Our Guide to Backup Guns

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."

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.[PAGEBREAK]Beretta

Before Beretta became the vendor of choice for U.S. military and before the model 92 was adopted by numerous American law enforcement agencies, the company was renowned for its small semi-automatic pistols. The company’s reputation for compact, high-quality pistols and personal experience with the Model 92, make Beretta a likely choice for many an officer’s second gun.

Beretta’s 9000S is the largest of its pocket pistols. Available in 9mm and .40 S&W, this pistol has a 3.5-inch barrel and is offered in double-action only. Using a technopolymer frame, the 9000S weighs in at about 27 ounces. If you’re looking for a truly tiny second gun, you may want to try Beretta’s “cat” family: the Tomcat, Bobcat, and Alley Cat. Offered in .22 Long Rifle, .25 ACP, and .32 ACP, these double-action guns all have a 2.4-inch barrel and weigh from 12 ounces to 16 ounces. For a single action second gun, there is the .25 ACP Beretta Jetfire.

Bond Arms

Probably the strongest over/under Derringer in the world, Bond Arms’ Texas Defender has features Remington never dreamed of for its Model 32 .41 caliber Derringer when it was created a century ago. Available in most popular handgun calibers, the Texas Defender has 3-inch barrels, weighs 21 ounces, and is lockable.


Glock’s duty sidearms such as the Glock 17 and Glock 34 need little introduction, but less famous is its line of compact pistols. The Glock 26, 27, 29, 30, 33, and 36 are all small versions of the company’s
full-size models and are available in a variety of calibers: 9mm, .40 S&W, 10mm, .357 SiG, and .45 ACP. They not only operate exactly the same as their duty grade counterparts, but in some cases will accept the longer hi-cap magazines as well. This is one reason why some departments have started issuing a Glock sidearm and a smaller Glock as a second gun. New this year is the .45 Glock cartridge. The .45 Glock is about 2 millimeters shorter than the .45 ACP, and fits into pistols using a 9mm magazine-size envelope such as Glock’s  new model 37 (pictured). The same size as the .40 caliber Glock 22, the Glock 37 is a single-column magazine pistol in the new .45 Glock caliber.

Kahr Arms

Offering two “full-size” pistols in stainless steel, Kahr Arms also now makes variations of these guns with polymer frames in both 9mm and .40 S&W. The result is a weight of only 18 ounces compared to an already light 26 ounces. Smaller yet but a little heavier than the polymer models is Kahr’s all stainless steel Micro pistol, configured either as the MK9 (9mm) or MK40 (.40 S&W) pistol. With its 3-inch barrel, the Micro weighs just 23 ounces. Like all Kahrs, it is double-action only. Kahr’s newest addition is the PM9, essentially the MK9 with a lightweight polymer frame (For more information, see Arsenal, April 2003).


Probably the lightest semi-automatic pistol going is the Kel-Tec P32 (pictured). A double-action-only pistol with a polymer frame and a 2.68-inch barrel, the .32 ACP caliber P32 holds seven shots and weighs a mere 6.6 ounces. Just released is Kel-Tec’s P380, a pocket pistol about the same size as the P32. The P380 is one of the world’s smallest pistols in this caliber. Although larger, Kel-Tec’s P11 and P40 pistols are still quite compact and make excellent second guns. Offered in 9mm (10 shots) and .40 S&W (9-shot magazine), these guns each weigh under a pound.[PAGEBREAK]Kimber

Maker of a vast assortment of 1911-type pistols, Kimber offers one that fills the bill of a second gun, the Ultra CDP. Designed with a 3-inch barrel, this custom lightweight .45 ACP pistol holds a total of eight shots and has a weight of just 25 ounces. Weighing only 24 ounces and holding 11 rounds of .45 ACP is Kimber’s new Ultra Ten II with its 3-inch barrel and polymer hi-cap frame.

North American Arms

Available in .32 ACP or .380 ACP, the North American Arms Guardian is a semi-automatic double-action-only stainless .380 ACP pistol (pictured) with a 2.19-inch barrel and a weight of 18.7 ounces. It comes with two six-shot magazines. (For more information, see Arsenal on page 62) North American Arms also makes a tiny five-shot single-action revolver in .22 Long rifle and .22 Magnum.


Favorite backup weapons for many officers, the Para-Ordnance P-12 (pictured) and P-10 pistols pack plenty of .45 ACP ammunition in small frames. Somewhat of a departure for Para is its .45 ACP 7.45 Para Companion and new CCW model. Being double-action only, these stainless-steel pistols use Para’s Light Double Action (LDA) trigger system in a seven-shot single column pistol with a 3.5-inch barrel.


With more tenure than any other pistol of its type, the Seecamp LWS32 is an all stainless-steel autopistol designed to fire Winchester .32 ACP Silvertip ammunition. Featuring a 2.1-inch barrel, the LWS32 is a high-quality little pistols and an excellent backup or hideout gun. The double-action-only LWS32 weighs 12.5 ounces and holds six shots.

Smith & Wesson

Part of its vast autopistol line, S&W’s Chief Special (CS) qualifies as a pocket pistol. Offered in 9mm, .40 S&W, and .45 ACP, the double-action CS has a 3.25-inch barrel and weighs from 21 to 24 ounces, depending on caliber. New this year is a version of S&W’s compact Model 3913 in .40 S&W. Another popular second gun option, especially for veteran officers, is S&W’s concealment revolvers. Along with its titanium technology, S&W has now combined scandium with its alloy frames for added strength and durability. Yet its 2-inch barreled Airlite TI revolvers weigh only 11 ounces to 14 ounces, chambered for calibers ranging from .22 LR to .357 Magnum.

SiG Arms

SiG’s sleek P232 has long been a favorite second weapon of many cops. An 8-shot .380 ACP autopistol, the P232 is offered in double-action/single-action operation. The P232 weighs in at just over one pound in its lightweight version and features a 3.6-inch barrel.

Springfield Armory

The concealment model from Springfield is its alloy frame Ultra Compact. A tiny version of the company’s 1911-A1, this seven-shot .45 ACP pistol weighs just 25 ounces. A single-action pistol, the Ultra Compact can be carried cocked-n-locked.


STI’s entry into the compact autopistol market is the LS,  available in 9mm or .40 S&W. Based on the 1911 design, the 9mm LS holds eight rounds, and the .40 holds seven. The LS is a solid compact with a 3.4-inch barrel and a weight of 28 ounces.

Sturm, Ruger & Co.

Although Ruger’s stainless steel SP-101 is not exactly lightweight, this 25-ounce, small-frame, five-shot .357 Magnum revolver is rugged, reliable, and accurate. Smaller caliber SP-101 models are available and offer more capacity. In .22 Long Rifle and .32 H&R Magnum, the SP-101 holds six shots. The SP-101 can be ordered with a standard or bobbed hammer.


For some time now, Taurus has manufactured a line of ultra-compact double-action small-caliber pistols that are sold as the PT22 and PT25. Now the company has added its Millennium Series in .32 ACP, .380 ACP, 9mm, .40 S&W, and .45 ACP. A double-action-only pistol, the Millennium combines a stainless-steel slide with a polymer frame. Millennium pistols feature 3.25-inch barrels, hold 10 shots in all calibers, and weigh from 18.7 ounces to 23 ounces. In its revolver line, Taurus Co. has added an all-titanium pistol with a 2-inch barrel. Called the Model 85CIA, this five-shot wheel-gun is double-action only and weighs just 13.5 ounces.


Famous for its association with fictional spies like James Bond and its adoption by real-life intelligence services, the double-action Walther PPK/S is offered in .32 ACP and .380 ACP. Featuring a 3.25-inch Walther barrel, the PPK/S is an oldie but a goodie, and it’s still the favorite second gun of many a law enforcement officer. The PPK/S weighs 23 ounces and comes with two seven-shot magazines.

A veteran police officer of 28 years, Gary Paul Johnston retired in 1991. He has authored more than 1,600 firearms/law enforcement-related articles. A former SWAT commander, Johnston teaches SWAT and patrol tactics.

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