Carrying a Back-up Firearm

Woman shooting a Browning Hi Power with a two-handed grip

One of the most famous gunfights of the 20th century occurred on April 11, 1986 in Miami-Dade County, Florida. On this day, 14 FBI agents met in the morning at a local Home Depot to plan their search for a stolen vehicle that was believed to be driven by two suspects who had carried out multiple bank robberies.

10mm Glock G29 under Glock G43 pistol
Glock’s 10mm power is not that much bigger than the 9mm G43, but it offers a lot more stopping power.

Around 9:30 a.m., two agents spotted the suspect vehicle and began following it until more agents were able to join them. In total, eight FBI agents were on scene when the lead vehicle attempted to make a traffic stop. The suspect vehicle, however, veered off the road and hit a tree.

Subsequently, the agents surrounded the suspect vehicle in an attempt to arrest the two males.

The two suspects, identified as William Matix and Michael Platt were armed with a shotgun, Ruger Mini 14, and .357 revolvers. The FBI agents involved in the shootout were armed with shotguns, .357 revolvers, 9mms, and .38 specials.

During the firefight, FBI agent Ed Mireles was severely wounded when his left arm was hit with a .223 round, rendering his arm useless. Mireles stayed in the fight and fired his 12 gauge shotgun until it ran dry.

The two suspects were still moving and attempting to get away from Mireles after he emptied his shotgun, so he drew his back up weapon, a Smith & Wesson 686 revolver and advanced on the suspects. Mirleles fired six rounds from his revolver with five of the rounds striking the suspects, hitting each of them in the face, ending the five-minute gun battle.

Smith and Wesson 686 plus revolver with open loaded cylinder
The seven-shot geometry of the 686 makes for a fast lock time.

Sadly, two FBI agents died in the firefight and all but one agent was wounded. Over 145 rounds were fired during the exchange, and there’s no doubt that had it not been for the actions of agent Mireles, more lives would have been lost.

The fact is, even though Mireles was injured, he stayed in the gunfight and transitioned to his back-up weapon to ultimately end the threat. Now, most people probably expect law enforcement to carry back-up weapons, but have you ever considered carrying one as part of your EDC gear?

Here are some pros and cons for carrying a back-up firearm.

Pros and Cons


If you are like me, you probably carry a gun, tactical pen, knife, flashlight, wallet, cell phone, and a keychain. My point is, your EDC gear can quickly add up, so adding an extra firearm might be too much to comfortably carry for some folks.

I know a lot of people who like to carry their back-up gun in an ankle holster. While this isn’t a bad idea, ensure you train and practice drawing from the ankle. If you do it wrong, you could easily get hurt. Personally, when I carry a back-up gun (it depends on where I’m going) I carry my back up in my front pocket.

Woman shooting a hi-power pistol
The modern Hi-Power 9mm is a great combat and personal defense handgun.

3 Shots, 3 Seconds, 3 Yards

Studies have shown that most gun fights involve an average of 3 shots being fired, lasting 3 seconds, and occurring at a distance of about 3 yards. In other words, in a self-defense situation, (hopefully) you won’t need multiple weapons to stop the threat.

Of course, as shown above, anything is possible. So, while you should be good to go by carrying a spare magazine only, you and I know that life is very unpredictable.


When it comes to carrying a back-up gun, you need to spend as much time practicing with this gun as you do with your main weapon.

I know a lot of guys who carry a back-up on their ankle and they often train to draw the weapon while falling backwards on their butt, while engaging the threat. Be prepared to train with your back-up weapon and consider choosing a back-up that is similar to your regular carry so you are familiar with it.


Browning Black Label 1911-380 Pro Stainless pistol
Browning’s Black Label 1911-380 Pro Stainless is available in full-size and compact versions, with an optional accessory rail. The slide is stainless steel and the barrel has a rust-­resistant satin-silver finish. Grips are a G-10 composite.

One of the biggest advantages to carrying a back-up weapon is that these days there are so many different back-up guns to choose from including the Ruger LCP and SIG Sauer P238. So, almost anyone can find a back-up gun that works for them.

Arm a Family Member

Let’s say you are out to dinner with your spouse when you spot an active shooter. Well, if your spouse or other family member is trained in the use of firearms, but doesn’t often carry, you could simply give them your back-up gun to help you confront the shooter.

The bottom line is, it can never hurt to have extra firepower on you. This is especially true if you’re heading into place that it might come in handy such as dangerous areas of town or through a city that’s experiencing violent protests at the moment.

Do you carry a back-up gun? Share the location of carry and model in the comment section.

Jason Hanson is a former CIA Officer and New York Times bestselling author of Spy Secrets That Can Save Your Life. To get a free copy of his book, visit

The Mission of Cheaper Than Dirt!'s blog, The Shooter's Log, is to provide information—not opinions—to our customers and the shooting community. We want you, our readers, to be able to make informed decisions. The information provided here does not represent the views of Cheaper Than Dirt!

Comments (32)

  1. EDC is a s&w mp shield 40 one in the pipe 7 round mag with spare 7 rd mag
    Backup in my boot holster s&w bodyguard 380 with laser sight one in the pipe 6rd mag with spare 6rd mag

  2. Whose idea was it to show the full-size 1911 in .380 in an article about backups? Either a second .45 or a small .380 would make more sense than having two identical heavy guns in two different calibers. I think you could carry two G26’s and a pair of 33-round reloads for that same weight.

  3. Since I was a young un running a nortwoods trap line I have always carried a back up weapon be it at times a big f’n knife, a pistol or a rifle.
    When cold enough the oil can freeze up a firing mechanism even a light coating and in youth our gun oils were not that great and my crackshotv22 used to dispatch animals once froze up and thinking it was broke, you ever try to club a beaver or fox to death, from then on I packed an old 32 caliber break top Smith I bought for 3 bucks as a bck up.
    In Nam my backup was an old family heirloom from WWI Colt 1911 in my ruck or waist.
    Back home hunting, my back up was a Ruger single six 22 cal for dispatching an animal in misery, and an AMT 380 Backup in ankle holster cuz a revovers six rounds or strong hand may be hurt and 6 revolver rounds not always enough. I still have AMT 380 , which I had originally bought as wifes primary but it was a kicking SOB and many times sliced web of thumb and trigger finger.
    Today I carry a primary 357 revolver or a modern 40, I call them my backup just in case I cannot talk my way out of or run from danger.
    Hunting one fine opening morn of Elk season my top sling swivel pulled loose and my non open sight scoped rifle fell down a steep rock bluff breaking the scope so I had to walk back to camp and make a fast round trip of ” Hello Dear,, Good-bye see ya soon Dear, 250 mile round trip in order to get my Custom too fancy to hunt with 30-06 converted Mauser.
    From that hunt on I always had a back up inexpensive but accurate same caliber bolt gun as my main rifle in a tough as heck newer 2 gun hard case.
    So I guess I can say I’m a believer of always having a backup weapon.

  4. I’ve always carried a backup when I carried as well as two reloads per gun. Been there, it’s saved my life several times!

  5. I carry a Kimber Ultra CDP in my rt front pocket with 2 back up magazines and a G26 in a belt bag (with a bunch of other stuff) with 1 magazine. I doubt I will ever have to use either. But as they say one is none, two is one.

  6. I ccw a Sig 938 Cond 1 aiwb, with a spare mag in my left cargo pocket for a total of 15 rounds of 9mm. On occasion, I also carry, in addition to to the 9mm, a Sig 238 in a pocket holster, cond 1, with a spare mag for a total of 15 rounds of .380 acp. All total, 30 rounds and quick change to .380 when the primary, 9mm, runs dry. Reload 9mm while covering with .380. That’s the plan.

  7. My primary is a glock 43 with a lone wolf trigger and a Vickers +2 magazine extension carried in a CYA iwb holster at the 2 oclock position!My secondary is a ruger LCP in a IWB crossdraw.In over 30 years of concealed carry I have never had to use my weapon and I hope I never have to!

  8. I carry an always gun but becomes a bug a lot. This is a small frame snubby revolver setup weak hand draw. I carry this gun like tbis for reasons not touched on in this article. My biggeat reason for this is the potential of my dominate hand be disabled or in use for some reason. Another reason is if I need to make a contact shot the revolver will work for sure.

    1. a good pocket gun I use is a EAA 357 magnum 6 shot, 2 inch barrel, 6 shot, fits perfectly in my pocket, , my EDC is a Sprinfield xdm 4.5 .45

    2. Remember, the average is 3 shots from 3 yards. Do you know that a pocket carry is a widely used tactic of LE officers on and off duty? A sheriff friend shared how having your hands in your pocket not looking threatening, you can actually have you subcompact gripped and ready to draw without advertising it like you would from a 6 o’clock or appendix position draw. With practice from common deep jean or slacks front pocket, it is a huge advantage.

  9. Hitting home…that gun battle was literally right behind my business (dixie belle shops).

    The agents were ill prepared except for Mirles. The best of the bunch was rendered useless as he was an Ace shooter but he lost his glasses..a little $1 store eye glass holder would have kept him in the fight.

    With that said, I purchased a P365 to get more rounds then my G43. Why? Likely never need ONE let alone THREE or 7!

    But ya never know…however, the P365 fails in comparison to the G43 IMHO except capacity. Unfortunately. it has been sent back to Sig’s longass return process.

    So, for me, if you have a reliable firearm that can shoot and you are what I call a low target person; one that is rarely in ‘bad places’ do you really need?

    Are you really good enough under high stress situation to be using back up firearms?

    There has yet been more then one or two CWP holder (Texas exception) that has really done anything during these ‘mass’ shootings.

    So while I’d like to be a badass with backups, extra mags etc…I rarely carry anything then my G43! I do now use my +2 so I have 9 Rounds. My only concern in malfunction: My entire earlier point about P365…
    In some 7500 rounds I’ve had maybe 2 failures from my G43. It shoots smooth, easy, etc.

    That day will be forever etched in my memory, and if you infer and draw conclusions, the men there were not as prepared as they should be. They’ve named the street after the two men that sacrificed their lives that day..

  10. I have had a concealed licence for over 48 years and always carry when I have my pants on. I usually carry a 5sht snobby with crimson trace laser grip,my COP Derringer or my Keltec 32. With green laser n extended mag. I feel perfectly fine with these on. I am not a cop.

  11. G19 – 3 o’clock
    G26 – Appendix
    Ruger LCR .38 – Ankle
    2 – G17 Mag w/Terran +5 & Flash Light @ 9 o’clock
    1 – G15 Mag w/Terran +5 @ 11 o’clock
    1 – 5 rnd Speed Strip (.38) – Ankle


    G19 – Appendix
    G26 – 4 o’clock
    G26 – 8 o’clock
    4 – G17 Mag w/Terran +5 @ 2 on each Left & Right Shoulder Rig

  12. P938 Sig Inside the waste Cross Draw. two extra Mag Critical Duty 9mm +P 135gr. primary Browning HP 9mm Critical Duty two extra mags. In the winter the extra mags in an over coat. CCW Permit holder!!!!!. In the Summer just the ammo in the Gun !!!!.

  13. I carried two backup pistols as a lawman, for two personally persuasive reasons:
    First, a handgun is a mechanical device, and a broken part can render an expensive, machined-steel sidearm into an expensive, machined-steel paperweight.
    Second, in an actual event, my partner’s revolver failed and became a paperweight: I handed him my backup revolver and we continued the engagement (the good guys won!)

  14. Hey Dave
    I think your suggesting that the carrying of a backup firearm is a sttickly personal decision that is decided upon by possible time, place, threat assesment and possible level of a required response.
    Given the current crop of high capacity pistols available it seems the need for a back up or hold out firearm is now a somewhat more specialized requirement better suited to under cover operatives, LE Detectives, possibly Military Special Operations and so on.
    I’m just not convinced that the ordinary citizen CCP holder would have the need for a holdout firearm or is likely to be well enough versed in its deployment for it to be an effective deterrent.
    It just seems that this may be avdpevislized skill set not exactly suited or needed by most citizens.
    If one actually found themselves in a position to have to engage with afire arm the Rule of 3 is indeed likely to be what is most likely encountered. Should a longer engagement ensue I don’t precise the need for those last 6 to 8 shots if one is already carrying one in the tube, a full mag on-board an let’s say two spare mags of standard capacity for your EDC pistol. Got an example only: In the case of a 1911 in .45 of current manufacture that would be a total of about 22 to maybe 27 rounds with two mag changes, Should one prefer say a Springfield XDm in .45acp those three mags an one in the tube raise that number to 40 rounds available with two mag changes. I just dont see a backup being of much use with this kind of available fire power. The number of available rounds goes up even more if your caliber choice is 9mm or .40sw.
    If the idea of a backup firearm Is looked at from the point of view of being available when it may be problematic to engage with one’s primary …. say while in a car or being woken up in bed, or perhaps as a secondary reserve in ones Go Bag. Then I see a more useful common thread for such a #2 platform to be used by more people. I also agree that it’s likely a good idea that one’s primary an secondary platforms be of the same caliber but that’s just a personal preference.
    If you just a citizen, who is CCW for their protection and those around them I’m just not seeing the need to carry two weapons when given that the odds and stastics say your only going to need one weapon.
    This is my personal view of CCW in what could be previeved as a most likely situations one might find themselves today. Times change as do the requirements to be aware.
    I’m sure that many will disagree, that ok. I’d like to hear those arguments …. they might have merit that change my own opinion.

    1. one argument for backup is having a fallback weapon should your primary fail. doesn’t seem like most people would ever find themselves with that need, though, given how reliable good-quality, widely available firearms and ammo have gotten.

  15. If I were LEA then yes I would always carry a back up. But as a citizen I already carry a Glock 30 with a spare magazine. Depends where you plan on going that day and carry accordingly.

  16. No, I don’t carry a back up, but am now considering it. About ready to get the wife her Carry permit. Want her to carry a 22 mag revolver, no exposed hammer, and a laser. She has trouble racking the slide on my old .380, so she’s pretty much set on a DA revover.
    I carry an extra mag, but they are FMJ rounds for my Glock 32. 13 rounds extra of auto/ car door piercing ammo.
    Wouldn’t carry that for self defense initially. Just for reloading, if I use 14 rounds!

  17. I carry a Glock 29 10mm primary in a shoulder rig concealed by a leather vest, an SCCY 9mm in an ankle holster and a K-Bar in a custom boot sheath.. Two extra 15 round mags for the Glock and one extra for the SCCY. Shortest gunfight I’ve personally participated in was about 15 seconds in July 1968, longest was 11 1/2 hours April 1969.. Leave nothing to chance, take care of your stuff and know how (and when) to use it .

  18. I haven’t held a New Mexico concealed carry license for several years, but when I got my first one in 2007 our mandated training specifically covered the fact that only one concealed weapon per licensee was permitted. This did NOT include weapons in vehicles, but it is something for concealed carry licensees from other states to be aware of when carrying concealed in New Mexico.

    1. New Mexico has ZERO reciprocity for CCW period, not even w/a Utah CCW permit which covers more states than ANY other permit out there & which I have as a nonresident. I also have my MT CCW permit (issued to residents only) & a CCW permit for WA state as I live in WA about 40% of the time as opposed to 60% of my time in MT. In NM as a nonresident I’m allowed to open carry only…NM is an open carry state, & in AZ I have no worries as no CCW permit is needed. I researched this heavily a few years back, calling multiple NM law enforcement agencies (got the same answer everywhere), because I make an annual buying trip to NM & AZ & spend a lot of money buying SW Native American jewelry for my warmer weather (May thru Sept) traveling business selling that jewelry. In addition to carrying my Beretta M9 in a cross-draw driving holster, w/3 extra15-round mags, I also double carry, either open in NM (in my auto-on leather holster that came with my Viridian Reactor 5 green laser sight), or concealed carry elsewhere, my Ruger LC9S (either IWB at 5 o’clock w/oversize shirt untucked vs a pocket holster depending on multiple factors), also w/3 extra 9-round extended mags. Both weapons are 9mm & I use Hornaday Critical Duty 135 grain FlexLock ammo. I’m set w/2 weapons, 98 rounds, all extra mags in fast perfect access, plus what no one has mentioned, a nonlethal means, the Sabre Police Magnum (Model#M-120L) triple spray containing CS military tear gas, oleoresin capsicum (red pepper) & UV dye. Extras beyond what’s already been noted include my almost 40 y/o Swiss Army Champion knife, my Gerber multi-tool, my collapsible baton, a 2 AA battery LED Maglite, & a little Gerber utility blade knife that folds & is excellent for pocket or belt! I also have an 8-shot Mossberg 500 close by most of the time w/8 extra rounds of 00 buckshot on the stock. May seem like overkill, but that’s exactly the point, & there is little if any printing w/wise dressing of clothes!

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