Author: Mike Wood
I previously shared some thoughts here about the use of backup guns (BUGs) to enhance officer safety. While my comments were mainly focused on encouraging officers to carry, maintain and train with these life-saving tools, there are some equipment considerations worth discussing.
Now, I’ll freely admit that there are many excellent choices available to officers who want to carry a backup gun, and personal preference plays an important part in the selection. What works best for one officer won’t necessarily be the best choice for another.
However, I believe that some designs offer key advantages that make them compelling choices for this role. In that vein, I’d like to discuss some of the benefits of selecting a compact revolver – affectionately known as a “snubby” to many of us – as your BUG.
A significant chunk of PoliceOne readers consider revolvers to be quaint relics of a bygone era, and would never consider carrying one, but please hear me out.
I know that lots of you grew up on semiauto pistols, and may have never fired a revolver, so you’re inclined to select a self-chucker for your BUG. It’s natural to stick with the things we know, because they’re familiar and comfortable.
Others may have some experience with revolvers, but feel an autopistol is still a better choice for a host of reasons, and that’s okay too.
I know that semiautos have a lot of benefits, and I’m not saying a semiauto pistol is a bad choice for a BUG. However, I think that snubby revolvers offer some significant advantages worth your consideration.
The advantages of a snubby revolver
What are some of the benefits of choosing a snubby revolver as your backup gun?
1. Getting a grip.
The cylinder on a revolver creates a natural offset for the grip, which makes space for your hand to get on the gun. Obtaining a good grip will be easier and faster, because your thumb and fingers won’t have to wedge in-between the body and gun, as they do on a semiauto that rides flat against your body.
2. No snags.
The rounded and smooth surfaces of a hammerless snubby prevent the gun from snagging on clothing when it’s presented from the holster. There’s no hammer, beavertail, safety lever, or square slide to hang up on a pocket, pant leg, or shirt, and foul the draw.
3. More resistant to neglect.
A snubby revolver doesn’t depend on proper lubrication to function reliably, and is more likely to shrug off the garbage that can accumulate on a gun that’s carried in a pocket, or close to the ground on an ankle. The subcompact autos favored as BUGs are generally less forgiving of neglect and more prone to choke if they’re dry or dirty. I’ve seen a small ball of pocket lint completely jam an autopistol, but a snubby would ignore it.
4. No magazine issues.
A snubby revolver doesn’t depend on a magazine to function, eliminating a common point of failure. You can’t inadvertently turn your snubby into a single shot (or deactivate it entirely) by accidentally bumping the magazine button. Furthermore, a revolver isn’t subject to the whims of a finicky, spring-loaded ammunition supply that can jam.
5. Less ammo sensitive.
Your snubby will eat up just about anything you can fit in the chambers. The subcompact semiautos are sensitive to pressures, bullet weights and ogives, but snubby revolvers are omnivores and can accommodate your appetite for light loads, heavy loads, gaping hollowpoints, or wadcutters. A cartridge that fails to ignite will stop a semiauto dead in its tracks, but the next round is always just a trigger press away on a snubby.
The long, heavy, double-action trigger of a snubby provides great protection from an inadvertent discharge. You can safely carry a snubby in places and in holsters (particularly soft-sided ankle, pocket and vest holsters) that wouldn’t adequately protect the more sensitive triggers on striker-fired autos. Furthermore, the double-action trigger on a snubby requires more deliberate action to fire the gun than the triggers on many autos, which might prevent a negligent discharge in a stressful moment.
7. No external safety.
There is no requirement to deactivate an external safety on a revolver before firing it, which makes them simpler to operate than many semiautos, and more stress resistant. The miniature safety levers on many subcompact autos can be difficult and awkward to disengage, due to their size and location. The snubby revolver will make life simpler for you, especially when your coordination decreases due to the effects of stress.
8. Consistent operation.
Many officers carry duty pistols without external safeties, and aren’t accustomed to having to manually disengage a safety before firing. These habits don’t translate well to BUGs that can only be safely carried with an external safety engaged, and there is a significant risk that the safety will be forgotten on the less-familiar weapon in a moment of stress. A safety-equipped BUG is worth considering for an officer who is willing to put in the time and effort to build good habits with a gun that operates differently than their duty weapon, but the simple “point and click” nature of snubby revolvers might make them a better choice for officers less committed to training intensively with their BUG.
9. No workarounds required.
The difficulties involved with operating some external safeties prompt many users to ignore them, and carry the gun with them in the “Off” position. To reduce potential hazards, some officers will then carry the gun with an empty chamber, or with a single action hammer resting forward. Neither of these practices is recommended for a defensive weapon. Additionally, ignoring the safety in training could create a huge problem if the safety has been accidentally bumped to the “On” position without the officer’s knowledge. The snubby’s design allows it to be safely carried in a ready mode without the need for a safety, or creative – but flawed – workarounds.
10. Reduced printing.
The round and smooth surfaces of the hammerless snubby allow clothing to flow over them without catching, and reduce the telltale signs of printing because there are no corners or square edges to betray the gun’s presence under clothing. Even if a snubby revolver does print through clothing, its curvy shape helps to camouflage the true nature of the object – it’s less obvious that it’s a gun.
The sights on many snubbies aren’t spectacular, but they’re better than the sights found on some of the smaller subcompact pistols, which are almost unusable.
The popular .380 ACP and 9mm subcompacts provide enough power to satisfy many users, but neither of these cartridges is in the same class as the .357 Magnum, even when it’s fired from the abbreviated barrel of a snubby revolver. The .327 Federal Magnum and .38 Special +P exceed the capabilities of the .380 ACP, yet are still controllable in a snubby. There are even 9mm snubby revolvers, for those who want to shoot the department’s ammunition, and the barrel-cylinder gap won’t hurt the Parabellum.
The use of polymers and special alloys allow manufacturers to produce snubby revolvers that are exceptionally light for their size and power. You’ll find subcompact autos that weigh less, but they’ll frequently be much smaller (with barely enough room to grip the gun) and won’t pack the same punch as a .38 Special +P or .357 Magnum. Snubby revolvers tend to hit the sweet spot in the balance between size, weight, and power.
The lack of a reciprocating slide gives the snubby revolver a significant reliability advantage. A semiauto pistol is vulnerable to stoppages when shooting from retention, when shooting from a compromised platform due to injuries or tactical circumstances, or when engaged in a close quarters fight with an opponent who’s trying to get his hands on your gun. A snubby revolver can even be fired repeatedly from within a pocket, which allows an officer to make a low-profile approach with a gun already in the hand.
15. Contact shot.
In a bad situation, a snubby can be pressed into the body of an opponent and fired without disabling the gun. Most semiauto pistols will go out of battery if the gun is pushed into an opponent, and the disconnector will not allow the gun to fire. Even if the officer holds the slide in battery to make a contact shot, the gun will not fire again until the slide is manually cycled. The snubby is a better gun for fighting “in the hole,” which is a likely scenario for a backup gun.
I don’t deny that semiauto pistols have their own advantages that make them excellent contenders for the BUG role. Snubby revolvers have their own weaknesses, which can be improved upon with a good semiauto design, so the self-chuckers can’t be dismissed.
However, I think the snubby revolver has a lot going for it, and its strengths make it an excellent choice for the backup gun mission. It certainly deserves consideration when you make your choice.
In the end, I don’t care whether you pick a semiauto or a revolver as your BUG. The only thing I care about is making sure you carry a reliable BUG with you on duty at all times, and that you to train to proficiency with it. A backup gun is an essential piece of life-saving equipment for a law enforcement officer, so don’t go into harm’s way without one.
God bless you all and be safe out there.