Many times, shooters are under the impression that carrying a spare magazine with them is a good idea. This belief often stems from the worry that they won’t have enough rounds in the gun if they find themselves in a gun fight.
Shooters may also believe they need to bring a spare mag if they worry about their gun malfunctioning when they need it most. After all, there are certain malfunctions that a semi-automatic faces that can be best remedied by simply putting in a new magazine.
Understandably, these scenarios are possible. And they can put the shooter at a serious disadvantage when something goes wrong. However, there are some additional things to consider before bringing the spare mag with you. According to Lucky Gunner:
The Downside of Carry a Spare Magazine
Many proponents of carrying spare ammo make their case as if there are no disadvantages. It could save your life, so why not do it? The same reason I don’t wear a racing helmet in my car when I commute to work. It’s an enormous inconvenience, and one I have a hard time justifying, even though there is a slightchance that my choice could be lethal.
Spare mags are just as difficult to conceal as an entire pistol, and in many cases, even more uncomfortable. Revolver speed loaders are even bulkier, except maybe speed strips, which take an eternity to use. On top of that, the selection of magazine carriers is not nearly as broad and diverse as gun holsters. There are only a handful of styles available, and not all of them make the magazine particularly accessible for someone who might be in a hurry because they’re, you know, being shot at.
This inconvenience factor will vary from one person to the next, based on body type, style of dress, size of the magazine, tolerance for having sharp bits of metal poking one’s rib cage all day, and the amount of time and money one is willing to spend on various “experiments” until the ideal setup is discovered. If carrying a spare mag is “no big deal” to you, then by all means go for it. But understand that you are in the minority, and most of us will struggle with effective concealment, comfort, or both.
So what it comes down to is whether that inconvenience is worth the cost of your life. At least that’s what some people would have you believe. In reality, it’s a simple risk assessment problem in which you have to weigh the inconvenience of carrying a spare magazine against the probability that you will actually need to use it.
We all make similar risk assessments whether we realize it or not. Your perception of the probability that you’ll need your gun for self-defense helps you determine what kind of gun to carry, capacity, caliber, holster placement, and how much money you spent on the whole thing. Some of you probably even think that you always err on the side of safety and personal protection, but I know that’s not true because, along with your race helmet, you would be wearing soft body armor under your suit for your commute to the office. Everyone has a limit where safety is eventually trumped by convenience, comfort, money, time, or social acceptability, it’s just a matter of determining where that limit lies.
The Problem of Data
Part of the reason each of our personal risk assessments vary so widely (besides being highly irrational creatures driven by personal bias and emotion) is because we don’t have a very clear idea of our actual risk exposure. Especially not in terms we can quantify. The “data” available for civilian defensive gun uses is not so much real scientific data but a collection of stories gathered from a potpourri of sources, each with their own spin and selection biases at play. In the shooting and self-defense world, we’re most likely to share stories about the good guy gun owner taking out another scumbag criminal. The instances when the gun owner’s efforts just weren’t enough to save his life don’t make for good storytelling in the shooting community, so they are most often ignored (if they even make the news to begin with). The stories we have access to are great for creating proof that guns do save lives almost every day. But taken alone, those stories are a poor tool for the kind of research that should drive our tactics and risk assessment.
On the other hand, we hear plenty of anecdotes from the law enforcement world involving criminals who just love punishment and refuse to die, soaking up one round after another in a protracted gun battle that involves multiple emptied magazines on both sides. These stories are sometimes used as cautionary tales as reinforcement for various techniques and practices in the self-defense and LEO community. But the risks faced by law enforcement are not the same as the reality of the average concealed carry permit holder. A criminal may decide to fight a law officer where he would flee from an armed citizen. The stakes are higher when the criminal faces the threat of capture, and that sometimes brings out the kind of desperate fight-to-the-death attitude that you see in the men in the stories linked above.
It’s not that armed citizens never find themselves up against determined attackers, only that it’s rare. I am not a cop, and when cherry-picked anecdotes from law enforcement are used as evidence for why the average CCW permit holder needs to carry a reload, I don’t find them to be very convincing.
The Un-Scientific Method
Unfortunately, it looks like the best we can do is for each of us to develop our own methodology for determining our true exposure to risk. So for what it’s worth, when it comes to carrying a spare magazine, here is the quick and dirty version of the completely unscientific rationale that I have come up with for myself:
- Most people who carry a concealed weapon will never need to use it in self-defense. The number who will is almost certainly far less than 1%
- Of that small minority that are forced to use their gun, most will never have to fire it before the attacker flees.
- Out of the conflicts that require shots to be fired, most attackers will either be stopped or will flee after the first few shots (including misses).
- An extremely small minority of reported civilian defensive gun uses involve a high round count or a magazine change.
- I live in a low-crime area, don’t go to high-crime areas, don’t do drugs, rarely drink, don’t pick fights, don’t hang out with people who are prone to getting into trouble, and haven’t pissed off the mob. I also have small children at home which means I rarely have the opportunity to even leave the house after dark. That eliminates nearly all of the major factors that most often raise one’s exposure to risk of violent attack.
Considering the evidence above, many people will wonder why someone would even carry a spare magazine in the first place. After all, they seem to be completely unnecessary in most situations, and they can be a major pain to drag with you day in and day out.
Not to mention, they can also be incredibly difficult to conceal. And, when you consider the probability of needing a spare mag, 99% of cases will deem it completely unnecessary. So is it really worth the hassle?
That’s up to you. As the shooter, you get to determine what is “worth it” to you in terms of balancing safety and inconvenience. However, hopefully this article helps you confirm your decision, one way or the other.