You will find that pistols, also known as autoloaders, semi-automatics, semi-autos and self-loaders, and revolvers, also known as wheel guns, each have their own aficionados. Most gun people, however, tend to own both.
An advantage of a revolver lies in its simplicity. Fewer moving parts means less potential for mechanical problems. Hence, revolvers tend to be extremely reliable. The last thing a shooter wants is to pull the trigger on a gun and have it not go "bang". With good ammunition, this almost never happens with a revolver. Both experienced and novice shooters find that a revolver is an excellent choice for personal protection.
The simplicity of a revolver has a downside. It is obvious to most people, even those unfamiliar with firearms, how a revolver works: pull the trigger! This especially applies to children, many of whom may not be "gun proofed", or otherwise instructed in firearms safety. Children should be taught “If you see a gun: STOP! Don't Touch. Leave the Area. Tell an Adult.” It is extremely important to never leave a loaded revolver around unsecured.
Common sense and responsible gun ownership dictates that a firearm in the home, be it revolver or autoloader, be kept away from children. Some jurisdictions have found it necessary to legally require this, backed up by fines, imprisonment or both. These include California, Connecticut, Florida, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York City, North Carolina Texas and Wisconsin.
Even though revolvers are simple and dependable, it is still imperative for responsible gun owners to become thoroughly familiar with their firearm, and develop safety and shooting skills with practice.
In an autoloader, the first round is chambered by "racking" the slide (or bolt), a procedure whereby the shooter grasps the slide, pulls it rearward and releases it. The rebound motion of the slide chambers a round from a pre-filled, spring-loaded magazine, which is located in the grip of the gun. When the round is fired, exploding propellant in the cartridge produces not only the forward motion of the bullet, but also the rearward motion of the slide. As a minimum, the cyclical back and forth action of the slide unloads and reloads the gun. Depending on the type of action, it may also cock the hammer for subsequent shots.
Note that some people use the terms "magazine" and "clip" interchangeably. This is not appropriate, and could brand one as a neophyte. A clip is actually a frame which holds cartridges for insertion into the magazine of some types of firearms. A magazine also differs from a link, which is one of the numerous small bands or rings that hold cartridges together to form a belt. Belts are typically fed into machine guns.
In a revolver, cartridges are manually inserted into chambers in the cylinder. Once fired, the empty "brass" or casings are manually pushed out of the cylinder by means of an extractor. To accomplish this, the cylinder must be pivoted out of its locked position in the gun frame by hand.
When compared to an autoloader, it takes longer to load and reload a revolver. Accurate follow-up shots tend to be harder to make. Revolvers almost always hold less ammunition than autoloaders do. Revolvers are typically wider in profile than their flat sided autoloader counterpart. Thus they are somewhat harder to disguise when carried concealed.
To handle a revolver for inspection, cleaning, loading or unloading insert the middle two fingers of the weak hand, palm up, into the space normally occupied by the cylinder once the cylinder has been pivoted out of the way and the gun is facing forward. The cylinder will be resting in the palm of the hand. This hold is secure, and will facilitate manipulation of the firearm for any reason.
In the hands of a practiced individual, a speed loader greatly enhances revolver loading time. This device holds multiple rounds of ammunition for quick and convenient insertion into a revolver. Its normal design is that of a plastic cylinder which incorporates a retention mechanism that holds the cartridges in an alignment matched to the cylinder chambers of a particular make and model of gun. When the shooter turns the knob of the speed loader, the cartridges are released.
A moon clip is similar to a speed loader in its function of facilitating simultaneous insertion of rounds into a revolver. It is a thin, flat ring-shaped or star-shaped piece of metal designed to hold multiple cartridges together as a unit. It differs from a speed loader in the sense that it remains in place during firing. It thus serves to also extract the empty cartridge cases together after they are fired. Full moon clips hold together enough cartridges to fill the entire cylinder. Half moon clips fill half a cylinder.
An added benefit of moon clips is that they allow for the use of rimless ammunition associated with a semiautomatic pistol to be used in a revolver specifically designed and chambered for that purpose. Revolvers normally require rimmed cartridges.
As a precaution for a loaded revolver of older design, particularly a single action, do not load a round into the cylinder chamber aligned with the barrel. This will prevent the possibility of accidental discharge in the event the gun is inadvertently dropped on the hammer.
This occurrence is not a problem with modern revolvers that incorporate advanced design features such as an internal transfer bar. This device is moved into position by the pull of the trigger to convey the force of the dropping hammer to the firing pin. When the trigger is in a relaxed position, the transfer bar is out of the way. An air gap therefore exists between hammer and firing pin, which precludes the possibility of accidental discharge should the gun be dropped. A hammer block is an alternative type of internal safety mechanism for a revolver.
In revolver selection, barrel length is a consideration. In terms of bullet performance, a longer barrel means better performance from an identical cartridge. However, there is little appreciable difference between energy and velocity produced from a 4-inch barrel versus that from a 6- inch barrel. Some shooters prefer the longer revolver barrel length because it improves the sight plane, thus assisting accurate aiming. The 2-inch barrel of a snub nosed revolver produces demonstrably less power.
Shorter barrels may be subject to more wavering of the sight plane in hands that are not rock solid. Police generally prefer the 4-inch revolver barrel because there exists less potential for a criminal to grab the gun, barrel first, from the officer's hand. Eight-inch barrels in the larger calibers are not uncommon and are conducive to improved accuracy and performance. Their additional weight, when heaviness of the firearm is not a detrimental factor from a "carry" standpoint, has the advantage of reducing perceived recoil.
The main purpose of "body guard specials" and other snub nose revolvers, also known as "snubbies", is discrete concealed carry. Their short sight plane makes target acquisition at distance difficult. This is not a significant drawback to their intended use, however, which implies close quarter combat. Most snubbies come with fixed or non-adjustable sights for this reason. Some possess hammer shrouds or concealed hammers to minimize the potential for the gun to catch or bind on the shooter's clothing when the firearm is drawn.
Advances in metallurgy have given some manufacturers the ability to produce extremely light weight revolvers in powerful calibers. The lightest are the product of scandium-aluminum alloy frame, titanium alloy cylinder and stainless steel barrel liner. Only slightly heavier are designs which utilize scandium-aluminum alloy frame, stainless steel cylinder and stainless steel barrel liner. Revolvers of aluminum alloy frame, stainless steel cylinder and stainless steel barrel liner are the next heaviest, but these guns can only handle up to .38 Special +P loadings, and not the more potent .357 Magnum round. Revolvers composed entirely of stainless steel represent the heaviest models, approximately twice the weight of the lightest revolvers chambered for the same round.
Due to small size and weight, revolvers of light alloy composition can produce felt recoil that is extreme, a factor that may detract from follow-up shot placement. Their advantage is that these same attributes promote comfortable, unobtrusive carry.
To reduce recoil, some manufacturers have introduced models with factory installed barrel porting, a feature which helps offset perceived recoil. The porting process involves cutting precise holes into the barrel near the muzzle to redirect some of the propellant gasses. This provides a counter thrust that reduces muzzle rise and perceived recoil.
Use of a ported handgun for self defense is discouraged here at the Armory. This relates to the fact that when the gun is fired from a position close to the body, the shooter may be stunned or temporarily blinded by hot gasses and debris thrown vertically upward through the exhaust ports in the barrel. It is prudent to avoid porting on handguns intended for personal protection. It is fine for hunting or target shooting applications.
An attractive alternative to porting as a means of reducing recoil lies in using a heavier, stouter handgun. Perceived recoil will be manageable when compared to the various light weight alloy guns, and the weight of the revolver will assist accurate follow-up target acquisition .
Most snub nose revolvers feature a five shot, rather than a six shot, capacity. As mentioned previously, there exists no need to keep the chamber under the hammer empty due to the advanced design of newer model revolvers.
Another variation from the normal "six shooter" is the eight to ten shot .22LR revolver. These can be extremely fun to own and shoot, and are available with barrel lengths from 3- to 6-inches.
Depending upon the make and model of the handgun, revolvers with barrels generally longer than 2-inches are equipped with a rear sight which incorporates adjustments for windage and elevation. This feature assists accuracy in long distance shooting.
For those wishing to carry their revolver in a holster, barrel length on a revolver becomes a practical matter. This relates to the fact that holsters may be available in only the most popular barrel sizes.
When selecting a holster, it is advisable to choose one in which the leather or polymer has been pre-molded to the make and model of the gun you own. The grasp of the holster is therefore secure, minimizing wear on the gun's finish which can occur with a loose fit. Nylon holsters are also popular and are relatively inexpensive.
In addition to caliber selection and barrel length preference, the prospective revolver purchaser will need to decide what type of material the gun will be composed of, and which finish is desired. Material choices for the frame generally include the various light weight alloys, polymer, steel, and stainless steel. Cylinders are either titanium, steel or stainless steel. Barrels are steel, stainless steel, or stainless steel lined.
Depending upon composition, finishes include matte (non-reflective black), blued (mirror-like blue-black), satin, shiny and case hardened. Grips come in wood, plastic, and rubber.
Stainless steel resists rusting, blued steel is extremely durable but will corrode if not cared for, and the various light weight alloys resist corrosion. There also exist proprietary material technologies that result in surface treatments that are extremely scratch and corrosion resistant. Parkerizing is one such treatment, and involves either zinc phosphate or manganese phosphate coating to produce a non-reflective gray to black finish.
In determining handling comfort of a revolver, pay particular attention to its "trigger reach". The trigger reach is the shortest distance between the face of the trigger and the back of the grip just below the hump of the back strap. This dimension is a critical factor in determining how well one will engage the trigger.
Before proceeding to examine any revolver or other firearm, check and make sure the gun is unloaded and not cocked. In order to determine the fit of the revolver in your hand, take a strong, comfortable hold of its grip. The web of your shooting hand, the arc between the thumb and index finger, should fit well into the curve of the back strap hump.
Check the placement of your index finger on the trigger. Ideal trigger reach occurs when the first pad or joint of the finger engages the face of the trigger. Should the second joint engage the trigger, the revolver is too small for one's hand. This can usually be remedied by installing a larger set of aftermarket grips on the gun.
The reverse situation is more difficult to address. A revolver that is too big for your hand may sometimes be adjusted with smaller or thinner grips. It may be more advisable, however, to select a smaller framed alternative gun.
Among manufacturers of revolvers, Smith & Wesson stands out in terms of ease of assessing frame size. In increasing order of size, models utilize the "J", "K", "L", "N" or "X" frame, where "J" is small, "K" and "L" are medium, "N" is large, and "X" is extra large.
to increased strength and durability, larger frames tend to chamber the
more powerful rounds. However, it is not uncommon to find an
identical cartridge size offered in several frame models to accommodate
the intended purpose of the gun and differing hand requirements. The
Smith & Wesson line of "Ladysmith" revolvers has been
designed with the ergonomic requirements of the fair sex in mind.
Autoloaders, as the name implies, load and unload ammunition in the gun utilizing the force of ignited propellant gasses in the cartridge. The first cartridge is chambered manually when the shooter racks the slide (or bolt), a motion the involves pulling the slide rearward and allowing it to snap back into place. After the initial shot is fired, the slide or bolt automatically cycles back and forth. This action extracts and ejects the empty casing, scoops another round off the top of the magazine, and inserts the new round into the chamber of the barrel.
There are three basic ways for a shooter to rack the slide. These include: the "Over the Top" method; the "Slingshot" method; and the "Slide Release" method. A picture is worth a thousand words, and amateur YouTube videos are available for viewing on-line that are helpful in mastering these procedures.
Whether or not the slide or bolt cocks the hammer once again after the initial shot is a function of the type of action: single action and double action versus double action only. With the former, the gun is already cocked and a relatively light pull on the trigger will discharge the next round. With the double action only pistol, a relatively heavy pull on the trigger is required to cock and fire the gun.
A fully capable automatic, visualized as a classic tripod mounted machine gun, a gangster style Thompson submachine gun, or the U.S. Army M4A1 carbine, can fire numerous rounds when the trigger is pulled. The weapon keeps firing until either: the trigger is released; a prescribed number of rounds have been fired if the weapon is equipped with and set in "select fire" mode; or the gun is out of ammunition. Autoloaders, on the other hand, require that the trigger be pulled each time for every shot.
While it is legal for an American citizen to own a fully capable automatic weapon, such ownership is subject to considerable federal regulation and oversight.
In the hands of an accomplished shooter, an autoloader can be quickly fired and reloaded. The empty magazine is removed and a loaded magazine is inserted.
When changing magazines, practice releasing the empty magazine and dropping it on the ground. Immediately tap a fresh magazine into place. Lives have been lost because individuals in a firefight (also known as the "two way range") were overly concerned about putting the empty magazine into their pocket so it wouldn't get lost or dirty.
The ability to hold considerably more rounds in the magazine, compared to the capacity of a five or six shot revolver, is perceived by many to be a decided advantage of an autoloader as a preferred means of personal protection.
In reality, however, civilian gun battles rarely exceed the capacity of a revolver. Shot placement, rather than shot profusion, is the key to deterring aggression. Visit the Armory munitions room "Self Defense" to investigate the ways in which a bullet incapacitates an attacker.
In 1994, the "Clinton Gun Ban" was passed. Among other prohibitions, which primarily involved a category of semiautomatic long guns, this federal legislation outlawed the manufacture of high capacity magazines for civilian use. Magazines for autoloaders were restricted to a maximum ten shot capacity, unless a high capacity "pre-ban" magazine could be legally acquired. Fortunately, this ineffectual law expired on September 13, 2004.
High capacity magazines are now legally available to all citizens of the United States, except those in the Peoples' Republic of California and some Eastern Bloc states. Restrictive prohibitions on high capacity magazines may be present in some local jurisdictions around the country, so check the regulations of your city, county or parish.
Safety is an important aspect of autoloader design. Gun makers pride themselves on the technological advances they are able to engineer and bring the marketplace. Safety devices vary among different manufacturers. They may also vary within a given manufacturer's product line.
To the informed gun buying public, safety is a universal selling feature. As a prospective gun purchaser, you will find it informative to explore the options and advantages touted by the various firearm manufacturers. Contrast and compare. The experience will be rewarding.
Safeties may be externally located, internally located or both. External safeties are typically operated manually by the shooter.
With most autoloaders, it is common practice to carry the gun loaded (a round in the chamber) when one is outside the home and legally armed. At home, the gun should be unloaded and secured, with a loaded magazine handy.
To get an unloaded autoloader into play, the drill for most autoloaders is: tap a magazine into place, release the safety, rack the slide (to chamber a round) and shoot. In an encounter with an aggressor, the panic and terror of the moment may cause some people to forget the drill, resulting in a failure to get their gun into play. Hence, practice with an autoloader is essential to master required skills.
The presence of a slide or frame mounted manual safety on an autoloader may be a detriment to personal defense if the intended victim fails to release it. Due to stress, this can and does happen, even among professionals in law enforcement. In recognition of this fact, many high quality pistol manufacturers do not provide an external manual safety. Its absence can be slightly intimidating to some, but in reality, the autoloader in this configuration is similar to a revolver in the sense that pulling the trigger fires the shot. Recall that a revolver possesses no external manual safety.
Internal autoloader safeties vary in number, location, type and sophistication according to the manufacturer. They are released by trigger pull. As a generality, more expensive modern designs tend to offer more safety features. Less expensive modern designs tend to offer fewer safety features. Small autoloaders tend to have fewer safeties. Some older pistol designs may incorporate satisfactory safeties that have proven the test of time.
The following list of safety devices may not be all inclusive, but it will serve as a general guide to potential mechanisms available from various manufacturers. Not all features are available from every manufacturer. Not all features can or would be provided on any given gun design because many represent different strategies for accomplishing similar safety objectives. Technologies are often proprietary and patented. At most, a premium modern autoloader might incorporate three or four devices to address the potential causes of hazard.
Safety devices on autoloaders may include:
External: Manual Safety, Decocker, Combination Manual Safety/Decocker, Grip Safety, Safety Notch, Loaded Chamber Indicator.
Internal: Drop Safety, Firing Pin Block, Magazine Disconnect, Integrated Trigger Latch.
Many autoloaders of modern design incorporate the internal magazine disconnect safety. The gun will not fire if the magazine has been released or removed, even though a round is chambered in the gun. This safety feature can potentially save lives: for example, that of a police officer who is capable of releasing the magazine of his own duty gun during a struggle with a criminal, just prior to having the firearm wrested away from him.
For the responsible gun owner, it is important to ascertain whether or not the magazine disconnect safety feature exists on their personal autoloader. When "gun proofing " your children and their friends in firearms safety, make sure they understand that many autoloaders will still fire a chambered round even though the magazine has been removed. The Armory is aware of a tragic accident that actually occurred because young people mistakenly believed that releasing the magazine was equivalent to unloading the gun.
For a variety of physical reasons, some people find it difficult to rack the slide. For these individuals, a revolver would be a better choice, as would a tip-barreled autoloader. The latter incorporates a barrel which, upon release, rotates around a pivot in the front of the gun allowing a round to be manually placed into the chamber. In all other respects, the tip-barreled autoloader functions as a normal autoloader.
Selection of an autoloader should be based on one's judgment of its caliber, composition, size, quality, user friendly features, finish and durability, reliability and safety. You will likely find that the models available from several manufacturers may fit your needs. In such a case, selection of a particular make and model should be based on personal considerations such as handling, comfort and fit in one's hand.
Some autoloaders feature mounting rails that allow for the installation of tactical lights or laser sights. Some have a threaded barrel intended for a silencer, should the gun owner wish to go through the permitting process required to legally own one.
Extreme stress, fear and anxiety cause the loss of fine motor skills in any self defense situation. This is the result of our ancestral "fight or flight" response to danger. When supercharged on adrenaline, one's ability to shoot accurately and if necessary, reload quickly, is adversely affected.
It is generally much easier to reload an autoloader versus a revolver under such circumstances. It is also easier to accurately place follow-up shots with a single or double action autoloader after the initial shot is fired when compared to a double action revolver.
decorum and regulations governing legally permitted concealed carry
require that a firearm on one's person be worn in an unobtrusive and
oblivious manner. Anything else might be considered to be
"brandishing", which is alarming to bystanders and frowned upon
by law enforcement. The autoloader excels in concealed carry roles
when compared to a revolver. Most find the flat sided profile of an
autoloader to be superior to the bulkier silhouette of a revolver. The
possible exception might be the snubby. The latter, particularly in
the shrouded hammer or hammerless configuration, is easily carried in a
coat pocket, in the front pocket of one's pants, or in holsters worn
discretely on the body or ankle.