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Dominant Players

Are Revolvers Dead?
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The semi-auto clearly beats the revolver on firepower but has other advantages as well. (Left) S&W M15 .38, (right) GLOCK 17 9mm.

In the June 1968 GUNS, the legendary Col. Charles Askins Jr. wrote an article predicting the future of firearms development in America. Noting a generation of Americans who won WWII came home and wanted semi-auto hunting rifles — and their sons were fighting in Vietnam with M16s — he correctly predicted the ascendance of the autoloading rifle in the future. I’m sure he’d have been gratified to see the predominance of the AR15 on American firing lines today.

But he also made a prophetic statement concerning handguns as well.

“It is a talking point with any number of our current crop of writers that the revolver is more dependable than the automatic and should be chosen by the fellow who wants to be sure his gun is always going to fire. The cops of the country have been well sold on this one. The record of the .45 auto, stretching backward over more than a half-century, puts the lie to this fine canard. The handgun of the future, make no mistake about it, will be the self-loading kind.”

“A couple of months later, NYPD Officer Scott Gaddell was murdered when his .38 ran dry and his killer’s 9mm didn’t.”

The shorter trigger stroke on most semi-autos allows more shots per second than with revolvers.

Ergonomics, Power, Recoil

Most semi-autos have shorter trigger pulls — and shorter trigger re-sets for subsequent shots — than double-action revolvers. As early as the 1970s, my friend and colleague John Farnam determined the average person could get off four close-range shots in one second (counting from the first round), with a revolver, but five in a second with a typical semi-auto.

A .357 Magnum revolver can send a 125-gr. bullet out of a 4 barrel at 1,450 fps. We’re talking legendary “stopping power” with equally legendary recoil. The .357 SIG cartridge, in Speer Gold Dot and Remington Golden Saber loadings, launches a 125-gr. bullet at 1,430 fps from the 4.5 barrel of my GLOCK 31 with much less “kick.” Power level for power level, the semi-auto’s slide and recoil spring mechanism soak up a lot of the recoil.

Though today’s KISS principle in firearms training (“keep it simple, stupid”) de-emphasizes auto pistols with manual safeties, those so equipped have saved countless cops and armed citizens when a bad guy got hold of their gun, tried to shoot the good guy, and couldn’t because they were unable to find the “turn-on switch.” A semi-auto with a manual safety is also one more layer of protection if something gets caught in the triggerguard when holstering a loaded handgun.

Though the revolver still has compelling features for certain applications, in many of the classes I teach or attend every single student shows up with a semi-auto. Cartridge capacity is only one of the reasons.

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