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Posted on May 4, 2020 by in Training



Concerns about personal safety sparked by COVID-19 resulted in thousands of persons who had never owned a firearm before to purchase a handgun. While I think it would have been better had those concerns been in place prior to COVID-19, I am still pleased that more and more and persons have taken a big step towards becoming what is essentially their own first responder. I hope that those same concerns remain place in the years to come.

One concern that I have for new gunowners that are purchasing handguns but have no intention of investing in training or are willing to practice on a routine basis is that the manner in which a semi-automatic handgun operates is more complex than that of a double-action revolver. I can say from the perspective of a defensive firearms trainer who has taught basic defensive handgun classes for decades that many students did not initially understand the physical actions required to load, chamber, press-check, and unload a semi-automatic pistol, and it was not uncommon for it to take several hours before some of them were able to operate one competently. My concern here is that many new gunowners will not seek training and quickly forget what they must do in order to properly and, equally as important, safely operate a semi-automatic pistol.

It is not my intention to discount the semi-automatic pistol for self-defense use. On the contrary, the semi-automatic pistol is what I prefer. There is a reason that the military, law-enforcement, and the majority of concealed carriers favor semi-automatic pistols made by companies such as Glock, Sig-Sauer, Smith & Wesson, and Beretta. They are reliable when maintained, hold significantly more ammunition, quick to reload, and are easier to shoot well. They also require the user to maintain the ability to operate one properly in order to use it safely and effectively if he or she is caught up a high-stress deadly force encounter.

The small-framed aluminum-framed short barrel revolver (“Snubby”) has a short sight radius, typically a small front sight, relatively heavy double-action trigger pull, and stout recoil with most 38 Special Plus P ammunition and all .357 Magnum ammunition. The Snubby is frequently promoted as the ideal defensive handguns for novice female shooters due to its light weight and compact size, but in reality the heavy trigger pull and recoil with anything but 148-grain wadcutter target ammunition or ammunition like Winchester Silvertip or Hornaday FTX 110-grain hollowpoints can make shooting one unpleasant.

Better choices might be the medium-frame Ruger GP100 and Smith & Wesson K-frame and L-frame models (there are a number of models chambered in .38 Special and .357 Magnum with either fixed or adjustable sights). It is often possible to purchase a used Smith & Wesson Model 10 revolver that was once carried by law enforcement or correction officers that has a lot of surface wear but has been fired relatively little for well under 50% of the price for a new one. The relatively new Colt Cobra line may be an option, but I have no personal experience with them at this time. Operating a revolver is relatively simple. Push the cylinder latch and open the cylinder, insert the rounds in the cylinder one at a time, and close the cylinder. To unload, push the cylinder latch, open the cylinder, elevate the muzzle, push the ejector rod so that the rounds fall out, close the cylinder.

Before I start getting hate mail regarding my comments directed towards the Snubby, please note that I have one on my person as I write this article. They fit a certain niche extremely well for experienced shooters willing to devote the time it takes to shoot it competently. I strongly advocate that concealed carriers learn to shoot a larger semi-automatic pistol or revolver first and then consider adding a Snubby to their stable.

Do the positives of a medium-frame revolver overcome the negatives when our lives may be at risk? I think that the answer is indeed yes for those who understand the limitations associated with a handgun that does not hold much ammunition (Tom Givens has referred them as a “One Bad Guy Gun) and is much slower to reload than a magazine-fed semi-automatic pistol.

Concealed carriers who have decided to go the revolver route need training just as much as those who chose semi-automatic pistols. It is important that they learn the fundamentals necessary to place rounds accurately and quickly on target, which should include instruction covering stance or platform, acquiring a proper grip, obtaining a good sight picture and aligning it with the target, properly “rolling” the trigger so that the muzzle remains aligned with the target while aiming and firing, and quickly realigning the sights with the target  after the shot ready to fire another shot. 

A good  instructor will not only educate the student in the above nuances of shooting and operating a revolver but spend time running the student through drills designed to help equip the student with the skills necessary to use the revolver appropriately in situations in which no other options remain except to threaten or use lethal force to protect themselves and their loved ones. The medium-frame revolvers described above are typically relatively easy to shoot with even the CCI .38 Special Plus P 135-grain Gold Dot round. I prefer .38 Special ammunition (even in .357 Magnum revolvers) that can penetrate at least 12 inches of calibrated ballistic gelatin covered with 2-4 layers of denim (which simulates clothing) while expanding, or lead wadcutters that typically do not expand but tend to be more effective than a solid round-nose bullet in stopping threats.

Concealed carriers are advised to further explore holsters and reloading devices such as Speedstrips and Speedloaders in order to find out which works best for them. I typically carry a Speedstrip in a pocket so that I have a reload in the event I was forced to use my revolver with no real expectation that I would have time to reload my revolver in mid-fight.

Concealed carriers willing to invest in the time and effort to learn to run a revolver that have prepared for the day their paths cross with that of a person or persons willing to harm them (or worse) can indeed be a force to reckon with.

Steve Moses

Steve is a long-time defensive weapons instructor based out of Texas who has trained hundreds of men and women of all ages for more than two decades on how to better prepare to defend themselves and their loved ones. Steve has completed over 80 private-sector and law enforcement-only defensive weapons and tactics classes, and has trained civilian and law-enforcement officers in six states. Moses is a reserve deputy, former member of a multi-precinct Special Response Team, competitive shooter, and martial artist. Steve has written numerous articles for SWAT Magazine and other publications. Steve is a licensed Texas Level 4 Personal Security Officer and Instructor who was Shift Lead on a mega-church security detail for seven years, and has provided close protection for several former foreign Heads of State. He is currently an instructor at Relson Gracie Jiu Jitsu/Krav Maga in Tyler, Texas and Director of Training for Palisade Training Group (