DVD review: Backup Guns – Selection, Carrying & Training

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A while back the folks at the Personal Defense Network sent me a bunch of new DVDs for review. The DVDs cover a wide range of topics, and I’ll be reviewing all of them over the next few weeks. Today I’m starting with one that I think a lot of you will be very interested to watch: how to choose, carry, and train with a backup gun!

Disclaimer: These DVDs were supplied by the Personal Defense Network. I an affiliated with PDN as a contributor, and have worked with their Managing Editor, Rob Pincus, on various projects over the years. Nevertheless, I will endeavor to maintain an objective point of view in these reviews.

Backup Guns: Selection, Carrying & Training
Presented by Rob Pincus

If you’ve read much of my work, you know that I’ve recently spoken out about the utility of the backup gun. In short, I’ve stopped carrying one — largely because it’s nearly impossible to find instances (outside of attempted assassinations) in the private sector where a backup gun has ever been needed. As you can imagine, I viewed this DVD with a somewhat skeptical eye!

Pincus starts out the DVD saying something I agree with wholeheartedly: that the old saw “two is one and one is none” is a cliche without much merit. He does, however, put forth some plausible reasons (which I’ve previously acknowledged) that one might need a backup gun: malfunctions happen, and it’s within the realm of believability that one could run a primary gun completely dry and need more ammunition. A backup gun can serve as a malfunction response and as a substitute reload.

He then makes what is perhaps the strongest case for a backup gun: as an alternative primary because you can’t access your primary gun. For instance, you might be knocked to the ground or shoved against a wall, keeping you from being able to reach that primary firearm. You might be locked into a hands-on confrontation and have one hand busy (or perhaps even injured) and need the other to access and use a firearm.

Pincus presents this as the most plausible scenario: you need an alternate because you simply can’t get to your primary. It’s a compelling argument, and it has some interesting ramifications as to the selection of the gun, how it will be carried, and how you practice and train. Pincus emphasizes that the “true” backup is different than the alternate primary, and throughout the video shows how and why that’s the case.

After making his argument for the alternate primary, Pincus delves into picking the right backup gun. He suggests that you pick your backup to be as similar as possible to your primary gun. Too many people pick a backup that’s dissimilar not only in size, but in operation and caliber as well. He suggests that your backup be as close to your primary as possible, as it reduces training time and effort and maximizes utility.

Having a backup that will use the same magazines, for instance, means that you can carry one reload to service both guns. If you think of the backup as a “true” backup this doesn’t seem to be important, but if you treat the backup as an alternate primary this makes a lot of sense.

He talks about the J-frame revolver as a backup, and though he carried one in that role for many years (a fact to which I can attest) he recognizes that it’s not a good choice today for the person who has an autoloader as their primary. Of course operationally they’re different, and they don’t use the same ammunition. (He didn’t mention it, but if your primary is a revolver than a J-frame as a backup makes much more sense, as it fits into his ideas about commonality.)

One topic he broaches, and one which generally doesn’t get a lot of attention, is that many people pick a large or full-sized auto as their primary and then a tiny auto as their backup. The problem he sees is that the large auto often gets left behind because it’s too much of a hassle to carry, and the person relies on an often much less effective backup as the primary. He suggests that it’s better to downsize the primary and upsize the backup so that there is less difference between them.

Again, this fits in with his philosophy of the backup as an alternate primary but it also makes sense from the standpoint of convenience: if you decide that you can’t carry or don’t need both guns, whichever one you choose to retain will still be a very viable and effect tool. A compact primary and a subcompact backup makes more sense, he says, than a full-sized primary and a micro-sized backup, particularly when the latter is in a less desirable (smaller) caliber.

When it comes to carrying the backup gun, Pincus focuses on two main methods: the bellyband and the pocket holster. As he points out, being able to get to a gun easily with either hand is important to the idea of carrying an alternate primary. In fact, that idea drives his choice of the bellyband: because it can carry both the primary and alternate in a position where both hands have access to at least one gun.

He goes into some detail about both the choice of the bellyband and the pocket holster, and along the way makes a case for carrying the backup in the offsite hip pocket rather than a front pocket, which is the way most people do it.

Pincus also gives pointers on how each carry method affects how the gun can be accessed and suggests training methods for each. Again, he points out the differences between the “true” backup (a deep cover gun carried as a tool to be used in dire circumstances) and the alternate primary (a gun carried to augment the primary defensive gun.)

He then goes into some detail about how those differences affect training and practice, which for many will be the most engaging part of the DVD. He believes that you should practice for three different scenarios: your primary gun malfunctions; your primary runs out of ammunition; your primary arm is injured or impeded.

The first two sound very similar, but as Pincus points out there are some significant and important differences. In those two cases, there is a similarity: you need to train to drop the primary gun (yes, drop it) and immediately access the backup. This is a refreshing look at the use of the backup gun, and addresses something I’ve told my students for a long time: one of the big issues with the backup is that you really do need to train to jettison the first gun, something which many gun owners are loathe to do (and most ranges don’t allow.) He addresses both of those impediments; gun owners who cringe at the thought of scratching their precious possessions might just want to rethink their attitude, as it’s going to negatively impact their training!

(Pincus makes his point by repeatedly dropping his personal carry gun onto very rough ground as he accesses his backup. I just know some people are having heart palpitations at the very thought, but it’s necessary to show just how it should be done!)

He also illustrates the difference in training between the deep or “true” backup and the alternate primary, which brings home his points about why they’re different.

This is all part of his long-standing belief in the importance of realistic training: training has to fit the context of its use. In other words, your training has to reflect as accurately as possible the conditions under which you’ll need to use it. In the case of the backup gun, that means similar stimuli (your primary has failed or has gone empty, for instance) leading to a learned response (dropping the primary and accessing the alternate.)

He includes a segment on ankle holsters and why they’re generally a bad idea, but shows how to practice with them if you’re really insistent on using one anyhow.

One of the last segments is really one of the more interesting: off body carry of the backup gun. While neither of us is generally a fan of off body carry, he does point out that it can be useful for “temporary staging” and illustrates a couple of common scenarios where it might be a flexible option. He finishes with some good pointers about how to practice for those specific situations.

I’m heartened that he doesn’t spend any time on some of the more outlandish reasons often given for the backup gun (like arming someone else) but rather on those situations that could logically occur. On the other side of the ledger, I would have been far less kind to the derringer than he was, and I have a few disagreements on some of the gear selection (I much prefer the modern “sticky” pocket holsters over the old-fashioned “winged” type he shows, for instance), but the overall message was, I thought, very much on-point.

I found Backup Guns: Selection, Carrying & Training to be more interesting and engaging than I thought it would be. It’s full of a lot of information that I don’t think you’ll find anywhere else; most resources focus primarily on the gear, while this DVD focuses on how that gear is going to be used and how to train for those uses. His recommendations are logical, well reasoned, and clearly presented. It may be the most practical presentation of the backup gun as part of a total response system that I’ve yet seen.

This DVD can be purchased from the ICE Training Store (I receive no compensation from sales of this product.)

-=[ Grant Cunningham ]=-

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About the Author:

Grant Cunningham is a renowned author and teacher in the fields of self defense, defensive shooting education and personal safety. He’s written several popular books on handguns and defensive shooting, including "The Book of the Revolver", "Shooter’s Guide To Handguns", "Defensive Revolver Fundamentals", "Defensive Pistol Fundamentals", and "Practice Strategies for Defensive Shooting" (Fall 2015.) Grant has also written articles on shooting, self defense, training and teaching for many magazines and shooting websites, including Concealed Carry Magazine, Gun Digest Magazine, the Association of Defensive Shooting Instructors ADSI) and the popular Personal Defense Network training website. He’s produced a DVD in the National Rifle Association’s Personal Firearm Defense series titled "Defensive Revolver Fundamentals" and teaches defensive shooting and personal safety courses all over the United States.
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