Case One: Zach Rogers came home from the Global War on Terror after heavy combat. At one point, he had been wounded in action and brought to a temporary haven with other wounded Americans awaiting evac-uation as the fighting waged on. While there, an enemy combatant appeared with an AK-47. No longer with a rifle in reach, Zach went for the Beretta M9 pistol that was still in his thigh holster and emptied it into his antagonist. It took all 16 of the 9mm rounds he had in the gun, but he killed the attacker, saving his own life and the lives of the other wounded Americans. He came back to the U.S. with an appreciation for more powerful handguns and ammo, but he was grateful that the “backup gun” had been there to stop the man who would have otherwise killed him and his comrades.
The FBI shootout with two armed-robbery suspects in Dade County, Florida, on April 11, 1986, was probably the most publicized gunfight of the 20th century. That hellacious firefight was ended by severely wounded FBI Agent Edmundo Mireles. Two other agents were down and dead, and several more were wounded, when Ed ran his 12-gauge Remington 870 shotgun dry, firing one-handed because his left arm had been “turned inside out” by a .223 rifle bullet. Ed’s buckshot had wounded both of the gunmen, but they were still up and running, so he dropped the empty shotgun and threw himself to his feet, drawing his S&W 686 service revolver. He moved purposely toward the FBI vehicle the killers had commandeered as a getaway car, firing one-handed as he went. He scored five hits out of six shots and killed them both. He survived to become a role-model instructor until his retirement.
While most of the “backup guns saves” that I’m aware of have occurred with police officers, it has also been known to happen with armed citizens. In the South, a convenience store clerk pulled a gun on a robber, but the fast-moving felon managed to get the gun away from him. Before the robber could kill the victim with his own gun, the clerk drew his own second weapon and shot down the gunman, saving his own life.
In the Great Lakes area, a couple who owned a “Mom and Pop” store had staged a couple of loaded revolvers just in case. Then two armed robbers entered the establishment and shot down “Pop.” “Mom” responded by grabbing one of the revolvers and emptying it into the two malefactors. When the gun clicked empty, one of the robbers was already down and dead, but the other was wounded, angry and still shooting. “Mom” scooped up the second revolver, resumed firing and finished the job. The final score: “Mom” was left uninjured, “Pop” was wounded but later recovered, and the two perpetrators were killed. Their deaths were ruled justified.
The two brothers who ran a jewelry store in Richmond, Virginia, knew that their business was robbery prone, so they purchased several inexpensive .38 Special revolvers and staged them every few paces behind the showcases. The senior partner also kept a Remington 870 shotgun and a Dan Wesson .357 Magnum revolver in his office space at the back of the store. The day came when two grizzled career criminals entered the place to rob it, one with a sawed-off shotgun and the other with a .45. The one with the shotgun dominated the showcase area while his partner invaded the office area—and was promptly shot by the senior partner wielding his .357. The gun battle was on. The other brother drew one of the .38s from behind the counter, emptied it at the shotgunner and raced behind the showcases, grabbing the next .38, emptying it and then going to the next. The senior brother, meanwhile, had gone to his own shotgun to up the ante. When the last echo of gunfire had died, so had both of the criminals, and only one of the good guys was slightly wounded. One more employee had joined in with a Ruger .44 Magnum, too. The deaths of the two armed robbers were justified.
Lance Thomas won an amazing series of gun battles with armed gang-bangers who tried to rob and kill him at his Rolex repair shop in Los Angeles. In only the first of those gunfights did Thomas use only one handgun. After that incident, he staged multiple handguns every few feet behind his workspace so if one ran empty, he could quickly snatch up another. Though wounded a few times himself, he amassed a significant count of dead and wounded criminals who had intended to murder him. The backup guns saved his life and the lives of his customers.
Sometimes the second gun just gives you reassurance. If you’ve studied the lore of modern gunfighting, you’re familiar with the NYPD Stakeout Squad, and its most famous member, Jim Cirillo. In Jim’s first and most famous gunfight, he shot three armed robbers in about three seconds, firing all six shots in his .38 Special S&W Model 10 revolver. He quickly holstered the empty six-shooter and drew his backup, another Model 10. By then, no further shooting was necessary, but he didn’t know that yet, and drawing the second gun was faster than reloading the first.
Bill Allard was the one man on the unit who killed more bad guys in face-to-face gunfights than Jim did. In another gunfight, he and Cirillo went up against two armed holdup men. The one closest to them was a physically huge guy, and the one behind him was smaller but armed with what appeared to be a .30-caliber M1 Carbine. (It was actually a .22 caliber replica, but perception is the reality.) When the shootout opened, 12-gauge shotgun blasts from the cops caused the big guy in front to fall backward, knocking down the carbine-wielder who wound up under the larger man’s body. He was trying to raise the carbine to shoot the cops, but his dying partner’s body atop him acted like a bulletproof shield. Allard quickly emptied all five rounds out of his short-barreled Ithaca shotgun. He dropped it and transitioned to his S&W Model 10 service revolver, shooting each opponent three times. It wasn’t enough; the shielded perpetrator underneath was still trying to bring his long gun to bear to shoot the cops. Allard dumped the .38 and went to his next backup, the 1911 he had special permission to carry on the job. He scored eight hits for eight shots until the slide locked back empty. He did a speed reload, came back up on target and realized both opponents were dead. The gunfight was over. And, yes, Cirillo was firing. too. That’s the kind of shooting amped-up criminals can take before they are finally rendered incapable of killing the good guys. Allard alone had fired 19 shots, all hits in a gunfight that probably lasted no more than eight seconds. Both officers were damn grateful that they had backup.
One female officer was being disarmed and knew she wouldn’t win the fight, so she drew her Sig .380 ACP backup pistol and shot her attacker dead.
A friend of mine, a big city cop, was being held against the wall by a much more powerful and violent assailant. The perp was trying to rip his S&W out of his uniform duty holster. Realizing he was losing the fight, the cop used his non-dominant hand to draw his backup S&W .38 Special from his weak-side hip pocket and shoot the man in the head. The shot was instantly fatal. The cop went home to his wife and many children, and was subsequently found to have acted justifiably.
A California Highway Patrolman I spoke for in a legal matter was smashed in the head and chest with a heavy framing hammer by his assailant. He drew his S&W and shot the attacker before he passed out from his head injury. He awoke, supine, to see his attacker on his hands and knees reaching for the gun he had dropped. So, the patrolman drew his S&W Model 36 from his ankle holster and pumped five more rounds into him. The attacker collapsed and died. The patrolman prevailed in court and went home to his family.
In another case I worked as an expert witness, a loss-prevention officer in a chain drugstore attempted to stop a huge male shoplifter. In the struggle that followed out onto the sidewalk, the suspect dislocated the security guard’s arm and knocked his S&W Model 10 out into the street. He dove for the gun, screaming, “I’ve got your gun, and you’re dead meat now!” This turned out to be an unwise thing to say to the guard, who carried a .38 Special revolver in an ankle holster. From his downed position, the injured good guy drew and put a .38 slug into his would-be killer’s brain, ending the fight rather decisively. The homicide was ruled justifiable.
In the Carolinas, a cop who determined that it was hard for him to clear his duty weapon from its security holster when seat-belted in his cruiser invested in a .38 Special snubbie and an ankle holster. Seeing a suspicious man approaching his parked patrol car, he let his hand drop inconspicuously to his ankle. When the man whipped out a sawed-off shotgun and fired, the cop was able to empty his backup .38 into him before he could chamber another round. The officer survived his wounds; the disabled would-be cop-killer went to prison for a very long time.
History shows that when good guys are shooting it out with bad guys, the gunfire often gets hot and heavy. Sometimes it’s faster to reach for another gun than to reload the one in your hands that just ran empty. In the heat of battle, that primary firearm can be knocked or shot out of your hand, or taken from you at gunpoint by a killer who got the drop on you. There are other good reasons to have a backup gun.
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Case in point: I’m writing this at my workstation while wearing a .45 ACP Springfield Range Officer on my hip, and my significant other is a few steps away at her own workstation editing a podcast with a 9mm Glock 43 in her holster. She can carry legally in some 30 states, and as a sworn officer, I can legally carry in all 50. Less than two weeks ago, we were in California where I can carry and she cannot. As we unpacked, I left my loaded S&W M&P 340 backup gun with her and kept my .45 in its holster as I went back out to the rental van for more of our luggage. The hotel room was her domicile, so she could legally be armed there; we were now both legally armed. It saved the hassle of her having to unpack her Glock. Convenience and protection in one package.
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Neither of us had reason to draw a gun during that trip, except on the range. But it was a reminder that it’s always good to have backup. So let’s look at some cases where good people in the heat of battle have had to resort to a backup gun, and survived because they had that backup gun.
This article was originally published in “Pocket Pistols” 2018. To order a copy, go to outdoorgroupstore.com.
In an email update, the CMP (Civilian Marksmanship Program) laid out its plans for...
by Tactical-Life / Dec 7, 2017