Why you shouldn't carry a gun in your purse
It seems like every gun store you visit these days has several racks of concealed carry purses marketed to stylish ladies who shoot. Whether they're sleek and sophisticated, urban or country, Western with rhinestones and decorative shotgun shells, or modern and cut from Italian leather, there's a purse for just about any style or taste. And because of the dizzying array of options available, many women naturally assume that this means carrying your everyday pistol in a purse is a safe and reasonable choice, and maybe even superior to carrying on your hip.
They are wrong in this assumption, but I can't fault them for it. Very few classes for beginners even address the subject of carrying concealed, let alone how to do it safely. Additionally, the vast majority of American men do not carry a purse or any kind of handbag on a regular basis. This means that male instructors, gun store employees, and holster designers may not consider the many complexities and difficulties that women face when they choose purse carry as their method of concealment.
For example, we know that to carry a firearm responsibly and safely, it has to be under our control at all times. We can't set it down and walk away, because then we run the unacceptable risk of an unauthorized person getting their hands on our gun. By "unauthorized person", most people will immediately think of a child. And indeed, a child finding an unattended gun is a potentially tragic situation that we must avoid no matter what. But an unauthorized person could also be your great aunt who is in the early stages of dementia, or your cousin who drinks too much every time the family gets together for the holidays and has a tendency to be nosy when he's three deep in the bourbon. If the gun is in your purse, the purse must either be locked securely away, or in your possession. Anything less is pure negligence.
What this means in practical terms is you must either have a very accommodating host who is willing to take your purse and lock it in a safe or closet for the duration of your visit, or you have to carry your purse with you for the entire gathering, i.e. while you're getting food from the buffet, while you're milling around balancing a drink and canapés on a cocktail napkin in your hands, while you're sitting at the dinner table with everyone else, etc. The purse can never leave your side, and if it's a clutch without straps, it can't even leave your hands. Obsessively holding your purse and never setting it down will make you look decidedly odd while greatly inconveniencing you--and it's something most men would never stop to think about simply because they don't carry a purse.
What about on the street? Your purse is the most inviting object in your possession for any common street thug; he can yank it off your shoulder and be halfway down the block before you even realize what happened. A smart pickpocket will simply cut the strap with a knife when you're distracted, making it even easier to grab it and go. Are you really completely aware of everyone around you one hundred percent of the time on a busy city street? Do you not ever stop and check your phone, smell a bouquet of flowers at the news stand, or chat with your companions for just a few seconds now and then? Of course you do, and a few seconds is all it takes to cut the strap, steal your purse, and disappear into the crowd. Now you've lost not just your purse, but your gun too.
And we haven't even begun to discuss the difficulty of drawing smoothly and quickly from a purse holster. While it's indeed possible to turn any purse into a gun purse with a little bit of planning, it isn't something most people intuitively know how to do safely. Your gun must be the only thing in that pocket or compartment of the purse, which must be zipped entirely closed. Additionally, you must have it in a secure, rigid, reinforced holster or trigger guard cover at all times. This is because if anything gets into that trigger guard, whether it's a lipstick, your keys, a coin, or even a human finger through the soft fabric of the outer purse material and the inner compartment material, the gun can be negligently fired.
Imagine the danger if your purse were hanging on the back of your chair in a crowded restaurant, with your gun floating around in the purse and nothing to protect the trigger guard from other items. You might pick it up to retrieve your phone and then be startled by a very loud, very unwelcome BANG. If you were lucky, no one would be killed or injured but the legal, and of course social, consequences of such a disaster would still be severe--and rightly so.
Purses designed for concealed carry always have a dedicated compartment for the gun, with a universal holster and usually some kind of Velcro retention strap to hold it in place. The zipper on the gun compartment often also has a lock on it, and you're expected to keep a teeny tiny key handy so that when it's time to fight, you can fish it out, unlock the zipper, zip open the compartment, and draw your pistol fast enough to stop a lethal threat. Even if you avoid the whole tiny key issue entirely by leaving the gun compartment unlocked, gun purse holsters are typically cheap little polyester pouches and will not be tailored to your specific gun, which means they have less retention and are harder to draw smoothly from. And unlike on-body holsters, purse holsters aren't fixed to your body, making them that much harder to manipulate safely.
Some extremely misinformed people may advise you to "just shoot through the purse", as if real life is a Quentin Tarantino movie and we can all place perfect shots from across a crowded room without using our sights, or even bringing the gun into view. In reality, shooting through a closed purse is a great way to injure your hands while negligently putting a round exactly where you don't want it to go: an innocent bystander, or your own body. In one women's workshop that I heard about, several instructors tried to shoot through a variety of purses. None of the hits were even close to their targets, and a couple of the purses caught on fire from the heat and explosive gases that are released from a pistol when it's fired. Everyone who participated left with burns.
Please do not ever, ever think you will save yourself or anyone else by shooting through a purse. It's dangerous, stupid, and a very good way to land yourself in prison or the morgue.
So why do so many women carry in purses? It has a lot to do with the fact that hip holsters, which have traditionally been designed with male shooters in mind, tend to be bulky and show clearly through most women's clothing styles--and are entirely impossible to wear with a dress. It used to be that the only way to conceal a bulky holster and gun was to wear loose, flowing clothes or oversized tops that add ten or twenty unflattering pounds to our perceived weight while increasing the frumpiness factor immeasurably. Who really wants to dress like they're pregnant all the time, or even worse, wear men's clothes? Many of us prefer to wear fashionable things that make us feel pretty--even while we're carrying a firearm.
Fortunately, the world of holsters has come a long way in recent years and we now have options that don't require us to wear oversized clothes or a heavy gun belt. Gun Goddess, whose trigger guards I linked to above, makes some of the best inside the waistband (IWB) holsters I've ever tried, and they all come with the option of using an Ulticlip instead of belt hooks. Ulticlips are strong steel clips with rounded teeth that lock down onto the waistline of your pants or skirt; they are very difficult to pull off without unlocking the tab, meaning if you have a sturdy, fitted waist on your pants or skirt, you can draw smoothly from the hip holster without pulling it entirely off your clothes. The clips won't stay put on all fabrics or styles, though, and I urge you to test them by drawing your empty gun from the holster over and over in every outfit before you take it out on the town for the evening. Make sure you aren't going to simply yank your skirt over your head when you're trying to draw the gun from your hip holster, or that the clips won't slide off the fabric completely, as they tend to do with materials like suede and corduroy.
The above holsters also cover and enclose the muzzle of the gun entirely, which is necessary for any inside-the-waistband holster because if the gun extends past the end of the holster, there's the very real risk that you will inadvertently push the gun out of the holster when you sit down or move around, thereby exposing the trigger and risking a negligent discharge. I have a version of this holster for every pistol I own; the smallest guns conceal most easily, of course, but with the right outfit and a long enough undergarment to prevent the muzzle end from digging into my body when I sit down, carrying on-body is easy and convenient even with my largest pistols.
There are other on-body options, too. I have thigh holsters for wearing with dresses, though those require me to carry smaller pistols and endure a certain level of discomfort. But the physical irritation is nothing compared to the worry and nervousness that comes from putting my best means of protection in a bag that can be easily taken from me and must be carried around everywhere I go until I'm safely home and can lock it away. Thigh holsters won't win any awards for comfort and convenience, but they're still magnitudes better than carrying off-body.
In my opinion, purse carry is the worst carry unless you have absolutely no other choice. And if you have no other choice, it's time to get more creative about your holster collection and clothes closet. Where there's a will, there's a way. Your safety, and that of everyone around you, deserves more consideration than simply buying a pretty handbag and dropping your gun inside. Whether you carry your gun in a hip holster, thigh holster, or belly band, make it your goal to always carry on-body, and practice, practice, practice in front of a mirror, wearing a wide variety of outfits, until your draw is smooth and consistent. As with everything related to guns, if you don't know how to safely draw, your local friendly firearms instructor should be happy to teach you.
Keep calm, carry on, and stay safe out there!