The Gun Debate: Revolver or Semi-Auto?

The Gun Debate: Revolver or Semi-Auto?

Revolver Vs. Semi-Auto

Want to start a lively debate the next time you’re at the range? Toss this one out: Revolver or semi-auto for concealed carry?

Concerns over self-defense continue to be the single largest driving force behind gun sales in America. That alone continues to prompt more people—both new and longtime shooters—to spend their hard-earned cash on handguns and ammunition.

Indeed, even with the consumer buying frenzy of 2013 behind us, new handgun models such as Glock’s 42 and 41 and those from the likes of Ruger, SIG, Walther, Taurus, Colt, Smith & Wesson and others have a shorter shelf life in a store than bread and milk before a Southern snow storm. That is if the stores can even get ahold of these new guns.

The demand has even put a crimp on gun writers, some struggling to get test models in their hands because the manufacturers are scrambling to put every single gun they can in the pipeline to satisfy current consumer demand.

Whether a gun buyer has their name on a waiting list, finds a hot new or previously introduced handgun model on the shelf or hits the used market, I’m always intrigued at the factors that go into deciding which gun to buy when it comes to choosing a carry firearm.

For some it comes down to the caliber and its perceived adequacy, for others the overall size of the gun itself with smaller often better for concealment and yet for others, it’s simply a matter of what looks cool. One chief debate over what makes the ultimate “carry” gun often centers on whether a semi-auto or revolver is best.

Want to start a lively debate the next time you’re at the range? Toss that one out. Indeed, many modern shooters wouldn’t think of leaving their home without a sleek, low-recoiling semi-auto with a quick-swap spare mag at the ready should the need arise. Others will staunchly argue for the timeless reliability of a cylinder gun.

Where Do You Stand?

Where do you fall on the issue and why? We’d love to know.

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I have to say, I personally enjoy shooting and carrying both. But then, I’ve always had trouble making up my mind.

This column appeared in the May 15, 2014 issue of Gun Digest the Magazine.


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  1. For everyday self-defense, reliability and ease of use are paramount, and so revolvers are the best choice for most people with that in mind.

    However, if you are in the police or military, reload time becomes a factor, and capacity of rounds is much more significant, and so handguns are the best choice for people in those sort of roles.

    For basic defense, the five to eight rounds that the average revolver gives you in capacity is plenty. Notwithstanding, handguns tend to be less expensive in terms of initial purchase price, and while for example you probably won’t need the extra two or three rounds of capacity a .45 ACP will give you over a .357/.38 SP, it’s certainly an added bonus. And make no mistake, the 9 MM or .45 ACP you bought for basic self-defense because it cost less, will get the job done, but you shouldn’t feel good about that until you’ve tested it extensively with the ammo you will be using for self-defense, which, it should be noted, will cost you more than the revolver in the long run. More importantly, relying on a handgun as a household self-defense platform should also mean that in addition to extensively testing it with rounds, that you give your family members extensive training on how to use it, not nearly as big an issue with revolvers.

    Keeping other family members’ shooting abilities in mind, if you want to talk best self-defense calibers for the whole family, I think it would come down to the 9 MM against the .38 Special. And if we reduce the discussion to just those two self-defense calibers, the handgun tends to lose its initial purchase affordability advantage, making the revolver the clear winner. A regular old .38 Special tends to be about the same price or less than the popular 9 MM.

  2. Having both semi autos and revolvers, it ends up being a simple choice to me. If it has to fire the first and every round in any situation, it has to be a DA revolver with a shrouded hammer or hammerless. Semis’ will not fire if the slide is taken out of battery, Imagine your wife being accosted and unable to fire because the attacker is exerting pressure on the muzzle of her semi auto or because she has the gun shoved into the attackers’ body. Either is unacceptable.

  3. Nice piece, Doug. Wheel guns take a lot less orientation and practice time and with ammo costs sky high, that might be a factor for some folks.

  4. I carry a semi-auto. Sometimes two of them. I have nothing against revolvers, I have dozens of them.

    Reason for autos – slimmer, easier to conceal. Holds more ammo. Less trigger pull weight.

    Now the big reason – I carry a Glock 27 most of the time. When I carry two autos, they are a Glock 22 with the 27. That way they share mags. And provides a New York reload if the first one deployed malfunctions or runs dry. By the way, I carry two 20 round Glock 22 mags as spares, even when I carry the 27 by itself. That gives me 50 rounds for the 27 and 66 when I carry both. And yes, I have two of each that I swap off carrying to make it easier to keep them clean, serviced, and having one in the holster while it’s spare is in the shop.

    I have carried a revolver. A Smith Centennial. It was my first carry gun. Carried it for years. Until I was introduced to the Glock 27. I then used it as a backup until I could afford a Glock 22.

    That’s my 2 cents worth. By the way, the revolver is much less complicated, easier to clean, easier to keep operational, fewer malfunctions, easier to clear malfunctions.

  5. This issue all depends upon the mindset of the individual. Most ideas of a
    semi-auto revolve around the magazine capacity. Having more is better.
    However, this can also imply that the shooter is no where as good as he
    (or she) should be in carrying a firearm.

    The shooting at a target range just to pass a class for concealed carry can
    never make that person a very good shooter. That would take a whole lot
    of continued practice with the firearm. Plus, where is the stress that would
    be involved in a serious situation where the firearm might be needed?
    What about the day or night conditions, or the weather?

    Change of the mindset of an individual is not so easy, but practice under
    all conditions can be a workable endeavor for everyone. Once a person
    can get good under such conditions the amount of rounds in the magazine
    or cylinder do not matter. The circumstances depicted in movies are never
    what they are in a real situation.

    • You are right. More ammo is better. My take on this sub subject is I have never been in a situation that required me to pull my gun while my adrenaline was high. So, I know that I probably will miss more than the first shot. That leave less than four rounds to stop two, three, or more thugs without a reload. Even if it is a New York reload.


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