A Critical Look at the New York Reload

I have been accused by some of you of ignoring the New York Reload. Honestly, this criticism is totally fair. I haven’t written about it and I don’t think about it very much. However, this is a technique that should be addressed. If you know me, you know I’ll address the good, the bad, and the ugly of everything, including the New York Reload, so let’s get started.

The New York Reload

Though most of my readers already know, I should probably explain what the New York Reload is. I will let official RevolverGuy.com Historian Mike Wood address the etymology of this term, but it refers to carrying a second gun. Upon running out of ammunition the first gun is dropped, the second is retrieved, and the situation is re-addressed.

Several of the comments in my “Revolver Equation” piece a few weeks ago suggested the New York Reload as a solution to my capacity issue. Though anyone can carry a New York Reload, I’m going to focus this discussion around revolvers and the people that carry them. That is to say, I will make the assumption that anyone reading this is considering a backup to their primary revolver. If you are carrying an LCR as a backup to your Glock 17, disregard. If, however, you are carrying (or thinking of carrying) a pair of rotators, read on.

The Great

There are some good reasons the New York Reload still gets brought up. It has some big benefits that are impossible to ignore, aside from being “just” a reload.

A second gun. Run out of ammo? Cylinder locked up? Did your barrel just fall off? It doesn’t matter what the problem is because the answer for all-of-the-above is the same: drop it and grab another one. Though we think of the NYR as a “reload” it’s much more than that. It’s also a hedge against malfunctions, likely or unlikely, hard or soft. To me, this is the single biggest benefit of having a second gun on your person.

Another benefit is that you can serve as a “walking holster” for someone else. Should you need to, you can arm a trusted companion. Though I think the need to arm someone else is about as unlikely as it gets, I can conjure scenarios where this would be a good thing. If your (competent) buddy is visiting and can’t carry in your state, you can have a gun handy for him. If you need to leave your significant other behind while you go assess a safe avenue of escape it would be reassuring to leave her (or him) with a means of self-defense.

The Good

Guns in two locations. If you utilize the New York Reload you have some placement options. The second gun can be carried on the support-hand side, the ankle, or in a jacket or pants pocket. This gives some serious flexibility depending on your situation. In a spot where things are getting tense but you aren’t justified in drawing a gun yet? No problem – just put your hand in your pocket and grip that “second” revolver. Did you just get tackled and your arm is pinned in an odd position that makes getting your primary revolver out? That second one might still be within reach. Sitting at a restaurant table when things go south? That one on your ankle might be faster than the one in your hip pocket.

A faster reload. There is a reason this is listed last among the benefits. Though I disagree that producing a second handgun is “the fastest reload,” I will concede it is faster than reloading a revolver. Usually. This depends on a number of factors, including where and how the second revolver is carried.

The Bad

For all of the criteria that follow, I’m sure there are some people that are willing to prove me wrong. Generally speaking, though, I think I’m right more than I’m wrong on each of these points. There are some problems with the New York Reload, and I won’t gloss over or ignore them.

You have to carry a second gun. If you carried two of the lightest revolvers available (two .38 Special LCRs) you’d be carrying 30+ ounces of gun (loaded), plus the additional weight of a second holster. That’s more than the loaded weight of a M&P9 Compact or Glock 19. Both of these autoloaders hold more ammo than two (or maybe even three) revolvers, are easier to shoot, and you only have to carry one of them.

Carrying a second gun means you have to find a place for it that is reasonably accessible but still concealed. This is tough for me, as I have a finite amount of beltline and pocket space with which to work. Oh, and don’t forget I have to carry other self-defense stuff, like a non-lethal option and a flashlight. And for that matter, regular stuff, too: knife, phone, keys, wallet.

The second gun is often a downgrade. I doubt many people plan to carry a New York Reload that is equal to or better than their primary gun. This means that upon “reloading” you are coming back into the fight with a less-capable weapon. This is a huge factor that is easy to overlook.

The Ugly

You have to learn two draw strokes. To bring the second gun into action, you have to get to it. There is a modest handful of holsters online that hold two guns side-by-side (like those by Bell Charter Oak), but these probably aren’t how second guns are typically carried (it’s also worth pointing out that many of these holsters also carry the guns topstrap-to-topstrap – not a great arrangement in my opinion). This means that some percentage of your time has to be divided mastering two completely different draw-strokes.

The biggest problem with the New York Reload? It’s not as fast as pulling the trigger again. It’s common to hear the adage that “the fastest reload” is pulling a second gun. My take: that statement is bullshit. It should be, “the fastest reload is not reloading.” There’s nothing out there that says we have to carry revolvers. There is also no shortage of high-quality, viable carry options that carry more ammo than two or three revolvers put together.

New York Reload

Take the Glock 19 for instance. If can hide two revolvers, you can probably conceal a Glock 19. And guess what? It holds more ammo on-board than three J-Frames or LCRs, and you can skip that pesky pause every five shots while you fish out another gun, because you don’t have to fish out another gun. That Glock (or Beretta or Ruger or S&W or Sig) is also easier to shoot quickly and accurately than any small revolver I’ve ever used.

The Bottom Line

Don’t get me wrong – I love revolvers. I carry them on a daily basis, shoot them a lot, and think about them constantly. In fact, I even started a blog about them! But I’m not going to carry two of them at a time. If I were a member of a police outfit charged with stopping armed robberies in progress, I would carry a backup revolver (but then again, I’d also be wielding a long gun, wearing body armor, and my first handgun would hold 17+1), but I’m not.

The New York reload is right for some. If you’re a cop, you should probably carry a second gun (I’ll leave the semantic distinction between “NY Reload” and “backup gun” alone for now). If you already carry a decently-sized pistol or revolver (let’s say Glock 19-class autoloader or K-Frame-class revolver) and want to carry a New York reload, go for it! But if you think carrying a backup revolver makes your J-Frame just as capable as a bigger gun, I have some bad news.

What you end up carrying is two small guns that are difficult to shoot, take up more room, and are just as heavy as a single, larger gun that is much easier to shoot. You get a couple of phenomenal benefits in return for this inequity, but the math on this one just doesn’t add up – at least for me. Rather than add a second gun, I think I’d prefer to improve the first (something I’m working mightily on now), ending with a more capable gun and one that’s easier to carry. Ultimately, though, it’s up to you to do that math for yourself!

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34 thoughts on “A Critical Look at the New York Reload”

  1. Great piece,,, as usual, a fair & balanced look at the pros & cons.

    Speaking just for myself, the “cons” you wrote about are of little or no concern to me. I have and will carry two guns on some occasions. Admittedly though the second one is generally a pocket hide out in the form of a small semi auto, such as a Ruger LCP. I do such in the name of convenience. Attempting to go anywhere that I may be in the public eye, attempting to conceal two handguns would be challenging.

    I have come across more than one “expert” recently addressing the issue of carrying “too many guns/defensive tools”. While I am not ready to jump on their bandwagons, they claim that carrying more than one gun makes you look like you are wanting to shoot someone. You know,,,, like you watched Death Wish one too many times.

    I already mentioned that does not sway me. However,,, I am hoping to hear from others,,, what’s your take on this issue?

    Justin, if you determine that I am hijacking your post, just delete my entry & no hard feelings.

    PS: Wish me luck,,, I am hunkered down and preparing to meet Irma.
    .

    1. Not hijacking at all! From my point of view, carrying two guns is too much for me in the environment/attire I work in, but I don’t have any hard feelings against anyone who does. You are arguable better prepared than I am, but we all make compromises.

      Stay safe down there!!! Check back in when the storm passes and let us know you’re ok!

      Justin

      1. I CAN see where a “New York Reload” could be a real advantage. I do however feel that most defensive incidents end with a low shot count. The data I constantly look at suggests less than 3 shots. That makes it a hard pill to swallow attempting to hide another gun on you.

        If I find myself in some encounter that demands a high shot count,,, I would much rather have a rifle on my side. So much to consider. Isn’t this conceals carry thing supposed to be easy?!?!

        1. Hello Ron, I understand where you’re coming from and appreciate your point. I’m not trying to be confrontational, but would like to play a friendly Devil’s Advocate for a minute, if I may.

          If I find myself in a gunfight, then the statistics already haven’t worked in my favor that day, and I wouldn’t take any solace in the fact that the “average gunfight” only involves “x” rounds fired. If “3” is the magic average (and who can say with any confidence that the number is accurate? Even the best studies, like Givens, are based on no more than about 65 shootings), then somebody had to fire 6 to offset the guy that fired 1 or 0, and that’s 1 more than my J-frame holds. It’s too easy to find yourself on the far end of the bell curve, instead of the middle, particularly in this day and age of multiple attackers.

          Also, the “average gunfight” argument doesn’t account for the greatest advantage of carrying a second gun–redundancy. Your gun may carry more rounds than the “average gunfight” requires, but if it breaks after the first shot, or gets knocked away, or you can’t get to it, then it doesn’t matter what the capacity is, because you can’t take advantage of it.

          Everybody has to find their own salvation here. I agree with you that carrying a second gun is enough of a nuisance that most CCW folks won’t do it, but I’m hesitant to justify the decision using “average gunfight” stats, because I think gunfights are all unique aberrations, and none of them are truly “average.” Those stats might make us feel better, but I think they’re worthless, in the end.

          Rifles? Yes, we would all prefer them, but they’re almost never around when you need them in the real world as an armed citizen. Whatever we encounter will most likely have to be solved by what we have on us, at the time.

          Again, just promoting a friendly conversation here, with no attempt to be confrontational . . .

          1. Well said Mike, I agree 100% there are NO anomalies here.

            To me, “averages” are just that,,, information based on what has happened over the past. I sure can’t rely on most gun magazines/publications,,, they have an agenda of sales. Therefore the writing may be “enhanced”.

            If I am not mistaken it was Claude Werner who did a study on a period of years of Armed Citizen articles and the data seemed to point to a low shot count. Worth a looky see.

            In my post below(scroll down) I mention “failures” I personally have had with handguns.

            I choose shot placement over shot count.

            As for rifles, there is one close by me these days more than ever before. Easily carried and concealed in my truck. Will it be practical,,, will I be able to get to it. Who knows. One thing is for sure,,,,I won’t get to it if it is home in the safe.

            At home,,, the handgun is for me to fight my way to the shotgun if need be.

  2. I have come to much the same conclusion. If I am carrying on the belt line, I just can’t justify the weight, bulk, etc. of a second gun. If I can’t or don’t want to carry on the belt line, then I carry two guns (one in the pocket and one on the ankle), but that has more to do with accessibility and the belief that pocket or ankle carry alone is an incomplete system.

    If a person owned two revolvers and no semi-autos, I would encourage carrying two of the familiar platform already in possession rather than buying and learning a new gun, but how many of us are really in the situation of not wanting to buy a new gun?

    1. Greyson,

      You make a really great point that I hadn’t thought about. You say that ankle/pocket carry along is an “incomplete system.” That definitely resonates with me, for a reason I can’t articulate right now. I appreciate you writing in with that, as it definitely gives me something to think about.

      Justin

      1. For me, the comment about pocket carry and ankle carry being incomplete systems is pretty straight forward. While sitting (especially in a car with a seat belt on), try accessing a pocket carried gun. Similarly, while casually strolling down a side walk (let alone running), try accessing an ankle carried gun. Now, reverse the roles. Ankle carry excels where pocket carry falls short and vice versa. I have some strong opinions about popular perception of these methods (hint: I think ankle carry is unfairly criticized and pocket carry gets an unfair pass on its faults), but the important point is that they have nearly exact opposite weaknesses and strengths.

        Of course, as you pointed out, this is secondary to the issue of New York Reloads. I find AIWB as close to universally accessible as you can reasonably get (for my body shape, cross draw might come closer, but is less concealable), so the idea of carrying a second gun is very unappealing in that context.

  3. As a young rookie police officer in Southern California, in 1978, I was admonished by a Sergeant to start carrying a “Model 60 in your off hand uniform holster pocket”. My department had us wear uniform pants with a leather holster sewn into (in my case) the left front pocket. I soon learned that approaching every car stop(which I absolutely hated doing for obvious safety reasons, came in handy a few times.
    Instead of reaching for my duty weapon, it was surprisingly fast to produce my two best friends to a violent suspect, and have him wonder, where the heck that came from? Not quite a New York Reload, but, it had a West Coast twist. As I am now older, I’m feeling drawn back to regularly carrying two of my snubbies. Timely article,

  4. Feel free not to approve this comment if you find it to be off-topic, but I am inclined to provide a public service announcement of sorts. Specifically: the Bell Charter Oak holster that you mentioned is not intended to be worn in the small of the back despite the marketing/film use of similar products. Instead, it is intended to be worn about 3 or 9 o’clock (depending on handedness) to allow a strong side draw of one gun and a cross draw/twist draw of the second. Small of the back carry creates potential safety hazards (namely lower back injury from a fall) that are only exacerbated by the bulk of a revolver cylinder.

  5. For a cop, a second weapon makes eminent sense for a host of obvious (and some not so obvious) reasons.

    I think Ron raises a good point about civilian CCW carriers, however. Even in a gun-rights-friendly jurisdiction that second weapon is likely to raise eyebrows, post-incident. Sure, a good lawyer can likely mitigate that question, but once you get into that kind of interrogation you’re already on the defensive.

    I have carried two weapons with me before, but that’s usually on motorcycle trips where a heavier mainstream weapon – say a 1911 or an L-frame .357 – isn’t well suited to actual carry while riding. In that case the bigger weapon is ensconced in my luggage while a J-frame rides in my pocket.

    I think the biggest challenge in the civilian world, though, is simply one’s normal attire. There’s a reason alloy J-frames and LCR’s and weapons of that ilk get so many carry hours vice there heavier brethren. If carrying a full-size handgun is already a work-in-progress, the notion of carrying two of anything – every day, not just here and there – quickly becomes a Gordian Knot.

    Another great article, Justin.

    1. Thanks, Jeff! You make another great point that I hadn’t considered (the motorcycle situation). I was prepared for this article to be a lightning rod for bickering but everyone here is teaching me something.

      Jeff, f you ever want to photograph some revolvers, I’d love to run some of your work! For everyone else reading this, you should definitely go check out Jeff’s writing and photography – it’s pretty awesome.

    2. Hello,

      I think the tide has changed a bit in the gun culture, and carrying two guns as an armed citizen is not viewed with the same suspicion that it once was. There are a large number of nationally-recognized trainers who recommend a second gun for armed citizens, these days. Even the shooting sports (like IDPA and IPSC) recognize their acceptance and have special divisions for BUGs. As Justin showed in this article, there are many solid justifications for carrying a second gun as an armed citizen.

      The legal system is certainly not so enlightened, but as Jeff mentioned, it can be dealt with appropriately. Honestly, your second gun will be less of an issue than the fact that you used force to begin with, in most locales. It’s likely your fight won’t be centered on why you had two guns on you, but why you decided to use any of them on the other sides’ client. Hopefully, you acted within the bounds of the law–if you didn’t, then a baseless “Rambo” charge is the least of your concerns! If you did act properly, then the false charge can be debunked or defanged.

      I wouldn’t let a concern about the treatment you may or may not get from the legal system drive your decision, here. Figure out if a second gun meets your needs, and if it does, then carry one in the same responsible manner as the first.

      Just my two Cents! We each have to find our own salvation, here.

  6. Well, so far Irma is knocking my power on and off and being a general PIA with rain bands & 30-35 MPH winds,,, but little else. Fear not, I am in full knowledge that the worst is headed my way & yet to come.

    I was pondering this whole “second gun thing” and suddenly my memory kicked in. I was at Gunsite and had a 1911 go DOWN on me. I mean DOWN. It seems that the sear spring broke slap in half. It was a range environment, not a life threatening event, so spare parts got me back up & running. You might say “well that was a semi-auto”,,, true. But roughly 2 years ago I was seriously training with as few others and suddenly my trusty J frame went CLICK. What to do??!!
    I was able to quickly determine that the J frame was down for the remainder of the day due to a broken firing pin. Again,,, what if those had been real life threatening events?

    I keep sister guns to the ones I carry, and I really can’t complain as I am certain that the J frame had 25K +- rounds through it BEFORE the pin broke. Today, I keep better tabs on things like firing pins, springs, etc.

    For me, the ending moral of this story,,, we are assuming that this piece of manufactured metal parts (sometime POORLY manufactured) we call a handgun, is going to always do what we want, when we want.

  7. Very good article, thank you. I haven’t really seen a detailed discussion of what one actually does with the first gun when it runs drty. There are a few options:
    1. Transfer empty gun to weak hand, draw backup with strong hand. Now you are shooting one handed, and both hands are occupied which is not ideal.
    2. Keep empty gun in strong hand, draw backup with weak hand. See #1.
    3. Drop the empty gun on the ground. This could render it inoperable, and I would be very reluctant to leave my weapons/equipment strewn around on the ground.
    4. Holster the empty gun and draw the backup. Gives you more options, but definitely slower.
    Would like to hear anyone’s thoughts? . . .

    1. Paul,

      I did a bit of research leading up to this one and I believe the prevailing wisdom currently is to drop the first gun. There’s something about dropping a gun that feels so viscerally wrong that it would take a big effort for me to do it regularly during training! Of course you mention some other options and I, too, am curious what the Revolver Guys here to carry a second gun do. So let’s here it!

      Justin

      1. Definitely, it feels wrong. Do many ranges actually allow this? At every IDPA meet I have shot, dropping one’s gun was immediate grounds for DQ.

        1. I’m sure you could do it in dry-practice but you’re right – finding a range allowing it would be tough.
          You could put a pillow or something between your feet to catch the gun, but then you’re limited to static practice (i.e. no moving – stepping offline, or forward/backward/lateral). Even if I were “allowed” to do it, I’d have a hard time just letting a revolver drop on a hard floor.

          1. Justin–yes, all good points. As others have said, revolvers are more tolerant of neglect but less tolerant of abuse, compared to autos. If it’s dropped and the cylinder hits a hard surface you could mess up the crane and other parts.
            Paul

  8. Another thought on this… If I get into a shooting, I turn in the weapon to the Police for evidence. It might be handy to have another weapon available, no?

    1. I agree with the theory, but I don’t think it would work like that in practice. If one of your guns is entered into evidence, I can’t imagine being allowed to talk away with the other one if it was on your person at the time. The better place for that second gun might be at home in the safe. Maybe some of our LEOs could weigh in?

  9. I’m sure the old saw abut reacting, under stress, like we train is completely true. Which means those of us who are fond of our guns and treat them with respect are at something of a disadvantage with respect to transitioning weapons. I know I can’t even bring myself to blithely drop magazines and speedloaders on the ground – which, of course, we all know we should do – much less my weapons themselves!

    As a civilian, I content myself with the thought that should I need a backup weapon, and I actually _have_ a backup weapon, I will count myself as exceedingly lucky! If it takes an extra second to transition, I’ll take it.

    But then, even as I am congratulating myself on having that second weapon… I hope to recognize that I have already failed on multiple levels. I have failed to NOT get in a situation where lethal force might be necessary. And then, having entered into that dark place, I have failed to make my first shots with my primary – presumably better – weapon count.

    My overarching philosophy – and the reason I don’t think revolvers are as much a defensive disadvantage as modern gunfighting mores would suggest – is that if you can’t solve the problem with the first handful of rounds, having a whole bunch more at your disposal is unlikely to make a difference.

    That’s a civilian worldview. Cops have far more complex scenarios to deal with, of course, and in that world I’d want as much firepower as I could carry.

    1. As a young old clothes LEO in the late 70’s our duty weapon was a 5 shot J frame Smith (36). Duty carry was 5 in the gun and 5 in a speed strip on my belt. Uniformed officers carried Model 10 4 inch bull barreled 6 shot Smith’s. With (at first) 2 6 shot dump pouches then later two speed loaders. 18 rounds total.

  10. This business of practicing dropping a gun screams out for a Ring’s BlueGun. Start the drill with the BlueGun in hand, on target, and imagine it malfunctioning or going dry. Drop it and draw the real one, then proceed. You’ll get the required practice without concern for messing up your real gear, violating safety protocols, or having to hover above a pillow.

  11. I’ve been carrying a Smith M637 on my weak side on duty for several years. I occasionally get the eye roll. Funny though…the 24 year old kid I just hired carries 4 extra mags with his 1911. He doesn’t get the “what a hot dog” eye roll. Injured in a fight or vehicle accident…NY reload. Pitbull latched on to my strong arm…NY reload. Take a round in my strong arm…NY reload. Too many advantages NOT to consider it.

    1. Jack,
      I agree totally. For an LE officer a NY reload/backup gun is critical. Thanks for weighing in from a law enforcement perspective!
      Justin

  12. This ONLY applies to me. I have been carrying Legally for 41 years. Always 2. I never carried for capacity only for mechanical failures.

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