ASAA   Europe



If you ask the average shooting enthusiast for his definition of a backup gun, he'll likely tell you that it's a small handgun, usually in a diminutive caliber such as .22, .25, .32 or .380. If he's particularly well-versed in recent news media hype—and who isn't these days? -- he also might add that most of the time such guns are used mostly for illegal purposes and should therefore be banned. In short, he has confused the so-called "Saturday Night Special" (SNS), a cheap, poor quality pocket pistol and its intended purpose, with the true hideaway handgun.

Without a doubt, some SNS's are also used as backup guns, but to say that the two are synonymous is untrue. The confusion is compounded by the fact that backup guns are specifically intended for "social functions,"—in other words, self-defense applications. Their express purpose is to save your life on some dark, lonely street or parking lot when you've lost your primary handgun.

A true backup gun is normally a high-quality arm, often in an effective man-stopping caliber and is not necessarily small. The term "back up gun" means exactly what it implies -- a gun that can be concealed, meaning also that the physical size and clothing preferences of the wearer influence the issue at least as much as the characteristics of the gun itself. There is nothing that requires a hideaway to be a pocket pistol or SNS.

Though pocket pistols are often used in backup gun roles, so are Colt M1911 .45s, 6-1/2 inch barreled S&W N-frame .357s, and so on. If its owner can effectively and conveniently conceal it, then a backup gun it is. It's simply a question of what he's willing to do to accomplish the job. There is also no stipulation that a backup gun must be chambered for an anemic caliber, although true pocket pistols do generally fall within this category.

Frankly, considering that backup guns are intended primarily for an anti-personnel role, the selection of something more potent isn't a bad idea! Thus, service handgun calibers like the 9mmP, .38 SPL, .357 magnum, .40 auto, 10mm auto, .41 magnum, .44 SPL and .45 ACP fulfill the need quite well.

So, when we get right down to it, a hideaway handgun is whatever we wish—as long as we're willing to do whatever we must to conceal it. It can utilize whatever cartridge we want it to—in fact, the more potent it is, within reason, of course, the better!

In order to make the backup gun more "user friendly," there are some modifications that, while minor in scope, contribute major increases in serviceability. For a revolver, round-butting, reducing the size of or eliminating the hammer spur, narrowing and polishing the trigger, and "de-horning" frames, rear sights and cylinder release latches, help greatly. So does lightly chamfering the chamber-mouths and relieving the left-side stock panel and cylinder release latch so a speed-loader will clear.

For your backup self-loader, the installation of high-visibility, fixed sights, "de-horning" the grip frame and thumb safety, a trigger job and "throating" the feedway area are just the ticket. And the application of a corrosion/wear resistant finish won't hurt either. My preference is Metalife SS Chromium M, but hard chrome, electroless nickel, NP-3 and several other industrial hard finishes have much merit.

Ammunition selection for a back up can be a ticklish matter, for if your weapon has a short barrel, traditional JHP bullet performance may leave much to be desired. Projectile velocities from short tubes are much lower, thus often precluding reliable bullet expansion. For this reason, many experts suggest selection of a caliber that isn't dependent upon bullet upset to function effectively. So, besides increased muzzle blast and recoil, don't expect too much from your short-barreled .38 SPL or .357 magnum.

This is why I prefer calibers of .40 (10mm) and larger—they're already large and punch a big hole whether the bullet expands or not. If so, fine, I'm that much further ahead of the game, but if not, I haven't placed myself in an unnecessarily critical situation as a result. However, if you prefer calibers under .40, one alternative is to use some form of special-purpose ammunition, such as the Glaser Safety Slug. The Glaser is a long-time favorite of mine, especially for snubbies, and has much to offer as long as you keep its purpose and limitations in mind.

Leather gear, too, is important. Remember that if you can't comfortably carry your backup gun, how well it shoots is irrelevant—because you will have left it at home! A myriad of holster designs are now available, so to insure best results, carefully evaluate your needs and life-style before you buy. I prefer M.D. Labs, Blade-Tek, Gordon Davis and Milt Sparks because their superior knowledge of self-defense handguns is reflected in their work.

Having said this, when all is said and done, training more than anything else, remains the key to success. And be certain that such training is geared to your needs. Being an excellent bullseye, PPC or IPSC shooter means little when you're caught in the middle of a gunfight! Competitive shooting, while fun and interesting, has no resemblance whatsoever to actual combat. Thus, any instruction undertaken should address the real problems inherent to a combat situation and integrate the law, common sense tactics, and physical technique into an easily understood format.

In summary, theory alone has little place in a life and death situation, so be sure that you select the best weapon, ammunition, holster and spare ammo carrier for your needs. Then, be positive that the correct modifications are made to them and find the best training available. Then, and only then, will you have done all you can to insure that the cards are stacked in your favor when the chips are down and the bullets start flying. It might take a little time and effort to efficiently accomplish this goal, but when your life's on the line and the bullets fly, you'll be glad you did.




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American Small Arms Academy
PO Box 12111
Prescott, AZ 86304

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