I have heard it said many times, “The first rule of a gunfight is have a gun!” The gun left home or in a locker won’t do you any good when needed. There is a vast array of topics when discussing backup guns. In this article, I will address some of the advantages and disadvantages of small frame revolvers that have long been a choice of law enforcement professionals.
In an age of laser sights, electronic optics and weapon mounted flashlights; they remain a viable choice for today’s modern law enforcement professional. I carry a .40 S&W semi-auto handgun on duty. Why do I choose a revolver for my backup? Because as something I need in a last ditch, fight for life scenario it is reliable. Most of today’s semi-auto handguns are very reliable. But with my Smith & Wesson 642 in .38SPL, I can trust that it will fire and not jam due to dirt, ammo or interference within the slide and action. If I can pull the trigger, it’s going to fire, and that is very comforting indeed. If the shot does fail to fire, simply pulling the trigger again lines up another round without having to complete a malfunction clearance.
If a backup gun isn’t light and comfortable to carry it is more apt to get left behind by an officer already carrying the weight of their duty belt and body armor. The most common calibers for these firearms are .38SPL and .357 Magnum. This could be seen as a disadvantage over the ability to carry a smaller version of your duty weapon in the same caliber, some of which accept the full-size magazines readily available on your belt. While this is certainly a consideration, whatever you choose, make sure you are comfortable with your selection.
Another consideration is the ability to arm another officer or trusted individual in an emergency. Backup guns are the last ditch life preserver in an extreme emergency. If I’m in a demanding situation, I don’t have time. I need to fight for life, mine and the public’s, NOW. I have, at least once in my career, been in a situation where I had a fellow officer respond to assist without a weapon. This officer also worked at a prison where employees were forbidden to have firearms, even in their personal vehicles on property. I was on scene where a victim had been shot and the suspect was still armed and in the area. Knowing it was just me and another officer on scene and, despite being unarmed, this officer responded to the scene to assist after hearing the call on his way home. Argue his choice as you may, but his sense of duty to his fellow officers led him to act. Thankfully, I was able to arm him with my backup weapon and thus put another armed officer on scene. That gave us an increased tactical advantage and added safety.
In an emergent situation, you most likely won’t have time to teach the person you are arming the particular operation of your backup weapon. At the time, I carried a small semi-auto pistol and he was unfamiliar with its operation. With the revolver, there isn’t much more than pulling the trigger until it’s time to reload. Any officer with at least a basic knowledge of firearm operation should be able to safely operate a revolver. There’s no need for me to cite statistics regarding officers who have had their weapon taken away and were shot with it and/or it was used against others. Also, firearms can and will malfunction. We all know it has happened and, unfortunately, is almost certain to happen again. Whatever you decide, I encourage you to train hard, keep a winning mindset and stay safe.
Laurence Dennis has been in law enforcement for approximately fifteen years. He has served as a FTO, sergeant, investigator and a chief of police. He is a certified field training officer, firearms, OC spray and baton instructor. He began his career in Florida and is currently a full time police officer in Tennessee.