The Revolver: Obsolete or Enduring?
Some of us have read articles either in print or at gun forums concerning the revolver's being obsolete. Usually, this is in the context of defense use with focus being on:
1. Limited number of shots compared to the semiautomatic
2. Ease of reloading the automatic
While both sides have their supporters and detractors, what is the truth? Is the revolver obsolete?
Let's start off by addressing the two most-often-asked questions above.
"Firepower:" This term is frequently used by folks disparaging the revolver's full load of ammunition. In centerfire calibers, most revolvers hold 6 rounds. A couple of makers have models out holding one to two more shots, but the norm is six. Comparable size semiautomatics can hold up to ten with currently produced magazines and more if the user has Pre-Ban original capacity magazines. In the smaller handguns, the centerfire revolver's load is usually 5 cartridges. The compact automatics hold at least that many and usually more. It appears to me that with regard to capacity, the semiautomatic pistols "win."
If having the greatest number of shots possible in a particular handgun is of paramount importance to you, the only way to go is automatic. While having a large number of shots at your instant command is not a bad thing by any means, I do think that possibly too much emphasis is placed on it by people not anticipating having to raid a crack house or fight terrorist cells with but a handgun. My reasons are these:
1. The average private citizen lethal force scenario usually deals with one or two aggressors.
2. A significant percentage of those lawfully carrying defensive handguns are not practiced enough to get
off but one or two shots under this kind of stress.
3. Unless really, really quick and competent like Jerry Miculek, most of us will run out of time before all our ammunition is expended should our attackers be armed.
Am I saying that a 5-shot Chief's Special is better than a fully loaded 1911 or just as good? No, but I am saying that in many situations the 5 or 6-shot revolver will easily handle the situation in competent hands.
All is not lost simply because one's using a wheelgun rather than an auto. If we are facing 6 armed terrorists, a high-capacity automatic would certainly be preferable to a snub, but odds are that we'd lose that battle regardless of handgun used…or at least not come out unscathed! On the other hand, if our immediate concern is a street punk with a knife or pistol and maybe another, either revolver or auto is likely to serve well if our personal determination and skills are up to the task.
This .357 magnum S&W Model 27 was carried by many FBI agents in decades past. It is large for but six-round "firepower," but has proven itself capable in many fights. Would it be my first choice in facing several attackers? Probably not, but for the majority of situations involving private citizens, it would "solve" the problem(s).
This six-shot S&W Model 19 "Combat Magnum" was a very frequently carried .357 by US police for many, many years.
Limited to but five rounds before reloading, many lawful concealed carriers prefer something with more shots. There's nothing wrong with that, but this is my primary daily carry gun. It goes with me 24/7. I practice with this handgun frequently. Its somewhat limited capacity is a concern to me, but a minor one. For the situations I'm likely to encounter, I must be able to solve the problem in the first few seconds or be beyond caring. While it does not have the capacity of some similar size pistols, it does offer features I find most attractive and useful.
Reloading: It's been my observation that a moderately practiced shooter can reload his automatic quicker than a heavily practiced revolver shooter. There are exceptions like the great Jerry Miculek, but in general reloading speed is almost always shorter with the automatic, assuming equal levels of training and practice.
Does this mean that the revolver has to be slow to reload? No, but relative to the automatic is often is. The average practiced revolver shooter will probably not be able to match the speed at which a similarly practiced shooter can reload his semiautomatic. With the tactical reload where one reloads from behind cover and retains ammunition not fired, the time frame can narrow, but it's my view that the automatic still holds the edge.
So how does this play out with the average citizen lawfully carrying concealed? Surprisingly, it won't make any difference at all with more than a few! The reason is simple; many simply do not even carry a reload! In monitoring and asking questions of previous Texas Concealed Handgun licensees, this is what I hear over and over again. Sad.
For those who do carry an extra reload for their revolver, most will do so with either Bianchi's "speed strip" or a speed loader. I've tried both and sometimes carry both for 10 extra shots. I find the speed loader to be just as easy to carry as the speed strip and faster to use when reloading a completely empty cylinder. The speed strip is better for tactical reloads in which less than five are being loaded. I am not as quick in reloading my revolver as with the auto, but neither is it slow. In most situations a private citizen might face, it is probably not going to be an issue, but I prefer to be able to reload in case it is. Still, in this area of concern, the automatic wins.
I am not making light of the importance of having enough shots for the unexpected and this can certainly happen, but as is the case with most things, we plan for that which is most likely. In a desert community, I doubt that few would pay extra for flood insurance, but there's nothing that says the flood of the century might not occur. Such can happen in the realm of personal defense, too.
Neither am I placing low value on being able to reload quickly. What I am saying is that these might not be the only issues upon which to make a decision.
Let me present some thoughts and observations.
Some years ago, I was at the firing range and an older fellow arrived with his single-action revolvers, which were Colts and a "clone" or two. It turns out he was an SASS competitor. He did some extremely accurate and extremely fast shooting…in 5-round strings! I mean fast. Using a two-hand hold and thumbing the hammer back with the off-hand thumb, he could truly make that thing sound like a practiced IPSC shooter and his customized 1911! He was getting the hits, too. Being both surprised and somewhat in awe, I struck up a conversation with this gentleman and learned that while the loads were not heavy, neither were they as light as most SASS loads. He was shooting handloaded ammunition with 255-grain cast semiwadcutters loaded to right at 800 ft/sec from his 4 5/8" barrel single-actions. Reloading was extremely slow compared to even the double-action revolver and a speed loader, but I truly believe that had he been toting the single-action for protection, his skill at arms with that piece was more than sufficient to deal with 99% of what he might face as a private citizen. This assumes the use of both hands. I've no doubt that he'd have been slower using but one hand, but will bet that he might just be able to hold his own there, too!
While I emphatically do NOT recommend the single-action revolver for most folks, in practiced hands this old gun remains capable of some surprisingly fast work. I am NOT skilled in their use, but have seen several folks who are. Unless reloading becomes a major part of their survival scenario, they are normally well armed! I would not be as I'm not quick enough in manipulating the single-action to fire.
Before and after this meeting with the older gentleman and his single-actions, I've seen some remarkably fast and accurate shooting done with them, but none to the degree of the incident just mentioned. (For what it's worth, the single-action shooter discussed carried a slightly modified Colt Commander in .38 Super for his personal defense gun. Anyone care to guess if he could shoot it well?)
The revolver is an older design than the automatic, but I'm not convinced at all that it's "obsolete" as some have suggested. Really, it depends upon your view of what the handgun should do. Mine is that it:
1. Be reliable
2. Be accurate
3. Hold at least a sufficient number of rounds for most situations
4. Be durable
In short, what I ask of any handgun is that it reliably fire and be both intrinsically and practically accurate enough for me to get the hits and hold enough rounds for most situations. I also expect it to be tough enough for long term use and practice. The anvil and the hammer can be found in much the same configurations they were in the 1800's though manufacturing methods and materials have changed. Both are used today. I see a strong parallel with the revolver.
So long as it meets the needs of its users, the revolver will not be obsolete.