A great backup: The 9mm Ruger LCR

The “metric Ruger” is an excellent choice for officers who carry 9mm sidearms


I’ve previously written about the vital importance of carrying a backup gun (BUG) as a law enforcement officer, and have made the argument that a double action, “snubby” revolver is often the best choice for a BUG. There are no absolutes of course, and things like personal preferences, experience, training and department policies have a big influence on the selection of a BUG, but I think the case for the snubby revolver is very compelling.

There are many snubby options to choose from in today's marketplace. Manufacturers have responded to the increasing demand for snubby revolvers with a variety of models, offering an array of features. Having choices is good, but it can also be confusing for an officer who is unfamiliar with this category of handguns. 

To help narrow the field, I’d like to bring your attention to the Ruger LCR, an extremely capable and popular snubby revolver design with a number of features that make it an excellent choice for a BUG. While the LCR (which stands for “Lightweight, Compact Revolver”) is offered in a variety of calibers (.22 Long Rifle, .22 Magnum, .327 Federal Magnum, .38 Special and .357 Magnum among them), let’s take a few minutes to examine the oddball of the bunch – the Ruger LCR chambered in 9mm.

The Ruger LCR is ready for police duty, but is equally at home as an off-duty gun. (Photo/Mike Wood)
The Ruger LCR is ready for police duty, but is equally at home as an off-duty gun. (Photo/Mike Wood)

A leading contender

The metric LCR is uniquely different from all its brethren, because it’s chambered for a rimless, auto-pistol cartridge – the exceptionally popular 9x19mm, commonly known as the 9mm Luger or 9mm Parabellum.

In the 1990s, the 9mm’s fate in police service was uncertain, as it looked like the cartridge was being eclipsed by the newly developed .40 Smith & Wesson. However, the 9x19mm is (once again) in vogue, and the cartridge that gets the most love and attention from R&D personnel. Influential agencies like the FBI are transitioning back to the Parabellum, with many others following their lead, so it was wise of Ruger to chamber its leading BUG candidate in the cartridge that tops police sales and interest. The logistical advantages of having service and backup guns chambered in the same cartridge cannot be ignored, and since the 9mm gets all the best technology first it has an edge over the revolver cartridges.

Unique manual of arms

The majority of LCRs are chambered for rimmed cartridges, the traditional fodder for revolvers. The ejector on these guns lifts the spent cartridges out of the cylinder by pushing on the rims of the spent cases. Revolvers using this kind of system (typically chambered in .38 Special) were standard issue for most American police during the 20th century.

However, the 9mm is a rimless cartridge, so the ejector has nothing to grab hold of. To remedy this in the 9mm LCR, the rear of the cylinder is relieved to make room for a star-shaped metal clip that holds five cartridges by their extractor grooves. The cartridges are held in perfect alignment so that the entire assembly can be loaded into the cylinder as a single unit. When the rounds have all been fired, the ejector pushes the clip out of the gun, taking all the spent brass with it in one efficient motion.

The Ruger LCR 9mm makes a great BUG and will carry well in pocket holsters from DeSantis (left) and Aker (right). (Photo/Mike Wood)
The Ruger LCR 9mm makes a great BUG and will carry well in pocket holsters from DeSantis (left) and Aker (right). (Photo/Mike Wood)

This system has its advantages and disadvantages. The biggest downside is that the clips create more work for the shooter, because you have to strip the empty cases from the clip and refill it with new cartridges to get it ready. This isn’t difficult, but it’s also not fast. Officers engaged in firearms training will want a healthy supply of loaded clips (the LCR comes from the factory with three, but you’ll want more) available to prevent undesirable delays and downtime during the course of fire.

By design, the clips are made of relatively thin metal, so you’ll have to be cautious when you’re working with them to avoid bending the clip. A bent clip won’t hold the rounds in proper alignment, and may prevent the weapon from operating properly, so you can’t be ham-fisted with them. They’re pretty tough, and reasonable care will keep them in good order, but having a few extras for backup won’t hurt either.

On the bright side, the clips allow a shooter to recharge an empty weapon very quickly – even faster than you can with most speedloaders – and they do a great job of getting the spent cases out. Since the 9mm cases are much shorter than those of the most popular rimmed cartridges (such as .38 Special or .357 Magnum), the clip full of spent cases clears the cylinder quickly and cleanly. This is an important advantage, because sometimes the short ejector rod on a snubby revolver can make it hard to get the longer, rimmed cases out of the cylinder. This won’t be a problem on the clip-fed, 9mm LCR – one stroke of the ejector rod, and your cylinder will be ready to accept a new, loaded clip.

If necessary, loose cartridges can be inserted directly into the cylinder of the LCR without a clip, and they will headspace off the case. They can be fired without the clip, but when it comes time to eject the empties, you’ll have to pull or poke them out of the cylinder individually, because the ejector won’t be able to grip them without the clip in place. This capability may be useful as a last-ditch option for an officer whose primary weapon is broken or lost, and who needs to reload the BUG with cartridges from a spare magazine.

Improved capability

The minor inconvenience associated with shooting the 9mm cartridge in a snubby revolver is offset by the fact that the 9x19mm is a more powerful cartridge than the mainstay in these guns, the .38 Special. Even in its +P versions, the .38 Special is not as capable a cartridge as the 9mm, so a 9mm LCR will hit harder than one chambered for .38 Special.

Because the 9mm is more powerful, the monolithic frame on the 9mm LCR is made of 400-series stainless steel, instead of the 7000-series aluminum that’s used on the .38 Special version. This adds almost 4 ounces to the weight of the 9mm LCR, but the polymer fire control housing helps to keep the 9mm LCR a lightweight, at 17.2 ounces. This gun will pack a good punch, but won’t be a burden to carry.

Big three

A defensive firearm needs to be reliable, have good sights and have a good trigger for it to be worthy of consideration. In this regard, the 9mm LCR compares favorably to other BUG candidates.

The LCR was introduced in 2009, and has established a solid track record for reliability since that time. There’s a lot of these popular guns in service, and the design has been thoroughly tested and proven.

The small, semiautomatic pistols that are suitable for BUG use are typically more prone to malfunction than double action revolvers like the LCR. The semiautos have their own set of advantages, but as a whole, they are more susceptible to malfunctions arising from poor shooter technique, ammunition selection, magazine problems, fouling and improper maintenance/lubrication. No firearm is impervious to the effects of neglect and abuse, but experience shows that double action revolvers like the LCR stand up better to the rigors of BUG carry, and are typically more reliable than the small autos.

The full moon clip is the key to the metric Ruger’s ability to shoot the same ammunition that an officer carries in a 9mm duty pistol. (Photo/Mike Wood)
The full moon clip is the key to the metric Ruger’s ability to shoot the same ammunition that an officer carries in a 9mm duty pistol. (Photo/Mike Wood)

The sights on the LCR are good, and compare favorably to the sights typically found on the guns of Ruger’s leading competitors. The LCR has a front blade that’s wide enough to be useful, and marked with a high-visibility white bar. This makes the front sight on the LCR easier to see than the thinner, plain aluminum or steel posts on other brands. One significant advantage of the LCR is that the front sight is a separate piece that is pinned in place, instead of being a fixed part of the barrel. This allows a user to easily remove and replace the front sight with something they like better, including night sights or fiber optics.

The trigger on the LCR is a significant upgrade over those commonly found on snubby revolvers, which are known for being heavy and difficult to manage. The pull weight on the LCR is less than what we normally see, but more importantly, it’s smooth, with no hitches to interrupt our sight alignment.

The typical Smith & Wesson J-Frame trigger pull tends to “stack” as the trigger is brought to the rear, meaning that the weight of the pull steadily increases as the trigger is pulled. By comparison, the LCR trigger pull weight remains more consistent, and doesn’t peak as high before the break. Ruger accomplished this feat by changing the shape and geometry of the bearing surfaces in the trigger to reduce friction and improve leverage. The improved trigger pull aids in maximizing the practical accuracy of the LCR.

In the field

Shooting the 9mm LCR is a great experience. The Hogue Tamer grips are exceptionally comfortable and do an excellent job of managing the recoil in this flyweight Parabellum. Even though the 9mm cartridge is hotter than the .38 Special, the additional weight of the steel frame helps to bring the recoil in line with the .38 version of the same gun, with its lighter aluminum frame. The 9mm still kicks a little bit more, but the difference is negligible, and well within the capabilities of any officer.

The 9mm LCR will reliably shoot individual cartridges that are inserted directly into the chambers as an emergency measure, but using the full moon clip is the only way to guarantee reliable extraction of the spent cases after firing. (Photo/Mike Wood)
The 9mm LCR will reliably shoot individual cartridges that are inserted directly into the chambers as an emergency measure, but using the full moon clip is the only way to guarantee reliable extraction of the spent cases after firing. (Photo/Mike Wood)

Incredibly, the 9mm LCR’s sights are very well regulated. Most snubby shooters are used to having to make substantial corrections to their point of aim because bullets rarely land where the sights are aligned, but the metric LCR actually hits where the gun is aimed. Bravo, Ruger.

The push button cylinder release on the LCR works efficiently, and the trigger pull is very good, particularly for a mass-produced gun. It’s worth noting that many of the shooters I’ve introduced to snubby revolvers have preferred the LCR over competing designs, mostly due to the trigger pull. This is a very good handling snub.

Good to go

The LCR is an excellent choice for a BUG, regardless of caliber, but the 9mm version seems especially well suited for an officer that already carries a 9mm service pistol. Being able to shoot the same ammunition in both guns – especially if it’s provided by the agency – is a huge advantage that can’t be overlooked. The clips add a little work, but the advantage of shooting the more powerful and technologically advanced 9mm ammo is worth the effort.

I heartily recommend the affordable LCR as a BUG, but if your tastes run toward something else, that’s OK. There are many excellent BUG choices out there to consider, so pick one that’s reliable, train to proficiency with it and carry it on duty every day. The job isn’t getting any safer, so make sure you don’t go on duty without access to one of these vital, lifesaving tools.

Be safe out there.

NEXT: Backup guns: A cop's insurance policy

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