Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Handguns for Survival - Part Two - Disadvantages of Revolvers

When choosing a handgun, there are several different factors that should be considered when deciding what will work the best in your set of circumstances. All the advantages and disadvantages should be carefully considered before making a decision about whether to purchase a revolver for defensive purposes.

Disadvantages of Revolvers

The main disadvantage of a revolver involves the fact that they normally don’t have a manual safety that you can simply switch off and on. The safe operation of a revolver was based on two main factors: competent training of the user and familiarity with the revolver’s operation. Revolvers generally don’t have external or manual safeties that are usually found on most semi-automatic pistols. The revolver is a well established design that has been around for a long time before the semi-automatic pistol. In the case of most double action revolvers, when you pull the trigger the gun will fire if loaded. In the case of single action revolvers, it is necessary to cock the hammer first and is a very simple type of safety measure. Additionally some modern single action pistols incorporate a hammer block mechanism or a disabling feature if the cartridge loading gate is open.

The safe use of revolvers was based on a very simple principle. If you didn’t want the pistol to fire, don’t pull the trigger. You need to realize that the main safety feature for a revolver has been and continues to be the skill and knowledge of the user for safe operation.

A second disadvantage of revolvers is due mainly to their construction. Due to generally heavier frames and longer barrel lengths (with the exception of short barrel, i.e. snub-nose models), they do not make the best weapons for concealed carry purposes. Their protruding cylinders and longer barrels make them somewhat more difficult to conceal. Their additional weight can also be a burden to those persons of smaller stature. If concealed carry is going to be the primary purpose of your handgun, a semi-automatic pistol may be a better choice in your circumstance.

A third disadvantage of revolvers is the limitation on the number of rounds that a revolver is generally designed to hold. While most revolvers have a six round capacity, this can vary depending upon the type of revolver and the caliber being used. Although they can be reloaded fairly quickly with the aid of speedloaders, it is important to remember that speedloaders are an additional piece of gear that can become lost or misplaced.

Another disadvantage of revolvers involves the repair of the handgun should it become necessary. Although their design makes them very reliable and sturdy, handguns will break or need repair at some point. It is at this point you will need a skilled and competent gunsmith. Most revolvers are not user friendly when it comes to being repaired. You will most likely have to seek the services of a competent professional for any needed repairs in the majority of cases.

You can read part one here:

Handguns for Survival - Part One - Advantages of Revolvers


Proper training in the use and care of your handgun is also a very important factor. Like any tool, you will need to have the proper training and knowledge to operate a handgun safely, effectively and with confidence in your abilities. Your knowledge, skill and training will ultimately influence the effectiveness of any handgun choice you may make. Learn and follow ALL safety guidelines at ALL times when using a handgun.

Staying above the water line!



matthiasj said...

Great post RW. Revolvers do require a little more discipline. All handgun owners should know all proper safety practices.

Kentucky Preppers Network

riverwalker said...

To: matthiasj

Revolvers are very unforgiving in the safety department. Failure to learn the proper safety guidelines can have serious consequences when revolvers are involved. Thanks.


Bitmap said...

Ruger revolvers aren't that difficult to take apart and get back together. S&W and Colt revolvers are a little more involved. This is an issue because the mechanisms often don't like fine sand and dust. I've seen them tied up to where they wouldn't work at all, although hosing them out with break cleaner followed by oil will usually get them running again.

The width through the cylinder is a disadvantage for concealment, especially with an IWB holster. Weight, however, is not so much of an issue if you are willing to spend the money on a S&W with the scandium frame. Then the problem becomes "how much recoil can you handle?"

One advantage is that revolvers are more forgiving of different types of ammo in my experience. Bullet shape and seating length doesn't matter as much as long as you don't exceed the cylinder length.

I'll fix your sentence about safety:

You need to realize that the main safety feature for any firearm has been and continues to be the skill and knowledge of the user for safe operation.

Safety really is between your ears, not between your hands.

riverwalker said...

To: Bitmap

Revolvers do have a tendency to handle different ammo types well, including reloads. Many semi-auto pistols don't like anything but factory loads.

Agreed that some of the titanium or other types of lighter weight frames do save in that department but you lose in the recoil department which may ultimately affect the accuracy of a second shot.

"Safety really is between your ears, not between your hands."

A great way to put it! Thanks.


Wyn Boniface said...

Magazines can be lost just as easily as speedloaders. A revolver does not require a speedloader to load. A semi-automatic requires a magazine to be properly loaded.

Ken said...

...mornin'RW...personally i would like to add,no matter what side arm you choose,remember this...when TSHTF,yer pistol is only there to fight yer way back to a rifle...


Bitmap said...

Ken, I like your attitude.

Mockum said...

IMHO, a third disadvantage of revolvers is cost. I was thinking of buying a new S&W 686 357 Magnum and was surprised at the $750 price tag (if I remember correctly). A 9mm or 40 cal Glock runs around $500. I don't see the revolver worth the extra cost and will be sticking with plastic guns.

riverwalker said...

To: Wyn

Excellent point! Thanks for the insight on magazines.


riverwalker said...

To: Ken

I concur with Bitmap. Great viewpoint about handguns. Thanks.


riverwalker said...

To: Bitmap

I agree.


riverwalker said...

To: Mockum

Quite a few used revolvers on the market that might be suitable in the cost department. Most anything even remotely connected to firearms has gotten very expensive nowadays. Thanks.


Machinist said...

I have used and carried both revolvers and automatics for decades. I find a couple of your points mystifying.

The lack of a safety catch is an advantage, not a fault. Safety catches are to allow carrying an auto "cocked and locked". DAO autos also have no active safeties. A safety is something you must remember to click on before holstering your gun and click off before firing. In a real fight you may have to do both in a great hurry while under great distracting stress. People have forgotten to click off their safeties when trying to fire and have holstered guns that were cocked with the safety off. This includes professionals. When police departments switched to semiautos in the eighties, the accidental discharges tripled! A revolver need never be cocked and it is easy to unload. There is no round lurking in the chamber to be forgotten.

Wyn Boniface makes another good point. You don't need loaders, magazines, or clips to load a revolver. In a serious situation I would try never to empty my gun. Changing to a full magazine on an autoloader means removing good rounds. A revolver can be topped up by replacing only the rounds fired. Firing two or three and then topping up means you always have a couple of rounds available for the unexpected. A speed loader is nice if you run dry but I prefer loops or strips to allow more flexibility as I would always top up after firing a few rounds, even with an automatic having many more on tap.

As for concealment I disagree strongly. A small frame revolver with a short barrel hides easily in an IWB holster. The cylinder tucks inside the belt and both ends taper away in a manner that hides easily. I find it much harder to hide the but of a semiauto under light clothing. It makes a recognizable bump. I can completely hide a J frame Smith under a tee shirt to where no one has spotted it in over ten years of daily carry. A medium frame auto can only be hidden under a jacket for me.

Lastly, I would suggest it is easier to learn to work on a revolver than an auto, and the results of a mistake are less dangerous. It is more likely to result in a misfire than an accidental discharge or full auto string.

riverwalker said...

To: Machinist

IMHO, I consider safety devices to be a good thing. True, there are times when safety devices can work to your disadvantage but many have been designed to protect the user from simple mistakes that can be made by anyone, including but not limited to experienced users. There are safety devices on many types of equipment and tools that can work to the advantage of those persons lacking the skills, knowledge and experience in their use, hopefully preventing a needless mishap.

I understand your point about the lack of a safety mechanism on a revolver is not considered a fault in your case. This is due in part to your level of experience, skill and knowledge that the average person may not have. A safety mechanism for the average person would probably be of a greater benefit in some cases.

While safety devices are not a guarantee that there won't be an accident of some sort, it a remains a fact that accidents do happen. This is true even among experienced, skilled and knowledgeable gun owners who have made a firm commitment to the responsible use of firearms.

You made an excellent point about tactical reloads of the revolver. This an area that everyone should pay more attention to when working on their skills.

Thanks for making an excellent point that there are some revolvers out there that do make good concealed carry firearms. I'm curious as to how much you saved in the weight and size department versus any additional recoil effects that you may have experienced. If you have some further insight in this area, I'm sure many of my readers would be most interested in your further comments about this.

Lacking any gunsmith skills, I still prefer revolvers for their ease of cleaning and if repairs are needed I will still need to seek out a competent gunsmith.

Thanks for the great comments and your insight and thoughts on this subject.


Machinist said...

Thank you for the invitation to expand on the point, Sir.

I did not mean to denigrate safety devices in general or on guns. Many police prefer them as they make it harder for a bad guy to shoot them if their weapon is taken. Some people want them if they keep guns in a house with kids though I would say this is expecting a device to offset irresponsible parenting and is asking for tragedy. I grew up with a loaded .45 auto in the house and was taught gun safety before the age of five. There were no accidents in our home.

On a tool, if you forget to turn off a safety you feel embarrassed but it is almost never a life and death struggle to use your skillsaw in a fraction of a second. A handgun is another matter. If you always train at a range were you calmly load the gun, chamber a round, and shoot at a paper target, you will be unprepared for the disorienting effect of a massive adrenaline dump in a sudden attack or home invasion. Your intellect largely shuts down and you fall back on training and reflex. Have you trained your reflexes to turn off the safety and to resafe the gun afterwards? Will it be second nature when handling the gun? One of the biggest advantages of a revolver has always been the simplicity of operation. It has no safeties because a hundred years of use have shown it needs none. Even a professional can get caught by an auto's complexity as shown here.
It appears he clears the chamber but forgets to remove the magazine and thus chambers a fresh round.

Most currant DA autos such as Glocks, Sigs, and many S&Ws and Rugers have no active safeties, only decockers that lower the hammer and go back to shooting position.

As to carrying a revolver. I mostly carry a S&W 638 Bodyguard. This has a stainless cylinder and barrel but an alloy frame and weighs 15 ounces. In an IWB holster you don't even feel it. I use +P ammo and recoil is sharp but controllable. The titanium and scandium guns can be a few ounces lighter but I see no advantage and the control would be reduced. I certainly would not want to fire a .357 from one of these lightweights. While their are now comparably powerful autos that weight the same or less and hold more rounds I do not find them as concealable under a light shirt unless you go down to a Ruger LCP or similar, which is harder to control. The butt on an auto tends to make a recognizable bump. Others would disagree. Until recently I had tried many small autos and none had the reliability that I wanted to bet my life on. I just got an LCP and it seems to be excellent in this regard and is very narrow and flat. It points very naturally and is wonderfully flat so I may carry it when maximum concealment is needed but I will lose effective range when doing so. It shoots effectively out to 15 yards but the 638 is good beyond 25 yards. Revolvers do have a bit more recoil than autos if weight and power are comparable, as the bore line of a revolver sits higher over the hand and has more leverage. In the smaller weapons I still find the 15 ounce .38 to be controllable. If I didn't, the steel version is still easy to carry and there are lighter loads available such as the Ny-clad from Federal. I don't think the .380 is equal to the better .38 specs and I have not seen a top quality 9mm that conceals as well as the J frame revolver. If I am wearing an outer workshirt as a light jacket or a proper jacket or coat I would certainly carry something bigger such as a K frame revolver or a compact auto like my Sig, but in hot weather I have to hide it under a tee shirt and this has worked best for me. Even people working closely with me every day have never seen it.

riverwalker said...

To: Machinist

Wow! That is some great information that hopefully many people will take advantage of when making a decision about a handgun.

My apologies to you sir also. I did not mean to insinuate that you were speaking against safety devices in general and that was entirely my fault and was not my intended result.

Your comments as always are insightful and most helpful and for this I sincerely thank you. Even though we may not always agree entirely on the subject matter, a healthy discourse on the subject matter is always welcome.



Machinist said...

No apology is called for or needed, Sir. I have great respect for your opinions and I am very grateful for your blog. I have learned a great deal here, things of considerable value. I thank you!

Anonymous said...

Having a manual firing inhibit device does not always make a firearm safer. It depends on the type and use of the pistol.

I do know this is a revolver discussion, but I will show examples of self loading pistols to demonstrate the logic.

High quality pistols such as Glock 22, SIG Sauer P226 do not have manual firing inhibit devices. I would not want any manual firing inhibit devices on these pistols because they are double action pistols, same as a double action revolver.

Double action trigger pull is heavier and longer than a single action trigger. That's its primary means of preventing accidental discharge. But, it allows a user to have a pistol carried loaded without having to deal with a manual firing inhibit devices which have its own risks. So, burdening the operator with manual firing inhibit devices would go against why a shooter chose a DA pistol in the first place. If I want a manual firing inhibit lever, I might as well choose a SA pistol like 1911 and enjoy the light and short pull trigger. Which is also the reason why SA trigger pistols such as M1911 has a manual firing inhibit devices.

Revolver, DA auto with or without manual firing inhibit devices, SA auto with manual firing inhibit devices all require discipline for safety. One does not require more or less overall caution than the other, but one may require attention in different areas than the others. An M1911 would require the user to be conscious of the manual firing inhibit lever position. It may be off when the user thinks it is on, and on when the user think it is on. It may be because of a lever being bumped or swiped without user's knowledge, or the user may fail to manipulate it in time. Revolver may not have those risks, but it requires the shooter to make extra effort in pulling a longer and heavier trigger and still accurately hit the target.

Some say they'd recommend revolvers because it's more safer, and some say they'd recommend a pistol with manual firing inhibit lever because of safety also. But, the truth is that there were countless accidental discharges with both type of pistols that user though was "empty" or "on safe" when it was not.

It's a different way of providing safety. Not better or worse. Although it may be better or worse depending on preference or application.

riverwalker said...

To: anonymous 5:18

Thanks for adding the comparison to demonstrate your point.

Safe use of a handgun ultimately falls on the skill and training of the user.


Anonymous said...

Revolver or Semi Auto? Have both or many of each.

Gunner Jacky said...

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