Backup Guns

The author's Sig P320 Carry and Subcompact.
The author’s Sig P320 Carry and Subcompact.

So this debate started in the Team Room, and I think it deserves a little more attention than you can really give it in the comments of a Facebook post.  The original question asked if people carried more than one gun, and then had a second question about pocket carry.  I probably won’t get too deep into the pocket carry question, but the backup gun question deserves some thought.

A quick Google search of “should I carry a backup gun” will turn up quite a few articles, most pro-backup, but some against.  Most of the pro-backup articles are written by police officers and draw heavily from the work of Massad Ayoob, and his research into actual incidents involving officers and civilians using backup guns (if you haven’t read Ayoob, you should, mostly because when he states an opinion, he backs it up with actual events that support said opinion).  That said, just because the internet says so doesn’t mean that you – the only person who can make a decision for you – should carry two guns.  Let’s take a quick look at both sides…

A backup gun provides you with another option if your gun fails.  By fails, I don’t just mean a jam, because there actually is a pretty good chance you could clear a malfunction faster than you could draw a second gun depending on its location.  By fails, I mean that either the gun is mechanically broken internally, or the gun has been mechanically disabled by an external force such as a bullet.  And yes, it has happened.  You won’t fix that, not in a gunfight.  You won’t.  That leaves you with two options: beat the assailant with your somewhat inadequate club, or draw another weapon, whether gun or knife (in the states that a concealed fixed blade is legal).  If the fight is still at distance, a second gun provides a much better option than a knife.

A backup gun provides you with another option if you can’t access your primary gun, whether due to your seatbelt, being pinned by the assailant, or if your normal firing hand is disabled.  Having a second gun in a separate location can provide some relief to this issue.  Ayoob actually provides an example of an individual choosing to place a backup gun in his overcoat pocket while he transited from his vehicle to a building, while his primary gun was under the coat, presumably to be carried when he was in the building with his overcoat off.  The gun ended up saving his life when he was attacked between the vehicle and building.

Two excellent backups: Glock 26 in 9mm with a G19 backup mag, and a Glock 42 in .380 ACP.
Two excellent backups: Glock 26 in 9mm with a G19 backup mag, and a Glock 42 in .380 ACP.

A backup gun provides you with the option to arm a second person, like your buddy who is trained but decided that today – of all days – he wasn’t going to carry.  He may not like being handed your subcompact, but hey, it beats nothing.

So we talked about three advantages.  Obviously, though, carrying a second gun has drawbacks.  There’s the weight issue.  Even with a subcompact gun, you’re adding weight.  There’s the issue of having a place to put it.  In the summer, in shorts and a t-shirt, you are quite short on places to stash a gun, much less two.  And even if you can find a place, you may find yourself being extra paranoid about printing or exposing.  Plus, if you carry a med kit, flashlight, knife, etc., each of those burns up real estate.  And then there’s the weight issue again.  I did actually read one article that stated that he was afraid of carrying a second gun because it might look bad to any police officer he had to talk to.  To be honest, I’m not going to care.  Unless there is a law against it, I’ll carry whatever I feel like, and it’s not really the cop’s business what I’m carrying.  I’ll be polite, but it’s not his business.

So now that we’ve briefly talked about both sides of the issue, what about if you have definitely decided to carry a backup, at least in certain cases?  Well, first you have to really think about what you’re going to carry.  Revolvers have always been popular for backup, owing to their simplicity, but they will have a different operating system that your regular carry (albeit quite simple) and capacity is limited.  Carrying a subcompact version of your carry/duty gun is also a good option, as the controls will be the same, and you can feed it from your standard capacity mags.  Then there is the pocket pistol option.  While they will be much easier to conceal, they are usually limited in capacity, and your standard mags won’t work in them.  While they may have a similar operating system, you are also sacrificing some long shot accuracy and control, but if the assailant is on top of you, better the gun you have than the gun you don’t.

Second – where to carry.  I’ve seen people carry their backups in their waist crossdraw or appendix, on their ankles, on

Two backups in ankle holsters: a Smith 642 in .38 Special +P, and a Glock 26 in 9mm.
Two backups in ankle holsters: a Smith 642 in .38 Special +P, and a Glock 26 in 9mm.

their armor, and in their pockets.  The main thing I would be concerned with is access.  How am I going to get to this if my primary is disabled, if my gun hand is injured, if I’m on my back, if I’m pinned in my car?  Those are the instances you are most likely to need the gun, so you’d better have it in an accessible spot.

I can’t tell you whether you should carry a backup, only you can decide that.  Think through the advantages and disadvantages, analyze your individual situation, then make that decision for yourself.

Oh, and if you do carry a backup, you’d better be practicing with it just like you would with your primary…

Be safe.

About the author

Joel is an 12 year veteran of the US Coast Guard, where he has served at various units including the International Training Division and Maritime Security Response Team. He has held qualifications including Deployable Team Leader/Instructor, Direct Action Section Team Leader, and Precision Marksman – Observer. He has deployed/instructed on five continents and served in quick reaction force roles for multiple National Special Security Events in the US. He is the owner of Hybrid Defensive Strategies, LLC in Chesapeake, VA, and can be contacted on Facebook and Instagram. Any opinions expressed here are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the US Coast Guard or the US Government.

0 thoughts on “Backup Guns”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

RE|Factor Tactical