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Our Guide to Backup Guns

A second gun is the best insurance policy a cop can carry.

June 01, 2003  |  by Gary Paul Johnston

When I became a police officer in Los Angeles in 1963, many of us with the LAPD carried what was then called a "second gun." That second gun was most often a snubnose (2-inch barrel) double-action revolver in the same caliber as our issue 6-inch barrel .38 Special Colt or Smith & Wesson duty revolver.

My second gun was a Colt Detective Special revolver that I carried in the right pocket of my duty jacket. A hole cut inside the pocket allowed me to shoot the gun without removing it from the pocket.

When approaching any situation such as a traffic stop, I could grip my second gun in my pocket with my right hand and hold a flashlight in my left. When necessary, I simply removed my right hand to accept identification or take field notes. Although thousands of people never knew it, or were offended by it, they were always covered by my second gun.

Shortly after I started carrying my second gun, cops started using the terms "backup gun" and "hideout gun" to distinguish between two different types of second guns. The difference was that a backup gun was one that was immediately accessible, or nearly so, while a hideout gun was one that was secreted somewhere to be used in case the officer was kidnapped.

The possibility of being kidnapped was heavy on the minds of LAPD officers in the mid-1960s because of the kidnapping of their fellow Officers Bob Hettinger and Ian Campbell whose story inspired the book and movie, "The Onion Field."

Hettinger and Campbell had the misfortune that long-ago evening to pull over a couple of smalltime crooks for a minor traffic violation. The bad guys panicked, pulled a gun on the officers, disarmed them, and abducted them. They then took Hettinger and Campbell up to an onion field in Bakersfield and murdered Campbell. Hettinger escaped.

Hettinger said later that during the drive north of Los Angeles into the rural areas of Kern County that he and Campbell had numerous opportunities to use a weapon if either of them had had one. This incident prompted the LAPD to encourage its officers to carry backup guns and hideout guns. It's still a very good policy for cops.

Backup guns are usually in the same caliber as the duty sidearm. In contrast, a good hideout gun is more than likely of a smaller caliber than your duty weapon. The hideout gun is often a pocket-size, semi-automatic pistol or a derringer. Also backup guns are usually capable of combat accuracy out to 10 to 25 yards, while a hideout gun is usually limited to no more than a few yards and sometimes much less.

Good hideout guns are small enough that they can be secreted just about anywhere on a cop's person. I've seen tiny hideout guns carried in a boot, set into an ankle holster, suspended on a chain or lanyard around the neck, concealed in a back pocket, and snugged into an officer's groin.

Don't be too quick to scoff at such pistols, just because they are chambered for .22 Long Rifle, .22 Magnum, or other small caliber rounds. Hideout guns are small, but that doesn't mean they aren't lethal. I've seen as many people killed or instantly disabled by small caliber pistols as any other. These bullets aren't as big or as powerful as duty rounds, but they often bounce around inside the body instead of going in a straight line. So they can do an immense amount of damage.

Whether your second gun is a backup gun or a hideout gun is not as important as the fact that you have one and you have a clear understanding of its role and its effectiveness. As many a cop can attest, a second gun can save your life.

So now that you know you need a second gun, it's time to look at some of the pistols that are available in this category.

Some law enforcement administrators unfortunately prohibit their officers from carrying second guns that are not issued. However, they need to recognize that depriving an officer of this proven means of saving his or her life in a crisis could constitute an enormous liability.

If your agency lets you carry a second gun, be sure that it is reliable and that you fully understand its intended role and limitations. Most importantly practice and/or qualify with it at least periodically. Your life could depend on it.


Manufactured by Excel Industries, Accu-Tek semi-automatic pistols are available in single-action and double-action-only models in .32 ACP, .380 ACP, and 9mm. All of these models have barrels of 3 inches or less and are available in blue and stainless.

American Derringer

In addition to its traditional single-action, over/under Derringer available in .25 caliber, American Derringer offers two-shot double-action models configured for .22 Long Rifle, .38 Special, 9mm, and .40 S&W. These traditional Derringer models do not have trigger guards. If this is important to you, you may want to consider American Derringer’s LM4 Simmerling .45 ACP double-action repeating pistol.

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Comments (1)

Displaying 1 - 1 of 1

AnalogDog @ 2/25/2016 1:32 PM

It was called the Semmerling manually cycled the slide, like a pump shotgun. Wish I'd never sold mine, because the originals go for about 3-5K now! Superb, superb backup...easy to hit with.
Real world, still ain't nothing wrong with a Charter Arms bulldog in 44 special, or the new Pitbull in 40S&W.

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