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Relative Advantages of Pistols vs. Revolvers

Updated: Apr 21


Modern Autoloading Pistol

 Modern Revolver:[1]

Often thinner and therefore easier to conceal.

Cylinders are wide and harder to conceal.

Failure to fire due to “dud” round requires two or more steps, and losing the sight picture, to restore operability. 

Operability is unaffected by ammunition failure; one simply presses the trigger again to fire, without taking ones eyes off the target.

These require two hands to restore the gun to firing condition after a malfunction or jam.

In most cases, revolvers can be operated entirely with one hand.  In the rare  cases where a revolver malfunction is of a type that requires two hands to clear, it will also likely, require tools, and you are out of the fight.

Every round fired ejects the casing into the general environment, and they tend to land all over the place.

All casings remain with the revolver unless and until  they are deliberately ejected by the user. This makes it much easier to save the brass.

Pressing the muzzle of the weapon up against an adversary in a contact distance  struggle may force an autoloader out of  battery, causing a malfunction.

Revolvers will reliably and repeatedly fire with the muzzle pressed up against any surface that the bullet can penetrate, forcing hot gas into the hole created by the bullet.

Can have high magazine capacity.

Limited to 5, 6 or 7 rounds in the cylinder. [2]

Reloads are relatively fast; one inserts a new magazine and racks the slide.

Reloads take a lot of time, and are easier to fumble.[3]

Going from heavy loads to lighter loads can require changing out recoil springs, or the weapon may not cycle.   

Revolvers fire all loads without adjustment to the weapon, from blanks to light loads, to full magnum loads.  Some even fire multiple calibers.

If fired from under a jacket or other clothing, the slide may become entangled or impeded, causing a malfunction.

May be fired from within a pocket or under clothing without causing a malfunction, especially with “hammerless” models.

“Dry fire” practice is continually interrupted because the system must be reset by manually moving the slide.

Dry firing the weapon requires no manual reset.

[1]     "Modern" revolvers do not include single-action revolver designs from the 1800’s.

{2] One should give serious consideration to just how many rounds they are likely to have to fire in any confrontation.  There is data to suggest the average number of rounds fired in police shootings between 2005 and 2017 was 7.6.  In the majority of those shootings (53%), three or fewer rounds were fired.  See “How Much Ammunition Should You Carry,” on the FIRE Institute web stie.

[3] Will you have to reload at all?  Id.

Relative Accuracy:  While often debated, this is, in my view, an academic question, and not important.  If one’s purpose in carrying a hand gun requires a small weapon with a short barrel and short sight radius, those weapons, either pistol or revolver, will never equal the accuracy of full-sized “target” models of weapons of either type.  Further, any operational differences in accuracy are, as a practical matter, attributable to differences in the quality of the weapon and the level of expertise of the shooter, rather than type of weapon.  In the hands of equally expert marksmen, a cheap semi-auto cannot equal the accuracy of a good quality revolver, and a cheap revolver cannot equal the accuracy of a good quality semi-auto.  In light of these facts, the novice or occasional shooter is well advised not to base his or her choice of weapon upon academic debates over the inherent accuracy of one type of gun over another. You should get the best quality firearm you can afford, for the purpose you intend to use the weapon, and then practice as much as your circumstances will allow.  




-       “Revolvers do not jam.”  In fact, they can and they do.  Revolver malfunctions are not as frequent as pistol malfunctions, because revolvers do not have detachable magazines which can fail and are subject to operator error, and the operations of revolvers do not involve all of the machinations of auto-loading pistols.  But revolvers have different issues which can cause stoppages, such as debris under the ejection star, “high primers,” and unwinding of the cylinder.  You must learn your gun.


-       “Revolvers are easier to use.”  As noted in the table above, there are some things about using revolvers that are easier to master and others that are much harder.  It takes training and practice to use either type of weapon competently. The essentials (grip, stance, sight picture, sight alignment, trigger press, reacquisition of the sight picture, and easing the trigger to reset) are the same with either type of hand gun.  Learn those well, and you can use either type of weapon competently.


-       “Revolvers are better guns for women.”  There is nothing about the operation of either type of hand gun that inherently favors one gender over another.  This notion is promullgated by men who are for some reason threatened by the idea that women can handle firearms as well as men can, and who labor under the misconceptions that revolvers “do not jam” and are “easier to use.”  So, this whole idea arises from an unwarranted bias piled on top of ignorance about how revolvers work. 


-       “Nobody uses revolvers anymore.”  In fact, many well-known shooters carry revolvers under some circumstances, and small revolvers are still very popular as “pocket guns” for police officers, including uniformed officers.  Personally, I have a lot of fun shooting my revolvers, and I do carry one on occasion without feeling “under-armed.”


 Peter Georgiades, Copywright 2004.

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