Should You Have A Backup Gun?

The mission drives the gear, so should a backup gun be part of your gear?

posted on December 10, 2023
backup guns

New York City Police Detective Jim Cirillo is famous for the idea of the ‘New York” reload,” where a backup gun is brought into play faster than a revolver can be reloaded. The backup gun, usually a snub-nosed revolver, worked great in that scenario, proving to be faster even than reloading via speed strips or a speed loader. 

Police these days, however, rarely carry revolvers as a primary sidearm. More importantly, the mission of a law enforcement officer is radically different from the mission of an armed citizen. With all that in mind, does a backup gun make sense for today’s concealed carry practitioner? 

Our mission drives our gear choices, so let’s look at the mission of law enforcement versus that of an armed citizen. The ultimate goal of a law enforcement officer is a bad guy in cuffs. This means they need to press home the pursuit of a bad guy long after the bad guy has left the immediate area. Also, the very existence of a police officer represents a threat to a bad guy. It’s the officer’s job to put the bad guy out of business. The bad guy knows that up-front, and is prepared to use whatever means to end that threat to his livelihood.

Our Mission, Should We Choose To Accept It

The job of the armed citizen, on the other hand, is to avoid trouble, but if it happens, stop the threat by using an appropriate amount of force. If the bad guy presents a knife and then runs away when he discovers we’re heavily armed, that’s a win for us, as it's not our duty to go running after him. In addition to this, while the bad guy sees law enforcement as a predator, they see us as prey. We have something they want, and they are prepared to threaten us with lethal force in order to get it. When we “flip the script” on them, the bad guy becomes the prey. The bad guys view us as a transaction, and when the cost of that transaction goes through the ceiling because of our actions, they flee for their lives. 

Now we begin to see why a backup gun is a very useful thing for law enforcement, but maybe not as much for an armed citizen. The length of an encounter is going to be longer for a police officer than it us for us, as they need to get the bad guy in cuffs. If lethal force is used by the bad guy on an officer, it is used because the bad guy knows from the beginning that he’s in a fight for his life. 

Is A Backup Gun Right For You? 

For the armed citizen, however, the length of the encounter is typically quite short: Either the bad guy gets what they want, or they discover (to their horror) that their “victim” is a lot tougher than they first thought, and now it’s their life that's in danger. We win if they run away, as we have stopped the threat to our lives. If they press the attack, it turns into something more akin to what law enforcement might encounter, as both sides are now in it to win it. 

Should you carry a backup gun? Well, consider your mission, and make that decision for yourself. If you’re law enforcement and need to go looking for the bad guy or are faced with the prospect of a bad guy hunting you, then having a backup for your primary gun makes a lot of sense. However, I’m not law enforcement, so I’ve chosen to carry a tourniquet, a defensive blade, a flashlight and a spare magazine over a backup gun, but your needs might dictate a different choice.


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