5 reasons NOT to tell her to buy a revolver as her first gun

I don’t know where it came from, but for some reason women new to handguns, and especially interested in concealed carry, are always told to buy revolvers. Sometimes, women should buy a revolver. For example, if they like it, are proficient shooting with it, and have found it easy to conceal. It shouldn’t be everyone’s automatic go-to though, and here are a few reasons why:

Large-067381. It’s more difficult to shoot

Seriously, double action triggers are a beast, and if you’re teaching her to cock it and shoot it single action, stop. Becoming proficient and getting a steady trigger pull with a double action trigger requires a certain amount of forearm strength, forearm strength that it takes most women (note: not all) time and practice to develop. Do you really want her first gun to be one she has to use grip strengtheners for four months before she can enjoy shooting it for more than 10 rounds?

2. She is strong enough to rack that slide

This drives me insane. I have met people who are actually physically incapable of racking most slides, usually because of an injury or disease in one of their hands. You know what most of them have ended up buying? SIG P238s or P938s.

When perfectly healthy people tell me they aren’t strong enough to rack the slide, I automatically assume it’s because they haven’t been taught properly – because usually they haven’t. It’s possible to use your body weight to make racking a slide much easier, it’s not about pulling BACK on the slide, it’s about pushing FORWARD on the grip, and if necessary putting your body behind it.

3. When it breaks, it breaks

I have seen many revolvers break. I have never fixed any of these broken revolvers, because in order to fix a revolver you have to open up the inside and it’s like 1892 in there. You know what’s easy to teach people? How to clear a malfunction in a semi-auto and get back to shooting. You know what’s hard to teach people? How to fix the timing on a revolver. Revolvers do malfunction, especially cheap ones, and when they do it’s catastrophic.

4. The cylinder creates bulk

But revolvers are such great concealed carry guns! And they are, don’t get me wrong, but when you’re tiny small things make a big difference. I’ve found it more difficult to conceal revolvers because the cylinder is wider than most of the single stack semi-autos I carry. That’s not to say it’s impossible, I believe anyone can conceal anything with the right wardrobe, but when someone is new to the conceal carry lifestyle you want something that will be as easy as possible to carry.

5. Using a semi-auto is less complicated than driving a car

My favorite argument, “Semi-autos are too complicated.” First of all, I’ve never really seen how. Load magazine, put magazine in gun, rack slide, go. Load cylinder, close cylinder, go. ONE LESS STEP. Seriously, women are intelligent enough to drive cars, and dry their hair while text messaging, and, I don’t know, use the internet, they can handle a semi-auto.

Again, I’m not saying it’s wrong for a woman to buy a revolver as her first gun, I just think a lot of the reasons people tell her to do so are bad reasons.

46 thoughts on “5 reasons NOT to tell her to buy a revolver as her first gun”

  1. The “gun community isn’t made up of the most socially progressive people. Until society advances so incredibly far that even these neanderthals believe that women are just as capable, mentally and physically, of handling a semi-automatic service pistol as men are, we’re still going to have idiots recommending snub noses with pink grips.

    1. Way to take it both political and insulting right off the bat. I teach everyone to shoot pistol with a full size revolver first. It’s a great teaching tool for an activity that can be intimidating (to both sexes).

  2. ” women are just as capable, mentally and physically, of handling a semi-automatic service pistol as men are” and so the same could be (and should be) said to be True of Revolvers . . . Revolvers are a piece of cake to load, magazines are not always. I know plenty of men (not frail people either) who have problems loading them. I’ve had more issues with semi-autos that I’ve had with revolvers. In my initial venture into shooting handguns I was not planning on buying any revolvers, today they are some of my favorites. I am consistently more accurate with them and they are easier to maintain. The only drawback I see, you can get a semi-auto that is much more svelte.

    1. I know that there are people out there who prefer revolvers, but they’re in the minority for a reason. Be careful about projecting your experiences onto others.

      And I’d tell a woman who couldn’t load mags the same thing I’d tell a dude who couldn’t load mags: buy an UpLULA and/or HTFU.

    2. And the “easier to maintain” argument falls into the same bullshit patronizing attitude that women are less mechanically competent than men.

      1. I’m not arguing about anything, just sharing my experience; not spreading any manure either.

        1. Don’t worry, PG likes to accuse people of “projecting” and likes to put words in other peoples mouth even when the OP said nothing of the sort.

          I agree with you on some of your counter-points.

          Really the idea is “Don’t be a dick” (TM Caleb Giddings) – don’t assume women are inherently inferior to men and then pigeon hole them into a revolver which may or may not be a better option for them. Help them learn the pros and cons of both. Allow them to shoot several different guns and let them pick what they like and can shoot.

          1. ‘Don’t worry, PG likes to accuse people of “projecting” and likes to put words in other peoples mouth even when the OP said nothing of the sort.’

            I’m sorry, do we have a history? Did I do something to butthurt you in the past?

            With or without sexist connotations, the whole “revolvers are simpler for newbies” thing is played out, I’m sorry. If you have enough brains to play with Legos you can figure out how to manipulate a semi-auto.

          2. As most often heard, you use what you are comfortable with, what you are going to carry if you choose too, what you are accurate with, what you can afford; bottom line, to each their own and you only find out, by trying a variety of products.

          3. Precisely what I do!

            They day before, I show up at their house with all the weapons and only snap-caps or dummy shells, take them through the paces of handling each weapon, show them how they operate, and most importantly cover firearms safety. That all gets to sink in overnight. If I feel another day of this is required before the range day, so be it.

            Range day is with the same large selection of pistols. Start ’em off with a .22, move to a .25auto, then a .32, then a .380auto, then a .38spl, then a 9mm (several types), then a .45auto, then a .44mag with .44spl loads. Give them the choice if they want to try it with mag loads. All the time, I remain neutral about the weapons and concentrate on making sure they absorb the safe-handling aspects. When asked what my preferences are, I tell them that the whole point of coming here is helping them find out what works best for *them*. What do *you* like so far? Know what they pick most often? The S&W Mod29 with 8 3/8″bbl shot with spl loads. Why? Most common answers: Ease of use, controllable, feels good in the hand, hit what I’m aiming at best with this one. I let them go through the pile again at their leisure, in whatever order they like. Same responses.

            Mind you, the purpose of the excursion is to just serve as a basic introduction and see what they like. I’m not attempting to sell them on concealed-carry or anything else. Strictly an Intro-to-Pistols-101 course.

            If all goes well and they find #1 they liked doing this and #2 they want to learn more, there are a few professional firearms instructors I know that I make a point of turning them towards. There, they can learn home/personal defense, go for concealed carry training, or whatever else is offered.

          4. As a woman who trains other women introduction to handguns, I have to agree with Matt W. I like to say, “you don’t buy her shoes for her, so don’t pick out her gun.”

            Give them an assortment to try and let them decide. Their hand strength, shape and size factors in heavily. And remember, they can have more than one. 😉

    1. No. The most popular autolading pistols sold today are striker fired which have the same trigger pull on all shots.

    2. The last time I checked, the Glock, M&P, XD service pistol lines were all striker-fired pistols. All three are basically single action only.

      1. Striker fired pistols are all DAO (double action only). Which still goes to #1. However the Sig p238 and p938 mentioned by the author are single action only with very easy trigger pulls.

    3. a CZ 75, for example, is single action after racking… you can put the hammer down and fire double action if you wanted… it’s what you have to do for IPSC competition.

  3. Well written. Working in a gun store I see revolvers being pushed on women all the time. No matter how many time I point out that a semi might bemore applicable to the customer’s needs, I get backwards logic about revolvers never ever breaking and how unreliable semis are. Some will never learn. Thanks for writing this, I will send the link to a few women I know that are looking into buying their first gun.

    1. Working in a gun store myself, I typically try to steer first-time gun buyers towards full/medium frame service pistols (Glock 19, 4.25″ M&P 9, XD/XDm 9): It’s far easier to learn to shoot when you start with full-size gun, than it is if you start with a mousegun….

  4. The best is when guys recommend guns to their significant other that they themselves wouldn’t carry. “I’d never trust my life to that .32 snubnose, it’s too weak, the ammo is hard to find, and it’s not comfortable to shoot. It’s perfect for my wife though! “

  5. One reason to tell her TO get one: A CC purse will catch a slide, giving you one round, no more, when trying to stop an assault, rape, or mugging. A revolver will cycle through multiple rounds, no catching.

    And 1892, well, the fact that some 1892 revolvers are STILL in operation 120 years later, well, that speaks well for them. 🙂

    1. While that logic applies equally to pocket carry (especially with jackets), it also assumes that women will opt to carry off-body.

      Generally speaking, I typically recommend *against* off-body carry.

  6. I look forward to the follow-up article, “Five Reasons TO Tell Him/Her To Buy A Revolver As His/Her First Gun”.

    Otherwise:

    Here’s something we seem to forget: Not everyone is “into” guns as much as we are.

    If there’s one thing as annoying as dogmatically insisting a new gun owner — male or female — must start off with a revolver, it’s articles like this that are based on the assumption that anyone who buys a gun is interested in taking up shooting as a hobby; or has the time or money to do so. As has been pointed out here and elsewhere, most people who buy a gun may shoot it once, and then put in their nightstand where it will remain untouched for years.

    I’m going to start off by stealing something that Jason (of “Armed Culture”) wrote in response to Breda’s “A Snubby For The Pretty Lady?“. It’s about light-weight snubbies, but is applicable to other revolvers as well in this context:

    Snubbies have a U-shaped utility curve.

    At zero experience the utility is high compared to other guns. You’re not going to be all that accurate with anything you shoot. At least you have a gun if you need it, and can reliably get 5 shots off at contact distances. There’s no safety to forget. It’s unlikely to malfunction unless it breaks, and it probably won’t break because you don’t shoot it enough to put any wear on it. And since you don’t shoot it, you never notice that it’s painful.

    At moderate experience, it’s a horrible firearm. It’s painful to practice with, the short sight radius and long trigger are difficult and frustrating. It makes a horrible and discouraging range gun. It’s only a matter of time until it breaks, or you give up. Hopefully you don’t give up shooting entirely, and just buy a proper range gun for range use, while keeping the snubby, because…

    The rest of his comment is about the other side of the U-shaped utility curve, that I won’t repeat here due to length. But I think that everyone here can probably figure it out without clicking on the link above.

    I never see this mentioned, so maybe I’m missing something, but one advantage that a revolver has over a semi-automatic is that the “dry fire” routine is as close as possible to actually shooting. With most semi-autos, the user has to manually manipulate the slide and/or hammer for every shot. While it makes sense to “us”, it can be damn confusing for a noob trying to understand the difference between the manipulations necessary for dry-fire and live-fire. This is not trivial. I’ve seen people who shoot maybe once-a-year struggle trying to remember the details of how their semi-auto pistol works, year after year after year. It’s not that they’re stupid, but unused knowledge evaporates.

    I do have to say something about the old “Using a semi-auto is less complicated than driving a car” argument, which has been around for decades. Before we drove ourselves, most of us grew up watching our parents drive, whether it was taking us to school, football practice, piano lessons, the psychiatrist, etc. Most of us have been driving almost every day since we were sixteen years old. As adults who have to commute to-and-from work every day, most of us spend several hours every day driving.

    While operating a motor vehicle may or may not be “more complicated” than operating a semi-automatic handgun, it’s something people have been doing every day for years and decades of their life. Or, as we like to say on internet gun forums, most people have developed a “muscle memory” for driving to the point that they can perform the routine functions sub-conciously. The same is not even close to being true of operating a semi-automatic handgun — even for the vast majority of gun owners. Whether or not driving is more complicated is irrelevant.

  7. I believe you are correct here. And to PG, Guess i’m one of those idiots!
    I beleive you are correct. And to PG, Guess i’m one of those idiots!

  8. Good reading anon. Guess i’m still one of the idiots that tell people, Male or female that startint with a revolver is best. I still shoot revolvers and like them very well.

  9. Shelley… while I very much agree with your article overall and ideas… I must disagree with your reasoning for #3… “I have seen many revolvers break. I have never fixed any of these broken revolvers, because in order to fix a revolver you have to open up the inside and it’s like 1892 in there. You know what’s easy to teach people? How to clear a malfunction in a semi-auto and get back to shooting.”

    I have many decades of experience with revolvers and semi-auto pistols… and I’ve had both break… but comparing a revolver breaking to an operational malfunction of a semi-auto such as a failure to eject or feed is not a fair comparison… now to compare a revolver breaking to a semi-auto breaking such as a broken firing pin/striker in a semi-auto vs. a broken firing pin in a revolver… or a broken spring in a semi-auto vs. a broken spring in a revolver… both require far more involved resolution than malfunction clearing a stove-pipe or a double-feed… and those are more “apples to apples” comparisons…

    One advantage to most revolvers is if you have a failure to fire… another pull of the trigger puts you back in business… but a failure to fire in a semi-auto… most do not have second strike capability… requires a malfunction clearing sequence… now I’m not recommending a revolver because of that… my motto is, “I educate, You decide”…

    You make a great point about racking the slide… I teach several techniques for folks with strength limitations (I did not say women)… to effectively cycle the slide when hand strength, handicaps, or ailments such as arthritis cause difficulty in doing so… shoot, we have nine year-old 4Her’s… both boys and girls… “racking” the slides on semi-autos like the S&W Shield and 1911’s…

    With the selection of so many reliable semi-auto’s today, they offer a lot more than revolvers to most shooters… so that old revolver advice belongs back in the 1970s with bell-bottom jeans and wide ties and lapels…

    Good stuff…

    Dann in Ohio

  10. Advising women to go with similar sidearms to those that were issued in fairly large numbers to female Military Police and Security Forces 40 years ago sounds like stuff old geezers who had to push lots of crack troops through pistol qualification would say.

  11. I’ve introduced quite a few women to shooting. I never tell them what THEY want. How the hell would I know?

    Take them to the range with a pile of guns, let them fire them, answer any questions with accurate info and as little attitude as possible. They get to decide what they like and what to buy if they want one.

  12. I don’t disagree with the article, but dont make the argument that she CAN rack the slide but not pull the trigger. Sure some triggers take more effort, but usually less than a slide. And why the assumption than women are weaker anyway?

    She can most likely pull that trigger in practice, and definitely when adrenaline is flowing. And practice is the main thing, don’t rely on adrenaline.

  13. Yes! As a female shooter, instructor and gun store owner, I can not agree with you more! Also the felt recoil is more significant with a revolver than a semi-auto. Great job!

  14. 1 and 2 are wrong…3 and 4 is just lame…5…is usually not the case for the average woman….I’m not talking Julie or Jesse etc…As my post says 23 years of women struggling with semi autos…Not an accurate article…

    Ya know I still believe its (a revolver) the best handgun for a woman. I sold guns for 23 years and almost all the guns I sold to women were revolvers. Why?…They had trouble working the slide of a semi auto and were intimidated by its function like changing mags…They struggled chambering a round…I know what your gonna say…Training will fix that…But…They won’t train…women don’t do that…Sure the wives of list members may but not the average woman…My wife and 4 sisters aren’t gunny…Meaning they could care less about guns other than for that instance when it MAY be needed…They won’t train…My wife does great with a revolver…Even understands the use of a speed loader…Still simpler, easier than a semi auto…

    Gary

  15. …the best gun to use in a gun fight is the one you have on you RIGHT NOW! Whatcha have is whatcha have!

  16. I think this is good advice. I did a lot of researching and LOTS of shooting before finally choosing my Beretta. Some women choose a revolver because they are more comfortable with it. I was more comfortable with a pistol. In the end, it all comes down to preference, but out of the women I have seen at the range it seems most of them are shooting pistols. As for loading the magazines, yes some can be difficult, but there are models that have either a separate piece or a lever to help you load if you need it. My friend’s .22 has a little latch that you slide down and it makes it SUPER easy to load it. Mine came with a little plastic device to help push the bullet down to load the next one in.

  17. How about this: introduce a woman – or any new shooter – to a variety of styles and actions and let them choose what they’re most comfortable with.

  18. Counter points:

    Most CCWs do not shoot regularly. They are busy people with busy lives who want to be pro-active in their defense. Shooting in general is a perishable skill.

    Revolvers may or may not be less concealable than some semi-autos, but its not apples to apples. A single stack high end short barrel 1911 is way more expensive than a good short barrel revolver.

    Revolvers will function during and after contact with clothing. Remember most of these encounters are close quarters (15′ or less). Semi-autos require distance and good position to fire reliably.

    Shooting is just like any other sport, you get one chance to make a first impression. If a beginner has a good experience the first time out, they will want to come back and get better. If not, they will curse it for the rest of their lives. Just like I would not put my wife or kids on my skis or my snowboard and send them down on a first run, I would not give them a massive hand cannon (semi-auto or revolver) and send them to the range.

    I would also not sell a tricked out compact semi-auto to someone who I know is going to shoot once, maybe twice a year and leave it in their glove compartment the rest of the time.

    1. “Revolvers will function during and after contact with clothing.”

      Not if that clothing gets caught between the hammer and frame while you’re pulling the trigger.

  19. I take exception to this article for a number of reasons. I have taught women to shoot for over 10 years, beginners and women who have had some experience.
    1. Depending on the revolver, double action is actually not that bad.
    2. Quite literally, some people cannot work the action on most guns. My wife was one of those. I taught her the push-pull method of working the slide and she only found ONE gun, the Bersa .380 she could work. As a sometime shooter, she’s not bad but she’d rather use the Model 36 Smith over the Bersa.
    3. Semi-automatics break. I’ve have firing pins and extractors break while shooting.
    4. My wife’s Model 36 and my Smith Bodyguard in .38 are eminently concealable. You don’t need a bulky gun and full size semi-automatics are just as hard to conceal.
    5. Actually, no. Using a semi-automatic is not that simple unless you practice. Neither is a revolver that simple unless you practice. If there’s a malfunction, it’s much easier to pull the trigger than to drop mag, rack slide, clear action, insert mag, rechamber.

    The thing to remember is that a person should be COMFORTABLE and COMPETENT with whatever firearm they choose. Forcing a person to choose a weapon just because you think one’s better is rather silly. Just as my wife doesn’t want a Boss 302 to drive around in, neither should she depend on what YOU say she should carry.

    1. ” Quite literally, some people cannot work the action on most guns. My wife was one of those. I taught her the push-pull method of working the slide and she only found ONE gun, the Bersa .380 she could work.”

      My mother is in her 70s, with horrible arthritis, and I was able to teach her how to rack the slide on a 1911. Racking the slide of most semi-auto guns is less work than most double-action revolver triggers. Her prefered gun now is an FNS. Therefore, your argument is invalid.

      “My wife’s Model 36 and my Smith Bodyguard in .38 are eminently concealable. You don’t need a bulky gun and full size semi-automatics are just as hard to conceal.”

      Full size revolvers are even harder to conceal. I can conceal an M&P Shield or Glock 26 more easily than a snubby. Also, the stock Shield and Glock triggers are MUCH easier to shoot than any stock revolver trigger. If you buy a revolver that’s comparable in price to those, you’ll pay way too much to a gunsmith to make those triggers not suck in double-action to be worth it.

    2. Point 3: Semi-autos do break. So do revolvers. Basic maintenance practices will greatly obviate both problems.
      Point 4: You’re comparing full-size semiautos to subcompact revolvers. Try comparing a J-frame (like the S&W 36) to the M&P Shield 9mm instead. Shield is narrower, similar length and height, flatter, has an easier trigger, has better sights (and aftermarket options), carries more rounds, is easier to reload if that’s needed, and they both weigh about the same (~20 oz)
      Point 5: Why are you dropping the mag to clear a simple malfunction in a semi-auto? You’re complicating the process beyond necessity. Tap-tug, rack, reassess, shoot if necessary. Don’t drop the mag unless you actually need to, say in the event of a failure to extract or double-feed.

      Granted, a person should be comfortable with what he or she carries. But an inexperienced shooter is also the worst judge of what “comfortable” means. My girlfriend (5’2″) hated 9mm pistols…because the one time she fired one before, some ejected brass hit her in the forehead above her eye-pro. That was before I ever met her, and now she loves my Sig P228 (old-school) and can tolerate my Glock 19.

      A new shooter, especially on the hunt for a first gun, should ideally be given some competent instruction and supervised range time before shopping for a pistol. Even then, guiding said shooter toward modern, proven designs, especially the mid-size relatives of modern service handguns, will probably be the better long-term choice.

  20. I have to say that the article is spot on. I know more than a little about running revolvers at speed as well as teaching CCW, and while they are a great choice for a gun that you won’t break in or practice with, they are very difficult to operate in anger and they usual sale to a “just for her to carry” involves a snub with frame cut rear sights, about the hardest gun to use in any circumstance. Also, as someone who actually shoots enough to break revolvers he’s equally correct about the direness of failures.

  21. The choice of revolver or semi-auto for an inexperienced shooter depends entirely on the individual. If a rookie gun owner has a desire to learn and become proficient with a semi-auto, it makes no difference if the shooter is a he or a she. But if either sex has minimal interest and/or low proficiency with firearms, then a quality revolver is a logical choice because it is a much simpler firearm for a person to acquire bare minimum proficiency. Out of three grown daughters, all of them grew up around handguns, but only one daughter had both the aptitude and desire to become proficient with a semi-auto and she is completely comfortable and effective with a Glock 33 for concealed carry, the other two daughters have absolutely no interest in acquiring a CCW license and both of them opted for revolvers as their home defense/vehicle defense handgun. I think there are probably ALOT of male semi-auto owners who believe proficiency is achieved after listening to a line of BS from the dude at Gander Mountain, watching some self appointed expert on youtube, and then unleashing half a box of ammo down range 5 yards into water filled milk jugs.

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