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
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

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

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

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
About the Author

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