Yet More SERPA Ban

12-Jul-12 – 10:23 by ToddG

Last week, the National Park Service banned the use of SERPA-style holsters by any of its more than 2,000 law enforcement personnel. It will come as no surprise to readers that among the reasons listed was the propensity for accidental discharges, citing multiple instances at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center where such accidents led to property damage and/or injury.

Another issue listed in the NPS memo was the danger of debris getting into the holster mechanism thereby making it impossible to draw the gun. Especially given the incredibly wide range of environmental conditions under which NPS Park Rangers must operate across the country it is easy to understand this very real concern. (for a demonstration of this problem in a realistic training environment, see this video featuring Craig “SouthNarc” Douglas and the late Paul Gomez… note the language of the video may be NSFW)

Historically, these announcements are met by hardcore SERPA fans with cries that “I’ve been using a SERPA for six years and never shot myself once!” Perhaps it would be worth the time and effort to consider that a large federal law enforcement agency, between its own experience and the accumulated experience of the nation’s largest law enforcement academy, might have just a tiny bit more real world data to call upon for drawing conclusions.

In other news: SERPA-style holsters are still banned from all open enrollment classes.

Train hard & stay safe! ToddG

  1. 42 Responses to “Yet More SERPA Ban”

  2. I don’t want to be the guy to tell people to go out and buy a new holster but as an IDPA SO whenever someone steps up to the line with the SERPA holster I get nervous.

    By Jesse on Jul 12, 2012

  3. but I’ve had one in my basement for years with no issues!

    By Rob E on Jul 12, 2012

  4. And here I thought keeping your finger off of the trigger alone would keep you from putting a bullet in your leg. Maybe if you could teach people to keep their booger hook off the bang switch instead of drawing just far enough and then jamming their finger in the trigger guard, things like this wouldn’t happen. If someone cannot comprehend to push a button and then pull the gun, then they shouldn’t be around a weapon. I’ve tried to get my finger on the trigger using my 1911 in a Serpa and I just can’t do it. Again:
    1. Push button.
    2. Remove firearm from holster.
    3. Gain sight picture.
    4. Release safety.
    5. Squeeze trigger.

    Step 6 is putting a bullet in your leg, but only if your IQ is below 12…

    By Chaz on Jul 12, 2012

  5. That’s the best argument I have heard against the Serpa, yet: junk gets in the mechanism and it locks the gun in the holster.

    All the other issues are lack of training and improper use.

    By GhettoSmack on Jul 12, 2012

  6. I gotta agree with Chaz, its not the technology, its the user. I get why in environments where there is a chance of a lot of debris (Park Ranger), but for training I see no problem with it. If users are violating rule 3- that’s going to happen regardless of what holster they are using.

    By Matt B on Jul 12, 2012

  7. To everyone who says the safety issue has nothing to do with the holster, puzzle me this:

    FLETC, which sees more people from more agencies shoot more types of guns with more types of holsters than probably any training facility in the entire country, specifically sees a greater propensity for the SERPA to cause an accident than other holsters. If it was “going to happen with any holster” why do they see it happening only with the SERPA? Just wild & crazy chance?

    By ToddG on Jul 12, 2012

  8. Because if a person shot themselves or had an ND with any other holster, they would have to take responsibility for it. If you’re putting your finger on the trigger before you have a sight picture, you are not aware of your target or what is behind it.

    Blame the Serpa all you want, it’s a lack of training and familiarity. Again, you keep your finger off of the trigger until you are ready to fire.

    I’ve seen police officers claim their shotgun is broken during their yearly and it was fine, they just didn’t pump it!

    By Chaz on Jul 12, 2012

  9. Chaz — “Because if a person shot themselves or had an ND with any other holster, they would have to take responsibility for it.

    I’m probably just misunderstanding, but it sounds like you’re saying that people are more careful with other holsters because they’d look responsible for ADs, but not as careful with SERPAs because they can blame the SERPA if they make a mistake. That’s not what you mean, is it?

    By ToddG on Jul 12, 2012

  10. I have to agree with the logic behind the keeping your finger of the trigger group here. People just aren’t paying attention to what they are doing. But I completely agree with the debris issue. That is why I stopped wearing one when I did deploy. I didn’t want to try my chances with my weapon sticking in the holster when I needed it most.

    By Rob on Jul 12, 2012

  11. Why would anyone buy a Serpa when the Safariland ALS is so much better?

    By 167 on Jul 12, 2012

  12. 167 got it in one.

    The Safariland ALS is available for $10 more than a Serpa and would be a bargain at twice the price.

    By pdb on Jul 12, 2012

  13. The only argument is that debris may foul it, everything else is simply keeping your finger off the trigger…

    By Bill on Jul 12, 2012

  14. I guess people with high IQs never have accidents.

    So the step of pressing a button (in a SERPA holster) as one removes his/her gun from the holster does not increase one’s chance of ACCIDENTALLY pulling the trigger more than any other holster?

    By Nick on Jul 12, 2012

  15. I like my ALS holsters. I have 2 duty ALS holsters and 1 concealment holster. The are why better the the Serpa. This coming from someone who used a concealment holster for about 4 year. Sorry, I did not know any better at the time.

    By Dave S. on Jul 12, 2012

  16. Does anyone know of a USPSA club that has a Serpa ban? I see a TON of these on rank beginners at my clubs.

    By Jon on Jul 12, 2012

  17. If someone made a car with the gas pedal on the left and the brake on the right, we’d see a lot of operator errors with that, too. And we’d say: “that’s a stupid design.”

    By Claude on Jul 12, 2012

  18. With enough training you can also ride a unicycle on a tightrope while juggling chain saws, the question is why one would commit the time and energy to doing so when there are more useful skills one can master.

    I’ve been teaching a lot of beginners lately. Where SERPAs are concerned the circle of fail goes as follows:

    1. Beginner tries to draw pistol, but fails to engage the SERPA’s release mechanism.

    2. He/she tries to lift self off floor by tugging on pistol stuck in holster. If a crappy belt is involved it begins twisting/shifting.

    3. The guns of other students start going “boom.” The beginner, realizing they are behind the curve, starts slapping at the SERPA’s release with their trigger finger. Should they manage to hit the release, their trigger finger nonetheless continues slapping.

    About this time I intervene. My guess is that if I didn’t I wouldn’t necessarily next observe an ND, particularly one leading to an injury. My strong suspicion, however, is that waggling trigger finger likely leads to bad hits on target and the mere fact there is a slapping finger in motion near a trigger causes an actuarial increase in the incidence of ND/injury. As I work the resulting benefit/cost analysis, SERPAs keep coming up “no sale.”

    Can a SERPA be used safely? My guess is if you get several thousand reps in you can commit the requisite mechanics to muscle memory and successfully execute the task. Do folks as a rule get those reps in? The beginners I work with haven’t, and I doubt a lot of shooters get that kind of practice in. Slapping a warning label on SERPAs to the effect of “get your reps in before using this holster as your primary” might mitigate the problem, though I suspect Blackhawk sales would then suffer.

    Bottom line, why risk juggling chainsaws when there are safer solutions?

    By Buz on Jul 12, 2012

  19. maybe I am not tracking here,

    But, I only see one email from the Office of the Inspector General – Health and Human Services (HHS OIG) that forbids the SERPA for its armed employees. Am I missing something? How does this translate into the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center banning (or not recommending) the SERPA holster? For ALL the agencies that train on their facilities?

    As far as the video goes, I had the same problem drawing my pistol once when my SLS holster got a bunch of dirt into the button mechanism that releases the hood. This was during training, so I could step back and spray a bunch of Rem Oil down it to clean it out and get back on the firing line.

    I have also seen the SLS holster ripped from the belt during defensive tactics training.

    Furthermore, I don’t use safariland holsters anymore after my pistol fell out after tackling a person at the end of a foot pursuit. I was using a new SLS at the time.

    On the other hand, I don’t understand why anyone that isn’t law enforcement would use a SERPA when carrying concealed. Why would you need the kinda sorta level II retention? Do you expect to go hands-on with someone? Do you think you need to prevent a gun grab?

    When I carry in plainclothes I use a level I kydex (raven or 101 holsters); I don’t expect or plan to get into a grappling match defending my gun while it is still holstered. But most of the time I am in uniform, and I carry a using a SERPA level III on my duty belt. The SLS and the SERPA are my issue choices and I have to choose the best option.

    Like any gun, any holster might fail. Every gun and every holster has weak points.


    By brad on Jul 12, 2012

  20. Brad — I’m not sure where the HHS OIG thing came from. The post above was regarding the US Park Service.

    I’m surprised at the issues you experienced with your SLS holsters. A number of special operations units I’ve dealt with over the years have used them extensively and those are not common complaints. But you’re 100% right, any holster might fail.

    By ToddG on Jul 12, 2012

  21. People like to carry SERPA’s concealed because they think it replaces some sort of retention training. They are mostly those who are barely competent to begin with and they worship that stupid button. I have little doubts that most of them are so slow that they might never have an issue simply because they can’t move fast enough. Otherwise had they had any amount of training they would have made their own decision to stop using it.

    By Tom on Jul 12, 2012

  22. “They are mostly those who are barely competent to begin with and they worship that stupid button. I have little doubts that most of them are so slow that they might never have an issue simply because they can’t move fast enough.”

    Just to play devils advocate I can draw from a Serpa and fire doing the CSAT standards in 1.6 seconds very consistently… No hole in my leg 😉

    And I tried the ALS for my 226 and it didn’t fit though if it had, I’d really have like that holster.

    By Bill on Jul 13, 2012

  23. One of the local gun shop employees recommended the Serpa to me when I bought my first Glock. I bought the holster, used it for some of my first IDPA competitions and used it in a 2-day defensive handgun class. While I never had a problem with it and had no ND’s, I stopped using it after 6 months. Here’s my own reasoning:

    Using the locking tab adds another complicated series of motions to the draw stroke. The index finger has to be “activated”: flexing on the tab/button to unlock your gun. While you draw the gun out of the holster the finger (while still flexing) is supposed to slide off the tab and onto the frame. You then have to relax the finger, move it into the trigger guard, and then flex it again to fire.

    Flex-press-relax-trigger guard-fire.

    Compare that to a non-locking holster. Your index/trigger finger is extended or already relaxed while you draw the gun, then it moves into the trigger guard — fire. 3 steps instead of 5.

    In non-stressful situations and even competitions with my Serpa, I can get a proper grip on the gun, hit the tab, and the finger falls on the frame. I’m completing my draw stroke without a problem.

    But what if I’m in a stressful, life-threatening situation? Maybe I won’t get that proper grip. Maybe my hand will be just a little high or just a little low on the grip, forcing my finger to be a little off. I might forget to relax the finger when I pull out and I’m so adrenalin pumped that my entire shooting hand balls up…and the finger slips into the trigger guard a little too early. Or I might miss the tab altogether and I’m trying to tug and tug on my gun while it stays locked in the holster. Or maybe it’ll clear the holster and the shot breaks when and where I want it to.

    Others will be happy with the holster, and will never have a ND with it– that’s all great. I never had a ND with a Serpa, but I’m not willing to keep taking chances with it. Too many uncertainties.

    By NWGlocker on Jul 13, 2012

  24. @Bill…

    Would you carry an AIWB holster that had the SERPA button?

    By Tom on Jul 13, 2012

  25. I prefer to let my trigger finger only have one job…. pulling the trigger. That’s what I’ve trained it to do any time its holding a gun. It would seem that doing other stuff could lead to problems…….

    By Aaron on Jul 13, 2012

  26. Aaron summed up my thoughts much more succinctly than I did.

    By NWGlocket on Jul 13, 2012

  27. @Brad I definitely don’t use a SERPA when carrying concealed- that seems short sighted.

    But when I open-carry, I don’t want some punk disarming me by being able to just grab my gun. So I carry a SERPA OWB holster for that.

    By Matt B on Jul 13, 2012

  28. Aaron pretty much wins this comment thread right there.

    By Laughingdog on Jul 13, 2012

  29. But…but…Training issue! Booger hook! Bang Switch!

    Safariland ALS holsters are available for $30 or so. Why would anyone want a Serpa?

    By Argus on Jul 13, 2012

  30. I just noticed my USAF Security Forces were using a SERPA.

    No one has shot themselves,


    I used to own a SERPA for a Glock and I gave it to a friend. He likes it a lot and I trained him on the basics of how to use it. He doesn’t think it is unsafe at all.

    By Shawn Knight on Jul 13, 2012

  31. @ Tom

    While I wouldn’t carry any pistol AIWB… but to me the serpa button is not and has never been a problem. I am not a Serpa fanboy though I do use one when shooting competition or training. But in all honesty I’ll probably be switching all my holsters over to Crossbreed’s to maintain the same draw stroke from pistol to pistol.

    By Bill on Jul 14, 2012

  32. In IDPA matches and training classes I’ve seen folks fumble the draw .. then MASH their fingers on the release and end up on/near the trigger on the way out of the holster.

    In an “oh shit I’m late …..” moment the brain/body reverts to what it knows. If something doesn’t work the first time, then more muscle is the answer the second time.

    It’s not about what folks do when practicing.. it’s about what they do when the buzzer goes off and the brain shuts down.

    I’m really not understanding the defense of the Serpa at this point.
    It is a $40 dollar plastic holster.
    Junk it and move on.

    Defense in depth to keep Mr Murphy away.

    By Barnaby on Jul 14, 2012

  33. Shawn,

    There have been AD/NDs in the Air Force with the SERPA.

    By Scott on Jul 16, 2012

  34. Where can one obtain a copy of the NPS memo?

    By Gary on Jul 17, 2012

  35. Gary — If you’re in law enforcement you can probably contact NPS directly. Otherwise, short of a FOIA request, I don’t know an official avenue to the memo.

    By ToddG on Jul 17, 2012

  36. Fanboys crack me up.

    By FatWhiteMan on Jul 17, 2012

  37. As has been stated, NDs occurring while using a SERPA holster can almost all be traced to a lack of familiarity, and the ensuring improper manipulation of the holster.

    As I see it, the SERPA isn’t a horrible holster, and it’s a better choice than some (read: FOBUS).

    On the whole, the problem isn’t so much the design of the SERPA as it is the lack of training/practice on the part of users. Far to many police officers spend almost no time practicing with their duty gear, and many spend very little (if any) time at the range outside their yearly qualifications.

    Sure the design of the SERPA isn’t perfect, but the vast majority of the ND’s with them are the fault of the USER for not taking their duty to know their gear seriously.

    Thus, banning SERPA holsters will ultimately be ineffective, because it only seeks to treat the SYMPTOM rather than the CAUSE.

    That said, while I have used a SERPA in the past, I don’t own one, and don’t plan to; I tend to buy better holsters for my guns. I primarily use my Crossbreed at work, and my Bianchi 82 elsewhere.

    By HSR47 on Jul 17, 2012

  38. Aaron has it in a nutshell.

    Those who adamantly defend the SERPA are announcing that they are perfect, and never, ever, make mistakes. And also telling the world that they are incapable of learning from observation. That they are only able to learn from doing the action themselves. Sad. And too common.

    By Will on Jul 17, 2012

  39. “Thus, banning SERPA holsters will ultimately be ineffective, because it only seeks to treat the SYMPTOM rather than the CAUSE.”

    Are you suggesting that they ban HUMANS instead of the SERPA?

    Humans do certain things under stress that they do not do while standing in-front of their bathroom mirror doing draw stroke practice after reading the included SERPA instructions which states:

    “3. To test the SERPA Active Retention System, grasp the UNLOADED handgun as you would normally: that is with a solid shooting grip on the weapon and your index (trigger) finger extended forward and flat along the outside of the holster body. As the grip is being established and your finger is moving for- ward along the holster body, locate it against the inside edge of the protective ridge. You will find that as you do this, your finger will also align itself with the finger-activation platform. With practice, this will not remain a multi-step operation, for with time and continued repetitions, your finger will go forward and against both the protective ridge and the finger-activation plat- form at the same time your grip is being established. To remove the weapon, merely apply pressure against the finger- activation platform with the extended (no-reason-to-bend) index finger in order to disengage the SERPA Active Retention System and then draw the weapon upward and outward out of the holster body. The passive retention detent mechanism will resist this movement until the necessary amount of force required to over- come it is reached.”

    If you bend you trigger finger even slightly during the pressing of the SERPA release button and draw of the pistol, the trigger finger will either end up inside of the trigger guard or dangerously close to the trigger. The required inward push of the SERPA retention button exaggerates any “bend” in the trigger finger and is a contributing factor of the CAUSE of folks capping themselves during the draw from a SERPA.

    I do not believe that the natural human reflex to clench up our hands/fingers under stress can ever be completely trained out of us. I believe the curling/bending of the fingers is something that happens under stress when drawing from every holster design on the market, but the SERPA is the design that REQUIRES the user to exaggerate the movement by pressing inward with the trigger finger toward the trigger during the draw.

    By Nick D. on Jul 17, 2012

  40. “Are you suggesting that they ban HUMANS instead of the SERPA?”


    By ToddG on Jul 17, 2012

  41. I have to take exception to Wills comment. That is just like the moron that was teaching the Concealed Carry class I was taking. He stated that there are 2 kinds of glock owners, those that have had an ND & those that will.
    I had to stand up and tell him just how F’n stupid he was. A glock is no more likely to have an ND than any other gun.
    This coming from someone who has carried a glock since ’88(my current G17 I have carried since ’90)
    Blaming the tool for YOUR negligience is never right.

    By SteveA on Jul 17, 2012

  42. The Ford Pinto didn’t blow up every time it was rear-ended. However, it’s design was flawed, leading to a much higher likelihood of fire than every other car on the road. During the trial it was proven that Ford engineers were aware if the problem and Ford management chose to sell the car anyway.

    in 25+ years as a shooter, trainer, competitor and student of the handgun I cannot recall nor I can I identify another single holster design associated with as many self-inflicted injuries as the Serpa.

    Flawed designs do not have to have 100% failure rate to be do flawed as to be dangerous,

    By KR on Jul 17, 2012

  43. Amen “KR”.

    By Nick D. on Jul 18, 2012

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