Wheels vs. Semis
The purpose of this article is to help guide those new to handguns. As a firearm instructor I must be ready to answer the revolver vs. semi-auto (self-loader) question.
Before I get any hate mail, let me say that I like most handguns, both revolvers and self-loaders. There is something to be said for the comforting weight of the dense, quality steel found in many revolvers.
Revolvers are simple. For both single action and double action, just load the cylinders and shoot. No safeties or slide stops to confuse you in the dead of night. You don’t have to worry if the chamber is loaded when a narcotic addicted social problem breaks your home’s window and tries to climb through. Cleaning is generally a snap, with an small exception for those 10 shot .22 caliber models.
Revolver reliability is almost as good as the sun coming up. Many revolvers can fire several different types of rounds, the difference being how much gun powder they hold. (The .357 Magnum can also fire the .38 Special. The .38s generating less recoil for practice, and possibly less expensive.) Similar can be said of the .44 Magnum / 44 Smith & Wesson Special and the .32 Federal Magnum. If one wants to load their own ammo on the light side to save on recoil or budget, no problem, the revolver doesn’t need a certain amount of recoil to make it work. Bullet styles that cut precise round holes in paper such as ‘wad cutters’ will not induce feeding problems like they might in some self-loaders.
The large caliber Revolvers used for hunting are known to be rifle like accurate. And who didn’t admire ‘Dirty Harry’ when he pulled out his .44 Magnum and challenge a punk to “Make my day?” (Although these days, beasts like the .500 Smith & Wesson (.50 caliber) can sledge down elephants and make a .44 Magnum run home to its momma.) Most center-fire self-loaders are not suitable for hunting. There are some exceptions out there, and when my eyes were younger, I used a self-loading .22 to harvest wild squirrels on occasion.
Many of the smaller five shot pocket models pack plenty of .38 punch, and conceal nicely. (Who wants to scare the little ole lady standing behind you in line at the grocery store by letting her see an eight shot .357 Magnum revolver bulge under your clothing?)
If the revolver doesn’t go bang (very rare, and usually because of bad ammo or a need to reload) just pull the trigger again. With a self-loader you have to lock the slide back remove the magazine, clear out any jammed rounds, then reload. Also, with revolvers you don’t have to worry about a magazine spring getting weak on you. You don’t have to rotate the magazines or change springs once in a while like you do with self-loaders.
So why wouldn’t
anyone want a revolver? After all, they’ve been around since before the civil war.
It boils down to something called trigger pull, which is the pressure needed to release the sear that holds back the hammer that will strike the firing pin which strikes the primer thus detonating the cartridge. Choices also revolve around reloading time, and to a lesser extent, ammunition capacity.
Trigger pull is crucial to both accurate and rapid shooting. Most double action revolvers need between 8 to 14 pounds of pressure to make the cylinder revolve and the hammer cock. Even a very smooth average 10 pound trigger pull can easily make a two pound revolver wiggle off target. It takes a lot of quality practice to shoot a revolver quickly and accurately. It takes nerves of steel to make that revolver work adequately under pressure. Like when someone is closing in on you with a knife, or Heaven forbid, actually throwing lead at you! I’m not saying it cannot be done, and freely acknowledge that your nerves might well be stouter than mine.
I once saw a video on America’s Most Wanted that showed a robber and a store owner empty both of their revolvers at each other from no more than three feet apart and NO ONE got hit!
I don’t remember the details of the study exactly, but when the Illinois State Highway patrol went from revolvers to self-loaders, their ability to hit the bad guy the first time increased markedly. It would have increased more except that the first shot through the Smith & Wesson model 39 was double action (it cocked the hammer), but it took less muscle, probably about seven pounds to pull the trigger.
Interestingly enough, studies showed that it was the second shot, fired single action at about four pounds of pull that increased hits in shootouts from about 31% of the time for double action to 68% for the self-loaded, or single action shot!
Trigger pull can make a huge difference.
The fact is that many self-loaders hold at least eight shots, and often many more. Let’s face it, when evil is too close, you want all the friends you can get, and every cartridge in that gun is your BFF, at least until you shoot it.
But what about just cocking the revolver and fighting single action? Not a bad question, after all, your best revolver scores will occur after you have cocked the gun manually, which usually sets the trigger to a ‘hair’ two pound pull. IF you have cover, defined as you are behind something that will definitely stop a bullet, and are trying to shoot the top off your adversaries’ head who has also found cover, then yes, go ahead and cock it and put all of your marksmanship to work. You don’t want to be investigating those strange sounds in the basement with a cocked revolver and accidently bump your elbow on a wall and accidently shoot a drunken neighbor who thought they were breaking into their own home. You certainly don’t want to be holding some creep at gun point, them laying on the floor arms stretched out, you on the phone with 911 when the you put a tiny extra bit of weight on that cocked revolver and the gun accidently blasts a slug through the back of your possibly unarmed prisoner.
The press, not to mention prosecutors, tend to roast people who do that.
The problem is that most violent encounters happen very quickly and within just a few feet, so you need to be able to shoot fast and accurate. Whoever lands the first potentially lethal blow usually wins. A self-loader gives you a decided advantage in doing just that.
Another point is speed of reloading. As a general rule, most of us can reload a self-loader much quicker than a revolver, even if we use revolver speed loaders.
(I know there are some people out there practice reloading revolvers relentlessly and have become super-fast.)
The good news is that criminals rarely slug it out for extended periods of time with armed civilians. Apparently they are stupid enough to get into trouble, yet smart enough to heed the self-preservation instinct.
As an NRA Certified Firearm Instructor, I am often tempted to tell my female clients to get revolvers. It would save me a lot of headaches because many women have a hard time pulling back the slides of many load self-loaders, and find cleaning them to be as bad or worse than changing baby diapers. (As a matter of record, I can change a baby’s dirty diaper much quicker than cleaning a self-loader.) But NRA instructors must be honest. The truth is that as much as I like revolvers, it’s a self-loader that many civilians, most police, and all U.S. military use for self-defense. Mine will put more holes through a bad guy than the tax code. With proper training, preferably starting with a .22, and sufficient practice, so will you with either
type of handgun you choose.
Frederick Shooting Instruction | Frederick, MD 21702