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Carrying a backup gun: 6 things you need to know

Your duty weapon can malfunction and will run out of ammo, so train and prepare for that moment – your life depends on it


Your duty weapon can malfunction or run out of ammo. Prepare for that moment with a backup gun.


Article updated October 25, 2018

Unless you own a magical gun that never runs out of ammo and never malfunctions, you need to carry a backup gun (BUG). Here are some questions and considerations for these important officer safety tools.

1. Is the backup gun faster than a reload?

A backup gun — sometimes known as a New York Reload or a backup revolver — offers you the opportunity to draw a second weapon to continue a gunfight. Practice your draw from your method of concealment and compare it to your times during a standard reload in order decide whether to go this route.

Regardless of whether you’re faster reloading or drawing a second weapon, I can guarantee that one situation in which the second gun will be faster into action than a reload is when you are wounded and need to get back in action one-handed.

2. Is the BUG faster than a malfunction drill?

Again you need to put in the practice to know your capabilities. Every cop needs to train and drill handgun malfunctions. A ‘tap-rack-bang’ will probably be faster, but it will probably beat your time doing a double feed malfunction one handed.

3. Can you access the BUG for a deadly-force response to a gun takeaway?

A suspect attempting to take your duty weapon, either from your hand or holster, is a deadly threat. Can you reach your duty weapon with either hand? Consider the possibilities of the body positions you could find yourself in while in a fight for your life.

When one hand is out of commission due to trying to maintain control of your main weapon, can you access your BUG with your free hand?

4. Consider where you carry, what you carry, and how you train to carry your backup gun.

The considerations above should help you determine the location you choose to carry your BUG. Here are the common locations for BUG carry.

Ankle: The ankle carry is convenient when you are seated and can be accessed when you find yourself on the ground with a suspect on top of you. Ankle carry means your gun will get dirtier than other locations. Clean and lube your weapon weekly to make sure it functions in that critical moment. Some officers replace the seam of their uniform pants with Velcro to allow faster easier access to that location.

Pant pocket: Access can be hindered by the equipment on your belt. If you can’t get your hand into your pocket you will find it hard to access the weapon. If you wear pants with cargo pockets consider carrying it there. Make sure the gun is in a holster that covers the trigger guard in an otherwise empty pocket. Several officers have shot themselves when objects came into contact with the exposed trigger of their BUG.

Back pocket carry is also an option, but sitting on a gun all shift may be an invitation to sciatica.

Vest: With concealed body armor, you have two options: on the vest strap or in a BUG holster that is attached to the front of your vest. Understand that your ability to unzip or unbutton your shirt quickly under stress in a fight may significantly slow your draw. Some officers sew their buttons to the top part of the shirt and use Velcro below to keep their shirt “buttoned.” This will speed the draw and allow the use of only one hand versus two to get the shirt open.

On an external vest carrier, you have the option of sewing a holster on the inside. Trainer Jeff Chudwin advises officers against it due to concerns of possible injury caused to them by their weapon if they were in an accident and their airbag deployed.

The ability to draw the weapon with either hand when it is under your armpit can be very difficult, this requires practice. Some officers have found that the gun and holster protrude just enough to cut off blood circulation to the arm when seated in a car during patrol.

5. What kind of BUG should you carry and how big should it be?

If possible stick with the same manufacturer for consistency in design and function. A Glock 17, with a Glock 26, 42, or 43 backup fit that concept. Most gun makers are making subcompacts to fill that niche.

I don’t suggest anything smaller in caliber than a .380. Semi-autos are much easier to hit with than revolvers when the barrels are short. The size of the weapon will be determined by how big you are and where you intend to carry it. Pockets and pant cuffs space limit weapon size.

6. Don’t forget to train with your BUG!

Buy a replica blue gun of your BUG and practice drawing with all your duty gear on to identify any problems.

Shoot the thing! If you can’t hit anything with it, it is just an expensive paperweight in a fight.

Your duty weapon can malfunction and will run out of ammo, so train and prepare for that moment. Your life depends on it. A BUG is like a backup plan, always have one.

In February 2014, Duane Wolfe retired from his career as a Minnesota Peace Officer after more than 25 years of service (beginning in 1988). During his career, he served as a patrolman, sergeant, S.R.T., use of force and firearms instructor. He was a full-time law enforcement instructor at Alexandria Technical & Community College in Alexandria, Minnesota for 28 years. Duane has a Bachelor of Science Degree in Criminal Justice from Bemidji State University and a Masters Degree in Education from Southwest State University.