It wasn’t until I had three or so years on the job as a cop that I began to carry a backup gun on a regular basis. Working at a mostly rural sheriff’s office in Ohio, in 1980, I didn’t feel the need. At the time, no one at the agency was wearing soft body armor yet either. Even when working undercover assignments, I only carried one handgun (mostly because I couldn’t afford a second gun on my public servant’s annual salary).
Reasons to Carry a Backup Gun
Today, backup guns aren’t just for police officers. As an armed citizen, you may have just as great a need for a backup gun as a police officer does for one of many reasons:
- Your primary arm runs out of ammunition or jams.
- Your primary gun is lost during a struggle and is unavailable.
- An assailant is wresting your primary arm from your control.
- Your strong hand is out of commission.
Backup Gun Concepts and Carry Location
A backup gun should be smaller and lighter than your primary gun (but not so large that you leave it at home because it is too inconvenient to carry). It should be carried in a way that it is secure, discreet and readily accessible in adverse circumstances.
Strong Side vs. Weak Side
Primary access for your backup gun should be with the weak hand from a weak-side carry position. Any pocket-carry guns always reside in my weak-side pocket. If someone is trying to take my primary gun, my strong hand will be attempting to prevent that from happening. A weak-hand draw is my only option. After having survived three gun-grab attempts in my career, weak-side backup carry is the best setup for me. You will need to practice shooting with the weak hand to effectively carry a backup gun as well.
For the majority of the eight years I worked for Reynoldsburg, I carried a Colt Agent snub-nosed revolver as a backup and off-duty gun. The Colt rode exclusively in an ankle holster on my left leg.
Pros: Ankle holsters offer very discreet, undetectable carry for backup or primary guns. The right gun and holster combo is very comfortable for everyday carry (EDC).
Cons: If you choose ankle carry, realize that you may have to fight your way down to the gun and fire it from the ground. In 1996, after becoming an instructor in LAPD’s “Arrest and Control” program — which taught ground-fighting techniques — I realized that getting to my ankle gun while on my back would be difficult. I switched to pocket carry for my backup guns and haven’t looked back. Keep in mind that ankle carry also exposes your gun to an assailant when you’re on the ground and your pant leg rides up.
Today, I use inside-the-pocket carry for backup exclusively and sometimes for the carry of a small primary gun.
Pros: Pocket holsters offer extremely discreet, comfortable carry and ease of access from a wide variety of positions.
Cons: A pocket-carried backup gun must be carried in a dedicated pocket holster such as one from TUFF Products or CCW Breakaways. Never carry one loose in the pocket.
Inside-the-Waistband (IWB) Carry
Pros: An IWB rig also offers good concealment and access potential for a backup handgun. An IWB holster needs to be set up for carry and access on your weak side in a mirror image of your primary carry gun. CrossBreed makes IWB rigs for all sizes of handguns.
Cons: Carrying a second IWB holster takes up room on the belt that might normally be used for a cellphone or spare magazines.
Final Thoughts on Backup Guns
Carrying a backup gun doubles the gear you have to keep track of. But it also doubles your chances of walking away from a self-defense incident alive. Be sure to train with whatever location or gun you choose for backup carry. One mistake can cost you everything. Always keep that in mind.
About Scott W. Wagner
Scott W. Wagner has been a law enforcement officer since 1980, working undercover in liquor and narcotics investigations and as a member, sniper and assistant team leader of a SWAT team. He currently works as a patrol sergeant. He is a police firearms instructor, certified to train revolver, semi-automatic pistol, shotgun, semi- and fully automatic patrol rifle, and submachine gun. Scott also works as a criminal justice professor and police academy commander.
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