THE TOP 10 REASONS WHY A SECONDARY WEAPON CAN BE A LIFESAVER
Here are the top 10 reasons why a secondary weapon can be a lifesaver.
By Leroy Thompson
I’ve always viewed backup guns as akin to spare tires or insurance policies: You probably won’t need them, but if you do, you’ll really need them. In fact, the first time I saw a backup gun, though I didn’t know that’s what it was called at the time, was as a kid when I used to hang out in a satellite railroad yard/coal yard outside St. Louis.
A railroad detective was showing us a couple of his weapons one day. He had a big revolver on his belt—I didn’t know enough at the time to recognize it, but he also had a blackjack tucked into a back pocket and a small revolver, which was a nickeled top break, safety hammerless in a vest pocket. I think it was probably a 3-inch S&W Lemon Squeezer, but I’m not positive. But, he did call it his “insurance policy.” That description still works for me.
Backup guns have proven useful to law enforcement officers, soldiers, private security and civilian concealed carry licensees among others. There many times when a backup weapon can be invaluable. Here are the top 10 reasons to carry a secondary weapon:
1. A SECOND GUN: THE FASTEST MALFUNCTION DRILL
The most common rationale for carrying a backup gun is for use should the primary weapon malfunction. In the case of a special operations soldier, that means that the Glock or SIG on his hip comes into action after a transition drill if his rifle or carbine goes down.
For the police officer, should his or her duty weapon malfunction in a way that cannot be immediately cleared, it means that the backup auto or revolver in a pocket or ankle holster is drawn. NOTE: If an ankle holster backup gun is carried, the technique of going to the knee opposite the leg carrying the holster should be practiced for a faster presentation and to perhaps gain an instant while the attacker attempts to target you.
A common backup gun for decades has been a compact revolver such as the S&W J-frame. If one is chosen, it will normally be carried on the support side, often in a pocket. Because the backup gun will often need to be drawn quickly, under stressful conditions, one of the hammerless or shrouded hammer revolvers should be used. The first backup gun I owned was a hammerless Iver Johnson .32 S&W 2-inch top-break that had a Glock-type trigger safety. If a small auto is chosen, a DA or striker-fired one without an exposed hammer is good.
Many security companies will limit their personnel to one issue handgun, but if they don’t, a backup gun can serve the same purpose as for the police officer. In some cases,
the backup gun may be even more important for the private security officer who may be patrolling a lonely warehouse or factory at night with no likely help on the way.
Likewise, the concealed carry licensee will not be on patrol or looking for lawbreakers, but he or she may encounter them. The odds are that the concealed weapon will suffice, but an insurance gun can’t hurt unless in a jurisdiction that limits the licensee to one gun listed by serial number on the license.
2. FOR ADDED FIREPOWER
A backup gun mission that applied to me when I worked on close protection details was giving me more firepower. I often carried two of the same high capacity autoloaders based on the assumption that if we had to go into an evacuation under fire drill, I might have to empty one gun and go to the second one to keep giving fire to cover the evacuation of the principal.
We practiced regulating our cover fire to a round per second to allow longer sustained engagement, but under stress or due to multiple attackers, we also planned for faster, more sustained fire. We also practiced fire and movement drills to disengage. We drilled reloads behind cover or while on the move, but having the option of the second gun was comforting.
For the typical police officer or civilian CCL, this scenario is not likely, but a backup gun offers the capability to keep fighting if things get really bad and really hectic.
3. AS A CONCEALMENT OPTION
If the civilian CCL carries a second gun, it will often be a smaller auto or revolver that may be carried in a pocket, while the primary weapon
“ANYONE WHO CARRIES A GUN MUST CONSIDER THE POSSIBILITY THAT AN ASSAILANT MIGHT ATTEMPT TO DISARM HIM AND TURN HIS WEAPON AGAINST HIM.”
is carried on the belt. The situation may arise in which carrying the belt gun into some establishments is not feasible, advisable, comfortable, et. al. In that case, the larger primary weapon may be locked in a gun safe in the vehicle and the pocket gun carried discreetly into the establishment.
4. IN CASE OF AN INJURY
The backup gun may prove invaluable if an injury is sustained to the shooting hand. For example, drawing a weapon from a retention holster with the support hand might be slow and difficult, especially if in pain. However, a pocket gun or second holster gun accessible to the support hand will allow one to keep fighting.
If the primary weapon is carried in a pocket, a draw with the support hand is extremely difficult so having a second pocket gun on the support side is desirable. Support hand reloads are often relatively slow, too, so the second gun will speed up re-engagement.
5. WHEN STRUGGLING TO RETAIN A WEAPON
Anyone who carries a gun must consider the possibility that an assailant might attempt to disarm him and turn his weapon against him. Law enforcement officers normally receive at least some weapons retention training, as do some military personnel. Most CCLs don’t.
Having a second gun available to the support hand allows the person under assault to clamp the assailant’s hand and/or the gun in the holster or the gun itself if it has been drawn, and shoot the attacker multiple times wherever possible.
Note if struggling for a gun that has been drawn, the most important thing is to control the muzzle. Grabbing the barrel normally gives leverage and by torqueing the gun, allows the assailant’s trigger finger to be broken if it is inserted into the trigger guard or forces him to release the weapon. Shooting him or her works better!
A backup knife can work as well or better for weapon retention. A friend of mine who was a St. Louis detective normally carried a compact double-edged fixed blade knife in an inside jacket pocket accessible to his support hand. He felt that the knife would be quicker in a struggle for his Glock 19 than reaching for a second gun.
A quick-opening folder designed for close combat and worn clipped to a support side pocket works well to slash at the hand trying to snatch to gun, though that creates the possibility of slashing one’s own hand in a struggle. Drawing the knife and stabbing whatever body part of the assailant is close at hand multiple times will usually “distract” him!
6. FOR LONGER RANGE
Another backup option that I used when working on some protective details was a second gun designed for longer-range engagement. I normally carried a SIG P210 with which I could engage man-sized targets effectively at 100 yards. I had one contact who worked on protective details in Africa who carried an FN Five-seveN as a second gun for the same reason, though its 20-round magazine capacity also made it suitable for extended engagement and with AP ammunition he could use it against an attacker wearing a
ballistic vest or an AK chest pouch full of loaded magazines.
7. TO ADD A LOW LIGHT OPTION
Although not a common reason to carry a second gun, I have carried a second automatic pistol with a light mounted to give me better low light capability. I do not advocate carrying the primary gun with a light mounted for various reasons, including slower presentation, using the light in certain situations can make you a target, and it’s bulkier.
For law enforcement personnel, agencies that have allowed officers to carry a weapon with light mounted as their duty weapon have frequently found that they have a tendency to use the light mounted on their weapon as their flashlight, resulting in the weapon “sweeping” citizens when checking registration, etc. I have a double shoulder holster rig that allows one of two 1911s to be carried with a light mounted. I have used it only rarely.
8. WHILE IN A VEHICLE
For the civilian CCL, a backup gun carried so that it is more quickly available in a vehicle to deal with a carjacker makes sense. Some just keep a weapon in a console or a holster under the seat for this purpose, but a shoulder holster will also allow more rapid presentation when seated. A cross draw holster for the second gun works well, too.
When I worked on security teams, I sometimes carried a gun in a strong side hip holster and a second gun in a cross draw on my support side. I could access it in a vehicle and also could reach it by twisting my left hand for injured primary arm drills.
9. WHEN DANGEROUS GAME IS A POSSIBILITY
Once again this is a specialized situation, but there are cases when the primary weapon is carried to deal with two-legged predators, but a second gun is available to deal with dangerous four-legged predators. I once escorted a client to visit a ranch that raised large, confrontational bulls. In addition to my Browning High-Power, I borrowed a 4-inch
S&W Model 29 .44 Magnum to take along as well. In places such as Alaska where bears are a danger, locals tend to just carry a bear-stopping handgun on the assumption that if they have to stop a man, it will do the job!
10. WHEN THE BACKUP IS BIGGER THAN THE PRIMARY
Today, the availability of rifle-caliber handguns with arm braces has made it possible to carry a backup weapon in your vehicle, backpack or gym bag, one that fires a more powerful cartridge than your carry handgun.
Presumably, these weapons would only be needed when facing an especially well-armed assailant, one attacking from a distance, one in a vehicle or one behind penetrable cover. Having said that, I have worked on protective details where we had available in vehicles SMGs, assault rifles, and light machine guns for situations where our handguns would not suffice.
A FIT FOR YOUR LIFESTYLE
For most reading this, the backup gun will be, as I said at the beginning, an insurance policy. It will be there if your primary weapon fails or available if you are fighting to retain your handgun against an assailant.
As an aid to weapons retention, the quickly accessible backup blade may be as useful as a backup handgun. As with many aspects of concealed carry, choice will be based on individual needs. Do a lifestyle assessment and a threat assessment and decide if you want a backup gun or backup knife or both. It has never taken me much thought to decide I want a spare tire—but, I don’t like the temporary spares. It doesn’t take me much thought to decide I want a backup gun either. CC
“A BACKUP KNIFE CAN WORK AS WELL OR BETTER FOR WEAPON RETENTION.”
Right: Two pocket revolvers used by Thompson for support side pocket carry—top S&W 638 and bottom S&W Model 42 Classic. Both shield the hammer for a quick presentation from the pocket. For members of close protection teams, a second gun can allow sustained fire to cover evacuations under fire.
A backup gun with fight stopping capability such as this S&W 360 PD in .357 Magnum offers a lot of appeal.
Left: Blackie Collins Toters jeans are designed to carry multiple weapons in pockets. In this photo a pistol and backup knife are carried on the strong side, while another pistol and either another knife or an ASP baton are carried on the support side. Right: CCW Breakaways trousers allow the quick presentation of a handgun from the pocket by allowing part of the pocket to “breakaway” during the draw. This method even allows a pocket gun to be drawn with the opposite side hand.
A quick opening knife can be an invaluable backup when struggling to keep the primary weapon from being snatched. Note that the hand of the assailant has been clamped down on the gun while the knife is brought into action. Care would have to be taken in this scenario not to cut the defender’s own hand. Punching stabs might be more effective.