Rocky Boots Blog

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Best Backup Guns for Patrol Officers

carrying a backup gun

I was never one of those police officers who felt that a gadget could ever replace training and experience. However, I also knew that some tools were absolutely necessary and could make the difference between life and death. For this reason, all uniformed cops carry a duty pistol. But, what happens if that gun fails when you need it?

There are a multitude of reasons you should carry a secondary handgun – everything from being disarmed to easier access from positions other than standing. One of the most basic reasons for carrying a backup is that the primary weapon may fail. If a critical part breaks – and they do – there is nothing you can do in the field to make it work. Your only choice is to transition to another weapon.

Over my years of wearing the uniform, I carried a variety of backup guns, sometimes more than one. Some were department issued, while most were personal guns that were approved by the department. Based on my experiences in the field and on the range, here are the guns I can recommend.



There are only two revolvers I recommend without any hesitation: the J-frame Smith & Wesson and the Ruger LCR series. Both lines of guns are small framed five-shooters in .38 Special and .357 Magnum. Other calibers, such as .22 LR are available, but I do not recommend them.

J-frame S&W revolvers come in a variety of flavors, though I have always preferred the “hammerless” models like the Model 642. In fact, my 642 rode with me every day I was on the job. Even when I carried another backup gun, the 642 was still on my person – sort of a backup to a backup if you will. Through years of training, that gun earned my absolute confidence and I wouldn’t have felt right to leave it in the locker.

The LCR is a newer gun from Ruger, but it is approaching a decade of service in the hands of law enforcement officers and armed citizens. I’ve shot these guns and find them to be excellent performers. I bought my Smith years before the LCR was introduced. If I had to do it over, I would be hard pressed to select one over the other.

In an age of high capacity pistols, why would I use a five shot revolver? Reliability. Revolvers tend to be highly reliable and resilient even when exposed to mud, grime, water and other nasty things cops encounter. From carrying on an ankle or in a pocket, backup guns can be exposed to a lot of things. They are not infallible, but wheel guns tend to be solid performers.

I’m not the only one who thinks so either. Long time cop and publisher of the police blog Thin Blue Florida, Randall stated “A BUG should offer absolute reliability since it is employed when the primary gun has failed or is unavailable.  Mechanically, a revolver offers the best chance of putting bullets on target when lives are in the balance.” I couldn’t agree more.

Like me, Randall carries a J-frame Smith & Wesson. His choice: the M&P 340 with the XS Sights tritium sight up front and a set of Crimson Trace Lasergrips. Although it is a .357 Magnum revolver, he chooses to stoke it with the combat proved Speer Gold Dot 135 grain .38 Special +P load.

Semi-Automatic Pistols


While I have a stated love of revolvers, I would never suggest that modern pistols are unreliable or otherwise cannot serve as a good backup gun. Actually, pistols can offer a lot of advantages including a flatter profile for concealment, higher capacity, better sights and, in some cases, magazine compatibility with the primary duty weapon.

I’ve carried both a Glock 26 and 27 pistol in an ankle holster over the years. The 26 was my own, while the 27 was issued to me by an agency. While these guns are thicker than I would like for concealment, they still can be hidden on an ankle or a vest. In 9mm, the G26 will take the magazines from your full size Glock 17 or 19 pistol. Likewise, the 27 will take the higher capacity mags from a .40 caliber Glock 22 or 23 duty pistol.

If ease of concealment is a higher priority than magazine compatibility, the Glock 43 is an excellent choice. Although the single stack magazine holds fewer rounds than a G26, it also makes the gun significantly thinner and lighter. I’ve done quite a bit of shooting with this gun during the past year, and it has proved to be every bit as reliable as my larger Glock pistols.

Not married to the Glock? There are a lot of other good options. I carried the value priced Kahr CM9 for a time, and liked both the way it carried and shot. The longer trigger pull was closer to my 642, which may or may not be interesting to you.

If you prefer a striker fired pistol with a relatively short pull, I recommend three additional guns for your consideration: the Springfield Armory XD-s, the Walther PPS and the Smith & Wesson M&P Shield. All three of these guns are top quality, have been excellent performers for me, and can be easily concealed under your uniform.

There are other pistols that you can consider for a backup gun, but these are my favorites. All have proved themselves to me to be reliable, accurate and concealable. Sound off below: what are you carrying as a backup gun?

Richard Johnson


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