Revolver vs. semi-automatic

One question that is always sure to spur a lot of debate is whether a revolver or semi-automatic pistol is the better choice for self-defense. While the pros and cons of each are many and provide far more material than can be covered in one article, I will lay out the primary arguments for each.

A revolver has fewer moving parts than a semi-automatic pistol. This tends to make them very reliable with very little maintenance required. There are simply fewer parts that can break on a revolver and fewer things that can go wrong while firing one. In most cases, if the pistol fails to fire when you pull the trigger (bad ammunition can cause this to happen) you simply pull the trigger again and a new cartridge rotates into place. That’s part of the reason why some call the revolver the original point and click device.

There are some drawbacks to revolvers, however. Since the ammunition is contained in the round cylinder, they tend to be fatter than a similarly sized semi-automatic. This can make them more difficult to conceal, though only slightly so, particularly with a smaller round like a .22.

Most revolvers only have six shots, though many ultra-compact semi-automatics don’t have many more than that. Revolvers are also slow to reload. Speed loaders (special tools that hold extra ammo for a revolver) can make reloading faster, but still not as fast as a semi-automatic.

One of the biggest drawbacks is that if a revolver does fail, it can do so spectacularly and completely lock up the gun. Anecdotal evidence seems to indicate this is very rare, but if it happens the gun is usually completely useless and requires a gun smith to make it function again.

Semi-automatic pistols try to make up for the deficiencies of a revolver, but add numerous shortcomings in the process.

They are often thinner, lighter, and can hold more ammunition (often twice as much or more). The removable magazines make them quicker to reload for most people. However, semi-automatic pistols also have some drawbacks.

The first of which is that they are more complicated to load. With a revolver, you load the cylinder, close it, and you’re ready to go. With a semi-automatic, you insert the magazine and must rack the slide. Not that much more complicated, but if you forget that all important second step (under stress while being attacked or simply because you forgot two years ago when you loaded the gun) nothing will happen no matter how many times you pull the trigger.

If a cartridge fails to fire, you must rack the slide to get rid of the bad cartridge and load a fresh one. A cartridge can also fail to extract when the slide cycles (moves back and forth) causing a jam. Jams in a semi-automatic are often easier to clear than with a revolver, but you still must know how to do it.

The slide itself can be a problem. You must have sufficient strength to pull back the slide, and I’ve witnessed many people who simply can’t do it if the internal springs are too strong. I’ve never seen anyone unable to close the cylinder on a revolver.

Many semi-automatic pistols have a safety that must be disengaged before firing. Again, failing to do so means the gun won’t fire. I’ve also heard stories of untrained individuals attempting to disengage the safety and instead hitting the magazine release button causing the pistol to unload.

More moving parts means there is more to break, though most quality semi-automatics tend to have long service lives. These moving parts do require more maintenance and also provide more opportunities for the gun to jam when dirty, something that rarely happens with a revolver.

In my opinion, revolvers are the better choice for a person who wants a reliable firearm and does not want to invest the time into proper practice. Though, for me, the semi-automatic is the better choice.

I practice regularly to be sure I’m familiar with the controls and have built muscle memory for dealing with malfunctions. I can also shoot a semi-automatic faster than a revolver. My pistol holds 11 rounds of .40 caliber ammunition, as opposed to the six rounds in a revolver. With one extra magazine, I have 21 shots versus the 12 I’d have with one speed loader for a revolver.

It all boils down to a matter of personal preference, and really any gun is going to be better than no gun. It is a decision you have to make for yourself.


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