The subject of secondary, or “back-up”, guns has been debated to death over the years, and I’d rather not beat that dead horse. But, I’m asked about it on a regular basis and I think I might be able to throw in a few thoughts that are often left out of the debate.

My approach here is not should I do it, but why I do it. Also, I refrain from calling either of my guns a “back-up.” I refer to both as primaries, and I refer to both as secondaries – It all depends on which one I draw first, which I’ll elaborate on later.

I carry at least two guns 99.8% of the time. Every now-and-then it’s simply not an option, but I make it a daily habit under normal circumstances. Here’s why (I’ll start with the common reasons usually mentioned):


1- Guns break. Every gun regardless of brand, when used, will eventually break. I’ve actually broken 5 Glocks over the years. Such events require new parts and/or attention of an armorer. As an Instructor, I see mechanical failures of pistols on a regular basis; enough so that I consider it a distinct possibility in a fight. These failures are always a complete surprise to the owners and occur at the most inconvenient of times. I’m personally not interested in finding myself without the second gun option when my first becomes a paperweight.

2- Guns incur stoppages. Failures to feed, extract, eject, and fire, as well as reverse feeds, are common. I see such things constantly in class. There are multiple causes for each of those occurrences, but diagnosing the cause is not a priority during a defensive situation. A tap/rack will fix most problems, but not always. Default to secondary.

3- Drawing a second gun is a faster way to reload. Often referred to as ‘The New York Reload (a term coined by Massad Ayoob), it’s a tactic that comes to us by way of Jim Cirrilo of the New York Stakeout Unit. Jim carried two Smith & Wesson M&P revolvers (later designated as the Model 10), and when asked about his reloading technique replied, “I don’t put too much emphasis on the reload, because when my first gun goes out I go to the second one, and when that goes out I go to the third gun, and when that goes out…” [Ref. Tales of the Stakeout Squad, by Kirchner, pg 35] In my travels I have yet to meet anyone who has reloaded their gun during a citizen involved defensive shooting, but we have had incidents evolve during force-on-force scenarios where tap/racking or transitions to secondary have occurred due to the primary gun experiencing a failure. In every case, transitioning to a secondary was ridiculously faster than any attempt at fixing the misbehaving primary. The only exception being guns carried in ankle holsters – those tend to create more problems than they solve when fights are up close and personal.


Those 3 reasons comprise most of the standard rationale behind the “back-up” gun. This may surprise many, but they are barely in the running for reasons I carry two guns. As is usually argued by those who think a second gun is a waste of time, citizen involved gunfights in America are typically three seconds long, happen within three steps of the offender, and require three shots. The time one is involved in this fight offers little window for drawing secondary guns, or even tap/racking…maybe.

Those numbers are arrived at from situations where the vast majority of guns deployed by defenders actually function and result in a physical or psychological stop. It’s that rare occasion when my gun doesn’t work that is our real concern, and the data on those events is minimal.

When one fights with the Henk Iverson truism of ‘Position before transition’, one could foresee circumstances unfolding where an attacker is fought off and distance is created, so I’m not willing to say a tap/rack or transition to secondary could never occur. But, as already stated, I have yet to hear of a citizen involved defensive shooting where anyone reloaded their gun during the fight. There very well may have been one, but I can’t name it. And even if one exists it would be in the exception that proves the rule vein. So, it’s a consideration, but not much of one.


More to the point of why I carry two:

4– I carry two pistols in different positions to allow draw of at least one regardless of how I’m pinned against a wall or how I land on the ground. It also gives me a better draw option when seated or riding in a vehicle, especially with a seatbelt on.

5- I carry two pistols in different positions that will allow me to draw with either my right or left hand. I may start this fight with an injured limb, holding on to something important (like a child), or dragging another person. The practice gives me options.

6- I can arm a second person. Many of us wish that more people we know and love were armed, but the reality is that some just choose not to be. Those reasons range from reasonable to ridiculous, but, the reality is that we often find ourselves in the company of those who know how to operate defensive weapons but are without them. Passing a gun to a second person changes their status from someone I have to shepherd to a force multiplied partner. Also, as distasteful as the thought is, carrying my pistols in different positions will allow those I’m close with to retrieve a gun from my lifeless body regardless of how it hits the ground.

7- I can re-arm myself. Have I ever dropped a gun during a drill or force-on-force training? You bet. Sweat, blood, stress, close contact, climbing ladders, taking a fall, taking a hit in the strong hand, etc., all contribute to the potential. Could there be a fight for my gun that I lose? Hate to say it, but there is a chance. I train to prevent that, but nothing is 100%. Numbers 4 through 7 are, in my opinion, more important reasons to carry two guns, but they still aren’t the main reasons that I do.

Frank Sharpe’s present everyday carry ensemble.


I don’t carry two guns in anticipation of a mugging; I carry two guns in anticipation of being present when a group of murderers, hell bent on taking as much life as possible, begin doing so.

We do not live in 1950’s America anymore. There are legitimate threats that are bigger and more destructive than the common criminal. I walk this Earth with that in mind, and the equipment to respond. Granted, it’s not the best equipment due to concealment issues, but it’s the best I can do under the circumstances.

At least two guns that share the same magazine, a reload, blades, a trauma kit & tourniquet, a proper flashlight, and the ammunition choice of Corbon DPX – that gear goes out the door with me every day. Two guns and a reload will keep me in the fight longer against multiple attackers – simple as that. 46-rounds gives me time – time to escape, evade, and take out threats. And, in fact, I’m considering adding a second reload to my gear.

Mumbai, Beslan, Nairobi…these are not interesting historical footnotes, they are WARNINGS. And a study of them leaves one seeing 50+ rounds as the bare minimum. Throw in the beheading of a woman in Oklahoma last week, and picture of the future starts to form.

As John Farnam so often says: Your next fight will be a come as you are affair.

There will be no running back to the car to grab your med kit. There will be no helicopters dropping resupply. You’re not going to “fight your way to your rifle.” If it’s not with you, you won’t have it.

Some will still argue that carrying two guns is too much – that they’ll never both be needed and I’m just being paranoid. My answer to that is: I sure hope so.


Frank Sharpe
Fortress Defense Consultants

19 thoughts on “FRANK SHARPE: On backup guns”
  1. Great article. Forgive me if you’ve mentioned it in another one, I happened on this website by chance via a Facebook link, but I plan to make it a regular visit now. You mentioned being against ankle holsters because of their close quarter shortcomings. Assuming strong side hip or lumbar is your primary, what is your secondary draw position? I’m new to carrying one firearm, I’m curious where / how you carry multiple without feeling cumbersome. Thanks!

    1. Both of my pistols, when I only carry two, are located at various points on my waistline. That can very from one over each kidney, to a left and right appendix, to a combination.

      What works for my may not necessarily work for others.

      We do this long enough, and all of us end up with a box of used holsters from experimenting.

      I find ankle holsters a reasonable choice for those who are seated most of the day. Bank managers, taxi drivers, executive protection personnel who drive, etc… But for most of us, hopping on one foot, tying up both hands in the draw, or dropping to a knee is just a great way to lose a fight.

  2. I agree but few not in LE or security will do so. I am in and out of restricted areas all day and must leave behind my tools often. Unpacking multiple guns is too difficult. I prefer to deep carry one gun and a knife. Most places will let me carry the knife but not the gun. I do occasionally risk it but I could never get away with a G19 size gun much less two of them.

    1. Not trying to be a jerk, just asking: Why are you attempting explain yourself to the world.

      I’m not saying anything you’re doing is right or wrong, I’m just curious about your motivation here.

  3. Since I’m using a pseudonym, I’ll just say that I may or may not simply practice deep carry in “no guns” areas I’m forced to visit, including my workplace.

  4. I’m in complete agreement Frank.

    One thing I will say is that I’ve taken to referring to the additional pistol as my second gun, rather than my backup gun. As you point out, depending on the circumstances, either gun may get drawn first, so it’s not really a backup in the traditional sense, it’s more of a duplicate of my primary gun. This may seem like a fine point of terminology, but I think how we think about and talk about this second pistol has implications for what sort of second gun we choose to carry (a real service pistol rather than a J-frame or itty-bitty semi-auto) and how we carry it (easily accessible, rather than tucked away in an ankle holster or pocket).

  5. Yes thank you Frank , I needed that….. Last week I had a jam on my carry , that took a while to clear . I have been thinking about that a LOT. So I will proceed on your advice. That I have not planned to do. And. Again , thanks. !

  6. outstanding article sure helped me consider carrying two guns I have been considering the situation now that I’m getting my Illinois concealed carry I carry a 1911 and I have often wondered about carrying two guns because of issues beyond your controlI see your day pack so to speak and wondered about the comfortability of it I myself am considering maybe six magazines of 8 and wondering about comfortability think I might be thinking too extreme

    1. Chuck, far be it from me to tell anyone how to live, and I certainly can’t predict how anyone’s gunfight is going to go.

      My advice (as much as that’s worth) to someone in your situation, is to forego 6 magazines and replace that weight with a second gun. I have an old Milt Sparks 6-pack 1911 mag carrier. Possibly one of the most awkward things I’ve ever tried to use for carry.

      Louis Awerbuck carried a Para Ordnance double stack 1911 as a primary for most of his life as a teacher. He usually carried a Glock of some sort as a secondary. He wasn’t concerned about magazine compatibility or caliber, he was concerned with his stupid hand (meaning support side hand) being able to get ahold of his secondary and only have to press a trigger. No manual safety, etc…

      There’s probably some merit to that thought.

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