HOWTO spot a handgun, the beautiful information edition

Back in 2007, Edward Tufte featured Megan Jaegerman's NYT graphic on spotting a hidden handgun (click through below for the whole thing). It's not only informative, it's also beautiful. The same page features many of Jaegerman's other NYT graphics, each a little work of information art.

Megan Jaegerman's brilliant news graphics (Thanks, Fipi Lele!)


  1. I’ve used techniques like this both to spot people with guns, and to let potential attackers think I was was carrying. This infographic misses a few things, but is still useful. i.e., not just “short close arm swing” but also “short wide arm swing” for some ex-military.

  2. The infographics in general are quite nearly works of art in their clarity, however. Very quality work.

  3. I just realized that I do very similar things when I’ve got a stiffie. Interesting to note that I may be able to look forward to being felt up by security next time I get an unexpected boner in the airport.

  4. Um, wouldn’t the movements described in the info-graphic above also apply to, say, someone with a slight or healing injury to their right leg?
    Quick! Tackle all the injured people.

  5. Would have been more useful fifteen years ago. These days, you might as well title it, “HOWTO spot a cell phone”. Not only is it becoming more common to carry a rather large object on a belt holster or in a pocket, but guns are becoming smaller and lighter. Manufacturers started developing more concealable guns after many states passed concealed carry permit laws. It was a lucrative new market during the 1994-2004 “assault weapon” ban, which limited guns to no more than 10 rounds anyway. There was little advantage to bigger guns. You can now get several 9mms that are lighter and smaller than an old .32, and .32s that could serve as a key fob. And there are thousands of people who drop them in a pocket or clip them to a belt as readily as a cell phone, so any nervous movements have been erased by long familiarity. They’d no more turn to shield a firearm than their wallet or cell phone. And it’s no more likely to interrupt their stride.

  6. Handy.
    I live in an urban area and I try to always have a weather eye out, particularly at night. I’m a big guy,so I feel a little bit safer than I might otherwise, but especially with guns involved, it’s no real assurance. Those of my acquaintances who have been mugged or otherwise assaulted aren’t always the easiest targets simply in terms of size or gender, but it does seem to generally happen when their guards are down or they’re distracted by something and are less aware of their surroundings. In the case of my friends in particular, drinking tends to be the big factor.
    Like Bill Albertson, I’ve also even adopted some of these sorts of postures and gaits to make potential attackers wonder whether I might be armed.
    On the flip side of the coin, I wonder how many normal pedestrians I might have freaked out. As much as I think you should be aware of possible threats around you, we shouldn’t swing the other way and be afraid of everything. As an aforementioned big dude, and a funny-lookin’ long-haired bushy-faced big dude with a propensity for dark clothes at that, I don’t necessarily want my neighbors scared of me. Be mindful that I might be packing heat, but consider also that I might just have a water bottle, newspaper, cigarettes, and phone tucked away in the many pockets of my weather-unsuitable jacket, and that can make you lean and slouch a little too.
    Anyway, the graphic is definitely very attractive and well put together. Off to go look at the rest of the series.

  7. I think my favorite is the one advocating sheep as a more cost-effective alternative to mowing the lawn.

  8. Apparently, the most obvious way to spot a carrier is that they’re the ones walking in circles……

  9. My holster is placed so as to avoid these tells…but I’ve been a cop for 29 years, and we do teach these clues to new cops!

  10. what kind of a world have we wrought where we need to think of these things. I thank God I live in a country where I can be blissfully unaware of people’s gaits and the question of people hiding concealed weapons. Get some decent gun laws and live free. Jeeze.

    1. Someone could still kill me with a knife. Or a spoon. Or with their bare hands.

      How would I be safer?

      And just so everyone is aware, I live in the United States and I don’t have to worry about this. I’d say probably 95% of America wouldn’t have to worry about this.

    2. If you want to be blissfully unaware of your surroundings, you have that right. Go ahead and cross the street without looking both ways. Some people like to know what is happening in their immediate vicinity.

      Your ‘gun control=freedom’ comment is just hilarious.

    3. Gun laws don’t prevent criminals from carrying guns. Criminals, by definition, don’t follow the law.

      As far as people legally concealing go, I feel much safer around my friends who carry. They are very smart people who know a good deal about what they carry and how to interact with their environment. They had to take a class, get background checks through the local and state police, give gobs of personal information and some form of biometric data, and have to follow a specific set of procedures and prohibitions while carrying. To go through that process, be vetted by the authorities, and follow the associated rules all show a level of responsibility and reverence to me.

      It’s really easy and costs zero dollars to put a gun in your pocket. If you’re willing to spend over a hundred dollars and spend you time in classes, at the range, filling out forms, and waiting for specific permission to carry and do so, you have a level of respect from me.

      Your comments disturb me for a number of reasons, but two are most pressing. First, you don’t live in a country where you can “be blissfully unaware of people’s gaits and the question of people hiding concealed weapons”. I promise you there are guns in your country, and if they are legislated out of the hands of law abiding citizens then that means that the only people that have them are people you probably should be afraid of. Also, everything is a weapon. Secondly, I’m appalled by the fact that you equate laws restricting people’s choices with freedom. When you take away someone’s ability to choose, you have, by definition, made them less free.

      1. I’m disturbed that your solution to criminals having guns is to escalate the situation.

        Despite the narrative of guns in the US, criminals don’t just habitually break every law they can. If, for example, handguns were treated as contraband and being caught with one in public came with a mandatory prison sentence, people are not going to be carrying them around regularly.

        Anyway, I know I’m not going to change anyone’s mind. It just amazes me how you think you’re safer surrounded by idiots with guns, even if those idiots have taken a couple of classes.

        1. That’s part of the point I’m making. I don’t surround myself with idiots possessing guns, that’s absurd and dangerous. I keep the company of exceedingly intelligent people who also happen to be armed. Intelligence and firearm ownership are not mutually exclusive, regardless of your opinion, and your argument is naive and disingenuous. I realize you have a fear of tools and people who might defend themselves and others and attempting to change your mind is like arguing with a creationist, but it just saddens me that you can’t just let other people make their own choices. Don’t want to own or carry guns? Don’t do it. Don’t, however, legislate other people’s freedoms away based on your preferences and fears.

        2. In Virginia there is already a *mandatory minimum* of five years in Federal prison for being found in possession of an illegal gun.

          More info at:

          Legally armed citizen are different in the fact that they have the right to carry and most do everything in their power to retain that right. Shooting people over trivial matters is a good way to have your rights revoke, your guns confiscated, and your freedom indefinitely taken.

        3. > If, for example, handguns were treated as contraband
          > and being caught with one in public came with a
          > mandatory prison sentence, people are not going to be
          > carrying them around regularly.

          Because, you know, that worked so well in stopping drugs in the US.

        4. If you’re a prohibited person (felon, minor, domestic abuser, etc), carrying a handgun is a crime. If you’re not licensed (in most states) carrying is a crime. Despite this, there are many prohibited and unlicensed persons who carry.

          There is no relationship or even correlation between gun laws and crime.

    4. Australia has all but outlawed handguns. Shootings are still common, and gangs seem to have no problem getting their hands on them. Stabbings are up too!

    5. I can open carry AND I have a concealed handgun permit. That is sensible gun law. My freedom beats your freedom hands down.

  11. When I was a kid, we used to spot people with guns. Usually if they were wearing a suit they would only have one button buttoned up and that button would be only half done so that the simple motion of putting their hand in their jacket would open the jacket.

  12. Wouldn’t this be an example of using the kind of ‘behavioral metrics’ of which BoingBoingers are generally skeptical?

  13. Megan Jaegerman is a genius. Communicating information so clearly and immediately as she does is a very high art. I’ve often admired those graphics and it’s nice to see her honored so. And her style is so distinctive you’d recognize it immediately. Well done, Megan!

  14. I tap my wallet with my off hand several times a minute when I’m in a crowd, and whenever someone physically touches me or brushes by closely I put my off hand on my wallet and touch my ear with my dominant hand.

    In theory, this behaviour scares away pickpockets. At least, I’ve not had my pocket picked since I started doing it.

    PS: I like having armed civilians about. The more the merrier! Keeps the po-po on their toes.

  15. nice graphic and thinking exercise… unfortunately not useful or correct. A right side hip carry is only one of many and as a previous commenter points out long familiarity brings an ease with the carry.

    I’d label it “How to spot a new concealed handgun carrier who learned from television”

  16. Very interesting. I wonder if there are different behaviors for authorized carriers and criminal types who don’t give a damn about anything and have probably received no training.

    Also, I’d like to see another panel for shoulder holsters.

  17. Nice infographic, but pretty useless. It _may_ apply to a few of the less sophisticated criminals who don’t know how to carry, but the vast majority of people carrying now (legally in 48 out of 50 states) are doing so with holsters, generally with training in the meaning of “concealed”, and the infographic points really don’t apply.

    Besides, why do you want to know if someone is carrying a gun? It’s part of the inalienable right of self defense – if you’re really afraid of someone with a gun, get some training, and carry one yourself, and find out that it’s a perfectly reasonable and normal thing to do.

    “Better to have it and not need it, than to need it and not have it.”

  18. “gun control = freedom” is only hilarious in the United States. People in most of the rest of the Western world are astonished that Americans are crazy enough to tolerate having any yahoo who can get a license walking around with a gun.

    Cowboy fantasies ≠ protecting your freedom

  19. On a recent American Airlines flight from Heathrow to JFK, My friend and I played a game of “guess the air marshall”. We narrowed it down to 3 suspects, but my friend said she couldn’t see where the weapon could possibly be hidden. This would have come in handy!

  20. Fortunately it’s legal to be able to protect ourselves and those around us from the equally well armed criminals by concealing weapons. No cowboy fantasies involved. Just common sense and the right to self defense.

  21. I carry a .40 XD fairly regularly and I have a inside the belt holster. I’m not sure how often this is obvious. I’d say the bulge is a little more telling.

    I would be interested to find statistics on the number of non-defensive shootings that are perpetrated by people with legal concealed weapons. From what I’ve been able to find it’s not a problem.

    The best part about having a concealed weapon: no tickets. Police LOVE you! I haven’t had a ticket since I got my permit and I’ve been pulled over a couple times.

    1. How does that work, exactly? Cop pulls you over and asks “Do you know how fast you were going?” and you answer “Not really, but did you know I have a concealed-carry license?”

      1. The police know you have a concealed carry permit by the time they’ve pulled you over, provided you’re driving a car registered to your name. If you happen to be driving someone else’s car, they’ll know you have a permit when they run your driver’s license. In my state, we have the option to have our permit attached to our driver’s license, or to get a separate non-driver’s license for the permit. Common wisdom points toward the latter.

        While I agree this is a good infographic, I have major qualms about its usefulness. Many of my friends carry (I am permitted but generally do not carry), and aside from obvious moments – like when they bend over and their shirt rides up to expose the holstered pistol – I don’t think anyone would be able to point to them and say, ‘that guy has a gun.’ That’s sort of the idea behind ‘concealed carry’ after all.

        Perhaps the intention behind this graphic is to point to inexperience carriers? Either way, in a situation where you feel sufficiently vulnerable to be on high alert for an armed assailant, I think you’d be better off paying your attention to something other than a minute analysis of a passer-by’s posture or gait. For instance, an escape route.

      2. How does that work, exactly? Cop pulls you over and asks “Do you know how fast you were going?” and you answer “Not really, but did you know I have a concealed-carry license?”

        More or less. Cops always ask for ID. When I hand it over, if I want to disclose, I also hand over the permit. I say something like, “I want to let you know that I have a permit and I’m carrying a firearm.” Then I wait to see how the officer wants to handle it. A typical response is something like, “You don’t touch yours and I won’t touch mine,” and then we get on with the traffic stop. Although some officers will request to take custody of the weapon until the stop is over (whether this is legal or not has been debated, but in the moment, it’s also debatable whether it’s best to push that point).

      3. Most states with ccw require you to declare to the police officer that you are armed during any police interaction.

      4. Sorta like that lol. I usually just say “Just so you know I have my concealed weapons license” and I have it out with my driver’s license. In my state we’re actually required to declare it to police officers when we’re pulled over. Doesn’t matter if we’re carrying or not.

  22. Do the TSA use this to spot terrorists? What about people with limps. Isn’t this a bit watching for “nervous” people?

  23. I’m not sure that letting the public carry firearms either helps OR hinders the crime situation, particularly.

    Here in the UK, only certain police can carry a sidearm. The things are pretty much impossible to get hold of legally. So the majority of criminals don’t carry one, either. Those that do are all the more dangerous, of course.

    If I understand correctly, and to generalise somewhat, in the US, anyone can carry a gun? So they are trivially easy to get hold of for criminals, too?

    If that’s right, then on the one had you have most criminals with guns who are aware that people are likely to shoot back; and on the other you have very few criminals with guns which have comparatively more strategic power for them.

    Six and two threes from where I’m standing.

    1. They aren’t entirely trivial to acquire legally. Some places you can’t own or carry without stupendous measures, I’m looking at you New York and California, but here in Virginia anyway you’re looking at a sensible list of restrictions that can be found here:

      My girlfriend tried to buy a .22, for target practice at a range only, and had voluntarily committed herself years before when her then-husband was in Iraq and she was having a hard time coping, and five police officers showed up within 10 minutes of them calling the State Police for the background check.

      1. I knew I was generalising massively and the rules change from state to state. It seems to me that my point still stands, though. I don’t think one way is especially better than the other.

        In the US, you have to hope that you don’t meet a criminal who’s stupid enough not to recognise that firing at you might get him killed*. Lots of criminals are stupid. On the other hand, at least you have the option of shooting back.

        Hardly any chance of meeting a criminal with a gun in the UK. But if you do, you’re screwed.

        Not really a clear-cut one-is-better-than-the-other thing, is it?

        (* Not everyone in the US carries a gun, of course.)

        1. Shadowfirebird…your post brings up an interesting point. While gun ownership is much more rare in the UK, the rate of what I think you call “knife crime” is MUCH greater than here in the U.S., using news reporting as a judge (I would be interested to hear hard data, whether I am right or wrong.) When I think about getting shot by a stranger or getting stabbed by a stranger, I’m not sure I would have a clear preference.

          At any rate, I don’t recall EVER hearing a report about a violent crime being committed by a person who was licensed to carry a handgun. Obviously I’m sure such cases must have occurred, but they are clearly a tiny minority of the whole.

          1. Sorry I didn’t respond immediately; different time zones.

            Yes, we do have knife crime; how much is open to debate. Criminals carry knives because they can’t get guns; in the US I suspect a criminal carrying a knife would just be an unarmed criminal, as far as the media was concerned?

            I also suspect that our own media love reporting knife crime because they love to report how shitty the UK is, and there isn’t enough gun crime…

            Anyhow, same argument again. It’s not legal for citizens to carry anything more than a penknife. Knives are considerably easier to get hold of, of course, and always will be while people have to cook.

          2. “When I think about getting shot by a stranger or getting stabbed by a stranger, I’m not sure I would have a clear preference.”

            You want to opt for being the victim of a shooting rather than the victim of a stabbing. Here’s why:

            1) Hitting the target
            Stabbing: attack at immediate close range. chance to hit = very high.
            Shooting: attack likely to be at some range. Chance to hit = variable.

            2) Persistence of attacker
            Stabbing: due to requirement for engagement, knife attacker likely to continue until attack pressed.
            Shooting: close equivalent “attack of opportunity” with gun may be transitory, without any direct engagement. Attacker may shoot and run or take one shot and lose interest.

            3) Mode of Injury
            Stabbing: knife attack results in sharp force and penetrating force injury. Odds of death by bleeding (int and ext) are high. Critical injury likely to result from elongated knife stroke.
            Shooting: Injury by hydroclastic shock, tissue tearing, penetration injury moderate to high. Injury may high. Critical injury possible and may minor or passthrough. Critical injury possible if penetration matches a vital point.

            4) Recovery cost
            Stabbing: Recovery will likely require major surgery and anti-coagulants and possibly microsurgery or reattachment surgery. Post-traumatic effects are strong.
            Shooting: Recovery depends on injury type but could range from minor to major. Post-traumatic effects vary from trivial to severe.

            5) Control of injury severity
            Stabbing: attacker has power to direct injury and can exert wilful control over injury type with ability to at least crudely direct attack to cause incapacitation, death, suffering, lingering trauma, or disfigurement.
            Shooting: Attacker may be able to incapacitate or kill. Control with depend on skill level, range, confusion context during the attack, excitement level, nature of attack, and haste.

            6) Attack Utility (injury versus message signalling)
            Stabbing: Injury level likely to be high since any attack must be driven home to be effective.
            Shooting: Attack may be minor or glancing attack may be impersonal, at range,
            effective and attacker may care more about delivering attack as message than about attack effectiveness.

            7) Attack Psychology
            Stabbing: Attack likely to become personal, since it is a close (immediate range) attack.
            Shooting: Attack likely to remain relatively impartial due to ranged incident style.

            8) Attack Iteration
            Stabbing: Multiple attacks likely due to defensive injuries, and due to ease and obvious incentive to perform multiple attack “blows”
            Shooting: Attack likely to be singular due to ranged nature, ease of shooting, and opportunity for assailant to shoot and flee, speed of attack, assailant haste (“shoot & flee”)

            9) Meta attack availability:
            Stabbing: Close attacks lend themselves to multiple assailant scenarios (eg: gangs) using multiple attack modes (beating, kicking, blunt objects) as well as stabbing. Group attacks are likely to be prolonged.
            Shooting: Attack mode singular due to danger of crossfire. Whilst firefights are not unheard of, they are remarkably uncommon (and are remarkable when they occur), whereas gang bashings and stabbings are unremarkably common.

            10) Secondary crime (multiple crime victims)
            Stabbing: A close attack invites secondary crime, such as taking the victim’s wallet, electronics, etc., or sexual assault. Knife victims are likely to be the victim of property or other crime as well as assault.
            Shooting: Attack by gun is likely to involve primary crime, which is to say that the attack will occur if the crime is difficult (don’t be a hero) and possibly not at all if it isn’t.

            11) Penetration
            Stabbing: penetration likely due to guided control of attack by attacker and feedback via direct contact and better aiming due to close range
            Shooting: Penetration not guaranteed. Clothing or objects in line of fire may deflect or reduce attack strength.

            12) Pragmatic Limitation
            Stabbing: Stabbing may continue, all else being equal, as long as the attacker prefers.
            Shooting: Shooters will run out of ammunition at some point thus pragmatically limiting the attack.

            I would also note that these reasons to prefer being shot at are even more true in the case you proposed where the assailant is a stranger.

  24. Like most bullshit, this infographic has a veneer of truth to it. I carry regularly in an outside-the-waistband holster. I can’t comment on whether it changes my gait, but I’m 100% sure that I don’t carry my arm closer to my body on the gun-side. In fact, banging my elbow against the gun is uncomfortable, so I’m more likely to hold my arm slightly away from my body. But, shit, I have my Leatherman and a flashlight on the other side, so the same thing is going on over there. do I have TWO guns?

    1. Do you carry a gun, flashlight and a leatherman as a matter of course? Where do you live and what do you do? I am honestly interested.

      1. Do you carry a gun, flashlight and a leatherman as a matter of course? Where do you live and what do you do? I am honestly interested.

        Yeah, pretty much. I live in Tennessee and I build wireless networks for a living.

        I carry the Leatherman for the same reason a lot of people carry a pocketknife, but in addition to being able to cut things, I can screw them and clamp them.

        The flashlight is similarly practical. At night, it is often dark, and I want to see things, ergo a flashlight makes sense. It also has defensive application, as I discussed on my blog, in these posts:

        The reasons why I carry a gun are complex, multi-faceted, and can’t really be adequately summed up in a blog comment.

        1. The reasons why I carry a gun are complex, multi-faceted, and can’t really be adequately summed up in a blog comment.

          What, you think we’re idiots? You carry because there’s a taltosh after you. Duh.

  25. Regarding the purpose of the infographic, the full article and interview notes that accompany the story are rather fascinating. These were actually the techniques used to spot illegally carried pistols in New York City by detectives, since they have to establish reasonable suspicion to initiate a stop and a Terry frisk. I like the logic used to elevate a hunch into a well-reasoned legally-defensible argument.

  26. I like the logic used to elevate a hunch into a well-reasoned legally-defensible argument.

    If, by that, you mean, “Provide a cover of bullshit to elevate a meaningless hunch into a legally-defensible argument,” I agree. I’d love to hear what the false-positive rate for this little experiment was. If history is any guide, it was astronomical, and therefore the idea that this technique can be used to establish probable cause is indefensible. I’d love to see whether it could stand up to a court challenge. Heck, maybe I’d know if I read the damn article.

  27. RE gun control & freedom: if you outlaw guns, only outlaws (and cops, and various other security personnel etc) will have guns. In contrast, widespread legal gun ownership means not only do the outlaws have guns, but so does the nut in the sports car who just cut you off, the paranoid survivalist watching you through his curtains, and the drunken wife beater down the street. But it’s all good, because if you have one too, it makes you bullet-proof, so you are therefore safer, right?

    1. It’s a curious irony IMHO.

      Implicit in supporting the right to bear arms is the belief that your neighbors can be trusted with guns too.

      Implicit in banning guns is the thought that nobody can be trusted with guns.

      Yet it’s the pro-gun people who get called paranoid?

  28. Actually, my friends and neighbors are awesome!
    If we were going out and they were carrying, but I wasn’t, I’d be fine.

    Also, cops don’t really prevent crimes. They apprehend people who’ve already committed them.

    And since criminals are a very small minority, I think I’d be just fine with every single reasonably-vetted and trained civilian carrying a gun. As long as they’ve taken the classes, passed the exams and abide by the laws, esp. brandishing, etc. I’m fine.

    Story: There was this barbershop down the road from my friend’s. One day a guy goes in and tries to stick the place up. I know, like barbershops have so much $$ right? Anyway. By the time the cops got there, there were about 10 bullets in the bad guy, because everyone who works there or is a reg carries a gun. :D

    And honestly, as far as the UK goes. I would much rather shoot an assailant at 20 feet than have to pull out a Skyes-Fairbairn and defend myself at hand-to-hand range against 1 or more cidered-up insane yobbos in South London.
    +If there’s any proof of the UK’s ban on guns not working for violent crime as a whole, its so many people being knifed. Way to go Britain!

  29. Buy a decent holster and the tells pretty much go away. I’ve been in meetings with DOD people, DOJ people, FBI, local LEOs…none of them could tell if I was packing a Glock 32 or a 1911. It’s more of a self comfort level. I’m completly comfortable carrying a handgun all day every day. I don’t touch it, poke at it, reposition it…it stays were I put it because I use quality holsters and mag holders. Thuglets who carry stuffed in their belt because they don’t want to be busted with a holster are the ones who putz with their gun.

    I’m a certified instructor…and a “normal” citizen…not in LE.

    PS…I think it’s funny that my captcha was agent rearming

  30. The author of this article has never taken into account someone with a bad lower back/short leg walking for any distance..not to mention trying to walk with half a chubby causes the same gait. The article brings out a few good points..but I wouldn’t bet my life on the info contained therein.

  31. Shooting: Shooters will run out of ammunition at some point thus pragmatically limiting the attack.

    Yes, well, practically speaking, the ammunition limitation may be moot. Even in very restrictive states with 10-round magazine limits, you can be shot more than enough times to do serious damage. A more typical pistol magazine capacity is 14-17 rounds depending on the caliber. Most gunfights don’t involve nearly this many rounds being fired.

    1. > Yes, well, practically speaking, the ammunition limitation may be moot.

      Agreed. It is a truth, but probably moot. It doesn’t invalidate the point of being stabbed multiple times though, which is what the comparison is.

      > Most gunfights don’t involve nearly this many rounds being fired.

      Again, which reflects the more protracted nature of a knife attack. Granted, a firefight can be deadly, but most gun attacks aren’t firefights, and most stabbings are multiple.

  32. Oh famtastic (sarcastically) can’t wait for the Future! So sorry for kids who inherit the ‘style’ shown in this ‘look’! What happened to curves and such in art and design?

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