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Lessons Learned from a Primary Gun Failure

As discussed in my Summer EDC post, ever since the thermometer got above 90 degrees here in Houston, I’ve been carrying my Smith & Wesson Shield 9. Some referred to this as “gunning down” for the summer. Perhaps they are right, but a small gun is pretty much a necessity for me in this heat, when I start dressing like Mr. Colion Noir Richard Simmons.

Well, while shooting my Smith & Wesson Shield at the range last Sunday, I had a failure, which you can read about here if you’re interested. The short version is that on the second round of the first mag, the Shield failed to go into battery, and the slide was completely locked up. Since the Shield is my primary gun for the summer, it certainly made me stop and think. What if this had happened when I really needed my gun? After only one shot, my one and only gun was now a rather expensive club.

First lesson learned: Any gun can fail, even if the gun has always been flawless. I already knew this of course, but now I really know. If that makes sense.

Backup Gun

For the first time in my life I’m seriously considering the idea of a backup gun. I know many of you already carry a backup gun and I’m behind the curve on this, but before last weekend I didn’t think I needed one. To me, the idea of a backup gun in the context of handguns was that they were used to back up a lost primary weapon, and most likely an openly carried primary handgun (law enforcement for example). Since I didn’t plan on losing my gun, I figured, perhaps a bit arrogantly in hindsight, that I didn’t need a backup gun.

Failure to feed, failure to eject, etc, I’ve trained for. Magazine failure? I carry a spare. But I never considered the scenario where my gun becomes inoperable altogether. Perhaps the reliability of my guns has made me lazy.

Needless to say, I’ve changed my mind about backup guns, and I’m currently shopping for one (suggestions welcome). They aren’t just for people who carry openly, and they aren’t only for a lost gun scenario. I’m just glad I didn’t have to learn that lesson the hard way.

Second lesson learned: Backup guns are a good idea. Buy one ASAP.


26 Responses to Lessons Learned from a Primary Gun Failure

  1. Dan June 26, 2012 at 6:43 am #

    I love my Ruger LCP. Perfect pocket or ankle gun. It is worth a look for sure as a backup gun.

    • Brandon June 26, 2012 at 9:16 am #

      Thanks Dan.

  2. dustin jessepe June 26, 2012 at 8:18 am #

    Revolver as a BU gun my man…

    • Brandon June 26, 2012 at 9:16 am #

      You know, I hadn’t really considered a revolver…

  3. Dr. L. June 26, 2012 at 8:31 am #

    Consider a smaller, easier to conceal, lighter pistol that you don’t have to worry about printing. Something you can easily secrete in the small of your back, ankle, back or front pocket, etc.

    Even going as low as a .380 opens up lots of good possibilities: I use a TCP .380. Keltec makes a reliable small gun. The argument for a revolver, the Gold Standard for reliability, is compelling. That one’s a trade off for concealability, though.

    • Brandon June 26, 2012 at 9:17 am #

      How’s that TCP running for you? I’ve heard mixed reliability reports.

    • jeffwilber June 26, 2012 at 9:28 am #

      Good morning,

      First time to the page, I am very pleased with the content and the topics. I come from a background in dfensive tactics and edged weapons, it was not till I moved to Florida that I made the switch from a edged weapon as my primary to a handgun as my primary EDC defensive tool. I still carry a Emerson Karambit as my EDC blade, and I alternate firearms, between a Glock 19, a S&W model 60, and for sometime now my S&W Shield.

      In the article you mention, a complete inoperable gun? I may have missed it but what caused the malfunction? was it not fixable at that time, as it would be in a shoot no shoot situation? Tap rack, etc……

      Besides the fauilure your comment on a back up gun is interesting… and so are the comments. Many spoke of revolver, various 380 models. But what really stuck out was the carry locations. Small of the back, ankle, front pocket.

      In my humble opinion, none of these work under normal condtions of a range day, becuase no one is training them. Now imagine how you would address these issues under stress.

      I like the article as a whole addressing the battery issue because there is one on the M&P shield I have experienced it myslef. However with exception of a cross car or across the room gun battle, one should consider the other options of a “back up weapon” as well as the training that goes with it. If its a knife, or a BU pistol or revolver if you carry on the ankle you better be at the range training and drawing from the ankle etc….

      goood stuff I look forward to the next one.

      • Brandon June 26, 2012 at 9:37 am #

        Thanks for dropping by and thanks for the feedback. You can read about the Shield failure here. No, it wasn’t immediately fixable, the slide was completely locked up.

        We’re on the same page as far as training goes, if I carry a BUG then I will definitely train to use it. I always carry a knife, but I don’t have any edged weapon training. Excellent points.

  4. Eric Lopez June 26, 2012 at 9:09 am #

    Please consider looking into a Sig P238 in .380 or the newer P938 in 9mm. Both shoot very very very well. the LCP is nice but it has a nasty kick and can hurt your trigger finger if not held properly. The Sigs i metinoned have little felt recoil compared to the S&W bodyguard or LCP. If you end up liking the LCP, make sure you try the S&W bodyguard as this from the two is a much better option.
    First choice – Sig P238/938
    Second – S&W bodyguard
    Third – Keltec PF9
    Fourth – Ruger LCP

    Just my two-cents 🙂

    • Brandon June 26, 2012 at 9:25 am #

      Thanks for the feedback Eric.

      I have some trigger time on the P238 – for the size, man what a shooter. The P938 is probably just as good or better (little bigger means probably a little easier to shoot). My only problem with these is that it’s a different manual of arms (1911 style cocked an locked) from my primary carry.

      I’ve shot the Bodyguard, it’s an interesting gun, but like the Ruger and Keltec, has a LONG trigger pull. I know, I know, that doesn’t matter much in the role the gun will be playing and that I should stop whining and get over it. 🙂

  5. Mike Smith June 26, 2012 at 9:31 am #

    The revolver normally has a different trigger which presents some interesting adjustments when it comes time to use it. Try going right from your primary pistol to your back up revolver sometime. I find the transition requires a lot of training to get any type of accuracy out of the revolver.

  6. jpcmt June 26, 2012 at 9:58 am #

    I’ve come to the conclusion that no pocket gun is worthy of my life after trying several and seeing the pains my 75yo mother has gone through picking a worthy small carry gun. 380 and 9mm small guns end up being way to violent to train with, most have design flaws causing them to cycle well, and others have a taste for ammo that you have to discover. Then if you get one that can cycle your choice of defensive ammo well enough, you then get to put your 500+ rounds through it before trusting it…which will likely jack your hand up. They’re a lost cause in my experience; Keltecs, rugers (lcp/lcr), bodyguards, tauruses, and I was waiting to see the shield fail too. Compact guns are the smallest I’ll go and my G19 or a M&P9c is all I’ll carry.

  7. Tricia June 26, 2012 at 11:05 am #

    I’m new to shooting and recently (last weekend) took my first handgun course. My eyes were opened to the many reasons to carry a backup gun. I’d like to share a few of them.

    As you well know from your testing, guns break or malfunction. Sometimes to the point of not getting them running again like the problem with the Shield.

    Some will argue that the fastest reload is a second gun.

    You might not be able to get to your gun. If you kidney carry and you’re knocked to the ground or pinned up against a wall, the chances of you getting to that gun might be slim to none. Having a second gun in appendix carry as a backup could save your life.

    Let’s say you’re in a gunfight and you’re laying face down dead. Your loved one could grab a gun off your body and keep fighting.

    Basically, anything you consider a life saving device you should carry a backup for it.

    There are more reasons, but this is just a few to chew on. Thanks for such a great blog.

    • Brandon June 26, 2012 at 5:27 pm #

      Thanks Tricia!

  8. Ben Branam June 26, 2012 at 3:55 pm #

    I love my Kel-Tec P32. Cheap, easy to carry, shoots well, and reliable as long as you don’t use the one round extension on the magazine.

    Having a plan for if a gun goes down is more important then having a backup gun. Figure out what your plan B is.

    • Brandon June 26, 2012 at 5:27 pm #


  9. Zack P June 26, 2012 at 4:55 pm #

    Another Shield?
    It is small enough… Same mags, Same battery of arms.

    Just run two of the same.

  10. Noah Yetter June 26, 2012 at 5:15 pm #

    The plural of “anecdote” is not “data”.

    • Dr. L. June 26, 2012 at 10:27 pm #

      Pure science! Thanks, Noah.

  11. Brandon L June 26, 2012 at 5:22 pm #

    For me a BUG is a last ditch effort that can reach farther than a knife.
    The trade off is on weight/ size and stopping power. You can go with a lightweight 22mag for the size but it is really lacking the power or something powerful but now you are getting to your primary size.

    What I was looking for in a gun was weight, consistence with type of operation as EDC, accuracy, and stopping power

    So I decided to try the P238, 380 Bodyguard, LCP and LCR.

    As I loved the P238 it was a real joy to shoot b/c the weight helped with the recoil. (I want the lightest gun I can accurately shoot) – no thanks, too heavy

    The LCP was light, accurate, and a semi like my EDC, but the slide does not lock back on the last round fired, not like my EDC – no thanks, not consistent

    The LCR was a pain in the hand to shoot with the 38 +P (Exactly what I was wanting!! Great power, light weight!!) – but no thanks, not consistent (I wasn’t expecting consistency with this one but felt I should try it to be through)

    Now the Bodyguard, lightweight, accurate, slide locks back, and the controls are the same as my EDC. Plus it comes with a difficult to activate laser – Sure, it is better than nothing

    It will be hard to find a perfect BUG but just think of what is most important to you whether it is consistence of function or power or reliability and make your choices off of that.

  12. Psydr June 26, 2012 at 9:58 pm #

    While I agree with your revelation, carrying two guns can begin to inhibit everyday activities. And since the cause of the malfunction was economy-ammunition based, I would invest in some high quality loads when it comes time to carry. The manufacturers charging the premiums for quality defense rounds know your life depends on them… and so does their reputation.

  13. Michael July 6, 2012 at 6:12 am #

    Suggestion for a backup gun would be S&W BG380. The trigger is much better than the long hard travel of the LCP but not as sweet as the Kahr in 380 OR 9mm. It does come with built in laser if that interests anyone and fits perfectly in a pocket of any pants. However as most know, accessing a pistol in a pocket while driving is next to IMPOSSIBLE. Solution would be wear long pants and use a ankle holster while driving. In Florida we must be creative and concealment is paramount. Ya would NOT want to be overpowered and shot with your own gun…

    • Brandon July 6, 2012 at 8:57 am #

      Thanks, if I get a 380 it will probably be the S&W BG380.

  14. David July 11, 2012 at 10:04 pm #

    Rohrbaugh…. I have 25 plus pistols, and this is all I carry anymore. I challenge anyone to find me without it when legally allowed to carry. I did like the suggestion for a second gun of the same model.

  15. Lee September 9, 2012 at 4:29 pm #

    Hey Brandon, I live in Florida and I understand about the heat. I’ll tell you right off the bat I’m not a fan of the 3AT or LCP or any of the small .380s out there. To me a gun is for fighting and I want a real gun.

    My suggestion, and many don’t like it, carry a bigger gun as your primary and nothing less than a 9mm as a BUG. Yes, you will have to change the way you dress but I wear shorts and a T-shirt and conceal a 1911 Officers. I also wear my gun on my strong side hip outside the pants in a leather holster, holds it closer than “plastic”.

    Wear a loose shirt or the button up short sleeve type, I prefer the “Hawaiian” type. They may not be as attractive or cool looking but the busy pattern hides any printing from your primary. You may still print a little, but a bulge could be anything. I had one guy question me thinking he was smart, he asked what ya tryin’ to hide there? I replied with a very serious expression “that’s my colostomy bag” and he shut up quick.

    I carry a Khar MK9 in my front left pocket (and nothing else) and being right handed I tend to keep my hand in my pocket on the gun most of the time and no one knows. I keep it there to balance the weight and give me a secondary gun if my primary arm is damaged. If I have to act my BUG is out quick and in action. My BUG becomes my primary.

    You do have to make sacrifices and I prefer to not sacrifice on my security. Good luck.

    • Brandon September 9, 2012 at 4:41 pm #

      Thanks Lee, and you’re right. I’ve just had to suffer more in the heat in order to conceal a larger gun (Glock 19, full-size M&P). Makes me want to move north. 🙂