballast. A spare magazine pouch is preferred in most armies of the world. Such an unimportant piece of equipment (if you expect your M16 or M60 to jam then goddam buy more reliable weapons!) does not need to be optimized as in the case of policemen.
Weight and bulk should be minimized to minimize the drawbacks of carrying a pistol around.
Those experst should be able to tell the soldiers that they won’t hit often beyond 10 yards in a stress situationw ith such pistols and that the effect on a determined enemy who assaults with an AKM is negligible in many cases.

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Mike May 11, 2007 at 8:15 am

I just wish that the Army would start buying a standard, MODERN, shoulder holster rig. My options were to jury-rig a standard Bianchi holster, use a 60 year old leather rig designed for the m1911, or buy my own. I opted for the Galco Miami classic, but it would be nice if you didn’t have to drop $150 on your own kit.

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claymore May 11, 2007 at 11:27 am

Well I guess you guys haven’t spent much time as a grunt. Guess what you do when the rounds start coming in… you dive to the ground and try to press your shirt buttons into the earth. And guess what.. all that earth has a nasty habit of getting onto everything ON YOUR CHEST. And it’s not just when rounds are coming in it’s also when you are trying to sneak up on someone or something. Putting your reserve weapon on your chest is a BAD idea for Armed forces on the other hand law enforcement spends way less time on their stomach so it could work for the police.

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The Cenobyte May 11, 2007 at 12:49 pm

In Iraq when you point your long guy at some guy he doesn’t seem to notice. However if you want to scare the crap out of him point your pistol at him. My understanding is that this is because under the ace of spades the police and the like killed everyone with pistols. So while each one of these has it’s advantages (And I would suggest the chest sucks for combat operations where you are likley to want to go prone) the hip or waiste is the place that the Iraqis are going to look for that pistol. You want respect in Iraq, carry a pistol and make sure everyone can see it.

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Grandjester May 11, 2007 at 1:10 pm

claymore, looks like guys are putting an awful lot of crap on their front web gear these days. I would think for drivers it would be a good ideal, but as with most things it comes down to personal preference.

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Mike Sparks May 11, 2007 at 5:09 pm

Don’t overlook the fact that the chest-mounted holster can be mounted ON THE SIDE of the chest under your preferred arm pit so when you go into the prone to do IMT its not in the dirt/dust/mud.
Having ANY weight on your legs harms your foot mobility and this energy cost is taken with every movement. This is why heavy boots compared top lighter boots are a concern of Natick Labs.
The bottom line here is that with a leg holster you might lose 1 mph in a 7 mph run that may mean 1-2 seconds of exposure going from the cover of one building to another, that can result in you getting hit and possibly killed/wounded.
FORM MUST FOLLOW FUNCTION!

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SSG Altersitz May 11, 2007 at 5:37 pm

Hey were ever you want to carry you pistol is your problem my proble is the 60 LB of crap on my OTV and most of that stuff if it gets hit goes Boom . If you have nothing on your chest then you can put your pistol there but I myself have 6 Mags for my M4, granades, an IFAK, NOD’s, Radio, hydration system and anyother thing my comand thinks I should carry. Fitting into a “V” is hard and god forbid you need to be in a turet because you might not fit. The real issue is the amount of crap we have to wear and we are running out of places to put it. Moving down the body is the only other place to go. Intergrate the shit into what we wear or make it smaller and lighter, because on a 8 hour foot patrol you are sucking.

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toby May 13, 2007 at 3:42 pm

if i remember correctly, the secret service has long used chest-mounted holsters for semi-autos and compact uzis.

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Johnathan May 14, 2007 at 3:27 am

Well, we all know that the thigh holster is about ‘posing’. Lets face it, this whole ‘war’ is about ‘posing’, so why not let the boy soldiers at least look the part before they are killed? Its not like bush really gives a damm, or he would have them out of there.

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JNT May 15, 2007 at 3:45 pm

Two significant drawbacks to the chest mounted holster exist and have not been addressed by the above comments. 1) transitioning to the pistol with a slung long gun can be hindered by the midline or cross body position most slings default to, though obviously sling type (1,2,3 point) and mounting location will have a good deal of influence on this and training will reveal weaknesses and allow for improvement and 2) the drawstroke for a sidearm mounted that high, especially when being draw under stress as a secondary weapon while transitioning from an empty or malfunctioned primary tends to present in a muzzle sidewards position – making flagging and stress induced NDs very risky.
Drop leg holsters are not the end all/be all, but they do offer a suitable alternative for military personnel issued a secondary weapon. Unlike the LE community, the types of encounters are less likely to go hands-on (minimizing concern over H2H retention in holster issues) and the increased likelihood of muzzle flagging and NDs by personnel much less experienced with a pistol (compared to a rifle) mean the recommedation to move to a less traditional strong side carry position without greatly enhancing the level of training provided is concerning. YM2CW

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Jake May 21, 2007 at 1:50 am

I have used both in tactical situations, and both have their ups and downs. The thigh holster is out of the way when you are prone and is not in the way of getting to your rifle mags when they are chest mounted (which is now, more often than not). If your thigh holster wobbles, you got a crappy one and are not wearing it right. My Blackhawk has never failed me. The chest holster is great if you spend a lot of time in a vehicle, as you can draw the weapon while seated. This is also great in a vehicle, as you most likely wont have the room for a long gun and won

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JayTee October 1, 2007 at 9:54 pm

Ditto to what the guy said about the poser war. I have been to Iraq twice and worked as an intelligence attachment to just about every type of combat unit under the sun. The ones who had all of the cool guy gear were those who saw the least action. The vehicle borne Marine LAR guys were in small spaces and carried minimal crap. Few drop holsters there as they get in the way while driving. They were all business. The Blackhawk Serpa MOLLE (on the chest or upper body somewhere) holsters are becoming omnipresent among other guys who work out of HMMWVs. Leg guys who do foot patrols (mostly Marines again, the Army guys rarely did foot patrols unless they were on an Iraqi Military/Police training team) wore simple thigh holsters, many of them “drop-leg” style but adjusted to ride as high as possible without getting in the way. Again, all business. The guys who walked around trying to look like a Blackhawk catalog model? They were almost always non-combat support troops who spend some time driving trucks and supplies from place to place. They see some action, but it never failed to make me laugh to see some kid walk to his cargo truck with so much new, clean gear that looks like he just took the tags off. The shoulder holsters were for armor drivers and “fobbits”, the support guys (my intel superiors, for example). General rule: junior enlisted with shoulder holster=driver. Senior enlisted/senior officer with shoulder holster=office bitch. Guys get really crazy with their gear over there. It’s really crazy. Me? Simple chest rig, 6 M-4 mags, 2 pistol mags, Safariland thigh holster for foot stuff, simple leather waistband holster for everything else, usually concealed underneath my camouflage blouse. I wear the chest rig high so I can get at my stuff out while in the prone (rare in urban shooting but not unheard of). I worry more about accessing and properly shooting my rifle long before going to the pistol.

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Don Meaker October 22, 2007 at 11:39 pm

Thigh holsters are hard to reach with the off side hand. Automatics have a higher center of gravity when holstered than revolvers. To resolve retention issues a holster that works on a revolver (like a low slung “cowboy holster”) will wobble a lot when running.
Fatigue is higher for loads attached to legs than for loads attached to the upper body. There is extra work associated with starting the mass going with a step, stopping it with each step, then starting the mass in motion. Though the thigh holster is better in this regard than an ankle holster, it is not as good as a hip or shoulder holster. Shoulder holsters help a lot with retention issues, have good weak side accessability, and provide a tiny bit of protection to a major weakness; the arm hole.
Shooting from an Isosoles makes best use of body armor, but if the rifle is being used, with the pistol in the shoulder holster, that bit of cover may help.

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Ironmajor February 21, 2008 at 4:07 pm

The best holster I have ever used is the standard leather HOLSTER, DISMOUNTED M-1916 which is the old leather holster with flap made for the pistol belt. It is not too low, it is right there, it can not be snatched, and it does not interfere with the flak vest (upper body armor). sometimes, things just do not need to be improved – and this is one of them. I wear mine in Iraq, and I have been everywhere in every possible situation with it. All this other stuff people are buying is falling apart, the mags are on the same side as the holster which prevents reloading with your other hand.

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John McDowell February 24, 2008 at 10:35 pm

I agree with all of the above about Thigh Rigs. Theyre a pain in the ass, theyre uncomfortable, theyre dangerous for being disarmed, they snag alot, BUT, in response to wearing a chest rig. I am an Active Duty Sniper in the Army. And I can attest to the fact that for my duty position, a thigh rig is the only way to go. A chest rig would make more sense if I were kicking in doors and conducting raids, but for me, getting into a hide, laying on my belly and or shedding my body armor, a thigh rig is the only way to go. I have to have my pistol accessible at all times and laying down on it will do me no good.

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Patrick May 17, 2009 at 7:59 pm

I work security filling ATM machines and have for years tried to talk my company out of hip holsters. they are uncomfortable and inconvenient when squatted down working on a machine. I have tested a thigh and chest holster and found the chest holster to be perfect for what I do. Still can't talk them into it though, corporate knows best and all that.

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Station409 July 14, 2012 at 6:45 am

Yet in law enforcement, I can't think of a worse place to have the gun than on the chest. It's a common occurrence to have offenders (especially drunks being moved on from the nightclub district) turn around and try to shove your chest, or grapple with you. The last thing I want is to have my gun only a few inches from their hand.

Sure, the thigh holster and hip holster can be uncomfortable (especially while driving) but at least they keep the firearm out of reach of anyone else unless they want to crouch down. I hate even having my asp on my chest in the vest they have us trialling. I only put the cuffs, radio and camera on it, and keep everything else on my belt… sort of defeating the purpose.

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Nick March 19, 2014 at 4:33 pm

I’m using a safariland DFA. It’s the best of both worlds between a hip and thigh set up. I’m a Police Officer and it’s much more comfortable in the car and doesn’t get in the way while running. Best option for a tough rig I’ve tried yet and I have my OC spray and rescue hook mounted to the accessory holes. Many at my department have made the switch and are loving it.

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MK June 15, 2009 at 4:09 pm

Every holster has its different application that should be kept in mind with the freedom of movement that each individual has. As I saw someone say that they all have flaws in certain situations and some are better in others. My own experience is not the most extensive although a tour as a SAW gunner, rifleman and a sniper. Most of my carrying other than that has been civilian related as a woodsman/backpacker where I would like to have a relatively quick draw in case I am attacked by an animal; in which case it will need to be quicker than in a firefight if I get jumped by a mountain lion by random.
The thigh holster I do not recommend for the simple reason that the belt holster has the same applications and is easier to control if someone were to try to disarm you. Not only that but you would have a good range of attack on someone trying to grab your firearm and would have the advantage when you put them on the ground. With the belt you can also easily grab it with your off-hand to use your strong hand for punching, elbowing, etc.
The chest holster is better for someone that has limited movement; such as someone with a machinegun, someone wearing a rucksack or a backpacker. If someone were to try and grab your weapon from the chest you would have better control with either hand in front of you but it would be harder to get a good hit while trying to hold onto your firearm.
If you plan on laying on the ground and crawling around then by all means do not wear one on your chest but, then again, if you do that you probably wouldn’t be bogged down with 85 pounds of gear like I was at one time. I would definitely use a belt holster in that situation.
Basically, I would use a chest holster anytime I am lifting a significant amount of weight that comes with extra equipment restricting my movement and a belt holster without. So yea, thigh holsters should go but belt holsters should replace them. Of course, if you want to use a chest holster for any application (besides crawling) go ahead; just remember that your draw speed won’t be as fast. But you know we are only dealing in ‘what ifs’ anyway and we can never control everything but do our best.

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Steve September 20, 2010 at 1:23 am

I agree with many of the cons posted here about thigh holsters, having served in both Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere, however I much prefer it over a shoulder holster (when traveling on foot). First of all, I have gorilla arms which make drawing a chest mounter weapon less fluid than a thigh rig. Secondly, the type of gear and location of my vests simple ate up the real estate. 6 mags, smoke, 2 gear pouches, radio (all of which used a lot more often than my pistol). In the end it's all about tactical and personal preference.

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John Harasti December 27, 2010 at 12:29 pm

Just ditch the beauty contest-cowboy sh*t. A high-carry LE waist holster works great for most applications: it has a short & quick draw, can be felt by your elbow to keep retention, works concealed or open carry, and now come readily available for accessorized weapons. Additionally, some can be Serpa mounted just about anywhere, which works great for our military apps. For those purposes, I prefer a high-mounted, cross draw chest rig, over my long gun magazines, smoke, frags, etc. As many of us who use all our weapons, it's important that every operator works it out for themselves. Each of us does it all different, don't you?

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alberthead July 14, 2011 at 5:32 pm

OK for a civi beat cop, but that doesn't work for tactical carry.

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daman December 27, 2010 at 2:48 pm

One item i haven't seen mentioned is the old style belt rig that attaches to the waist of the armored vest. I have this and it comes with a tie down. it;s comfortable as far as range of motion,but wearing a gun professionally comes with a caveat,it should be comforting not comfortable.Remember to take into account your body type and your lifesaving gear and adjust from there.

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Polysynergy December 29, 2010 at 12:18 am

As a backpacker the chest rig is the best for two reasons. First the gun sits in between my two shoulder straps and the higher weight is good for balance. Secondly, if I were attacked by a bear (I carry because of middle of the wood drug dealers) and I was curled in the fetal position I would have access to my gun. Whereas if it were on my hip or thigh it wouldn't be accessible.

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alberthead July 14, 2011 at 5:31 pm

As stated elsewhere, the chest rig is a good option for in-vehicle. It is also a good option for fast transition from a long gun that is in the shoulder to the chest-mounted pistol. Having said that, application is also important. Some environments call for a side-arm that is not so "in-your"face" like a chest rig – I'm thinking specifically of training and mentoring positions. In those scenarios, a drop leg holster is still readilly available, but less "out there", which may contribute to trust issues.

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The 4th August 4, 2011 at 9:21 pm

The best carry holster is the one that let's you get to your gun when you need it and stays out of your way when you don't. I carry strong side waist holster, John Wayne style. It may not be pretty and say "gunfighter," but it's always there when I need it, I'm not laying on it in the dirt, and I can access it with either hand. And if you transition to civilian wear, you can carry an IWB the same place. You don't rise to the occasion, you default to your training. Train like you fight. Same thing every time.

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Drop leg fan January 14, 2012 at 7:25 pm

Shut up drop legs are grate

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Marc October 9, 2012 at 11:21 pm

I'm a fobbit pogue gear-whore I'll admit and I loved the LOOK of thigh rigs and borrowed one, but hated donning and unhooking those straps (not fun taking a dump in a port-a-john, I valued the the shoulder holster, easy to put on under or over my ACUs and I didn't have to worry about it either. If I had to draw, it would mean some local national already got the jump on me and it's pointless (he has to be close enough to stab/shoot/jump me when I'm not aware/ready to begin with. The handgun to me as an admin dude is simply a decoration, keeps me from having to carry my rifle everywhere, but I'm still armed. Kinda like the PT belt to go eat chow lol.

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robert December 6, 2012 at 4:05 am

any one having trouble with leg rigs wabbling wile running try taking the top leg strap off and moving the holster up mid-way between the wrist and elbow this will pace the gun on your hip. makes draw time shorter and is more stable for moving quickly.

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Jack March 10, 2013 at 8:44 am

I do not take anybody's word as gospel on anything tactics related, that is dumb. Take everything as OPINION, because that is what it is. The best thing anyone can do is use what works best for you. I am not citicizing anything stated here, because good points are made for sure. I only say, try everything and use what works best for you. Once you decide though, practice again and again to instill muscle memory.

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Foxymedic September 13, 2013 at 12:56 am

I'm an Army flight medic and for my situation the thigh rig is the better option. I have buddies who have had combative patients who have tried to take their weapon off their chest mount. For my situation, a thigh mount is far preferable and the likelihood of your pistol being taken off your chest as you lean over a patient far more likely. Yes, you do need to be aware entering and exiting the aircraft so as not to snag your weapon but it only takes being aware and living with it for awhile to not catch it on things. I see the other points people are making but, again, each option has its place.

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BlueFlyer September 24, 2013 at 10:38 pm
BlueFlyer September 24, 2013 at 10:38 pm
Jared March 30, 2014 at 2:09 am

I can see both sides of this but there are 2 reasons i like the thigh holster over chest mount:
1st- If mounted on thigh you can easily grab it by dropping your hand, above i saw someone say "You could forget where it is in a high stress situation". If you are in any law enforcement job you should always know where every weapon and accessory you have on you is.
2nd- If you put it on your chest you take up valuable room for radios and such and it also if you got in a hand to hand combat situation all it would take is detaining your main arm in something like an arm bar and then they could pull it right out and they would have it.

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