By Steve Tracy | Editorial Director
The two most common backup/off-duty handguns a few decades ago were the S&W 2-inch .38 snubnose revolver (in its many incarnations) and the .380 caliber Walther PPK (my choice for 20 years). Variations of these two guns, like the Colt Detective Special, Charter Arms Undercover, and the Sig Sauer P230/232, were almost as widespread.
Police officers who were into guns (The Police Marksman readers) were known to pack more exotic weapons. The Detonics compact 1911, the custom S&W ASP, a squeeze-cocking HK P7, or a Beretta .25 in a wallet holster were chosen by cops “in the know.” These guns often served double duty as both backup guns and for off-duty protection.
Unfortunately, both then and today, not all officers utilize a backup or an off-duty piece. Common excuses are the guns are too expensive, too heavy, or too difficult to keep concealed.
However, the proliferation of civilian concealed carry has resulted in a flood of new small handguns that are perfect solutions for backup and off-duty carry for today’s police officers.
Tiny .380 semi-automatics are all the rage, led by the huge market splash made by the Ruger LCP. It holds six rounds and, due to its polymer frame, is thinner, lighter, and smaller in every dimension than the PPK that carries the same number of rounds. Competitors worked diligently to offer their own .380 mini-pistols, including the S&W Bodyguard reviewed in this issue.
Ammunition has improved as well, with faster burning propellants making better use of .380 pistols with stubby 2-inch barrels. Polymer-tip bullet designs force expansion in almost any type of media for improved stopping power.
Revolvers have not been forgotten for the cops who still appreciate them. New snub-nose wheel guns have emerged with polymer frames to match their semi-automatic cousins. Ruger and S&W both offer polymer frame revolvers (like the Bodyguard .38) and others are following suit.
Charter Arms’ new Pitbull is chambered in both 9mm and .40 S&W with a spring-loaded retaining device that chambers semi-auto cartridges in the cylinder without the need for moon clips. Since the .40 S&W round is the most popular round for police use in the United States today, we figured we’d test the five-shot revolver chambered for it.
The outside vest carrier has also afforded uniformed patrol officers a new hiding place for their backup guns. Holsters sewn underneath secure a handgun while still affording fast access if needed.
The single-stack 9mm pistol seems to be the next wave police officers are clamoring for. Most major gun makers are answering the call for slim and compact pistols in 9mm that are more powerful than a .380, while only slightly larger in size. Springfield-Armory’s XD-S and Kahr’s PM45 offer slim .45s for big bore fans who can handle their recoil.
More cops are packing backup guns and carrying a firearm off-duty because the weapons are smaller, the ammo is better, and holster systems are more accessible and convenient to conceal. Another advantage of polymer frames is they keep prices down.
These new guns are attractive to officers who have never carried a backup or off-duty weapon before and that’s definitely a good thing. They might even convince you to retire your trusty PPK, snubby or Detonics, although they’re still solid choices as well.PM