Concealed Carry

Carrying a Back-up Firearm

Woman shooting a Browning Hi Power with a two-handed grip

One of the most famous gunfights of the 20th century occurred on April 11, 1986 in Miami-Dade County, Florida. On this day, 14 FBI agents met in the morning at a local Home Depot to plan their search for a stolen vehicle that was believed to be driven by two suspects who had carried out multiple bank robberies.

10mm Glock G29 under Glock G43 pistol
Glock’s 10mm power is not that much bigger than the 9mm G43, but it offers a lot more stopping power.

Around 9:30 a.m., two agents spotted the suspect vehicle and began following it until more agents were able to join them. In total, eight FBI agents were on scene when the lead vehicle attempted to make a traffic stop. The suspect vehicle, however, veered off the road and hit a tree.

Subsequently, the agents surrounded the suspect vehicle in an attempt to arrest the two males.

The two suspects, identified as William Matix and Michael Platt were armed with a shotgun, Ruger Mini 14, and .357 revolvers. The FBI agents involved in the shootout were armed with shotguns, .357 revolvers, 9mms, and .38 specials.

During the firefight, FBI agent Ed Mireles was severely wounded when his left arm was hit with a .223 round, rendering his arm useless. Mireles stayed in the fight and fired his 12 gauge shotgun until it ran dry.

The two suspects were still moving and attempting to get away from Mireles after he emptied his shotgun, so he drew his back up weapon, a Smith & Wesson 686 revolver and advanced on the suspects. Mirleles fired six rounds from his revolver with five of the rounds striking the suspects, hitting each of them in the face, ending the five-minute gun battle.

Smith and Wesson 686 plus revolver with open loaded cylinder
The seven-shot geometry of the 686 makes for a fast lock time.

Sadly, two FBI agents died in the firefight and all but one agent was wounded. Over 145 rounds were fired during the exchange, and there’s no doubt that had it not been for the actions of agent Mireles, more lives would have been lost.

The fact is, even though Mireles was injured, he stayed in the gunfight and transitioned to his back-up weapon to ultimately end the threat. Now, most people probably expect law enforcement to carry back-up weapons, but have you ever considered carrying one as part of your EDC gear?

Here are some pros and cons for carrying a back-up firearm.

Pros and Cons


If you are like me, you probably carry a gun, tactical pen, knife, flashlight, wallet, cell phone, and a keychain. My point is, your EDC gear can quickly add up, so adding an extra firearm might be too much to comfortably carry for some folks.

I know a lot of people who like to carry their back-up gun in an ankle holster. While this isn’t a bad idea, ensure you train and practice drawing from the ankle. If you do it wrong, you could easily get hurt. Personally, when I carry a back-up gun (it depends on where I’m going) I carry my back up in my front pocket.

Woman shooting a hi-power pistol
The modern Hi-Power 9mm is a great combat and personal defense handgun.

3 Shots, 3 Seconds, 3 Yards

Studies have shown that most gun fights involve an average of 3 shots being fired, lasting 3 seconds, and occurring at a distance of about 3 yards. In other words, in a self-defense situation, (hopefully) you won’t need multiple weapons to stop the threat.

Of course, as shown above, anything is possible. So, while you should be good to go by carrying a spare magazine only, you and I know that life is very unpredictable.


When it comes to carrying a back-up gun, you need to spend as much time practicing with this gun as you do with your main weapon.

I know a lot of guys who carry a back-up on their ankle and they often train to draw the weapon while falling backwards on their butt, while engaging the threat. Be prepared to train with your back-up weapon and consider choosing a back-up that is similar to your regular carry so you are familiar with it.


Browning Black Label 1911-380 Pro Stainless pistol
Browning’s Black Label 1911-380 Pro Stainless is available in full-size and compact versions, with an optional accessory rail. The slide is stainless steel and the barrel has a rust-­resistant satin-silver finish. Grips are a G-10 composite.

One of the biggest advantages to carrying a back-up weapon is that these days there are so many different back-up guns to choose from including the Ruger LCP and SIG Sauer P238. So, almost anyone can find a back-up gun that works for them.

Arm a Family Member

Let’s say you are out to dinner with your spouse when you spot an active shooter. Well, if your spouse or other family member is trained in the use of firearms, but doesn’t often carry, you could simply give them your back-up gun to help you confront the shooter.

The bottom line is, it can never hurt to have extra firepower on you. This is especially true if you’re heading into place that it might come in handy such as dangerous areas of town or through a city that’s experiencing violent protests at the moment.

Do you carry a back-up gun? Share the location of carry and model in the comment section.

Jason Hanson is a former CIA Officer and New York Times bestselling author of Spy Secrets That Can Save Your Life. To get a free copy of his book, visit

The Mission of Cheaper Than Dirt!'s blog. "The Shooter's Log", is to provide information - not opinions - to our customers and the shooting community. We want you, our readers, to be able to make informed decicions. The information provided here does not represent the views of Cheaper Than Dirt!

Comments (31)

  1. Whose idea was it to show the full-size 1911 in .380 in an article about backups? Either a second .45 or a small .380 would make more sense than having two identical heavy guns in two different calibers. I think you could carry two G26’s and a pair of 33-round reloads for that same weight.

  2. Since I was a young un running a nortwoods trap line I have always carried a back up weapon be it at times a big f’n knife, a pistol or a rifle.
    When cold enough the oil can freeze up a firing mechanism even a light coating and in youth our gun oils were not that great and my crackshotv22 used to dispatch animals once froze up and thinking it was broke, you ever try to club a beaver or fox to death, from then on I packed an old 32 caliber break top Smith I bought for 3 bucks as a bck up.
    In Nam my backup was an old family heirloom from WWI Colt 1911 in my ruck or waist.
    Back home hunting, my back up was a Ruger single six 22 cal for dispatching an animal in misery, and an AMT 380 Backup in ankle holster cuz a revovers six rounds or strong hand may be hurt and 6 revolver rounds not always enough. I still have AMT 380 , which I had originally bought as wifes primary but it was a kicking SOB and many times sliced web of thumb and trigger finger.
    Today I carry a primary 357 revolver or a modern 40, I call them my backup just in case I cannot talk my way out of or run from danger.
    Hunting one fine opening morn of Elk season my top sling swivel pulled loose and my non open sight scoped rifle fell down a steep rock bluff breaking the scope so I had to walk back to camp and make a fast round trip of ” Hello Dear,, Good-bye see ya soon Dear, 250 mile round trip in order to get my Custom too fancy to hunt with 30-06 converted Mauser.
    From that hunt on I always had a back up inexpensive but accurate same caliber bolt gun as my main rifle in a tough as heck newer 2 gun hard case.
    So I guess I can say I’m a believer of always having a backup weapon.

  3. I’ve always carried a backup when I carried as well as two reloads per gun. Been there, it’s saved my life several times!

  4. I carry a Kimber Ultra CDP in my rt front pocket with 2 back up magazines and a G26 in a belt bag (with a bunch of other stuff) with 1 magazine. I doubt I will ever have to use either. But as they say one is none, two is one.

  5. I ccw a Sig 938 Cond 1 aiwb, with a spare mag in my left cargo pocket for a total of 15 rounds of 9mm. On occasion, I also carry, in addition to to the 9mm, a Sig 238 in a pocket holster, cond 1, with a spare mag for a total of 15 rounds of .380 acp. All total, 30 rounds and quick change to .380 when the primary, 9mm, runs dry. Reload 9mm while covering with .380. That’s the plan.

  6. My primary is a glock 43 with a lone wolf trigger and a Vickers +2 magazine extension carried in a CYA iwb holster at the 2 oclock position!My secondary is a ruger LCP in a IWB crossdraw.In over 30 years of concealed carry I have never had to use my weapon and I hope I never have to!

  7. I carry an always gun but becomes a bug a lot. This is a small frame snubby revolver setup weak hand draw. I carry this gun like tbis for reasons not touched on in this article. My biggeat reason for this is the potential of my dominate hand be disabled or in use for some reason. Another reason is if I need to make a contact shot the revolver will work for sure.

    1. a good pocket gun I use is a EAA 357 magnum 6 shot, 2 inch barrel, 6 shot, fits perfectly in my pocket, , my EDC is a Sprinfield xdm 4.5 .45

    2. Remember, the average is 3 shots from 3 yards. Do you know that a pocket carry is a widely used tactic of LE officers on and off duty? A sheriff friend shared how having your hands in your pocket not looking threatening, you can actually have you subcompact gripped and ready to draw without advertising it like you would from a 6 o’clock or appendix position draw. With practice from common deep jean or slacks front pocket, it is a huge advantage.

  8. Hitting home…that gun battle was literally right behind my business (dixie belle shops).

    The agents were ill prepared except for Mirles. The best of the bunch was rendered useless as he was an Ace shooter but he lost his glasses..a little $1 store eye glass holder would have kept him in the fight.

    With that said, I purchased a P365 to get more rounds then my G43. Why? Likely never need ONE let alone THREE or 7!

    But ya never know…however, the P365 fails in comparison to the G43 IMHO except capacity. Unfortunately. it has been sent back to Sig’s longass return process.

    So, for me, if you have a reliable firearm that can shoot and you are what I call a low target person; one that is rarely in ‘bad places’ do you really need?

    Are you really good enough under high stress situation to be using back up firearms?

    There has yet been more then one or two CWP holder (Texas exception) that has really done anything during these ‘mass’ shootings.

    So while I’d like to be a badass with backups, extra mags etc…I rarely carry anything then my G43! I do now use my +2 so I have 9 Rounds. My only concern in malfunction: My entire earlier point about P365…
    In some 7500 rounds I’ve had maybe 2 failures from my G43. It shoots smooth, easy, etc.

    That day will be forever etched in my memory, and if you infer and draw conclusions, the men there were not as prepared as they should be. They’ve named the street after the two men that sacrificed their lives that day..

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