Typically, this refers to smaller than average handguns that are carried as a supplement to other handguns or in situations where it is socially unacceptable to openly carry a firearm and impossible to conceal a regular handgun.
Backup handguns usually compromise performance in favor of concealability. You usually have two choices in the larger types; low capacity with larger bullets, or higher capacity with smaller bullets. Really small backup guns give you the worst of both performance worlds; low capacity and small bullets. As stated earlier in the text, one option is to simply carry a second service handgun or a compact version of the service handgun that takes the same magazines. It should be noted that some of the compact service handguns are still too large to serve in a deep concealment role. Most backup handguns are not known for accuracy, but are intended for very short ranges where accuracy is not much of an issue. Many backup handguns do not even have sights.
Many martial artists will rightfully argue that you reach a point of diminishing returns when it comes to small cheap handguns in small calibers. They are often unsafe to carry "cocked and locked" and need manipulation with two hands to bring out of concealment and into action. In comparison, many knives can be pulled out and used with one hand by a reasonably well trained person on decent physical condition.
Traditional backup guns are small revolvers, reduced power automatics, and derringers. Small revolvers can be available in medium calibers like .38 Special and hold five or six shots. The six shot Colt Detective .38 revolvers are highly regarded in police circles and can serve well as a primary handgun for some people. It should be noted, however, that the higher grade backup guns cost as much or more than some service handguns. The new generation of Titanium and Scandium revolvers from S&W and Taurus can cost $600 from a typical gun shop. These pistols are favored by elite bodyguards and well heeled concealed weapon permit holders, but are considered an extravagance by many law enforcement personnel. Accuracy and reliability of these guns in the hands of highly skilled shooters is quite good. Lasergrips add a dimension of precision aiming to these guns which did not exist before even when some people were installing target pistol sights on snubby revolvers.
The S& Scandium pistol weighs barely 12 ounces and while it is not the most compact pistol in the world, it is easy to put in a pocket and forget about. While the gun is actually chambered in .357 Magnum, the recoil from full power magnum loads is downright painful. Pistols like this are a choice only when other more capable guns are going to cause more trouble than they are worth.
Small .22 automatics like those offered by Beretta and Taurus are smaller than the small .38 revolvers and can be fairly accurate. Some of the smaller automatics feature special loading features that enable the user to load the chamber without cycling the slide, a feature that may be of use to persons with weak hands or damaged fingers. Derringers are available in almost all service calibers, up to .44 magnum, which can simplify logistics by keeping ammo interchangeability with service handguns, PDWs and submachineguns. Backup handguns should be considered by those who see the need for concealed weapons or who may doubt the reliability or availability of their service handgun in an extreme situation.
Even more compact and concealable weapons can serve as backup or hideout guns, some, like this Stinger pen pistol can be easy to hide, but it takes two hands to bring it into action and you only get one relatively low powered shot before a time consuming reloading process. For more information about this gun, click on the picture.
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