JULY 18, 2017

Editor's Notebook. "Back-up" Guns

Often, the second gun is smaller-but-nearly-the-same as the holster gun -- in this case, the Glock 26 (below) was carried in support of the Glock 19. Both fed reliably from Glock 19 magazines, a pair of which were carried. This was the load-out for a detective supervisor.
It seems like there's a need to return to context periodically. We seem to forget why it is we did what we did back in the day – and why it can still be a good idea today. One such issue is the so-called back-up gun. Normally a smaller gun than the "primary" gun, it's available for use when it's critical to have it. Most people – sworn and non-sworn – won't ever use back-up guns. I started early, like 1978-early. The reason was that people who'd genuinely been there recommended it. These included Evan Marshall who started at Detroit, MI PD some years before I took up this "life of crime." His position was supported by people like Border Patrol Agent -Sheriff-Police Officer-US Customs Supervisory SA Charles A. "Skeeter" Skelton and top-flight gunman and all-around good guy Jim Cirillo, NYPD/US Customs. I figured if those guys thought it was a good idea it should be okay for me. I became generally known for it when I had to disarm when taking people into the jail. "You sure you got 'em all?" I just shrugged and hoped that I did. Many people called the second gun the "New York Reload," something that Jim and others had done operationally. That wasn't the sole reason for having another heater.
That's a Colt Cobra in a cross-draw holster carried in support of a revolver on the other side. This was Jim Cirillo's set-up during a class and exemplified the second gun as a "New York Reload."
One of the training slogans that irritate people so these days is "two is one, one is none." True for flashlights – which never seemed to work when we needed them – it's absolutely the deal when the gun you rely on takes a dump. In fights, guns have taken hits from incoming rounds, been disabled. Some just stop working in the fight – they're mechanical devices. All mechanical devices will fail. It's the nature of the beast. Worse, you could lose your main handgun. This could be simply losing your grasp and being unable to get it back or it could be a gun grab by someone who's "bigger and badder." Having that second gun to shed some light on the problem is more than worth the weight. But just having that second gun is meaningless if you don't practice its use – and I don't mean just shooting it to ensure it works. For me, the second gun is the piece I transition to; similar to transition drills from shotgun/carbine to holster gun. That means that "make ready" begins with checking and holstering the second gun first – then checking and holstering the main handgun. The 'fall-back' is always prepped and checked first. It's the life line, the thing that brings you back from the darkest, meanest place.
The back-up gun from 1978, S&W Model 60 with the hammer bobbed and a Tyler T-grip.
It's worth it to set-up your main firearm to go to slide-lock or other failure with one round, for training purposes only, then go to the second gun for one or more rounds. This can be -- and should be – practiced dry as well. Finally, do your visualization exercises as well. Consider going to the back-up gun when you find your belt holster empty -- and other scenarios. If you don't train with it, you'll be like the officer in the old ATF training film "Psyche of Survival." He was at a position during a protracted gun battle and ran dry. He said he made the conscious decision to return to his car – under fire – to get more ammo. He had a six-shot .38 revolver on his person the whole time – something he realized after the battle. It's not a talisman, it's a tool. Evan Marshall told of an officer murdered as he tried to reload his duty gun. They found his .38 back-up gun holstered on his ankle during the post-mortem. My first presentation at a national trainers' group was on 'reflexive response training with the back-up gun.' I did that class for several years and reprised it for IALEFI – International Association of Law Enforcement Firearms Instructors – two years before I retired. The back-up gun is worth it if you're up to it. Like everything else, that's your decision. You're responsible for your own salvation. -- Rich Grassi