“A second gun is the fastest reload.” It’s a phrase I heard often in the early years of my career and with the exception of a few competitive shooters I never met anyone who could argue it. That said, many agencies didn’t permit second weapons. The arguments were almost circular as to why backup guns were a bad idea. “If you can’t hold onto your primary gun, why would I want to authorize you to carry another one to lose?” “If your primary gun malfunctions, why would I want you to have another gun of a similar function that would also let you down?” No matter how you argue against them though, I know at least two officers who are alive today thanks to having a backup gun.
It occurs to me that if you asked about backup guns 40+ years ago some people wouldn’t be familiar with the term and others could offer you about ten recommendations for which would be best of the models available at the time. Ten years later there would be different models available and the recommendations would have changed. Ten years after that, the same thing would happen. Here we are today and the recommendations have evolved – not to different models but to finally focusing on desired design characteristics. While it’s true that some experts have been making these same recommendations for that past forty years, the industry in general now seems to have an appreciation for the focus. So let’s take a look at what some of the most popular duty handguns are today and what backup guns might make the most sense.
Before I do that, I want to share a couple of duty weapon / backup gun pairings I’ve carried over the years. Some of you will laugh or shake your head at the guns listed, but I would remind you that all choices are personal (except for duty weapons in most cases) and the finances of a young officer often impacts what his or her choices are.
1985: Duty weapon was a Smith & Wesson Model 10 .38 Special with a four inch barrel. Backup weapons were prohibited. In fact, that specific agency prohibited officers from carrying more than two speed loaders for their duty weapon. The jurisdictions governing body didn’t see the need for much ammo. It was a campus police department and they hoped guns would never be necessary. If a gun became necessary, it would be a nightmare for them if more than one or two shots were required to resolve a situation. They publicly balked at officers carrying two speedloaders.
1986: Duty weapon was a Colt Trooper Mk III .357 Magnum with a six inch barrel. Backup weapon, purchased out of my own pocket, was a Smith & Wesson J-frame Chief’s Special, five shot .38 Special with a 2” barrel (this was also my off-duty weapon carried with one speed strip for reload).
1988: Duty weapon was a SigArms P226 9mm. Backup weapon was a Colt Combat Commander stainless in .45ACP. The Commander was also my off-duty weapon.
Author’s Note just for humor: In 1988 I knew an officer who carried four handguns on duty: his duty weapon, his backup gun on his ankle, a third gun in a holster that mounted on the straps of his concealed body armor, and a four gun in his breast pocket. They were all four different calibers (9mm, .380ACP, .38 Special and .25ACP) and operated differently in some way. His agency had no General Orders restricting him from such and virtually every officer I knew thought he had something wrong with him for carrying all those guns. How would he ever keep track of them in a fight?
1992: Duty weapon was a Beretta 92FS and backup guns weren’t authorized. My off-duty weapon was an H&K P7 9mm.
1994: Duty weapon was a Beretta 92FS (this eventually changed to a Beretta 96F but I can’t remember the exact year we did that) and backup guns were still prohibited. My off-duty weapon was a Glock Model 19 9mm which also served as my off-duty weapon.
2000: Duty weapon was a Glock Model 17 and backup gun was a Glock Model 26, both 9mm handguns. I often carried the Glock 26 as my off-duty gun as well and used a G17 magazine as my reload.
It took me almost 20 years in the business to get to the point where my duty weapon and my backup weapon were the same functionality, the same mechanical manipulation and could accept the same magazines (the backup gun accepting the primary weapon magazines).
In today’s world most firearms instructors and/or use of force experts would recommend that you carry a backup gun or off-duty gun that operates the same as your duty weapon, is of the same caliber and accepts the same magazines. In fact, many will go so far as to recommend that you carry the backup gun in the same location on your body as you do your duty weapon – usually that on your strong side hip, inside or outside your waistband. Others will recommend that you carry your backup gun accessible to either hand just in case your strong arm/hand is disabled.
Thankfully, there are plenty of handgun manufacturers who make duty weapons and down-size variants of the same weapon. So if you’re looking to add a backup gun to your duty carry or if you want a gun that functions the same as your duty weapon for off-duty carry, check out some of the offerings from: SigArms, FN, Smith & Wesson, Springfield Armory and more!