The .38 is back as a BUG.

The .38, and its more powerful .38 +P were once the staple in terms of law enforcement armament. But in recent years it has seen a marked decline in popularity, even scorn, having been abandoned for more powerful semi-autos such as the 9mm or .40. However, advances in ammunition and it ever present need for concealment has brought the .38 back- as a popular backup gun.

For close to 90 years the .38 was the mainstay of every law enforcement officer in America. Each carried a 4 or 6-inch model on their hip and many carried a 2-inch snubbie as backup – a model also popular with detectives and other plain clothes officers. But in the 1990s many departments turned to the semi-autos in 9mm for increased capacity, penetration and accuracy. This movement gained a lot of attention after the tragic FBI shootout in Miami when several agents felt their revolvers left them out gunned. Once the FBI switched so did the rest of law enforcement. The 9mm and later the .40 became the new standard and the .38 was pushed to the back of safes and desk drawers to collect dust.

In recent years a growing number of law enforcement officers have opted to carry BUGs, or back up guns, in addition to their standard issue semi-auto. At first, some of the .38 snubbies saw new life as BUGs, but that too was short-lived as smaller, reliable semi-autos were developed. After all, what is the point of giving up rounds, carrying two different caliber firearms AND giving up stopping power?

I agree. This is why I also choose to carry a subcompact semi-auto as both my backup and off duty weapon for most of my law enforcement career. That is until recently when I once again added a .38 revolver to my arsenal and plan on carrying it both on and off duty as a BUG.
Why the change? It comes down to two issues – comfort and tactics.

There are times when carrying a small semi-auto, even one of today’s subcompacts, is too much weight or bulk. Sometimes it is a simple matter of clothing and not wanting to wear the clothes needed to hide such a firearm without printing. If I am wearing light weight shorts, a t-shirt etc. I am often forced to change my outfit or go unarmed – neither of which is a choice I like to make.

Other times I am working in a plainclothes situation where having such a firearm would be conspicuous. This forces me to either go unarmed (not really an option), dress so I am sure it is hidden (not always possible) or hid it so deep that it is difficult to reach.

Adding a small .38 to my options means I can often address either of these situations. Plus, with the recent advancements in ammunition, many of today’s .38 +P rounds are close to or even better than a 9mm in terms of penetration and stopping power.

I agree that the .38 is not a replacement for my .40 as a duty weapon. Nor do I see it as completely replacing my .40 BUG. But adding it to my available tools is no different than adding different size screwdrivers to my tool box – each has a time and place when it will shine and others when it will not be appropriate.

Disclaimer: The content in this article is the opinion of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the policies or opinions of US Patriot Tactical.

Tom Burrell

Tom Burrell

Tom enlisted in the US Marine Corps Reserves in 1987. Following service in Desert Storm, he transitioned to active duty with the US Coast Guard. In 1997 he left the USCG to pursue a position in conservation & maritime law enforcement. Tom is currently a Captain and he oversees several programs, including his agency investigation unit. He is also a training instructor in several areas including firearms, defensive tactics and first aid/CPR. In 2006 Tom received his Associate’s Degree in Criminal Justice from Harrisburg Area Community College and in 2010 a Bachelor’s Degree from Penn State University.
Tom Burrell
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