Backup Guns: The Why and How

For many, the idea of a backup gun seems silly. For others, it’s a necessity of their job. It’s a topic worth exploring and explaining as it often seems to be a fairly misunderstood concept. I want to approach this from the civilian concealed carrier perspective. I’m not a police officer and never have been, so I can’t advise on how they operate. It does seem prudent for an openly armed professional to carry a backup gun, but what about the everyday Joe? 

I would say it really depends on your situation and what threats you might face on average. If you work in a job that might have you carry large amounts of cash, it might be wise to be well-armed. I used to drive around and collect payments for a furniture store that were almost always entirely cash payments and almost entirely in crappy neighborhoods. I carried a firearm on my hip and another in my clipboard for ease of access. 

For most people, it’s probably never going to be necessary to carry a backup gun. It adds extra weight. Obviously, the cost of a second gun and holster can’t be ignored. Most people likely don’t need to carry a reload, much less a backup gun. At the same time, it’s your right to make that decision, and if you make that decision, it should be an informed option. 

Let’s talk about backup guns.

Why carry a backup gun?

The main reason for many to carry a backup gun typically relates to a fear that the main gun will fail them. If your main gun breaks in the middle of a fight, then you swap to your backup gun. Maybe switching to your backup is faster than reloading? Or better yet, what if your main gun has a complicated malfunction? It’s most certainly quicker to swap guns than fix a bad malfunction. 

As mentioned, you might work a job that seems fairly risky. Large amounts of cash, bad neighborhoods, and similar problems will most certainly pop up. A backup gun might be a very viable option. 

LWS 25 profile
The Seecamp remains one of the smallest guns on the market.

When I carried a backup gun in my clipboard, it wasn’t because I thought my main gun wasn’t enough; it was for accessibility in certain situations. I always had the clipboard in my hand, and the gun was easily accessible. Extra and easy access to a second gun can be a great reason to carry a backup gun. 

Another more creative reason might entail arming another person. When my wife and I go out to a nice dinner, she doesn’t often wear clothes that are great for concealment. I can carry a backup gun to arm her if necessary. She can legally carry and is a good shot, and two is better than one. 

Key Features of a Backup Gun 

Most people who carry a backup gun likely want it to be smaller and lighter than their main firearm. You might be Castor Troy from Face/Off and carry dual 1911s, but that’s not most of us. A backup gun is typically super small and highly concealable. It’s small for both convenience and ease of carry. 

p32 profile
The P32 is ultra-small and very easy to pocket-carry.

The gun will likely be carried in a nonstandard position, like the ankle or pocket, maybe a belly band or something atypical. Smaller works better in these categories. You typically want it to be out of the way of your main gun. It shouldn’t interrupt your draw or access to your normal concealed-carry firearm. 

I would arm myself with something that’s easier to shoot, preferably with low recoil. Low recoil guns are easier to shoot with a single hand, which is a very likely reality.  

Should a backup gun match your main gun? 

In a world where guns like the Glock 19 and Glock 26 can not only share ammo and magazines, it seems prudent to ask if it’s necessary. In my opinion, it’s not. Anytime you do so, it’s likely limiting your carry options, as well as creating a backup gun that’s larger and tougher to conceal. 

mini guns in hand
Both guns fit right inside your palm.

It can certainly be an advantage, but I don’t view it as necessary for the average Joe. Police officers have their own requirements and needs, and it might be more viable for a uniformed position. 

I’d go as far as to say you don’t even need to match action types or trigger designs. If your main carry is a P320C, then there isn’t a problem with carrying a Ruger LCR as a backup. It’s more important to be able to adequately carry and conceal the two guns, as well as adequately shoot the weapons, than for them to match. 

Backup Gun Calibers 

There isn’t one best caliber for a backup gun. What you need is a cartridge that can penetrate deep enough to reach the vitals of a threat. This means it should be capable of penetrating 12 inches of properly calibrated 10% ballistic gel. Not only can the cartridge penetrate that deep, but it needs to be able to penetrate that deep when fired from your gun. 

Shorter barrels result in lowered velocity, and some rounds may not reach deep enough when fired from an ultra-short barrel. This requires some research. The internet has plenty of great folks testing guns and ammo through gel. 

22 Long Rifle Federal Punch ammunition
The Punch Load can make a .22LR a good backup gun.

With that said, if your backup gun is very small, a smaller caliber might make more sense. I carry a .32 ACP as my backup when I carry a backup. The .32 ACP allows for light recoil in a super compact platform. The little .380 ACP can be rough recoiling with very little advantage over a similar-sized gun. Even something like .22LR can work with the proper ammo, like Federal Punch. 

Calibers like .327 Federal Magnum, .38 Special, .380, and 9mm, of course, all work. They might be little hand slappers, but they work. 

Backup Gun Training

Basic proficiency with a backup gun is an absolute must-have. You need to be able to shoot it straight and shoot it quickly. That’s the basics, but you also need to be able to quickly draw the gun and put it in action. In the event you draw a backup gun, you might be retaining your original; this means engaging with one hand. 

shooting lws 25
Shooting the gun is fairly easy with its relatively low recoil.

That’s a big reason why I advocate for so-called subcalibers for backup guns versus .380s and micro 9s. 

You also need to train for what to do with your main gun. Are you going to reholster it? Retain it in your hand? Shove it in your pocket? Throwing it down doesn’t seem like a great idea in my mind. It’s something worth training on and thinking about while carrying a backup gun.

Calling For Backup 

A backup gun might be something you never even consider, and that’s perfectly fine. It’s not a must-have or necessary-to-survive type of weapon. They can be a very useful tool for some, but like anything, you have to go into it with a little forethought and acknowledgment. Hopefully, we’ve given you a thing or two to think about. 

Travis Pike is a former Marine Machine Gunner and a lifelong firearms enthusiast. Now that his days of working a 240B like Charlie Parker on the sax are over he's a regular guy who likes to shoot, write, and find ways to combine the two. He holds an NRA certification as a Basic Pistol Instructor and is probably most likely the world's Okayest firearm instructor. He is a simplicisist when it comes to talking about himself in the 3rd person and a self-professed tactical hipster. Hit him up on Instagram, @travis.l.pike, with story ideas.

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