This “revolver versus semi-auto” debate has, believe it or not, been going on for more than 100 years. Today, the advent of new technology for both revolvers and semi-autos has served as an equalizer, reducing many of the distinctions between them, such as choices in caliber and ease of use. New engineering and materials are enabling larger-caliber pistols to scale down in size and weight, to dimensions once limited only to small-caliber semi-automatics. These smaller-sized larger-caliber guns have brought many more options to the table and given semi-autos a decided edge with shooters—particularly women, who make up a sizable percentage of new CCW permit holders.

Throughout much of the early to mid 20th century, women tended to favor small-caliber (mostly .25 ACP and .32 ACP) semi-autos for concealed carry or self-protection, while men leaned toward .38-caliber revolvers like the Colt Detective Special and Colt Agent (both long gone) and the S&W J-Frame models, which are still in production and have retained a solid following. Obviously, if the inherent advantages of a revolver were not evergreen, we wouldn’t have modern variants chambered for typical semi-auto calibers like .380 ACP, 9mm and .40 S&W, or new models with composite frames, or ultra-light alloy constructions like S&W’s Scandium series guns.

Easy Safeties: The fundamental advantages of a small-frame double-action revolver begin with ease of use. A revolver has no manual safety—you draw, aim and, if the situation demands, pull the trigger. With most revolvers, you can cock the hammer manually, and firing single-action generally increases accuracy and greatly reduces trigger pull. Also, there is no question as to whether a round is chambered in a revolver—if the gun is loaded, there is a chambered round. Even if you take the ultimate safety precaution (aside from a trigger lock) and do as shooters often did in the Old West (keep the hammer resting on an empty chamber), when you pull the trigger on a DA revolver or manually cock its hammer, the cylinder will rotate to the next chamber, which is loaded.

The question of a chambered round is also addressed by many semi-autos, which have loaded-chamber indicators, but only those with very obvious and easily seen or felt indicators are of value in a tense situation where there is precious little time to go looking for a more subtle difference. Guns with obvious loaded-chamber flags, like the 9mm Ruger LC9, are an excellent choice, especially for first-time handgun owners.

Semi-autos were originally designed with a manually operated safety mechanism to prevent accidental discharge, thus the process (of the wise) was to carry a gun with a chambered round and the safety engaged (the proverbial cocked-and-locked method), draw, release the safety, aim, and pull the trigger, thus adding one additional step to the process. Conversely, one could carry the gun without a chambered round and, after drawing, manually cycle the slide and load the first cartridge. A vast majority of semi-autos still use the traditional manual safety design, but not all. In the early 1980s with the G17, Glock was one of the first arms-makers to eliminate that distinction. More than a quarter-century later, Glock has an entire line of various calibers and frame sizes, all utilizing the Safe Action Trigger, which essentially puts the semi-auto into the same ease-of-use category with the revolver. The trigger pull is the sole discretionary safety. But Glocks, other semi-autos employing similar designs and nearly all revolvers incorporate internal (passive) safety mechanisms to prevent accidental discharge if the gun is inadvertently dropped. With a Glock-style system, a secondary safety mechanism incorporated into the face of the trigger requires a direct and positive linear pull along with the trigger, to disengage internal safeties and allow the firearm to discharge. With the Glock system it is draw and fire, so scratch the manual safety, one very big distinction between revolvers and many modern-day semi-autos.

Capacity And Reloads: Cartridge capacity and ease of reloading are the next most important considerations. Revolvers, with very few exceptions, limit capacity to six rounds and five in most small-frame snub-nose (2-inch barrel) models chambered in .38 Special, .38 Special +P or .357 Magnum. This limit also applies to revolvers chambered in semi-auto calibers like .380 ACP, 9mm, .40 S&W and .45 ACP. Any question of accuracy between a revolver and semi-auto has little merit, as both guns in comparable calibers and barrel lengths are generally identical.

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