Why You Need Two Spare Magazines for Your Carry Gun

Ask a random sampling of citizens why they’re packing heat. Chances are someone will use the word “parachute.” It’s a lousy metaphor. Other than skydivers and the 101st Airborne, who wears a parachute in a modern airplane? You’re a lot more likely to need a concealed carry gun than a parachute. Second, a parachute is relatively passive device. A concealed carry gun’s effectiveness depends entirely on its owner’s judgement and ability. And third, a parachute doesn’t lose utility over time. A concealed carry gun is useless the moment you run out of ammunition. Which raises a life-or-death question: how much ammunition do you need when you’re carrying a concealed weapon?

That’s a bit like asking “How does Brad Pitt stay married to Angelina Jolie?” It’s both unknown and unknowable. The number of variables in any given gunfight—location and number of opponents, your shooting ability under stress, where you hit your attackers, their ability to withstand bullet wounds, etc.—-prevent anything other than a general conclusion. And that is . . .

A lot. You need a lot of bullets to stop an attack. Or not. While more than a few people have been killed by a single well-placed bullet, there are plenty of instances where attackers sustained an absurd number of bullet wounds without seriously affecting their ability to continue their assault.

I’m not about to get into a detailed discussion of the quasi-religious, pseudo-scientific concept known as stopping power. Small and fast? Big and slow? Hollow point? What’s the point? Here’s my favorite analysis of the subject from gun guru R.K. Campbell:

The 9mm isn’t ok. Tell the fellow who took four 9mm soft point bullets and still managed to inflict a nasty wound that remains with me to this day, and gives my face ‘character’.

The .38 isn’t enough. I once shot a fellow in the lower leg who debated with me whether he had been hit at all until the blood ran from his shoe – then he commenced whimpering and crying.

I once took not the traditional icepick but thank God a nutpicker in the leg. It didn’t go in very far but instantly floored me. The shock to my system completely locked up my knee and thigh muscles. Yet, I did not even require stitches.

I once fired a single .45 caliber hardball round on the move, quickly, and the effect on the target, struck in the ribs, was immediate. All motion ceased – and he fully recovered within a few weeks.

On another occasion I suffered a failure to stop with a much vaunted .45 ACP 200 grain JHP very much in the vogue in the early 1980s, the darling of gunwriters. It penetrated two inches and expanded to a full one inch. Nice but ineffective. The second round produced compliance.

I observed the effect of the .357 Magnum 125 grain JHP once over the top of my own sights. The effect was gruesome. A solid hit that produced a severe blood flow AND dramatic effect from the rear, including lung tissue thrown perhaps three feet.

As far as I’m concerned, there are only two answers to the question of stopping power: handgun or long gun. With a handgun, you need to be lucky. With a long gun, you start off lucky. With a concealed weapon, if you’re both good and lucky, then you’re really lucky. And more than a bit smart.

Where was I? Oh right: how much ammo do you need to keep on your person for a concealed carry gun? As the title of this pistoleros‘ polemic suggests, I’m thinking two spare magazines. Obviously, that recommendation yields a different total amount of bullets at your disposal depending on the weapon you schlep.

If you’re carrying a Wilson Combat X-TAC, two spare mags gives you 24 rounds of .45 ACP. If you’re toting a 9mm Springfield XD-M, two mags puts 57 rounds of 9mm within your grasp.

Let’s say you’re going up against three attackers. All other things being equal (and with any handgun caliber over 9mm they’re more equal than not), wouldn’t you rather have 19 bullets per aggressor or eight?

Let’s say there were only two scrotes, and you need 24 bullets to see off the threat, or 12 apiece. Given that the XD-M has 19 rounds in the gun, one magazine change (XD) or two (Wilson)? Lest we forget, if you had a revolver, that would be three reloads. And you’d be surprised how quickly you can blow through bullets.

When it comes to ammo capacity, concealed carry holders make calculated compromises. “I’m much better more confident shooting a 1911 than a 9mm and a .45 is a more bad ass bullet than the 9mm and if I know I only have eight shots I’ll be more focused on shot placement.”

It’s a perfectly understandable rationale: trading capacity for accuracy, comfort, confidence, concealability, etc. And one you should make. That needs making. Every gun has its pros and cons in all areas. Don’t let the perfect be the friend of your enemy. But bullet capacity should never be the red-headed step-child of carry gun selection.

I’m reviewing the Ruger SR9c, which has a 10-round magazine. For concealment purposes, the ten-round mag is ideal. If you carry the Ruger with two jumbo refills (17 bullets), you’re walking around with 34 rounds. That’s 23 bullets less than a fully-stocked XD-M owner, but 10 more than Mr. Fancy Schmancy 1911. G2g?

The bottom line: whatever caliber or gun you choose for concealed carry, make sure carrying capacity is a high priority in your final calculations. And whatever you choose to carry, carry extra ammo.

Common sense says that the more bullets is better than less bullets. If you need them, you’ll have them. If you don’t, you won’t. Can you imagine yourself at the end of a self-defense shooting saying “I guess I didn’t need all these bullets after all. I knew I should have left them at home.” I don’t think so.

And yet roughly half of the people I know who carry a concealed weapon don’t carry spare magazines. They’re stuck in the “a gun is better than no gun” mindset. Again, not enough bullets is not as good as too many. To underscore that point, a cautionary tale from the comments section of gunreports.com re: their review of the Kel-Tec P11 9mm:

Comment by: jwash111 | September 3, 2010

I am very pleased with both the physical weight of this handgun AND the trigger pull weight, since it is a DAO pistol. I purchased several extra 12-shot (yes, TWELVE-shot) magazines to carry in the gun, on my belt, for the glove boxes of all our cars, and for the home (we have other loaded guns available also). I also added a Pachmayr rubber grip sleeve to the gun AND a finger-extension floorplate from Kel-Tec for every magazine we own. This made the pistol very easy to take a firm grip with ALL fingers seated well.

I am a retired police detective sergeant, and fully understand the importance of being armed at all times. This is a gun I can carry in a pocket holster if necessary, but I virtually always carry it in a leather thumb-break belt holster with a vest to conceal it. I have vests for every season, from deep winter to hot summer days. A little similar to Semper Fidelis is my personal advice: (1) Always Be Armed; (2) Always carry a spare magazine or speedloader. I have seen too many cases where extra ammo was needed.

In one case, a citizen unloaded his handgun on his robber, killing him. He carried NO spare ammo. As he waited for police to arrive, a friend of the robber walked up, asked who shot his buddy, was told the citizen standing by, and then the friend promptly shot the citizen to death, as he stood with his empty gun and NO SPARE AMMO to reload for protection against just such events.