American Rifleman | The Concealed-Carry Revolver: Is It Still Related?

For no very good reason, there seems to be an attitude among potential handgun buyers that holds the revolver in disrepute. Most Americans are legally allowed to carry firearms for personal defense, and they have long been interested in the small, light, short-barreled revolver to play that role.

But times have changed and continue to change as I chase and peck my way through this story. Shooters are investigating other kinds of stash weapons, especially since we now have other kinds of stash weapons. The short, light, flat, powerful and reliable semi-automatic defensive pistol is now a practical reality. They sell a lot of them and supplant the wheel guns.

So we will once again consider the compact revolver as the primary defense tool to stack against the modern semi-automatic pistol with concealed carry comfort. To begin with, understand that I don’t despise this latter class of pistols, but rather respect them for their positive effects on self-defense.

I have a number of them, shoot them quite often, and admire the ingenuity that has brought them to life. But the gun that usually comes with me when I leave the house is a blunt revolver. I’m talking about the small frame revolver – Colt D-frame, Ruger LCRs and SP-101s, Smith & Wesson J-frame or Taurus Model 85s, mostly in .38 Spl./.357 Mag that take larger cartridges and have absurdly short barrels.

A revolver is about (1) aiming the weapon at a justified target, (2) pulling the trigger, (3) repeating if necessary.

Not so long ago it was easier to stand the revolver over the pistol. That’s because the semiautomatic machines, which were really small enough to hide and carry, were woefully under-challenged. We now have a really fine line of compact, polymer-framed, Luger-chambered 9mm pistols such as the SIG Sauer’s P365, Springfield Armorys Hellcat and S & W’s Shield.

Today’s 9mm Luger ammunition went through a lot of development and is much better than it was a few years ago. But the main reason shooters prefer the semi-automatic over the revolver is inevitably capacity. A capacity of more than five or six rounds is not the case with the snubby revolver. So great is the lure of a few more shots in this magazine that there are companies out there making aftermarket extensions for pistol magazines that contain a few more shots. There’s nothing wrong with the capacity, but it’s not all there is to be considered.

What should a typical concealed carry citizen realistically ask of their weapon? The weapon is a tool, and how well it works mechanically is no more important than how skillfully it is used. But a defensive weapon should first and foremost be able to deliver a stopping shot, provided the shooter does his part. Pistol and cartridge combinations with good records of performance are fine, but the ones with the best records are exactly what you need.

This is not a dry situation that we are discussing, but a life threatening crisis. The current state of affairs in the concealed carry world is such that the compact revolver has a performance advantage over the semi-automatic. Ruger, S&W, and Taurus all make snubby revolvers in .357 mags, and Colt just added that chamber with the King Cobra. And there is no doubt that the old Magnum from the mid-1930s has a great track record of stopping events that need to be stopped.

Examples of small frame revolvers

Examples of small-framed revolvers that are suitable for concealed carry are the Ruger SP-101 (left), the Taurus 85 (ctr.), The new King Cobra Carry (right) from Colt and the Smith & Wesson 340PD (below ).


The latest generation of compact semi-automatic machines has the same advantages as handguns from more than a century, which Borchardt, Browning, Bergmann et al. al. Unfortunately, there are many of the same vices out there too. The reason these things were called semi-automatic pistols was because they reloaded their own chambers. When a load of powder burned, it put a bullet in and out of the barrel. But in the rear vector, that energy cycled the action, causing the weapon to extract, eject, feed, and chamber for subsequent shots.

If for some reason that first round did not develop the necessary energy, the weapon was useless. All shooting schools teach effective techniques to quickly remedy such malfunctions. Therefore, pay particular attention to the exercises on Tuesday afternoons (at the Gunsite Academy). Unfortunately, this new generation of small pistols is the worst semi-automatic with which the interference drills can be machined. They are so small that there isn’t much contact area.

In complete fairness to the 9mm polymer, their reliability is superb; I’ve written stories about many of them and often reported that they worked perfectly – 100 percent. And since they are refilled from pre-installed magazines, they reload faster than revolvers – even if these are used with speedloaders or strips.

Much has been done about the concealability of the two types of weapons. At first glance, it seems like the semi-automatic is easier to hide because it’s thinner. In a belt-mounted holster, a slim pistol can fit really tight under the kidney area. In bags, however, a semi-automatic function often prints poorly, as its basic shape consists of two straight lines that intersect at a slight angle.

It’s true that the cylinder in the center of the turret makes a bulky center section, but the overall irregular shape hides it pretty well. You’ll need to use a hammerless design or cut off the hammer spur to smoothly pull a blunt revolver out of your pocket. I would argue that the ledge goes to a properly equipped snubby revolver, but I have to admit that the ledge is really slim.

I’m reasonably familiar with revolvers, and that familiarity skews my personal choices a bit. But the important hand movements that allow me to keep a revolver in action are simpler. A revolver is about (1) aiming the weapon at a justified target, (2) pulling the trigger, (3) repeating if necessary.

Checking the revolver status can be done with one hand and in just a few seconds. Performing a press check on a semi-automatic is a more complicated procedure. Fortunately, the designers of this new class of pistol have built security measures into the lock of many of them, leaving out manual security.

However, for the semi-automatic pistol to work, there needs to be a better understanding of what is happening in and around the weapon. In terms of functionality, the revolver is a miracle of simplicity.

Wheel weapon

When we first started this discussion, I never identified it as an attempt to decide what type of weapon would be best for the job. I wanted to make sure that if the shooters refused the little revolver, they did so with some logic. That doesn’t happen, and with rare exceptions, the revolver is usually rejected simply because it only carries five rounds.

Reasonably credible statistics show that defensive shootings usually involve three or fewer shots, but the “armed citizen” pages tell us that it often takes more than average to stop the threat. If you want to use a pistol, you have some great ones to choose from.

My presentation was necessarily quite short, but there is one more important point. Everything a manufacturer can do to make a defensive weapon that is simpler, smaller, and lighter the better I like it. There is a tendency not to take the gun if that creates a problem and the time you choose not to take it will be the terrible day you need it.

I’ve had many heated, if not heated, discussions about the wisdom of firing hot .357 charges in a Snubby that weighs less than a pound, and I freely admit that it hurts. After closely following the development of these guns at Smith & Wesson, I know they are safe to shoot but not much fun. In general, the Snubbies are as viable as ever. There are now more than a few “Yeah sure, but …” people in the back row.

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