Response to “Contrary Revolvers: Why I Hate Revolvers” (by C.R. Williams 5/21/2013) USCCA online

 I am not angry with Mr. Williams for writing an article contrary to revolvers, because I do not have an inhibiting emotional, egotistical or nostalgic attachment to revolvers. In fact, I carry a Glock as my primary weapon when I am on duty. But I do feel the need to respond to some of Mr. William’s assertions about revolvers and their role as a concealed carry and personal defense weapon, which I do not think were fully thought through based on my experience, history and knowledge.

Mr. Williams made two declarations- 1) You should not carry a revolver by choice as a primary weapon, and 2) Technological developments have made revolvers a second choice weapon at best. He then produced a list of his reasons to support these declarations. Let’s analyze this list and then you can make your own decision as to which line of reasoning makes more sense to you.

“Revolvers are limited in ammunition capacity compared to most semi-autos. (This can be mitigated by carrying two or more revolvers, but you can carry two or more semi-autos as easily.)”

True, revolvers are limited in ammunition capacity, but this is only a disadvantage if you have poor shot placement, are using a substandard round / caliber, or are planning to get into a gunfight. The vast majority of self-defense shootings involve 7 or less rounds fired. This applies to the majority police shootings as well, NYPD and FBI historical data on the topic affirm this. But when it comes to ammunition capacity the more important question is, what is the role of the weapon we are carrying? If you are sticking a gun in your pocket to go get some milk from the corner store at 2AM, then a revolver would be a perfectly appropriate tool for the job. Your objective with this weapon is to be able to cut a path for escape so that you can get away from a dangerous confrontation alive, or stay alive until the police get there. If you need more than 15 rounds (5 or 6 in the gun plus two reloads) to do that, then you have poor shot placement, are using substandard rounds or picked the wrong tool for the job. The same applies for a home defense nightstand gun. If you are going on duty as an armed professional, or are going to be carrying a weapon in a high threat environment, then you pick a more appropriate tool for the job- a high capacity semi-auto with at least 3 extra magazines and a backup gun. In this situation a 6 or 7-shot 1911 style semi-auto would be just as inappropriate as a revolver because of the low capacity limitations.

“Revolvers cannot be reloaded as quickly as semi-autos. (Again, you can carry two or more, but you can carry two or more semis too.)”

The disadvantage of any particular weapons system can usually be compensated for with training. Have you ever been to an IDPA, IPSC or USPSA competition and watched the revolver shooters? I have, and personally I have never seen a revolver competitor fumble a reload. On the flip side, it is a common occurrence to see semi-auto shooters fumble their reloads by not being able to get their magazines out from concealment properly; dropping their mags, not seating their mags properly and numerous other errors that slow down semi-auto reloads under stress. There are just less things to do wrong in a revolver reload. When trained on, revolver reloads can be extremely fast and efficient under stress. Just go to YouTube and watch Jerry Miculek do one.

“For most people, revolvers are more difficult to shoot well than semi-autos. (Most people can learn to shoot well faster and easier using a semi-auto pistol.)”

This really depends on the person’s level and commitment to training, and the intended purpose of having the weapon. Once you have mastered marksmanship fundamentals on a revolver with a 12 lb. trigger pull, applying those skills to a semi-automatic pistol is a cakewalk. So while it may be easier for beginners to shoot a semi-automatic pistol, it does not mean that it is a better choice as a concealed carry weapon. The skills needed to survive the real and debilitating stress of a lethal force confrontation is an entirely different skill set than what it takes to be able to learn fundamental marksmanship skills at a range. So while there are inexperienced or beginner shooters that will do better right off the bat on a square range with a semi-automatic pistol in their hand, this does not translate into putting a semi-automatic pistol in their holster.

“Revolvers are harder physically on many, perhaps most, people to shoot than semi-autos. (More recoil is translated to the shooter than would be with an equivalent semi-auto.)”

When comparing the same caliber and cartridge in a semi-automatic pistol with a revolver, in most cases revolvers will have less felt recoil because of their heavier, all metal frames. There is also less sight disturbance with revolvers. This is because there are less mechanical actions happening during and after the shot. The hammer falls and the cylinder turns. After every shot with a semi-automatic pistol, the slide blows backward and then slingshots forward. The magazine spring is expands upward. The barrel moves out of the slide and then back into battery while a round is being shoved into the chamber. All of these actions cause sight disturbance, grip disturbance and impact felt recoil. For this reason, the most popular self-defense revolver rounds (.38+p, .357 mag, .45LC, .44 mag) tend to be hotter and more powerful than the most popular semi-automatic rounds (.380, 9mm, .40 and .45). In a revolver you can shoot a hotter round and control it more easily than in a semi-automatic.

To be fair, the disadvantage with most revolvers is their long, drawn out trigger pull, which averages 8 lbs. or more. This can make pulling the trigger of a revolver more difficult for shooters with less hand strength and shorter fingers. Fortunately, there are plenty of options out there, and like any weapons system you need to select one that fits your hand the best.

“If a revolver fails in combat (and they do fail) that failure is more likely to be catastrophic to the shooter than it would be with a semi-auto. (Most semi-auto failures can be rectified quickly. A revolver failure is more likely to make the weapon useless.)”

I am baffled as to where the author got his information from. Ask yourself this question: How many times have you been to a range or been shooting with others and seen a revolver malfunction? I used to carry a revolver as my duty weapon and qualified with it (along with usually 10-30 other people) more times than I can remember, and have NEVER seen a catastrophic revolver malfunction. I have seen ammunition failures, and I have seen empty shells that needed to be pried out of the chamber because of over expansion (usually due to bad reloaded ammo) but I have never seen a revolver mechanically malfunction. I am sure it happens, but it is so rare that in my 20 years of teaching firearms, I have never seen it personally- I have only heard of it.

Now ask yourself another question: How many times have you been shooting at a range and seen a semi-automatic pistol malfunction? If you have never seen it, or never experienced it yourself, then I submit you are not shooting nearly enough to be able to create the competency you need to use a weapon for self-defense.  Because of the complex mechanical actions that make a semi-automatic pistol work, there is any number of environmental conditions or user induced errors that can cause a malfunction. Some examples are bad ammo, limp wristing, getting clothing or barricade material caught up in the slide, a bad extractor, bad magazine follower, improperly seating the magazine, etc. etc. Any one of these things could cause a semi-automatic pistol to malfunction. 

More importantly, the shooter has to know how to quickly and efficiently diagnose the 3 different possible types of malfunctions that is being experienced under the debilitating stress of a lethal force confrontation. In my experience, many people (and the majority of inexperienced/new shooters) do not have the discipline or commitment to training in order to be able to develop the skill set and muscle memory to be able to clear any type of possible malfunction during a confrontation. This includes armed professionals. The vast majority of civilians, police officers and armed professionals that come to me for training do not own dummy rounds for their primary weapon. This tells me that they have not committed to training for malfunctions. How do you drill for malfunctions without dummy rounds? The reality is that if you can’t clear any semi-automatic pistol malfunction type blindfolded and in your sleep, it is very likely you won’t be able to clear it effectively in the middle of a gunfight while your body alarm reaction in engaged.

On the flip side, what is the universal malfunction clearance drill for a revolver? Pull the trigger again. That’s all there is to it. It’s easy to remember and instinctive. It doesn’t require any diagnosing or proficiency drills. The gun goes “click” instead of “bang”, so you pull the trigger again. If you can’t pull the trigger, you have a catastrophic failure and hopefully you can do a NY reload (pull out your back up gun). That’s all there is to it. This is one of the primary reasons why I recommend the revolver for first time gun owners, older people, and those new to concealed carry. I know that if they will not, cannot, or are just too lazy to commit to practicing malfunction clearance drills, it won’t matter. They will still have a reliable and effective weapon that will do the job if they need it, even if they only get to the range a couple times a year.

Let’s face it- many people, perhaps even the majority of people who buy a gun for self-defense, will load it, put it in the nightstand drawer and forget about it. They have accomplished their goal- to feel safe. Now that they do, they forget about it until they need it. So if that gun is going to sit in a nightstand drawer or safe and never see the light of day until they need it, which can be years or perhaps even decades later, wouldn’t it be better if that gun was a revolver? Semi-automatic pistols were not designed to be neglected. They need to be maintained. Springs need to be replaced, parts need to be lubed, and the many mechanical parts need to be in good working order. You cannot pick up a semi-automatic pistol 10 years after it was loaded and put into a drawer, and realistically expect it to work reliably. You can expect this of the revolver.

In 2008, an elderly Illinois man had a home invader break through his 2nd floor bedroom window while he was lying in his bed. The man reached into his nightstand drawer and pulled out a .38 caliber revolver which he fired twice at the home invader, hitting him in the chest and killing him. The elderly man was a Korean war veteran who brought the revolver home from the war, loaded it in 1963 and stuck it in the nightstand drawer. He left it there, untouched, until that night in 2008. This is the reliability of the revolver. Of course I would not advise this kind of neglect- you’d be lucky if 40 year old ammo still fired. But the point is we should not and cannot expect this level of reliability and longevity in the face of neglect from a semi-automatic pistol.

“Spare ammunition is harder to carry for a revolver than it is for a semi-auto. There is not as much choice of model and type or caliber, nor is there as much flexibility in regard to add-ons and modifications with revolvers as there are with semi-autos”.

I think Mr. Williams point here is that it is more convenient to carry extra semi-automatic magazines than it is to carry revolver speedloaders. This is accurate since revolver speedloaders are round which makes them more bulky, but it is not true for speed strips. Speed strips are lightweight and easy to put into just about any pocket, even a suit jacket or shirt pocket. A magazine weighs more, takes up more space and is not recommended to be carried outside of a magazine pouch. If you do, you can lose rounds and get lint, dirt or even coins from your pocket inside the magazine which can affect its ability to function once placed inside the gun. While magazines do hold more rounds, speed strips are smaller, more compact and easy to stash just about anywhere regardless of how dirty. For those who must have their speedloaders, a little creativity can go a long way. For example I use a “Leatherman” nylon belt sheath, which perfectly fits two vertically stacked speedloaders, looks innocuous on your belt and doesn’t stick out like traditional belt worn double speedloader pouches.

Translation: Choosing a revolver or semi-automatic handgun is not an either / or proposition. Choose the correct tool for the job.

Let us not forget that the gun is simply a tool. The best tool for the job depends on what the job is. If you are building a doll house, the best hammer to use would be a ball peen hammer. If you are building a house, a pneumatic air powered nail gun might work best. But if you try using the nail gun on the doll house, you will have disastrous results. Likewise trying to build a garage using the ball peen hammer would be futile and ineffective. 

If you are going into an environment where you could potentially encounter a gunfight and are limited to a handgun, then choose a semi-automatic pistol with plenty of extra magazines and a backup. When I am on-duty, I carry a Glock 19 with 3 extra magazines and my Ruger SP101 .357 mag as a backup with three reloads. If you are going to dinner with your family, or running to the store on an errand and just want to make sure you have an escape plan if something where to come up, then stick the snub-nosed revolver in your pocket, along with one or two speed strips. If you want a home defense gun and aren’t keen on going to the range, or just don’t do a lot of practice or training, then get a full size revolver and stick it in your night stand drawer or pistol safe. If you are the type of person that has the discipline to train regularly, do dryfire practice, have the “eternal student” approach to taking training, and like to clean and maintain your gun, then pick a semi-automatic pistol for your home defense gun or primary carry gun. Whatever you do, don’t kid yourself: there is no weapons system, technology, gadget or gizmo that will win a gunfight for you. Only you can do that for yourself; it cannot be purchased. What you can purchase is the right tool for the job, and there is no single tool that is universally appropriate for every job.

Craig Lawrence CPP, CAS is an NRA Law Enforcement Firearms Instructor, and has been an Illinois State Licensed Firearms Instructor for the past 20 years. He is a licensed Private Detective and Chief Instructor for United Risk International’s Training Division. Website:



5 Responses to “Response to “Contrary Revolvers: Why I Hate Revolvers” (by C.R. Williams 5/21/2013) USCCA online”

  1. Mick | September 20, 2013 at 10:33 am #

    As a revolver enthusiast, I appreciate this perspective. Having put several hundred thousand rounds downrange I am comfortable with either basic platform, but appreciate the versatility and ease of training with revolvers, particularly with folks not interested in more than an introductory effort. Especially in the .38/.357 models, one can learn and practice with very light loads in .38’s, yet switch to the hottest .357’s if desired (with attendant practice for recoil management, sight alignment, etc.) in the same gun. I have yet to find an auto that will do this.

    • Steve Crowley | December 27, 2013 at 4:59 pm #

      Right! Not to mention .38 Short., Long and even the
      9MM for those with twin cylinders like the Ruger
      revolvers. Talk about versatility and flexibility in
      training. Ditto for .22 LR and Magnum cylinders.

  2. Ron | December 23, 2013 at 7:26 pm #

    Very good write up: objective, fair, and balanced. I appreciated reading this. I fit in the category of guys who feel a need for home and personal protection, but am not a gun aficionado who loves to go out and shoot. My home defense weapon is a Kimber Compact CDP II, which is a bit too big for concealed carry, and so I’m patiently waiting on my Kimber Solo with Crimson Trace grip. But, I have been having nagging doubts about whether a revolver, such as S&W M&P 340CT, might be a better choice for concealed carry. My concern with the semi-automatic, in the case of a self defense scenario, of royally screwing up the racking. It took me a bit to not ride the slide, which I noticed can cause jamming of the initial round. My suspicion is that, in a life or death situation, with the adrenaline pumping and my heart racing at 200 beats per minute, I’m likely to survive the situation better if all I have to do is point and shoot.

  3. Drew | August 10, 2015 at 9:22 pm #

    Good post. Im very comfortable with revolvers and have more experience with them over autos. In eleven months ill be able to get a cc permit. I plan on getting a 3 inch 357 k frame. 38 +p jhp for carry and 357 for woods.

  4. JA | August 24, 2015 at 11:29 am #

    This is probably the best thing I’ve read on the internet in a while. Well educated and totally on the money. Great response to a less wise article.

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