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Back-up Gun
aka "The BUG"
Are You Carrying a BUG?
by Sergeant Richard A. Nable
This is a very important question for any police
officer to answer. A BUG, of course, is a Back-Up
Gun. As a SWAT operator and firearms instructor I
teach all of my students that a back-up 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.

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. 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 – at least one of them would be
long – 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.

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. The
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. 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.

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,
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.)

Think about where you carry a backup 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 airweight as
an on-duty backup gun. It will be carried on your
leg or your torso where a few ounces will not be
noticeable. When you shoot however, the airweight
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!”

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.”
As a follow-up to the BUG article, I would like to add
a comment on training. Hopefully we all realize that
what we do in training and subsequent practice is
what we will do under extreme stress. As the
designer of much of my departments’ firearms
training, Iam always looking for ways to make our
training recent, relevant and realistic. Our backup
gun training is no different. In ‘the old days’ our
backup gun training was much like our primary gun
training – which was much like everyone else’s
training. A bunch of cops would line up on a range
and stand still in a box while shooting a static, two-
dimensional, non-threatening paper target…NOT
very realistic.

In August of 1991, one of my best friends was
assassinated on duty by a lunatic with a hunting
rifle. While searching for witnesses to a “drive-by”
shooting, he came around the corner of a garage to
find the perp pointing a rifle at him. He squared off
on his target while yelling “Gun” but before he could
finish the draw he took a 30-06 round to the face.
He did exactly what he was trained to do. He stood
still in his firing block, faced his target, and died.
Since then I have always believed that he died as a
result of training. Departments are too worried
about how long it takes to train officers one at a
time or that moving and shooting might be unsafe.
Well, last time I checked this is not a safe job and
we owe it to our officers and ourselves to “Train for
the Real World… Not the Ideal World.”

Our current qualification courses are a bit different.
Officers who carry a backup gun must first qualify in
the old ‘ line dance ‘ fashion. The basic qualification
course incorporates some movement – both side
steps and step backs. Most of the course is fired
one-handed because, after all, if you are down to
your backup gun, it has probably gotten pretty
dirty, and proper stance, grip and follow-through
etc. are unlikely luxuries.

Once an officer has qualified with both the primary
and the backup guns (if applicable) on the basic
course designed for each, the officer must then
proceed to a tactical course. The tactical course is
an active, three-dimensional course that each officer
goes through on his or her own with an instructor
guiding the way. Our current course requires the
officer to exit a patrol car and retrieve his/her long
gun (which is required for every officer). The officer
must make a shot from cover on a 24 inch target
roughly 85 yards away. The officer then tactically
moves to another position of cover and engages
four, eight-inch plates at approximately 30 yards.
Once the long gun is empty, the officer discards it
and sprints to the next station about 50 yards
away where he/she engages a three-dimensional
“dummy” target with an ASP baton. The officer
must strike the dummy correctly until the instructor
declares the threat neutralized and the dummy is
“secured”.  The officer must then engage a steel
target with three shots, move to cover and engage
a second target with a minimum of three shots.
(Reactive targets must fall). The officer must
perform a combat reload at some point after which
the officer shoots left-handed on a reactive target
then right-handed on a separate reactive target.
(We like to make certain that our officers can shoot
with either hand because you never know which one
might become incapacitated.) We have a few more
similar stages where the officer is allowed to choose
how to engage the specific target within certain
parameters. Those officers that have a backup gun
are given the advantage of having five more rounds
to complete the course than the officers who do not
have backup guns. Typically, the ammunition round
count only allows for about three to five misses
over the entire course for those who do not have
backup guns.

We make the courses challenging because we have
realized over the years that most officers will rise or
fall to the standards that are set by the
department. Many claim that our course is “too
hard” but all of our officers can complete it –
though some may take more attempts than others.
Those that have trouble typically go out and buy a
backup gun to make the next qualification – or
gunfight for their lives – easier to finish
successfully. Shortcuts in training don’t do anyone
any good. Quite the contrary – they get people
killed. Twice a year each one of our officers goes
through at least one and sometimes two or three
entirely new and different courses designed to put
physiological and psychological stress on the officer.
We can’t put them in real gunfights but we can get
close.

Twice in the past year I have gotten a call from an
officer after his first gunfight. I cannot tell you how
good it feels to have someone credit the training
they received in one of my classes for saving their
lives. One of those officers was saved by his backup
gun. Who knows, maybe after reading these
articles, even more officers will rethink their training
and adopt some tactics that will keep them alive too.
More on Training
Sergeant Richard Nable is a member of the Fulton
County Police Department in Atlanta, Georgia.  He
is a certified firearms instructor and general
weapons enthusiast and is SWAT certified. He is an
internationally certified driving instructor and
teaches basic defensive driving as well as high
speed and pursuit driving.  Sergeant Nable is
considered an expert on a broad range of topics
related to law enforcement such as gun control,
profiling, immigration, use of force and much
more. He has appeared on Fox News Channel
several times and on WXIA TV in Atlanta as well as
radio media.
About the Author

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