Revolver Renaissance?

A writer for Shooting Illustrated has published the opinion that we’re experiencing a revolver renaissance. In this article he cites increasing numbers of mid-size revolvers suited to concealed carry becoming available and ‘Gucci’ revolvers like S&W Performance Center and Colt examples.

I really don’t see it. On the shelves of local gun stores, even ones that lean heavily towards used guns, revolvers are badly outnumbered in their display cases. One gun store employee reported that they sell 6-10 semi-autos for every revolver they sell. The majority of shooters under the age of forty that I encounter have never even fired a revolver. Most people I see reporting in social media that they have purchased a revolver are fifty years old or older. My perspective is limited to my personal experience of course; I could easily be missing something.

The S&W Model 19 Carry-Comp. A capable concealed carry for a paltry *gulp* $1349.

There are relatively inexpensive double-action revolvers out there; RIA offers two variants that generally sell in the $225-$250 range. For a bit more you can take a step up (arguably) to a Taurus or Charter Arms. But if none of those options suit there’s a sizable jump up to the next tier of quality. At least double the price, and that’s for the base models from S&W, Colt and Kimber.

To contrast to this you can get a Taurus G3, which is widely agreed to be a solid, reliable gun, for $250. It comes with at least twice the capacity and a spare magazine at that price. Spend a little more and the options are practically endless.

You don’t have to pay a fortune for a revolver. The RIA M206 is a serviceable .38 Special revolver for around $250

Revolvers hold a lot fewer shots. The double-action trigger is harder to master. Revolvers have a slower reload. By and large they are more expensive than semi autos. To a new shooter it seems pretty hard to make a case for the revolver.

Why Would You?

I mean, if you aren’t a dinosaur like me that grew up in the age when revolvers were the weapon-of-choice for law enforcement, why would you choose a revolver? There actually are reasons to do so. Let’s address the practical first.

Let’s face an unpopular reality here. As civilians it’s not our job to go looking for trouble, which puts us in a very different position than law-enforcement or military personnel. Civilian use of defensive firearms typically involves fewer than five shots fired. People like to justify the need for high-capacity by citing multiple attackers, but in practice this usually means more people running away when shots are fired, not the need for more shots. Yes, there are exceptions to this, but they are actually quite rare. In almost all instances revolvers hold an adequate number of shots to resolve a civilian defensive shooting. The slow reload never becomes an issue because you won’t need to reload.

The S&W K-frame .38 has served well for over a century, but will it truly serve your needs?

Revolvers aren’t unfailingly reliable, but there’s a damn good chance your going to get all the shots in the cylinder to go off without a bobble. If you have a misfire just pull the trigger again and the next shot comes up. Operation is simple, too. Open the gun, fill the holes with cartridges and close the gun. You’re ready to go. Pull the trigger until it stops going bang, then repeat. Reloads are a little more complicated than a semi-auto, but not horribly so. Quality speed-loaders or speed strips will speed things up a bit, but they do require more practice than simply changing a magazine. Not a big deal, because there’s little likelihood you’ll need to reload.

I’ve also noticed that the rounded shapes of a revolver don’t scream ‘GUN!’ to people as much as the more angular, more familiar shapes of semi-auto pistols when the weapon prints under a cover garment. They are bulkier, yes, but this seems to be balanced by the revolvers more ‘organic’ shape. YMMV.

The S&W Model 327 Performance Center. Relatively light, eight shots of .357 Magnum…
and well over $1300 if you can find one.

On the less practical side some people just ‘click’ with a revolver. It just works for them. There can also be an element of nostalgia, a sense of tradition. Some folks just appreciate and admire the ‘old-world craftsmanship’ of a well-made revolver. Not great reasons to make a life-or-death decision, but people will be people.

Why Not a Revolver?

The first reason is expense. New revolvers tend to be either of slightly suspect quality or more expensive than comparable semi-autos. This is mitigated by the fact that for most of century the double-action revolver was the go-to service pistol for civilian agencies and very popular with the general public. There are scads and scads of them on the used market, which can bring them much closer to parity in price with semi-auto pistols. Of course there’s a bit more uncertainty in buying a used gun; it just goes with the territory.

The Arex Delta Gen 2- Lightweight, high-capacity, reliable and optics ready for about $400. Hard to beat that.

The old saying is, ‘Semi-auto pistols tolerate abuse, revolvers tolerate neglect.’ Load a revolver and toss it in a drawer and if you pull it out thirty years later and pull the trigger it will probably go bang as many times as it has cartridges. A revolver is a great gun to throw in a holster day after day and ignore until you need it. But they do not like dust, grit and mud. If you take one to an extended shooting session or class you will probably need to maintain it as you go. Carbon can build up on the cylinder face or under the ejector and jam things up over the course of hundreds of rounds.

The S&W M&P Shield is an excellent, proven concealed carry option that starts at around $300

To the contrary semi-automatic pistols do tend to tolerate mud, grit etc. They can and often do run for hundred or even thousands of rounds without maintenance. There’s a reason they have been the choice of militaries world-wide in the same period that revolvers dominated the civilian and law-enforcement market.

On the whole semi-autos are rather more likely to experience a malfunction than a well-maintained revolver, but in most cases you can clear the gun and keep fighting. If a revolver does jam it’s a paperweight for the remainder of the fight; you’re not going to clear it while the shooting is still going on. I have also heard from instructors that if a gun actually breaks in the course of a class it’s more likely to be a revolver, but I have only anecdotal evidence for this.

Of course you can pay a lot for a semi-auto too; this Staccato C2 starts at over $2000

OK, I have largely ignored capacity because in most civilian shootings it isn’t relevant. But there are exceptions to every rule, and you might need more rounds than is typical. Semi-autos hold more shots in most cases, and you need to think about that. Chances are you won’t need them, but if you do…? It comes down to your personal risk tolerance and assessment of your unique circumstances.

In The End…

…it’s up to you. You know your life and circumstances, and you have a responsibility to be well-informed as to your needs. InTerETt eXpERts to the contrary no one knows your life and requirements better than you. Whichever you decide on you need to train with it, and that means the entire manual of arms, not simply putting rounds on targets. Deploying the weapon, reloading and (if it’s a semi-auto) clearing jams need to be second nature. You are responsible for your own safety and self-defense; take it seriously.

Stay safe and take care,

Michael Tinker Pearce, 10 January 2023

4 thoughts on “Revolver Renaissance?

  1. Bret Mills

    I have read and heard from many experts the say a beginner shooter should not start with a semi-auto. This advise is either not getting across to new shooters or is being ignored. I have personally experienced many young shooters at gun ranges that have near shot a revolver and are fascinated by the sight of one. I encourage many of them to shot my revolvers and give them the opportunity to experience the revolver world.

    1. tinker1066 Post author

      I also take the opportunity to let new shooters fire my revolvers whenever opportunity presents, and my Introduction to Range safety class I always include a revolver as one of the pistols fired.

  2. Travis

    Will start by saying that I’m most often carrying a 642, despite having an option.

    As far as multiple attackers. It should read multiple armed attackers. But as you said, it’s the responsibility of the individual to evaluate their circumstances.

    I realize that higher capacity would prudent in my case. I find the 642 convenient (so I actually carry), but do need to commit to a semi-auto.

  3. Brett

    I’m old enough to remember when auto pistols cost more than revolvers. I also remember feeling well armed with a Single Action with five beans in the wheel (most of my early life).


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