Richard Nable is a retired police captain and firearms instructor. He offers career advice to new police officers regarding firearms issues.
Captain Richard Nable retired from the Fulton County Police Department in Atlanta where he was the David L Hagins Firearms Training and Testing Facility Director. At the facility, one of the largest outdoor ranges in the region, Nable served an average of 6,000 law enforcement personnel annually.
Richard Nable has been an adjunct instructor with Reinhardt University since 2009, and he’s served as an assistant professor of Criminal Justice and Public Administration. He also serves on the board of the Georgia Association of Law Enforcement Firearms Instructors (GALEFI).
Are You Carrying a BUG?
by Captain Richard Nable
This is a very important question for any police officer to answer. A BUG, of course, is a BackUp Gun. As a SWAT operator and firearms instructor I teach all of my students that a backup gun is the second most important piece of equipment that they carry. (The most important being the primary weapon.)
I’ll even go so far as to say that anyone who wears a law enforcement uniform and does not carry a second (or third, or fourth) gun should be charged with false advertising; after all, the patch on your uniform says “Police” (or Sheriff or Marshal etc) but no real cop would be caught without at least one backup gun.
The Next Shootout
Any law enforcement officer that does not see fit to equip him or her-self with a backup gun has really not taken the time to think through the problem. All machines are man-made and are therefore prone to failure. All ammunition is man-made and also prone to failure. Murphy’s Law says, “Anything that can go wrong will,” and at the worst possible time. What could possibly be worse than someone trying to kill you?
Therein lies the first hurdle that officers must leap. We have to make the conscious realization that there are actually people out there that might try to kill us. I know that on the surface this concept is a no-brainer to most of us, but have you really considered the possibility that the next shootout won’t be in some far-off city or state, but right on your beat with you right in the middle of it? If you have a gunfight this afternoon, are you ready? I can personally name more than one officer who has been saved by his or her backup gun. I can also name more than one officer who has died from the lack of one.
We know from studying decades of gunfights that the participants will typically get tunnel vision on the threat. The bad guys are no different from the good guys in this respect. They will tunnel in on the threat (the officer’s gun assuming it is out of the holster) just like we will.
Therefore, it is reasonable to assume that if you are prepared enough to have your gun in your hand when the shooting starts, you run a substantial risk of getting shot in your weapon hand or even in your weapon. If your weapon and/or your weapon hand become incapacitated, what plan do you have to survive? Hopefully you have a backup gun that is easily accessible with either hand. Without one, you put your life in the hands of the guy who is trying to kill you.
Criminals are Cowards - Richard Nable
Criminals are cowards. For the most part, if they think you’re ready for the fight, they won’t start one. Consequently, gunfights generally occur as a surprise to the officer. The bad guy knows that he is about to be in a gunfight but often the officer does not. We start out behind the 8-ball of action vs. reaction. We do not have the luxury of scheduling our gunfights.
The bad guys don’t call us up after dinner and say, “Hey dude. Tomorrow at 3:00 PM. Gunfight on a traffic stop. Don’t miss it.” If that were to happen, some officers would call in sick the next day, and others would go to work early. Those that went to work early would show up with plenty of guns, and plenty of friends with guns.
In reality, we must expect to be at a disadvantage. One way that we can start to even those odds is to prepare ourselves by having the right equipment, and the training to use it.
What is the Right Backup Gun?
So what is the right backup gun? Whenever I give my backup gun speech, there’s always someone in the crowd who asks, “Which gun should I choose?” Then the age-old debates begin; semi-auto vs. revolver, air weight vs. steel, stainless vs. blue, leg or torso carry, small vs. large caliber and so on. Short answer is, “Any backup gun is better than no backup gun.” The purpose of this article is not to tell you what to buy, but to help you make an informed decision about which gun may be right for you.
The first thing to consider is the practical application or tactical function of a backup gun. More often than not, if you are using your backup gun, the gunfight has already begun, and the adrenaline dump and other nasty effects of “Fight or Flight” are continuing to take their toll. Something has happened that has rendered your primary weapon useless. Your primary weapon could have been taken away.
It may have been left somewhere by accident, dropped, lost or for whatever reason, is not available. It could have sustained damage that renders it inoperable, or it may have been blown off along with your primary weapon hand and or arm! If you have to resort to a backup gun, it is an understatement to say that you are in a bad situation. You are likely to be very close to your assailant, and you need to shoot immediately or sooner if you hope to survive.
Pros and Cons of Different Backup Guns - Richard Nable
With these points in mind, we can now look at the pros and cons of different weapons. Many officers choose semi-autos as backup guns because the ammunition and magazines can match the primary weapon. This allows greater flexibility when it comes to reloading and lessens the likelihood of running out of ammo. Also, many compact semi-autos hold more ammunition than compact revolvers. Both of these are very good and valid points.
However, semi-autos are dependent on both the shooter and the ammunition to function correctly and are certainly more prone to malfunctions than revolvers. Anything that prevents the slide from moving while you are fighting and rolling around will cause a malfunction. If you are injured, scared to death, covered in crap, physically exhausted, and shooting with one hand or any or all of the above, might a reasonable person accept that there is a greater possibility of limp-wristing the gun which will also result in a malfunction in a semi-auto? It is a risk to consider.
The malfunction clearance drill for a revolver is, Pull the trigger again! Semi-autos are considerably more complicated. Bear in mind that under extreme stress and close quarters combat, pressing the muzzle into part of the bad guy’s body can put a semi-auto into an out-of-battery condition that may prevent it from firing. The same problem can occur if during the fight, the muzzle of the semi-auto is forced into the dirt. This problem does not occur in revolvers. (Of course if the muzzle obstruction is severe enough, it can create a catastrophic failure in any weapon.)
Where to Carry a Back-up Gun
Think about where you carry a back-up gun. First of all, it will be close to your body and covered with some type of clothing. These two facts mean that it will get dirty fairly quickly. If you do not make an extra effort to clean your semi-auto regularly, then you have another cause of potential malfunctions. Revolvers are less prone to this sort of failure.
Revolvers are inherently more accurate. While this is generally true (not always of course) I personally do not think that accuracy is going to play a large part in a gunfight where a backup gun is necessary. I still train our officers to shoot at distances up to 25 yards with their backup guns (just in case), but in all likelihood a gunfight with a backup gun will be inside of “personal” distances.
What about things like size, weight and caliber? I like big guns that shoot big bullets that make big holes. But realistically, a backup gun needs to be compact enough to conceal on your body. It needs to be comfortable so that you won’t mind wearing it regularly. The fact that we all have different body shapes and sizes mean that these preferences certainly will vary according to the individual.
I personally don’t see the need for an air weight as an on-duty back-up gun. It will be carried on your leg or your torso where a few ounces will not be noticeable. When you shoot however, the air weight can be more difficult to manage depending on the shooter.
Since I brought it up in the opening paragraphs, I prefer any finish over a blued gun simply because bluing is the least durable finish out there. In the sweaty, dirty environment of a police uniform, blued guns don’t seem to hold up as well as the others. As a practical matter though, in my opinion the finish on your backup gun has little relevance.
There’s one more little thing that often gets overlooked. The vast majority of officers train (and practice) far more often with their duty weapons than they do with their backups. We all know that what you train is what you do under stress. Consider then that the grip angle on most revolvers is considerably different than the grip angle on most semi-auto duty guns. Under stress, you will use the grip you train and practice with most often.
If you have ever tried to transition from a full size Glock to a small frame Smith and Wesson, hopefully you realized that you tend to shoot high with the revolver. In practical applications with our officers on our range, we regularly see officers missing the target at 3 yards as a direct result of grip angle. When we correct the angle, most of our shooters comment that it feels like they are shooting at the ground. Because of this, there is definitely something to be said for carrying a backup that is similar to your duty weapon.
What it all boils down to is a personal choice. There are a number of pros and cons on all sides of the fence. The one immutable truth that stands out is that, “Any backup gun is better than no backup gun!”
Carry the BUG - Richard Nable
What is your life worth? You can get a great insurance policy (backup gun) for under $400.00 and have the satisfaction of knowing that you are taking an active part in saving your own life. Whatever you decide, you must train, and you must practice. Prepare everyday as if your gunfight is going to be today. Carry that BUG!
As I am so fond of saying, “Train for the real world, not the ideal world.”