Editor’s Note: The following is a syndicated article by author Eve Flanigan that first appeared in USCCA’s Concealed Carry Magazine Volume 15, Issue 5, July 2018 under the title, “Pistols & Potato Chips: You Can’t Have Just One.”
Many people who are new to concealed carry take what feels like the big step of purchasing their first handgun but then stop there. If you’re interested enough in carrying a gun to be reading this article, chances are you’re one of the majority of handgun owners who would benefit from owning two or more handguns.
I was involved in a defensive shooting, and now the gun I carried is gone.
As you’re probably already aware, chances are your firearm will be confiscated — even if only temporarily — if you’re forced to draw during a defensive gun use. Even when presenting a gun or firing it is completely justified, it’s likely that your gun will be taken as evidence.
What then? The hours, days, months and, sometimes, even years following a defensive gun use can be some of the most dangerous, especially as “catch-and-release” policies for repeat offenders are practiced by judges across the country. Legal proceedings often drag on for up to four years or more following a defensive shooting, which means that could also be how long your gun is locked up in a police department’s evidence room.
Stay prepared by having a spare handgun for personal carry. Weigh the possibility of going unarmed, increasing your risk of victimization, because your only handgun was confiscated as part of a police investigation.
I want to do more training, but the carry-sized gun limits what I can do.
Regardless of skill level, everyone who carries can benefit from regular training. Shooting skills fade quickly with neglect, and being a responsibly armed citizen includes being proficient at the fundamentals of marksmanship and understanding the limits of your current skill set.
Do you know up to what distance you can consistently hit a torso-sized target? Are you able to place rounds in a credit-card-sized target at 5, 7 or even 10 yards? How long does it take to draw your firearm from concealment and fire accurately?
Knowing your performance limitations and working toward building upon the skills you’ve mastered is a journey of development that every shooter is traveling on — some backward, some forward. We can all work to be better at some aspect of shooting while continuing to practice and maintaining areas of proficiency.
But breaking news: Heavy practice with a concealment-sized gun can be exhausting and impractical. Moreover, many excellent classes require a gun and gear that are too big and obvious to carry concealed. Even if you’ve managed to find the rigid, outside-the-waistband holster and perhaps a magazine pouch required by some schools and trainers, reloading magazines and carrying enough of them can be a challenge on days that require 200 or more rounds.
Wearing a full-sized or nearly full-sized gun may seem ostentatious or unnecessary to the person who’s training exclusively for personal defense with a small gun, but the wear and tear saved on the shooter’s joints and thumbs inflicted by the extra recoil and the reloading associated with most small handguns should be motivation enough. If you’re hurting or worn out, you won’t gain all the benefits of training, and the skills practiced on the big gun can only enhance your prowess with the small one, assuming you’ve taken time to also practice with that gun shortly thereafter.
My gun is in need of parts or repair.
Guns, like cars, have parts that wear out. In recent years, as manufacturers rush production to keep up with growing demand, factory recalls are no longer surprising. In any case, the day may come when your gun goes offline for mechanical reasons. Having a second gun gives you something to carry until the damaged one is repaired. If your backup is the same make and model as the primary, a second gun can even serve as an organ donor of sorts until the “cannibalized” parts can be replaced.
Like some karmic lesson, this exact thing happened to me during the week I wrote this article. The gun I happened to be wearing that day — a fine Heckler & Koch VP9 — launched its recoil spring/guide rod assembly across the range when I stripped it for what was intended as a midday cleaning. I know better than to not carry a spare, but at just north of 3,000 rounds of use, delaying the purchase of this critical part to a later payday seemed like the thing to do. After all, my other main training and teaching guns’ recoil springs are still running strong, well beyond the average round count for this component. Had I not had an extra 9mm with its own holster and magazine pouch along for the ride that day, my training and fun would’ve been cut short. HK did exchange the parts in a quick five days, but had this been my only gun, I’d have been unarmed for that period of time.
Identical model, or something else?
In the event your firearm is confiscated post-incident, it would be ideal to own a spare that’s the same model as the one you used to defend yourself. This would mean that the holster you’re used to wearing would fit it perfectly, unless you’ve added bulky accessories. Any extra magazines would fit the “understudy” gun, and your habits surrounding you wearing the gun wouldn’t have to change. Not only do these elements make practical sense, they contribute to peace of mind. Not having to alter your daily routine to carry a different gun, at a time when there’s plenty else to think about, is handy.
The exception to this line of thinking is that if your existing firearm is in good repair and still occasionally fails to go “bang” when you want it to, look for a more reliable one. Remember that price and appearance aren’t necessarily indicators of reliability and that the most important quality in a carry gun — tied with reliability, really — is that you actually carry it every day.
Same caliber or bigger-bore?
Having two firearms chambered for the same cartridge can make ammunition purchasing and storage simpler in that there’s only one round to deal with. Savings are easier to come by when buying in bulk quantities, and if you’re practicing regularly on both firearms, this might be the best reason to have identically chambered guns.
But there are plenty of good reasons to choose a different caliber for training. For example, if your daily carry gun is chambered in .380 ACP and you’ve decided to get a full-sized handgun for participating in formal classes, that bigger gun probably won’t run .380. Maybe there isn’t a wide variety of available rigid, outside-the-waistband holsters and mag pouches for your EDC pistol (holsters and pouches that are required by most gun schools). Perhaps your favorite carry piece is a revolver, but you don’t want to deal with reloading after every five or six shots while your classmates with higher-capacity semi-autos are getting to shoot 10 or 15 times between reloads.
Conversely, for those who train regularly, cost of ammunition and the effects of recoil may be factors in the decision to go with a lighter cartridge than they carry. Maybe your EDC sidearm is chambered in, say, .357 SIG or 10mm. Regularly purchasing training rounds in either of those calibers is likely to set your finances back farther than certain other more common calibers. While the effect of either of those cartridges’ recoil is negligible in the context of actual self-defense, they can certainly inflict fatigue during extended firing. Such stouter loads are also known to wear out gun parts faster, a consequence of the increased pressures inherent to the cartridges. In short, chambering can make a big difference in how much you train and how much it costs for you to do so.
Shopping for a second handgun
Before you buy anything, identify what you want to get out of having that second gun. If it’s strictly the ability to continue the practice of everyday carry if your main gun is in need of repair or taken into possession post-incident, then a same-make/same-model purchase makes sense.
There are times when the compact or subcompact and full-sized categories can be combined on the range. An example that comes to mind is Glock’s double-stack compact line, including the 26, 27 and 30, among others. Want to go smaller? The very concealable SIG Sauer P365 has emerged onto the scene with an optional 12-round magazine. The usefulness of these small guns is extended beyond daily carry thanks to the availability of larger-capacity magazines as well as broad availability of holsters. This again speaks to the wisdom of having the same brand/same caliber, so long as the gun is comfortable for extended firing and greater-capacity mags are available.
If you’re looking to enter local matches or participate in classes that last a day or longer, it’s wise to consider a compact or full-sized companion to a subcompact carry gun. The choices are virtually endless but can narrow substantially if you look for those with readily available model-specific holsters and magazine pouches.
It’s helpful to find a range or private class where you can assess different sidearms hands-on. Unfortunately, many shooters purchase a gun first and then shoot it, only to find out it’s not what they had in mind. Always remember and be willing to admit to yourself that the gun that looked so appealing in the display case or had great online reviews may simply be a poor fit for your hand.
It’s normal for a shooter’s taste in guns to change over time as knowledge and experience are gained. Owning at least two handguns, and practicing with both, accelerates a shooter’s understanding of the dynamics of shooting and makes informed decisions easier.
Discover how you can join nearly 300,000 responsibly armed Americans who already rely on the USCCA to protect their families, futures and freedoms: USCCA.com/gunsamerica.