When we were trying to develop the cover and interior art for this month's issue, which focuses primarily on weapons and ammunition and particularly on backup guns, we were at a bit of a loss.

Backup guns are a difficult concept to illustrate, especially in the vertical dimensions of a standard magazine cover. Oh, sure, we could have shown a small pistol in an ankle holster. But that bored us, and we knew it would bore everyone else as well. So we started playing with the concept of what is a backup gun? At first, we brainstormed artwork that visually compared the guns to insurance policies. But that just didn't work.

So we moved on to the concept of a backup gun as an emergency tool like a firehose or an extinguisher. Consequently, our art department and a freelance photographer came up with the concept of "break glass in case of emergency." And, pardon my French, "Voila," we had our cover.

Why am I telling you all about the process of creating one cover for one issue of this magazine? Here's why. It's background. It's a foundation of information that you need to understand what follows. Because what's important about this story is not the cover concept that we used. It's the one we rejected.

Minutes away from the shoot for the "break glass" concept, the photographer called me and pitched another idea. He wanted to create a cover based on the "Priceless" ad campaign that's been such a hit for MasterCard.

You know the commercials we're talking about. They've been running on TV for about six years now, and they go something like this:

The visual is a father and son at a baseball game. Over this image, the announcer says: "Two tickets to a Major League Baseball game, $50. Giant foam finger, $10. Real conversation with your 10-year-old son, priceless."

Our photographer's comment was that cops, like everybody else, would rather buy toys than the things that really matter in life. His concept was this:

We show a picture of a motorcycle with the caption, "New Harley-Davidson Fatboy, $20,000." Then we show a picture of a speedboat with the caption, "New 17-foot Searay ski boat, $20,000." And finally, we show a photo of a compact semiauto pistol with the caption, "priceless."

We rejected the "priceless" cover for a couple of reasons. It's really hard to put three pictures on a magazine cover; all that text would "fight" with the cover copy, and it wouldn't read at a glance. But we liked the message, and we thought it's one that you ought to hear.

Now, you're probably asking, "What does a magazine photographer know about being a cop?" Plenty, at least in in this case.

The photog in question is POLICE advisory board member Roy Huntington. As many of you know, Roy is a retired cop who served on the San Diego Police Department, who used to sit in my chair, and who's now the editor of American Handgunner magazine. Roy's advice to young cops is to carry a backup gun, and he tells you exactly why you should have one.

And if that's not enough to convince you, consider the comments by another retired cop who also talks about backup guns in this issue. In his intro to "Calling for Backup" Gary Paul Johnston recalls how rapidly the Los Angeles cops started carrying backup guns following the mid-1960s "Onion Field" cop killing and how important it is for today's cops to have a little extra firepower.

The bottom line for both of these distinguished retired officers is that they would no sooner hit the streets without a second gun than without a bullet-resistant vest. And you should follow that lead because if you ever need it that second gun is going to be priceless.

Unfortunately, in some cases, you know that you need a second gun, but your agency won't let you have it. There are still chiefs and sheriffs out there who prohibit their officers and deputies from carrying a backup gun.

And I want to know about it. If your agency prohibits backup guns, go to www.policemag.com, click your mouse on the "write the editor" button, and drop me a line. Just tell me the name of the agency, and I'll use this information to write a feature on why some agencies won't allow backup guns in an upcoming issue. I won't use your name or publish your information unless you specifically ask me to.

If your department lets you carry a backup gun, and you don't have one, get one. If you have one and don't carry it because its uncomfortable or you just don't think you need it, then ask yourself, what will you do if some recently paroled pumped-up gorilla takes your sidearm away and tries to turn it on you?