Backup Guns — Tactical Necessity or Pointless?

The topic of backup guns, or BUG guns, as they are often called, seems to have been relegated to the lore of years past. Sure, backup guns made sense in the 1980s when law enforcement officers were carrying revolvers, but what’s the point now? Does the average person really need more than one gun on their body while out and about? The answer is that it depends on the situation, but the idea of having a backup gun should never be totally off the table.

backup gun in galco ankle holster
Backup guns are sometimes carried in ankle holsters like this Ankle Glove made by Galco. (Photo credit: Galco)

What is a backup gun?

Broadly speaking, backup guns are extra pistols you keep on your body to back up your main carry weapon. The concept of a backup gun seems to go through ups and downs as trends and capacity of carry guns change, but it will always be relevant on some level. After all, having a large capacity in your daily carry gun doesn’t do you much good if that gun fails or ends up pinned under your body so you cannot reach it.

Bond Arms Derringer
Derringers like this one, which is made by Bond Arms, are used by some people as backup guns. (Photo credit: Bond Arms)

A good backup gun shouldn’t be impossible to shoot well. No, you’re not likely to run that backup as smoothly or precisely as a larger model, but you should at least be able to handle it well. Rather than looking at full-size or compact gun models, you’ll be looking at sub-compacts, micros, and mouse guns for your second carry gun.

Your backup gun is the firearm you resort to when given no other choices. It’s the gun that’s there to save you if all else fails.

Beretta 950 mouse gun with holster and cartridges
The Beretta 950 definitely qualifies as a mouse gun. (Photo credit: 1911 Forum)

What kind of guns are backup guns?

There’s no one type of gun that’s ideal for use as a backup gun. Just as with all other methods of carry, backup guns are chosen according to the size and needs of the user. For example, one person might be able to conceal a sub-compact easily while others won’t be able to easily conceal anything larger than the tiniest of pistols. That’s because your backup gun is not usually carried on your waistband, so you’ll have to find out what guns you can hide elsewhere on your body.

Micros are popular among many as backups because they’re small, but not necessarily terrible to operate. The Kimber Micro 9 Rapide is 6.1 inches long and 4.07 inches tall with an empty weight of 15.6 ounces. It’s also important to note frame size references vary among manufacturers. In comparison to the Micro 9, the Ruger LCP II is considered a subcompact. It’s 5.17 inches long, 3.71 inches tall, and weighs 10.6 ounces, empty. If you think “subcompact” must mean a gun is bigger than a “micro,” you’d be mistaken. Check out the specifications of a gun before making assumptions about its size based on the label a manufacturer gives it.

Ruger LCP II
The Ruger LCP II is a subcompact pistol that’s popular among those wanting deep concealment or a backup gun. (Photo credit: Ruger)

A backup gun should be best for your body type and wardrobe for use as a deep concealment pistol. That means it should be small enough to be concealed in places that aren’t on your belt such as pockets, ankle holsters, and more.

How do you carry a backup gun?

Technically, you can carry a backup gun any way you want, as long as it’s safe and effective. Some gun owners do carry a second gun on their waistband, but in many ways that can negate the entire purpose of it being for backup.

pocket wallet holster
Holsters like this one are made to mimic the outline of a wallet when in the wearer’s pocket. (Photo credit: Kevin’s Concealment)

When choosing how to add a second gun to your carry gear, stop and consider what you believe the most likely scenarios are where you might need it. Common reasons for a backup include concerns of the first gun having a catastrophic failure or falling or being pinned in a way that makes it impossible to reach that main carry weapon. Because of those concerns, many people choose to carry backups in their pockets or on their ankles. That doesn’t mean there aren’t other ways to do it, only that those two methods are the most common.

What holsters do you use for backup guns?

Crossbreed Pocket Rocket holster
If possible, make sure your pocket holster is molded to the shape of your gun. The pictured design is the Pocket Rocket from Crossbreed Holsters. (Photo credit: Crossbreed Holsters)

The holster you use to carry your backup guns depends on where on your body you’re carrying it. There’s a wide array of holsters available including:

  • Pocket holsters
  • Bra holsters
  • Wallet holsters
  • Cell phone holsters
  • Ankle holsters
  • Belly band holsters
  • Should holsters
  • Undershirt holsters
  • Briefcase holsters

When choosing a holster for your backup gun, the same rules should apply that you use when selecting one for your daily carry. That means it should provide some degree of retention rather than being a shapeless sleeve, it needs to be designed to stay where you put it without shifting, and you should be able to draw the gun, and only the gun (the holster shouldn’t come with it). In addition, the holster should provide trigger protection and cover the muzzle of the gun. That might seem like a lot to ask from a pocket holster or some other secondary style, but there are fantastic holsters available if you just do some research.

Do backup guns have to have a long trigger pull?

Ruger LCR
The Ruger LCR has a heavy, double-action trigger. (Photo credit: Ruger)

This might seem like an odd question to ask, but you might have noticed the vast majority of pistols marketed as potential backups also have long trigger pulls, Many of them are double-action while others just have incredibly long, heavy pulls. Not many people purposefully seek out heavy triggers, but there is a reason for that feature. If the trigger is more difficult to pull, you’re far less likely to be carrying it in your pocket and have an object get into the trigger guard and pull it. That doesn’t absolve you from using a proper holster, because you absolutely should, but only to say there is a reason for those triggers on backup guns.

In short, no, all backup guns don’t have to have a long trigger pull. You can make any gun a backup gun. However, there are reasons those micros and sub-compacts are designed the way they are.

Backup gun holster from Crossbreed
The Last Ditch holster from Crossbreed Holsters. (Photo credit: Crossbreed Holsters)

Should you carry a backup gun?

Whether or not you should carry a backup gun comes down to what you’re doing, where you’re going, and who you are. It’s true to say the average person is unlikely to ever need a backup gun. Add on to that the fact it’s difficult to convince most people to carry a gun on a daily basis, let alone two guns, and you can see why it isn’t pushed often. Using a backup gun can be smart and useful in certain scenarios.

Keep in mind the situations where you could find yourself wishing for a backup gun aren’t only those where your main carry gun fails. It’s entirely possible you’ll be caught in an attack where you could use a second handgun for your significant other or even a friend to defend themselves or others.

Bottom line? If you will be going somewhere or doing something where you can see a second gun coming in handy if an attack takes place, then take a backup gun. If you’d rather not, then don’t. This one’s a case of personal preference and a matter of considering whether or not it makes sense given your activities and lifestyle.

Do you carry a backup gun? Tell us in the comments section.

Kat Ainsworth Stevens is a long-time outdoor writer, official OGC (Original Gun Cognoscenti), and author of Handgun Hunting: a Comprehensive Guide to Choosing and Using the Right Firearms for Big and Small Game. Der Teufel Katze has written for a number of industry publications (print and online) and edited some of the others, so chances are you've seen or read her work before, somewhere. A woman of eclectic background and habits, Kat has been carrying concealed for over two decades, used to be a farrier, and worked for a long time in emergency veterinary medicine. She prefers big bores, enjoys K9 Search & Rescue, and has a Master's Degree in Pitiless Snarkastic Delivery.

Sign Up for Newsletter

Let us know what topics you would be interested:
© 2022 GunMag Warehouse. All Rights Reserved.
Copy link