How to detect an illegally armed person.
Photo by iStock

The Wolf’s Fangs: Observable Indicators Of An Illegally Armed Person

Whether terrorists, gang members or potential active shooters, illegally armed people demonstrate observable indicators that they have concealed weapons. Such indicators usually occur in clusters of two to three or more of the following: 

Jacket On A Warm Day

A jacket provides large pockets for pistols as well as cover for weapons in the waistband. Many gunmen have worn a jacket on a warm day in order to conceal a pistol in their large, easily accessible front pockets or to conceal a pistol or two in the waistband.  

Weighted Jacket Pocket

Concealing a pistol in the pocket of an unzipped jacket will cause that side to be weighted and to hang lower than the opposite side. The lighter the pistol, the less the lowering.

Pocket Pointing

When a pistol is concealed in a jacket pocket, the barrel typically points downward, causing a pointing effect visible on the jacket pocket. This is easily observed in a lightweight hooded sweatshirt. 


A pistol jammed in the waistband can cause a bulge in the shirt or obvious imprinting. A pistol in the pocket will cause a bulge as well. 

Swinging Jacket Pocket

During any movement, a pistol in the jacket pocket will carry momentum and cause the jacket-pocket area to swing. The heavier the pistol, the more observable the swing.

Tapping The Weapon

This is usually a quick, slight tap of the weapon once with the heal of the hand. In most cases, this occurs unconsciously and can go unnoticed if not watching the subject’s hand. The tap usually occurs as soon as the subject sees a cop or upon a cop’s approach. The tap reassures the illegally armed person the pistol is still right there. 

Manipulating Or Adjusting The Weapon In The Waistband 

This is a dead giveaway. Because the weapon is jammed in a waistband, the person must often adjust it, especially if he or she is standing up from a seated position, exiting a car, bending down, etc. Any movement will usually cause the person to adjust the weapon. Both hands are often used. The looser the pants and the heavier the pistol, the more pronounced the movement. 

Pinning The Arm Against The Pistol

This occurs when the person is walking or running in an attempt to keep the weapon concealed and stationary. The arm is pressed firmly against the weapon with slight movement, which causes an asymmetrical stance or arm swing when walking or running. The free arm swings with the natural gait; however, the pinning arm remains stationary against the body and pistol. This also serves as a visual obstruction in case a cop’s watchful eye is nearby. The illegally armed person believes the arm will also cover the bulge of the concealed weapon.

Pivoting The Body Upon Approach 

An illegally armed person may step back with the foot of the armed side of the body. This can be observed when any perceived threat is seen, such as an approaching police vehicle or an officer on foot. This pivot can be slight or drastic, depending on the person and perceived threat. This indicator becomes blatantly obvious when the subject is standing among unarmed individuals who remain flatfooted and in casual stances. The subject pivots because they may draw the pistol or simply want to keep the firearm as far away from the cop as possible and out of view.  

Crouching Tiger

Crouching or kneeling straight down awkwardly instead of bending over at the waist naturally to retrieve an item from the ground (such as a dropped cigarette or a stash of narcotics in an abandoned potato chip bag) is another indicator. This movement is usually coupled with pinning the firearm against the body to stabilize it. 

Check out our podcast Skillset Live, for more combative lessons! Get in on the conversation on our social media pages or pick up a back issue at

Leave a Reply