Revolvers are obsolete

I really like revolvers. I like shooting them, I like carrying them, and I enjoy working on them. I also know that for modern self-defense, they’re obsolete. That doesn’t mean that they can’t play a role in self-defense, but there’s just nothing a wheelgun can do for general self-defense that can’t be done better with a semi-auto pistol. Please, spare me the “but what if I need to shoot a bear” comments, because you all know that’s not what I’m talking about. Wheelguns still rule the roost for hunting and backwoods use. This post is about the self-defense needs of the average person.


Strike 1: Revolvers are harder to shoot well
The trigger on my competition revolver is about 9 pounds, and it’s very smooth. It is still harder to shoot that gun well compared to a bone stock Sig P226 or Glock 34. Both of which are smaller and weigh less than a GP100 or an L-frame Smith & Wesson. “But Caleb, what about K-frames?” Fine, your average K-frame is going to have a worse trigger and be harder to shoot well than a Glock 19 or an M&P.

The most common revolver for concealed carry are Ruger LCRs and Smith & Wesson J-frames. I have a J-frame on me right now as I’m writing this. It’s an all-steel Model 640 Pro Series, which in my opinion is the best example of J-frame ever made thanks to its chamfered cylinder, good trigger, and quality sights. It weighs 1 pound 8.9 ounces fully loaded. A Glock 19 is about the same size and weighs 1 pound, 13.5 ounces fully loaded. It also has a better trigger, and holds quite literally three times the ammo that my J-frame holds.

Strike 2: They’re not actually simpler than modern handguns
To load and fire my J-frame, I have to follow these steps:
1. Insert cartridges into cylinder (either with a speedloader, a speed strip, or one at a time)
2. Close cylinder
3. Pull trigger.

To load and fire a Glock 19, I have to follow these steps:
1. Load rounds into magazine (either by hand or using a mag speedloader)
2. Insert magazine into gun
3. Close/rack slide
4. Pull trigger

There’s only one extra step, and that step is “loading the magazine”. If the mag is already loaded, learning to fire a modern striker fired pistol takes exactly three steps. Semi-autos are even easier when you have to deal with reloading. Here are the reloading processes for both types of guns:

Winter carry gear

1. You either count five or six shots (depending on the gun) or you get a click when you’re expecting a bang to tell you the gun is empty.
2. Open the cylinder
3. Firmly push the ejector rod to clear all empty cases from the gun
4. Insert new rounds into the gun, either with a speedloader, a speed-strip, or singly by hand.
5. Close the cylinder
6. Pull the trigger.

1. Slide visually locks to the rear telling you you’re out of ammo
2. Push a button to make the naughty mag go away
3. Put a happy magazine in the gun
4. Push another button to chamber a round
5. Pull the trigger.

There is less to do with a semi-auto, and I can tell you from personal experience, a lot less to go wrong during a reload with a modern semi-automatic pistol than there is with a revolver. I could describe a litany of little things that could go wrong during a revolver reload, but it would be so James May-esque in style that you’d all fall asleep.

Strike 3: They’re not actually more reliable
Ammo is the number 1 cause of failures in modern semi-auto pistols. Ammo is also the number 1 cause of failures in revolvers. And while yes, a light primer hit in a revolver can be solved by pulling the trigger again, it’s not like a tap-rack is magical sorcery that only be performed by Gun-Jedis of the highest order.

Gun Nuts Bottom Line: Revolvers are great, and I love them. I carry one every day and feel perfectly adequately armed with it. I also know that there are better, more modern choices out there for self defense. A new shooter would be much better suited with a Glock 19 or M&P than a revolver. If you think that semi-autos are “too complicated” for new shooters, than you need to re-examine your biases and stop treating people like they’re idiots. Most people can successfully operate a smartphone and drive a car, both of which are more complicated than a Glock.


  1. While we are at it, we shold diffrentiate between service handguns and backup guns.

    >Service handguns- revolvers with a 4′ or longer barrel- the standard S&W Model 10; Pistols with a full sized grip- the standard Glock 19.

    >Backup guns- snubnosed small framed revolvers such as the J framed S&W; Compact pistols with a cut down grip (Glock 26) or ultra small pocket guns with small single stack mags- the S&W Shield 9mm.

    Now that we have our apples and oranges sorted…

    1. For Service Handguns, the advantage of the pistol over the revolver is quite clear.
      And I should mention, for our friends who think “wimmenz R tu dum 4 komplikated gunz so giv dem jay framez”- running a Glock is less complicated than running a vaccuum or an at home expresso/cappucino maker.

  2. I just decided to buy a wheel gun and now I hear it is obsolete. Dang.

    Geez, give women a break! They ain’t so dumb they can’t learn to use any gun. The secret is they have to learn to run their gun. Practice, learn and more practice. There are so many little thing any newbie has to learn I don’t know how anybody can even suggest someone can make an intelligent decision on what gun works well for anyone after only a couple of range sessions or classes. If you don’t know how to run a semi-auto why do you think running a revolver is easier? For newbies everything is hard! Whatever a woman owns they need (and can) learn to run it. When a newbie asked what gun to buy its six of one and a half dozen of the other. I personally recommend starting with a semi-auto but if they like or already own a wheel gun I teach them to use it without comments about it being inappropriate. (Unless it’s a pocket gun that’s their first one.)

    Argue all you want but my opinion is it is personal preference. And a newbie doesn’t know enough to know what they prefer. Get them trained to run any gun then they can make up their own mind.

  3. Oh, yeah. Revolvers are obsolete. So is the 1911. So is any metal-framed handgun.
    According to one expert or another.
    Which is why so many experienced shooters are buying and carrying them.
    A Glock isn’t the answer in every situation.
    In fact, a Glock is no answer at all, for me. Repeat: For me! Clunky brick just doesn’t feel good in my hand.
    To each his/her own.
    I carry either an LCR, a compact 1911, a S&W Sigma 9mm, or a P14-.45, depending on circumstances such as temperature, location, and purpose. I’ve even taken my old steel-framed Model 59 out to play once in a while.
    Each has it’s niche to fill, and fills it well. Or I wouldn’t own it.
    Revolvers aren’t obsolete. They just have a different drum to march to.

    P.S.- One huge advantage of a revolver in today’s ammo-short market is that you don’t have to spend a wad of cash on reliability testing with each type of ammunition that you might want to use. If it fits in the chamber, something’s going downrange when you trip the trigger. Guaranteed. No feeding problems here. Wadcutter @ 600fps? Check. JHP @ 1500fps? Check. Stovepipes? Failure to feed? Failure to eject? Nope.

    Again, to each his own.

  4. Limp wrist a wheel gun and it’ll be ready to roll on the next pull of the trigger. But you better be ready to do a clearing drill with that semi-auto if you didn’t have a proper grip.

  5. Well now YOU are obsolete.the best gun for self defense is the one you have in your hand,moron.

    1. Jerry has better things to do than white-knight around the intarwebs defending revolvers. Like shoot a modern semi-auto pistol in 3-Gun, for example.

  6. I’ll have you know that my wheel lock handgonne is clearly superior to the antiquated match lock which it replaced !


    Sunk New Dawn
    Galveston, TX

  7. Why is the standard glock that everyone defers to a 19? Gastons golden boy which has been torture tested ad nauseum is undoubtedly the 17. It has a longer sight radius more grip surface and less felt recoil yet it seems so many people prefer the 19. I need some closure here. I use a 34 for competition and have a 19 for home defense yet my justification for the 19 was that the 17 too closely resembles my 34. Now had I been with out the 34 I fail to see what would promt me, or anyone else for that matter, to favor the 19 over the 17.

  8. Revolvers work as well as they ever have. So does a motorola flip phone, a Super NES, and ’67 Mustang.

    The question is always what do the modern improvements mean to you in a practical sense?

  9. Well maybe, but they are the only hadgun my wife can use. She can’t rack the slide on my AMT .380 Back-up or or any other auto-loader I own.

    Maybe, I suppose if she worked on it – A LOT – she could develope the strength and technique to do it. But she is not going to. So the GP100 in the bed drawer will have to do.

    And since the chances of her needing to do more than even show the gun, much less fire more than 6 shots, is pretty small it will likely serve in the situation.

    If she ever does have to use it, and it does serve, then it really wouldn’t be obsolete would it?

  10. Chris Duran — I don;t know abouut everyone else, but a G17 (or G22) feels “too big” while a G19 (or G23) feels much better. I have the same reaction to the Sig P226 vs. P228/P229.

    I suspect it must be a balance issue. . .

  11. Junk revolvers are obsolete from the perspective of most action sports (not all) and from the view of the military. But the US armed forces have not had a revolver as standard issue for grunts since before WWI.

    I swap between my 627 (snubbie “bloodwork”), 442 (pocket holster), Kark K9 (IWB/Don Hume), and my M&P45c (Crossbreed IWB) depending on clothing, season, and where I am going.

    I’ll pack 158gr SJHP magnums in the 627 when heading to the hood. Remington 158gr SWCHP (“FBI”) in the 442 or the K9 (with Speer GDHP) for work, and the M&P45c (HST) for everything else.

  12. Your stance would appear to be that they are obsolete as 1st choices for new gun buyers, right? I.E. to whatever extent they are “obsolete”, it isn’t significant enough that people who already own them need to strongly consider replacing them with modern semi’s, correct?

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