Concealed Carry & Home Defense

Concealed Carry: Are back-up guns for civilians a good idea?

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By Tom Givens, The Shooting Channel

For the over ten years, Craig Harper has been a staff instructor at Rangemaster.

He is highly trained, having taken courses from a number of the best firearms instructors in the US. He also has experience as a Military Policeman in the US Army.

A few days ago, Craig and I were discussing a recent incident in which a police officer was killed. The officer was shot in his dominant arm (right handed officer, shot in right arm).

Although conscious and trying to fight back, he was unable to reload his empty handgun with his non- dominant hand only, and was executed by his assailant.

Yes, even the mighty Glock can is a machine, after all.

Yes, even the mighty Glock can fail…it is a machine, after all.

Craig and I both felt that if this officer had been wearing a back-up gun (BUG), he might have been able to access it and continue the fight. Unfortunately, he did not have a second gun.

To quote Craig’s comments, “For a long time, I was of the mind that I didn’t need to carry a BUG. After all, I had a very good primary gun that was well-maintained.

It ALWAYS ran. In a class we both participated in – I think it was with Farnam – your 1911 failed. Remember that; your slide flying down range to about the 7-yard line?”

S & W's Airweight .38. A great back-up weapon.

S & W’s Airweight .38. A great back-up weapon.

I saw that and thought, “I KNOW Tom takes very good care of his guns, and it still failed. If it can happen to him, it can happen to me.” That is what convinced me that I needed a BUG. I’ve carried one ever since.”

Craig continued, “During one year’s Tactical Conference in Tulsa my thinking was reinforced. I was shooting my “practice” Kimber during the scenarios and it malfunctioned. I cleared it, continued on, until it failed to feed again.

At that point I discarded it, ducked behind cover and retrieved my Kahr PM 9 out of the ankle holster and finished the stage. My time for the stage sucked; but I was still in the fight! Without a BUG, I would have needed my knife to make a bayonet charge; not a good idea when the bad guy is shooting at you.

The Kahr PM9. Another excellent choice as a second weapon.

The Kahr PM9. Another excellent choice as a second weapon.

So you can carry a BUG or be Bugged – Being Un-Gunned.”

Craig is so right, and that is why I carry a lightweight .38 revolver on my ankle, every day, in addition to the Glock 35 in the IWB holster on my belt. My G35 is accurate and reliable, and holds lots of .40 S&W ammo.

But if the striker, or some other vital part breaks, the G35 isn’t even a good club. That’s what the Colt Cobra on my ankle is for.

For many years, while working in law enforcement, I carried a small .38 revolver as a BUG, sometimes in an ankle rig, sometimes in a pocket holster.

The author's everyday sidearm, the Glock 35.

The author’s everyday sidearm, the Glock 35.

After I became a full-time trainer, I was no longer involved in law enforcement and carried on a state issued handgun carry permit, like any other armed “civilian”.

At that point, I confess that I began to be a bit lax about carrying a BUG, relying on my holstered full size sidearm.

After a short period of time, while traveling around the country teaching defensive shooting classes, I went back to religiously wearing my BUG, every day. Why?

The answer is simple. In class after class after class, everywhere I went, I saw well maintained, expensive, quality pistols break during high round count classes. By “break”, I don’t mean “malfunction”.

Broken hammer on custom 1911.

Broken hammer on custom 1911.

I mean, they suffered a parts breakage that rendered the gun out of action until a replacement part could be procured and installed. Bummer! This happened, and continues to happen now, with unsettling frequency. This phenomenon is not limited to one make or model, either.

When working extensively with military units after 9/11, I saw one M9 after another suffer parts breakages, usually locking blocks or firing pins. At one point, I actually had a three pound sack of broken M9 locking blocks and firing pins. With SIG pistols, I’ve seen the trigger return spring break on all models, and I’ve seen several slide stops break on P220′s, rendering the guns inoperable.

As reliable as they are, even revolver can malfunction.

As reliable as they are, even revolver can malfunction.

With Glocks (Yes, even Glocks!), I’ve seen several trigger return springs break, more than one locking block disintegrate, strikers break, extractors chip or break, take down latches fall out, and six slides fail structurally, with chunks breaking off.

The 1911 is a chapter all to itself. In the incident on the range that Craig mentioned, he and I were attending another instructor’s course, something we both try to do at least once a year.

I was shooting a 1911 customized and tuned by one of the best pistolsmiths in the US. I kept the gun cleaned and properly lubricated, and used only quality ammunition in it.

During a drill, the slide stop broke into two pieces, putting the gun out of action. At the end of the drill, I put that one in my range bag and got out my spare, which I loaded and continued the class. I wouldn’t have had that luxury during a fight!

I have seen 1911′s in class break extractors and ejectors, seen barrel bushings come apart (3 occasions), seen the thumb piece break off the thumb safety, and even seen the lower barrel lugs shear off, turning the gun into a very nice paperweight.

Revolvers are certainly not immune. In fact, when a revolver malfunctions, it is usually a problem that will require time and tools to fix. I’ve seen firing pins break, particularly the hammer mounted firing pins on Smith & Wessons.

I’ve seen ejector rods back out or get bent, strain screws back out from vibrations, and bullets jump forward under recoil, lock ing the cylinder so that it won’t rotate and cannot be opened. If any of these events occur in a gunfight, you darn well better have another gun to continue fighting with.

Since Murphy has a habit of showing up when he’s least welcome, I recognize that a well made, well maintained sidearm may break at a critical point in a gunfight.

Given that, I carry a second gun, so if this happens, I can transition to the second gun and continue the fight.

We carry a sidearm every day because we recognize that although a gunfight is a low probability today, it is a possibility for which we can be prepared and which we will deal with if we have to.

Also, although that gunfight is a low probability event, the cost of losing is simply too high to take the risk of not being armed.

To me, the logical progression of this train of thought is that my sidearm is not likely to break during a fight, but if it does, the potential penalty is too great, unless I have a BUG.

So, every day, I carry my sidearm, and as life insurance, I carry my BUG.

Tom Givens runs and writes for The Shooting Channel – take a moment and visit their site by clicking here.