Many people new to concealed carry take that big step of purchasing their first handgun—and stop there. If you’re interested enough in carrying a gun to be reading this article, then you’re likely one of the majority of handgun owners who would benefit from owning two or more handguns. Why? The reasons are numerous. Let’s examine a few of them, along with ideas on choices of an additional gun.
REASON 1: 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 draw the gun in a criminal confrontation. Even when the presence and use of the gun is completely justified, it’s likely that your gun will be taken as evidence.
What now? The hours, days, and even years following a defensive shooting can be some of the most dangerous in some situations, especially as “catch and release” practices for repeat offenders are adopted by judges across the country. Years is a common length of time for criminal judicial proceedings following a defensive shooting. That may 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.
Ideally, that spare gun will be the same model as the one used at the crime scene. That means the holster you’re used to wearing will fit it perfectly, unless you’ve added bulky accessories to one of the guns. It means the extra magazines you have, and hopefully carry, will fit in the “understudy” gun. And it means that your customs of wearing the gun don’t have to change. All of these elements make not only practical sense, they also contribute to peace of mind. Not having to make major alterations to your daily routine to carry a different gun, at a time when you’ll have plenty else to think about, is handy. And let’s not even discuss the possibility of going unarmed, and increasing your risk of victimhood, because your only handgun was confiscated as part of a routine investigation.
REASON 2: I want to do more training, but the carry-size gun limits what I can do.
Everyone who carries, regardless of skill level, can benefit from regular training. Shooting skills fade quickly with neglect. Being a responsible armed citizen includes being proficient at the fundamentals of marksmanship and understanding of the limits of your current skillset.
For example: do you know up to what distance can you consistently hit a torso-sized target? Are you able to place a round in a credit-card size target at five, seven, even ten yards? How long does it take to draw your firearm from concealment and fire accurately?
Knowing your performance envelope for these practical skills, and working toward expanding that envelope of skills you’ve mastered and can perform under stress, represents 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, and continue to practice and maintain areas of proficiency once they’re reached.
This just in: Heavy practice with a concealment-size gun can be exhausting and impractical. Many excellent shooting classes require guns and gear that are too big and obvious to carry concealed. Even if you’ve managed to find the rigid, outside-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-size, or nearly full-size, 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, from the extra recoil and 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 it shortly after training on the larger one.
REASON 3: 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 main 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.
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, literally blew 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.
Fine, I’ll get a second gun. But what do I pick?
There are a couple avenues of logic to choose in this decision, linked to the reasons already given that justify a second gun. In no particular order, here are some questions to ask yourself as you make that decision:
Same caliber, or not?
Having two firearms in the same caliber can make ammunition purchasing and storage simpler, in that there’s only one caliber to deal with. Savings are easier to come by when buying in bulk quantities. If you’re practicing regularly on both firearms, this might present the best reason for having same-caliber guns.
There are also good reasons to choose a different caliber for practice. For example, if your daily carry gun is chambered in 380 Auto and you’ve decided to get a full-size handgun for participating in formal classes, that bigger gun won’t be available. The relatively small powder charge in a 380 cartridge is simply inadequate to cycle the heavier slide on a full-size semi-auto. Or perhaps your daily gun isn’t one that has readily available rigid, outside-waistband holsters and extra magazines that are required by most gun schools.
Maybe your favorite carry piece is a revolver, but you don’t want to deal with reloading every five or six rounds while your classmates with higher-capacity semi-autos are getting to shoot, and shoot some more, between reloads.
Cost of ammunition and the effects of recoil may be a factor in your decision to go with something of a smaller caliber than you carry. Maybe you’re one of those individuals who packs, say, .357 Sig or 10mm. Replacing 250 rounds of FMJ in either of those calibers is likely to set your wallet back to a greater degree than some other, more common, calibers.
While the effects of recoil from either of those calibers is negligible in the context of using the gun in self-defense, both deliver more felt recoil, which may also deliver fatigue to you during extended firing. These stouter loads are also known for wearing out gun parts under heavy use, due to the increased pressures created by their comparatively high rate of speed.
Least important, but nevertheless a factor in some people’s choice of firearm, is style. There’s a wide swath of the carrying public who simply feel more confident with a 1911, usually chambered in .45 ACP, when carrying openly at a class, competition, or in public. And there’s little argument that this single-action platform can perform well across all those situations, when handled properly.
This same segment of armed citizens often begrudgingly adopt a less stylish, but more comfortably concealed, sub-compact firearm for daily carry. My observations have shown that these same folks usually abandon either the gun or the obligation to practice when choosing a small-frame .45, having discovered it’s far less controllable and enjoyable in comparison to the big gun.
In short, caliber can matter more in terms of simplicity of ammunition purchasing and storage, where having two guns chambered the same is an advantage. When opting for a large and small gun, smaller calibers in the carry-size gun are more manageable, and shooters are more likely to log more time with them during practice—a good habit for effective, responsible carry.
Shopping for a second handgun
It’s helpful to identify what you want to get out of having a second gun. If it’s strictly the ability to continue being armed if your main gun is in need of repair or taken into possession post-incident, then a same-make/same-model purchase makes sense, in addition to serving as a source of spare parts.
If you’re wanting to enter some local matches, or participate in classes that last a day or longer, it’s wise to consider a compact or full-size companion to your carry gun. The choices are virtually endless, but narrow substantially if you look for guns that have model-specific holsters and magazine pouches.
There are times when the compact or sub-compact and full-size categories can be combined on the range. An example that comes to mind is Glock’s double-stack compact line, including the 26, 27, 30, and others. The usefulness of these small guns is extended for practice and home defense by the compatibility of the brand’s magazines from their compact and full-size lines, so long as a person picks the same caliber.
It’s helpful to find a range or private class where trying different firearms out, including live fire, is part of the program. The gun that looked so appealing in the catalog and sounded so great in reviews may simply be a poor fit for you. Many shooters, unfortunately, purchase a gun first, then shoot it, only to find out it’s not what they had in mind.
At the end of the day–
Any good instructor isn’t around to judge your decisions, but to help you make informed ones. 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.
Did your favorite gun make Josh’s top 20 9mm handguns list? Again, take any “best gun” lists with a grain of salt, as they’re just recommendations.