I say “most” because I know that some officers, given the option, might prefer the small pistol over the small revolver.
And there are some agencies that do not authorize the small revolver. In this case officers are likely to select a handgun such as the Kahr P380, the Kel-Tec P-3AT or the little Ruger LCP.
A small, flat pistol has a long history with cops. I can remember officers who carried the “Baby Browning”, a .25 auto, in a spare cuff case. Next came the Seecamp in .32 ACP that was so popular it was often back ordered for up to a year.
Seecamp owners liked to brag that they could hide their pistol in a shirt pocket. And now we have similar offerings from Kahr, Kel-Tec and Ruger in .380. But the small pistol will always be suspect in the reliability area, especially when dealing with heavy winter clothing.
1- By definition, the backup gun will be carried concealed where it will attract lint and moisture. Over time this can cause a problem with the small pistol because it has tight tolerances which can quickly foul.
2- You may need to shoot in close proximity to clothing that could snag on the firearm. The pistol is not as reliable for repeat shots if needed.
3- The small revolver can shoot a heavier bullet which is more likely to punch through winter clothing and insulation than a lighter load.
4- In extreme close quarters situations such as weapon retention, grappling and ground fighting scenarios, a revolver will tend to be more reliable than a pistol.
While we are on the subject of ground fighting, consider this from an officer I know who is the firearms instructor for his agency. His officers may choose a backup gun from a list of department approved revolvers and pistols.
The backup gun is carried in the cargo pocket of their duty pants in a holster that stabilizes the handgun in this pocket. With an empty handgun they practice drawing from the pocket from a variety of positions to include from the ground, left side, on their back and right side.
They have had several instances where the magazine release was activated by the weight of the officer lying on his pistol (still in the cargo pocket) during this drill.
So where should you carry your winter backup gun? For years we have carried it in the jacket pocket, on the side of our non-dominant hand, in the cold, wet and snow of winter.
Some may favor a front pants pocket or the cargo pocket depending on uniform styles. Some may favor a holster in the pocket for the backup gun and some may not.
The importance of the holster is that it keeps the handgun, and most importantly the handgun grip, in the same position without shifting in the pocket. That way there are no surprises when we reach for it.
We need to remind ourselves that if we favor the jacket pocket for the backup gun, if we go into some place warm and take off our jacket, we want to transfer the handgun to a pants pocket. We then reverse the process when we leave. This simple procedure keeps the backup gun with us at all times, on the same side of our body and always available to our non-dominant hand, coat on or coat off.
The jacket pocket might be the most accessible, but this is a very subjective decision. Regardless of where you carry you will need to practice getting your backup gun into play. Repetition is the key to making this a smooth operation. Start slowly and pick up speed.
Make note of anything that causes you trouble during the draw and work to mitigate that trouble. Remember this gun won’t be used often, but when you need it, the need will be immediate and intense. Of all the time spent on the backup gun project, the majority should be spent on getting the gun into action and figuring the best way to complete the draw.
And finally we need to mention the importance of ammunition selection for the backup gun that will be carried and possibly used in cold weather. Heavy cold-weather clothing in combination with the various types of insulation materials that might be encountered can pose a real challenge to handgun bullets.
A jacketed hollow-point that works just fine against lightweight summer clothing may plug up with material in a cold weather scenario and act like a solid bullet. This seriously degrades the performance of the backup gun.
The law enforcement sales representative for the ammunition manufacturer of the brand of ammo you are issued or are interested in, should be able to tell you how the round performs against clothing and should be able to provide you copies of the test.
The current standard is the FBI ammunition testing protocol, which has a test specifically designed for heavy winter clothing. The goal is to get penetration and expansion from the ammo you choose.
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