A Revolver Will Always Be Okay For Self-Defense
Until laser pistols become a thing, revolvers will always be a practical choice for a defensive handgun. Yes, they have some pretty glaring limitations…but most of the “limitations” aren’t as limiting as some people think.
In reality, a revolver will do everything that a semi-auto will do with the same number of bullets. In other words, whatever you can do with a Glock in 6 shots, can also be done with a revolver in 6 shots.
Every now and again, there are new rumors of the concealed carry revolver being resurrected, followed shortly by its apparent imminent return to the ash heap of history.
Let us contemplate, for the moment, what the actual virtues of the fighting revolver are, and consider also if it still has any value as a tool for self-defense in the modern day.
A Revolver Is Just As Fast To Six Shots
Obviously, when one wants to talk about revolvers as still having a place as a fighting handgun, one refers to double-action revolvers.
A lot of different guns are referred to as “obsolete.” Many are actually obsolescent, meaning they still work almost as well as modern guns, but are old-fashioned. The 1911 springs to mind.
Single-action revolvers? Those are obsolete. Double-action revolvers? Those are obsolescent.
A double-action trigger system is just as fast to deploy as a striker-fired trigger system. It’s just that slightly more resistance is inherent in the trigger. The trigger stroke, after all, has to cock and then release the hammer, as opposed to partially cocking and releasing a striker.
What that means is that a double-action revolver can be just as fast to put the first shot on target from the holster, and get up to six shots on target, just as quickly as a semi-auto in practiced hands.
In other words, a semi-automatic pistol has no advantage when things are equal.
The advantage of a semi-auto, then, kicks in once things are NOT equal! However, up to that point…both are equally effective. Revolvers can be fast, they can be accurate, and they can be fired quickly and accurately at the same time.
The Modern Technique of handgunning? That Gunsite and Jeff Cooper spread all over the world? Heavily informed from and developed by people shooting wheelguns. Therefore, you can’t really say a double-action revolver can’t be used effectively.
Unequal Things Are Unequal To Each Other…But Do The Inequalities Matter?
Obviously, the shortcomings of revolvers have to be acknowledged.
They are by virtue of their design larger and heavier than semi-autos. Obviously capacity is pitiful by comparison (5 or 6 compared to anywhere from 6+1 to 18+1 for most autoloaders) and the sights on most revolvers are anywhere from merely fair to absolutely terrible.
Also, the easiest revolvers to carry are also the worst to carry in terms of how well they lend themselves to good use. Snubby revolvers are very easy to carry, but they are darned hard to shoot very well.
The short sight radius and poor ergonomics makes them a nightmare to make accurate hits with at anything just outside bad breath distance. Some can, but it is not easy. The short barrel length also robs projectiles of terminal performance.
The best revolvers for self-defense are the medium frame guns, but the 3-inch barrel “compact” models are about the same length, height and weight of a 1911 that holds up to 3 more rounds in .45 ACP, and up to 5 more in 9mm.
Reloading is much slower, even if using moon clips instead of a mechanical speedloader. Yes, you can bring up Jerry Miculek if you want, but you aren’t Jerry Miculek.
And that’s the medium-frame/medium-bore wheelguns, nevermind the big ol’ magnums.
But…but…here’s the rub:
Besides sheer dimensions and measurements…how much of a drawback are those drawbacks?
Carrying a big, heavy gun is a pain, yeah, but it’s just as much of a pain if you’re carrying a CZ-75, a Beretta 92 or a Smith and Wesson Model 10. If you have a good holster and a good belt to support it, that helps…but what about the other areas in which the revolver falls down?
The need for capacity is a funny thing. It’s different for police and military, as they get into running gun battles and need as many bullets on-hand as they can get.
The typical civilian shooting is very brief and involves very few shots being fired. Rare is the civilian gunfight that requires a reload, or even results in a semi-auto pistol being shot to slide lock.
Does that mean they don’t happen? No, they sometimes do. That’s why it’s up to you, the person owning, carrying and practicing with the gun, to decide for yourself how important that is for you.
Great feats of accuracy have been accomplished using the iron sights on revolvers, and feats of terrible accuracy have been accomplished using semi-autos. This depends more on the skill of the shooter than the gun.
Attempts have been made over the years to adapt the revolver to modern carry optics and for attaching a light, such as the Thunder Ranch edition S&W guns…but they didn’t sell enough to keep making them. The $1000+ price tag likely didn’t help.
So you can’t add accessories preferred by modern shooters, unlike a lot of semi-auto pistols.
How much that matters to you…well, that’s up to you.
The Concealed Carry Revolver Is Relevant…But Also Out Of Date
What’s the takeaway? The reality is that a concealed carry revolver can be every bit as accurate, reliable and effective as a semi-auto pistol for six shots.
After that, the semi-auto pistol completely pulls away.
Now, framed as a question of “which is better” the truth is that semi-auto pistols are better, and they’ve been better since the early 20th century. They were then, they are now, and they’re always going to be.
However, framed as the question of “if I decide I prefer one, can a revolver be trusted to save my bacon if I have to use it?” And the answer to that is absolutely.
But…it comes with the headaches of reduced capacity and a cylinder, which means you have to reload a lot more often. Adding a light or an optic is not as easy as it is for most autoloaders.
The good ones are rather expensive, and they can be a pain to carry.
However, if you’re okay with only having 6 shots to work with, you can absolutely do what you need to do with a revolver…so long as you hit your target, and that – ultimately – is what’s going to save your life if you have to use your gun to defend yourself.