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3 Reasons I don’t Like Backup Guns

If your state allows you to carry more than one gun, you may have thought about carrying a second as a backup gun (BUG). After all, don't cops carry backup guns? If they do it, they must have good reasons. Here is my advice on carrying a backup gun and why I think it has more downside than benefits.

Backup Gun Considerations:

Beretta Pico

Your backup gun may be a revolver or something tiny like this Beretta Pico

Why You May Want to Carry a BUG:

One apparent reason to carry a backup gun is in the event the primary gun becomes completely inoperable. In this scenario, you have two options, use the gun as an impact weapon (bludgeoning) or go to a backup gun.

Handguns that are empty or have suffered a catastrophic failure are fantastic weapons of opportunity. But, of course, impact weapons don't work as well on threats at a distance.

Some use ammo consideration as a reason to carry a spare gun. However, most backup guns will have limited capacity, maybe in the neighborhood of 5 rounds or so. So, in my estimation, you're better off carrying a spare magazine.

The reason is the magazine for your EDC likely has greater capacity than your backup gun. And a magazine change will take far less time than going to a second gun, especially if you holster your empty gun before going to your backup? If you don't holster it, what is the plan, throw it? If that's the case, you may have just provided a great weapon of opportunity to an attacker.

Reasons I Don't Recommend Backup Guns:

P365 12-round Magazine 12+1 Capacity

The 12 rounds in a spare magazine are likely more than the capacity of most BUG's. And in most cases, a magazine change is quicker than ditching the empty gun and going to a backup.

Training:

First, you have to train with it. Let's be honest; most people are not training enough with their primary everyday carry gun (EDC). The one they carry all the time and rely on using proficiently if the situation dictates. To have proficiency with your firearm and maintain acceptable performance, you must practice and train on a relatively consistent schedule. If you don't, your skills from the epic handgun class you took 2 years ago will break down.

Now add a second gun into the mix. Are you going to train twice as much so you can become proficient with your backup? Probably not. The most likely scenario is that you will occasionally take training time away from the primary gun and use that for the backup.

Training involves not just squeezing the trigger and getting hits but drawing the gun from wherever it is on your body. Some methods of carrying require a lot of practice. Many people put a backup gun in an ankle holster. It seems like an excellent place to hide a small .380 semi-auto handgun. If you wear pants all the time, great if not, you have to find a second place to carry your backup gun, or not carry it at all.

I am drawing from an ankle holster in the kneeling position.

Drawing the gun from different holsters located on other areas of your body requires training and practice. Unfortunately, as mentioned before, most people won't dedicate enough training to their secondary gun or its deployment.

Even if you carry your backup in a shoulder holster, a fanny pack, or a pocket, consistency in a draw stroke is essential and requires routine practice. I also generally dislike all of those carry locations for a primary EDC and a backup.

Let's say you're dedicated to training just as much with your backup as you are with your primary; consider the next point.

Retention:

The difficulty in retaining the gun is a big reason to stay away from backup guns, in my opinion. As an LEO, I carried a backup gun for some time. I carried it in an ankle holster. After the first knock-down, drag-out fight, where a suspect wanted my gun, I realized I now had to worry about retaining two of them. It wasn't a good feeling, so I decided against a backup gun.

I would recommend to any officer who chose to carry a backup gun to use a holster attached to body armor and was under their uniform shirt like the one in the photo below. For officers, it may make more sense to carry a BUG like this. But, in a typical civilian self-defense context, probably not.

backup gun holster

A BUG carried in a secure holster like this makes it easier to defend against a gun disarm.

Fights are dynamic, and sometimes the hands of the person your physically struggling with are within reach of your ankle. Even with a retention strap, it's going to be tough to defend against a gun disarm or grab. Additionally, I have seen officers backup guns go flying during foot pursuits and fights.

Now some of you are saying that you don't need to worry about losing guns if you get a good ankle holster. Perhaps, but the unpredictability of fights and an increased possibility that someone else may get a gun from me far outweighs the probability of using a backup gun in a fight.

This link is to a video that documents a few incidents where the suspect accessed the officer's primary firearm during a fight. Now I understand some of this is a training issue, and some a holster issue. However, the fact remains that someone you're fighting may go for your gun if it is accessible, and defending one gun is challenging enough.

Okay, you have an excellent retention holster for your backup gun, and you're determined to train with it just as much as your primary EDC handgun. However, there is still one more thing to consider.

Increased Administrative Handling:

It is 100 percent true that we should always be aware when we are handling firearms. However, it is also 100 percent true that the more times we handle a firearm, the more chances we have for a momentary lapse in safety or concentration.

I know many will comment something like they “have never ever done anything unsafe with a firearm in the 200 years they owned guns.” If you buy 10,000 lottery tickets, you have a greater chance of winning. Of course, it doesn't mean you will win or that someone who purchased one ticket couldn't win. It's all about probability here.

When you carry a second gun, you increase the number of times you put on or take of, load or unload a gun. It is this time most negligent discharges occur.

Finally:

Do your risk-reward analysis to determine if carrying a backup gun is right for you.

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20 Responses to 3 Reasons I don’t Like Backup Guns

  1. Dave July 19, 2021 at 9:53 am #

    Good article, thank you!

  2. Gary July 19, 2021 at 4:52 pm #

    Makes a lot of sense, Mathew. I had not thought about several of the issues that you mention in the article.

  3. Reg July 22, 2021 at 11:45 am #

    Understood, However with the wide variety of firearms on the market today finding an exact replica of your EDC gun in a compact or subcompact model is highly likely, so training is nearly identical, plus the compact or sub compact model will enable you to still use any extra mags your carrying.

    I do concur that retention (of both the back up and the now out of service primary) and deployment are critical issues but like every thing else, back up firearms have their place.

    I know that on many a surveillance I took comfort in a strong side Colt 45 ACP Series 80 on my hip with my Colt Officers Model in a shoulder holster. On several occasions I conducted a polite conversation with a citizen who approached my vehicle with them never noticing that I had my hand holding on to my Officers 45 ready to deploy at the first hint of trouble.

    • Robert Goodrich July 25, 2021 at 1:02 pm #

      I agree. The rules for BUG have to be the same as your primary. I vary my carry, but usually a Kimber Aegis Custom in .45 ACP. My BUG can be a Glock 19 or a Sig 365 or a Taurus 85 revolver. They all fit in my left front pocket. I train with all of them weekly. I claim no holiness in my skills, but continuing to practice is always a good idea. Hope never to have to pull my primary, never mind the BUG. The only time I’ve used my BUG was when a friend and I met for an outdoor craft fair in my hometown . He had forgotten his pistol, so I gave him my Taurus and a couple of clips of ammo ( not magazines!). Fortunately he had no need to use it.

  4. Ray July 25, 2021 at 12:53 pm #

    However, if your primary weapon has suffered a catastrophic failure, you may wish you had a backup gun rather than facing death

  5. Robert Lowe July 25, 2021 at 1:34 pm #

    Good article with some strong considerations for having a BUG on your person. I agree whole-heartily that a spare magazine is a better option in almost any scenario, which is why I always have a spare mag with me.

  6. Ed July 25, 2021 at 2:39 pm #

    I think you hit the nail on the head w.r.t. probability. I think we have to ask ourselves, what’s more likely? My buddy and I have that discussion all the time in matters of carrying concealed.

  7. DEFENDER July 25, 2021 at 2:42 pm #

    I tend to agree.

    1st my Creds :
    – Certified – State and DHS INSTR PISTOL
    – Certified – Defense of the Home Instr
    – Certified – RSO
    – Been Shot-AT a few times.
    – Competition – Long time – 10+ yrs Weekly Combat Competition Shooter
    2,000 + Stages

    I keep my “Back-Up”(M&P 380) in my Car Console/in a Pocket Holster as a standard thing.

    It Also serves as Back-Up for my Carry Gun.
    Or, mostly, I can just slip it in my pocket when I forget my Carry Gun on
    my “Stupid” days. Anyone else have those days ? 🙂

    My Carry Gun:
    Compact Model S&W M&P9C
    ie Compact version of my Full Size Match Guns S&W M&P9.
    Compact holds 12rds + 1

    Bonus – My Full Size Mags 17rds will also fit my Compact.
    So I “Carry” 2 of those(17rds) – Off-Side for reloads.
    So I “Carry” 12+1 = 13, +17×2 = 47 rds tot. Typical.

    All that for a Mass-Shooter should I have to face one.
    Surely I can hit at least 1 or 2 out of 47rds 🙂 at 10ft. 🙂 ?
    Before the SOB gets me.

  8. Ross July 25, 2021 at 2:49 pm #

    Matt,

    I always enjoy your articles and I agree with every point. But you missed one glaring reason against a back-up gun. I live in NY and a BUG is just another reason for a prosecutor to claim that you went looking for a fight. Not a safe risk to take.

  9. william hopkins July 25, 2021 at 4:15 pm #

    . . . I believe in BUGS ! . . I carry various CCW, and always have a spare magazine, always. . .If your go to gun happens to have a failure or stoppage requiring tools to fix, or too much TIME to fix, you are dead in the water with a malfunctioning gun with a spare magazine, so what’s the benefit in that ? . . IF, however, you have a BUG, say a .380 in a ankle rig, you at least have a functioning weapon AND a spare magazine for it too. . . Makes much more sense to my way of thinking ! . . . THIS is why for “dangerous game”, like elephants, water buffalo, lions, tigers and bears, (Oh My !) that BIG GAME hunters use what is called a “Double Rifle) . . A double rifle has two completely separate actions, barrels, triggers, melded into one stock. . .When / IF one side fails, you have a completely different action to switch off to, which is the equal of a BACK UP GUN. . .When facing down a charging lion or water buffalo they know what’s a good idea and how much time they have to get to their back up gun, so they have their BUG glued side-by-side with their primary arm. . .We can’t exactly do that with a CCW, but we certainly CAN and SHOULD carry a BUG for the same reasons big game hunter do ! . . . It boils down to how safe and prepared for any eventuality do you want to be.

  10. PJ Gee July 25, 2021 at 4:51 pm #

    Analysis may be different for CA and NY, I might add…

  11. Lauren July 25, 2021 at 5:59 pm #

    Oh my goodness, not only do I agree with what you wrote about BUG, you also reminded me to get back to regular training! Thank you.

  12. Dale Gant July 25, 2021 at 6:43 pm #

    I carry a NAA 22 magnum in my pocket. It’s only 5 rounds, but better than nothing at short range. I fire it twice a month at my private range to keep the ammo fresh and to ensure it is operative.

  13. CHRISTIE WAGNER July 25, 2021 at 8:04 pm #

    What about a spare magazine AND a BUG?

  14. R S Morgan July 25, 2021 at 8:05 pm #

    Two arguments for a BUG, one mostly historical, one fairly realistic in the modern world of CCW.

    Historically, when we all carried revolvers, it wasn’t a BUG, it was a “New York reload.” I find it not a whole lot harder to carry a second 38 snubby than carry a speed loader.

    Currently, something like a Glock 19 is a better fighting tool than any revolver, except… In a body contact situation, there is a good chance that Glock is going to be a single-shot pistol, and may not work at all in a gun-in-the-gut fight. Nice to have the right tool for the situation.

  15. George Gesner July 25, 2021 at 10:52 pm #

    As someone who doesn’t go about looking for trouble I rarely even carry spare ammo. My carry guns hold anywhere from 5 to 13 rounds and the biggest deciding factor in what I carry is how I’m dressed. Retired and living in Florida I spend a lot of time in shorts and a t-shirt so the 13-rounder is a bit bulky to conceal until we get into cooler weather where a cover garment isn’t too out of place.

    I go to the range on a somewhat regular basis, but admittedly less with the current price of ammo and am considered quite capable with all my handguns. In about 55 years of carrying I have come to a few conclusions you may agree with:

    One is avoid going to high risk places if you can possibly avoid it. The other is to properly maintain your carry gun and know how to use is effectively with the ammo already in it.

    Yes, training reloading with whatever you’re using is a good thing, but it will never be as easy in a real situation as it is under controlled conditions. For most of us, trying to reload with a spare magazine, speed loader or any other method could become very difficult when your hands are shaking, which they likely will be if you’re being shot at.

    In my opinion, the goal should always be to stop an attack with the rounds already in your gun. If you have 13 or more rounds, fine, but keep in mind you are responsible for every round that leaves your muzzle so the “spray and pray” method is not a good one.

    • DEFENDER July 26, 2021 at 10:43 am #

      Yup – I understand the Hot Weather problem.
      BUT
      Something to Consider:
      1st hear me out. I am 74yo and
      I am
      Certified State and DHS Instructor Pistol
      & Defense of the Home
      & RSO
      & Combat Pistol Competition Shooter
      Something for you to Consider
      For Fvery day, Conceal Carry:
      I have been using a Fanny Pack for many yrs now.
      BUT – Not just any Pack.
      It is on the bigger side but not too big.
      Zipper is on top – With Small attached Monkey Fist
      for quick open of zippper.
      So My Draw is now 2sec instead of 1sec – a trade-off I
      can accept.
      Pack sits on my waist at 3 oclock.
      Gun is mounted in vertical position inside a Holster.
      And 2 spare mags on off side in Covered Mag pouches.
      Noone ever says a thing and Most never know what I
      am carrying. 47 rds total. In case of a mass shooter.
      So – I have a very Shootable Compac gun I can get too quick and holds 12+1
      and a lot of spare ammo and NO ONE has ever said a thing about what I am carrying.
      Past 30 or 40 – Noo-ne looks at you anymore anyway.
      I use that for my advantage.
      Compac Carry gun is same model as my Full Size Match Pistols.
      Just 1in shorter barrel.

      • George Gesner July 26, 2021 at 10:36 pm #

        I’ve considered a fanny pack, but my unique problem is I have no butt and even need good suspenders to keep my pants/shorts up. I do have a nylon “man purse” with a should strap that works well with any carry gun I have, but I usually just carry a small .380 or a small .38 in a pocket holster. That works well for me as long as I use suspenders. I’m 75.

  16. Jack Brooks July 26, 2021 at 5:27 am #

    One issue you missed: civilians typically aren’t required to go hands on with an opponent. More likely, they will be fighting to gain distance to access a firearm than they will be closing distance. That said, if your strong side hand and arm are disabled or pinned, having a BUG where you can access it with your support hand can be useful. Not everyone carries in an ankle holster. Pocket carry of a small BUG in an appropriate pocket holster on the support side is an extremely viable option and very secure.

    Yes, you have to train with it, but having been in law enforcement and military both, I train far more now that I have time to do it than I did in either of those careers. I’d venture to say that the average police officer only trains slightly more often than the average citizen, and that’s only because they have to do it to keep their job. Cops are no more “gun people” than anyone else, and believing police training with firearms makes them more competent than a well trained civilian isn’t realistic.

    Think about most of the training you received and the majority of it will have been on use of force policy rather than actual shooting. Not being critical, just remembering my experience with 20+ years of military and civilian police work.

  17. BUTCH July 26, 2021 at 9:21 am #

    I AGREE WITH THE MAN FROM FLORIDA,I ALSO RESIDE THERE,MOST OF THE YEAR WE WEAR SHORTS AND T SHIRTS SO IT’S VERY HARD TO CONCEAL 1 GUN LET ALONE A BUG. IF YOU CAN DO IT,I’M ALL FOR A BUG.NICE ARTICLE.

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