In Defense of Snubbies (a.k.a. Snub-Nosed Revolvers)

A snub-nosed revolver in the hands of an inexperienced shooter is a wildly inaccurate firearm. A newbie with a snubbie can completely miss a target that’s five feet away. And that’s at a gun range. In the heat of the moment, with a perp coming at the shooter, in low-light, standing side-on? Fuhgeddaboutit. Over at Gun Nuts Media, Caleb and his cronies are hashing-out the “guns are like shoes” analogy, with Caleb opining that foisting a snubbie on a female because she has trouble racking the slide is like “buying her a pair of cowboy boots because she doesn’t know how to tie sneakers.” Yes, but—there’s a reason Smith & Wesson, Ruger, Charter Arms and others sell hundred of thousands of snubbies every year. And while I’d never recommend a snubbie for self-defense, there’s a lot to recommend a snub-nosed revolver for self-defense . . .

1. It’s a gun. It shoots bullets.

Not having a gun can be a good thing. A lack of firepower forces the non-gun owner to consider other, more effective self-defense options like . . . running. Eye gouging. Backpack nukes. All joking aside (for this sentence), a newbie can waste a lot of valuable time trying to extract a gun, and then do serious damage to their situation by not being able to do serious damage to their assailant or assailants because they can’t hit squat with their snubbie.

OK. I’ve said it. Me. I’m not the one buying or carrying a snubbie. (Yet.) So who cares what I have to say about it? Not the hundreds of thousands of people who buy snub-nosed revolvers for self-defense. They’ve decided that having a gun is better than not having a gun. If they thought (or paused to consider) that the ability to draw their gun quickly and efficiently or hit what they’re aiming at was more important than simple concealability, they wouldn’t have bought a snubbie. But they didn’t so they did.

The snubbie is proof that Darwinism is alive and well in the firearms community. More to the point, why let the perfect be the enemy of the good? If a relatively untrained snubbie-wielder has, say, a one-in-ten chance that one of their five bullets will hit a threat, that’s still better than the odds of recouping the price of a scratch card with a scratch card. Or beaning the bad guy with a cell phone. Who knows? There might be one less robber, rapist or thug at the end of it.

Sure, an innocent bystander might cop it. And? Life is messy. The Second Amendment is clear. Americans have the right to keep and bear arms. Nothing in there about marksmanship that I can see—despite gun control advocates’ oft-stated desire to protect individuals from themselves for their own and society’s good. Granted, a newbie with a snubbie is dangerous, even with a twenty-pound trigger pull. But bad guys are way more dangerous. For individuals and society.

2. It’s a gun. It’s scary.

For you and me, a newbie with a snubbie is scary because we have no idea where the bullet’s going to go. Now put yourself in the bad guy’s shoes. He (assuming it’s a he) doesn’t know the shooter can’t hit shite. All they know is that hey that’s a gun. Unless they’ve smoked a Sheen-like amount of meth, they probably understand that one bullet from that gun can ruin their whole day. I’m not saying they’ll immediately down tools and head for the hills. But they might.

There aren’t any stats on the prophylactic effects of gun brandishing on criminal behavior. How many snubbie owners avert crime by the mere act of showing their barrel-length challenged gun to a bad guy? Estimates range from “some” to 3.6 million times per year. According to experts, that’s a Lott of nonsense. In any case, you’ve got to add the perp’s potential “you know what? forget it” reaction to a snubbie to the list of “reasons to carry a gun you can’t shoot very well.”

3. It’s a safe gun. Ish.

C’mon. Admit it. The vast majority of snubbie buyers don’t practice trigger discipline or muzzle control. Maybe on the range. Perhaps at home. But definitely not in the heat of battle. A gun with a long trigger pull goes a long way towards preventing a newbie negligent discharge. Yes, plenty of pocket semis also have a long trigger pull (e.g. the recently reviewed Ruger LC9). But snubbies guaran-damn-tee it.

As Mark points out below, if a snubbie-shooting newbie goes completely nuts, shooting his or her revolver dry without any regard to collateral damage, at least they’ll run out of ammo in short order. Championing snubbies because they suck may not seem sensible, but it is.

4. The more people who own guns the better.

The more people who own guns, the safer our gun rights. ‘Nuff said? Other than this: there is a chance, however small, that the newbie snubbie owner will master their weapon. Maybe not to the level of the Trail Boss, but some. Lest we forget, it’s possible to become extremely accurate with a snubbie. Alternatively, perhaps the inability for the newbie snubbie owner to hit a target at the range could lead them to purchase another, more suitable self-defense gun. Sometimes the longest journey starts with the shortest gun.

 

 

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About Robert Farago

Robert Farago is the Publisher of The Truth About Guns (TTAG). He started the site to explore the ethics, morality, business, politics, culture, technology, practice, strategy, dangers and fun of guns.

37 Responses to In Defense of Snubbies (a.k.a. Snub-Nosed Revolvers)

  1. avatarRalph says:

    The only reason a snubby isn’t my primary SD gun is capacity — five shots ain’t enough to cover a fast exit, and reloading on the run is like trying to win a one-legged race while balancing an egg on a wooden spoon. Otherwise, snubbies are light weight and fun to shoot with standard .38Spl loads. Snubbies are accurate enough for their purpose, which is CQC at distances from five yards to zero millimeters. As a contact weapon, the snubby reigns supreme because it will never jam. You can stick a snubby in the BG’s ribs or armpit and shoot. Fight over.

    • avatarTom says:

      That what the glock 19 is for, but even a glock, especially with a couple of spare magazines is a bitch to carry sometimes. The airweight snubbie will handle the problem in most cases and you can have it with you in Florida when it is too hot to wear a watch.

    • avatarTom says:

      You can carry the snubbie in a t shirt, shorts and wearing flip flops in Florida when it is too hot to wear a watch.

  2. avatarMark says:

    Let’s be honest: no handgun is entirely “suitable” for self-defense. I carry a five-shot snubbie because I’d rather have a gun that I can *always* carry–regardless of what I’m wearing–than have to dress around a gun every day. The biggest downside is that I have to practice with it, but since I enjoy shooting this is a “burden” I’m willing to (gleefully) bear.

    As to the dangers posed by snubbie-wielding newbies, let’s take a look at the flipside: Would you rather someone who can’t hit the broad side of a barn spray the surrounding area with five rounds or fifteen?

    • avatarNCG says:

      Good point, especially since people in violent encounters (including trained LEOs) have a tendency to keep shooting until they empty their gun.

    • avatarJOE MATAFOME says:

      You make a great point Mark, I was at the range last year while the guards for an armored car company were qualifying. These guys sucked and their shots were all over the place. I knew their instructor and after the guys left I asked him why they only had revolvers. He told me that they were only issued revolvers so that they couldn’t shoot more than six innocent bystanders.

  3. avatarihatetrees says:

    Excellent post. I’m no fan of snubbies, but (as you very logically concluded) to each his own.

    I have a bias against light (< 20 oz) handguns. I don't like the lack of control. And I don't want to spend time, money, ammo, and palm skin mastering Lightweight Handgun Accuracy for Dummies. My 270 Winchester sight problem interests me 10x more than any handgun. As for handguns, if mastering and enjoying a ~30 oz single stack 9mm makes me an outlier, so be it.

  4. avatarNCG says:

    I’m curious about the stats on “brandishing.” Anecdotally, it certainly does seem like the vast majority of armed encounters with criminals end with BG running away and no shots fired. A lot of these incidents are likely not reported, especially in cases where the brandisher is, for whatever reason, disinclined to chat with the authorities. I’ve been fortunate never to have dealt with violent crime, but I live in a neighborhood with a lot of petty theft, and my mere presence has always been enough of a deterrent – “Uh, sorry man, I though this was my cousin’s house,” says the guy looking around in my back yard. If it’s true that 90% of armed confrontations end without shots being fired, then 90% of the time it doesn’t matter what you’re carrying. I’d still prefer that people practice with whatever they carry.

  5. avatarmiforest says:

    amazing. I am pretty sure my guns are more accurate than I am.

  6. avatarJohn Fritz says:

    I think a lot of people will be much more likely to carry an 18oz lightweight snubbie compared to, say the gun I personally carry which weighs in at about 35oz. Big difference. The gun you have with you, no matter what it is, is a zillion times better than the one you left at home because it’s a pain in the ass to carry.

  7. I keep a Glock 30 in my car and a Glock 21 in my house both within arms reach. My CCW is a LCR, intially in .38 and now in .357. The kick with the .38 is mild compared to some .38s I’ve fired and the kick with the .357 is no more than that with my Python .357. Both trigger pulls are remarkably smooth due to the cams. Needless to say, I feel more comfortable with 11 or 14 rounds than I do with 5.

    • avatarJohn says:

      LCR is my daily CCW as well. I shoot great with it and since it’s small and light, I know I’ll always have it with me.

  8. avatarTravis Leibold says:

    I think I’m having a Kinniption Fit.

  9. Yanno, with all the whining that other bloggers are doing about airweight snubbies, they all seem to have forgotten that there are steel snubbies available.

    What’s more, there are 110-grain bullets available in .38 Special. Even standard velocity stuff, not just +P.

    When you combine a steel J-frame with standard pressure 110gr .38 Special ammo, the recoil problems pretty much go away. Anyone who cannot handle that level of recoil probably needs to restrict their defensive weaponry to pepper spray or strong language. An LCP kicks much worse than a steel snubby with 110gr ammo, so do many of the tiny .380s.

    As to the issue of stopping power, most .380 ammo is a 85-102gr hollowpoint traveling at 780-912fps (I am looking at 6 types of ammo in 6 different guns). That’s 122-167 ft/lb of energy.

    A standard-pressure 110gr .38 is a heavier bullet than any .380 slug, and the velocity falls into the 808-890fps range. That’s 159-194 ft/lb of energy. The Winchester Silvertip and Federal Hydrashok bullet designs are pretty effective.

    So, don’t count the wheelgun out yet.

  10. avatarJOE MATAFOME says:

    My snubnose S&W 500 is bigger than any full size 1911 and she will blow your head or any other body part clean off your body.

  11. avatarRalph says:

    I shoot an Airweight and I don’t find the recoil distressing with standard .38Spl loads. The revolver comes back to point immediately, so follow-up shots are easy. In fact, one handed shooting is cake, with either hand. But, like Brock, I want more than the proverbial Five For Sure.

  12. avatarCharlesT says:

    I bought a S&W 642 several months ago with rosewood grips that, after the mail in rebate, was $349 pretax. The owner of the store threw in a speed loader and a two pack of speed strips for free because I was a good customer. For those of you not familiar with the 642, it is the hammerless, stainless airweight .38 special (+P capable) version. Here are my reasons why I chose this gun for my wife to carry:

    1. It is lightweight (yes, I know some sub-compact semi-autos are lighter, but the 642 was light enough for her to carry in her purse).

    2. No hammer spur to catch on anything. Being able to cock a revolver and fire it in single action greatly increases the accuracy and control. However, this is a personal defense gun. If you have time to cock the hammer and take an aimed shot, you also had time to run away/avoid a situation necessitating deadly force, which should only be used when all other options have been exhausted.

    3. No jamming. Simple, less to worry about. If you have a bad round, pull the trigger and rotate the cylinder to the next round.

    4. No safety. Long double action pull, no need for one. Again, less to think about. (Incidentally, none of my daily carry guns have any kind of manual safety…don’t touch the trigger unless you are ready to fire; that’s my safety)

    5. More than adequate stopping power. I keep the gun loaded with Hornady 158 gr XTP hollow points. I also like Federal 129 gr +P Hydra-Shok JHP.

    6. Attention grabbing muzzle flash. If the round doesn’t hit you, the sound and flash could be enough to scare the heck out of a would-be assailant. I would be looking for the closest escape route.

    7. Price. I couldn’t find anything in the same price range that came close in comparison to stopping power, concealablity, reliabilty, and simplicity.

    8. In contrast with many of the other posts, I find the gun to be fairly accurate. Just yesterday, I had 4-5 inch groups at 15 yards with this gun…and I don’t shoot it much. Also, the first time I took my wife to shoot this gun she did very well. We had practiced drawing from her purse and an IWB holster at home using snap caps. At the range, I loaded one round and had her draw from the purse and fire at a silhouette at 3 yds. (Always start with one round at a time when teaching someone to fire a new gun for the first time). We then moved up to a full cylinder firing 2-3 rds at a time at distances from 3 – 10 yds. The target was a self-defense silhouette that gave the highest point values to center mass hits (5) and the lowest point values to extremity and head hits (1). Out of 100 rounds fired, only 3 rounds did not hit the body. 52 were in the 5 and 4 rings. 27 were in the 3 and 2 rings. 18 were 1 ring extremity shots (though I think the 3 crotch shots and 4 throat/face shots would significantly dampen the spirits of the would be attacker). She has only been to the range 5 times prior to this in her life and never before has she fired a revolver, much less a .38 special, double action snub nose.

    Personally, I carry semi-autos because of increased round capacity and fast reloading capabilities. However, I practice enough to feel very comfortable with the extra considerations involved with carrying semi-autos. I would say that folks should try shooting/carrying a snub-nosed revolver before they dismiss/diss them. I think they are excellent designs for their intended purpose.

    • avatarAshtof says:

      “Here are my reasons why I chose this gun for my wife to carry” seems a little wrong to me. The wording just seems to not take into account that it’s HER weapon and hence, her opinion is the one that matters. That not to say she can’t differ to your considerations and experience ( doing so would be wise). Her opinion on the firearm was not included in the post which is directly linked to confidence with said firearm and general willingness to practice. Personally I would like to hear your wife’s thoughts as Mrs. Ashtof and I are looking into similar weapons for my better half.

      Excellent post with great discussion points.

  13. avatarSean Chen says:

    You carry a handgun to fight your way to your rifle.

    You carry a j-frame/subcompact/Seecamp when you can’t carry a proper handgun.

    They have their place.

  14. avatarWV Panhandler says:

    One advantage of a concealed hammer snubbie: coat pocket carry. If I’m going into a dicey area that can’t be avoided(returning to late night parking garage for example) I have both hands in my jacket pockets left with key fob, right gripping .38 (finger outside trigger guard) if potential BG cannot be avoided I have a time advantage when he is close in. If he attacks, I can shoot him right through the pocket. If nothing happens I have not brandished no one is wiser but I feel more secure. Any semiauto will likely jam after first pocket shot due the slide action getting caught on pocket lining.

    BTW I keep revolver in a normal holster and transfer to hand-in-pocket carry only when entering a dicey area, not all the time.

    A police detective suggested this to me said he did this when talking to potential suspects and shot a guy as suspect stabbed him. Killed BG ruined.

    Another reason not mentioned: 38+p better ballistics than .32 or .380. Heck you can even get .357 or .44 or bigger snubbie but not with concealed hammer and even a bobbed hammer can hang up on pocket liner.

  15. avatarCaleb says:

    I, and my co-blogger Shelley who wrote the guns and shoes post both agree that we’d much rather see people armed with snub-nosed revolvers than with no gun at all. The problem isn’t even with snub guns in themselves, because with practice a snubbie can be mastered. My biggest issue is usually with the arguments that people use to convince shooters to buy snubbies, because those arguments are almost always wrong or mis-informed.

    If people said “hey, this gun carries really easy and is lightweight and reliable, but it’s difficult to shoot well without significant practice” I wouldn’t have a problem. Instead, you get all manner of nonsense like “semi-autos are too complicated” or “revolvers don’t jam”.

  16. avatarAlan McMichael says:

    One of the main reasons I recommend revolvers to new shooters (or shooters whom I know won’t put in the time necessary to become really proficient with a handgun) is that the loaded/unloaded status of a revolver is much simpler to determine and master than an autopistol. All you have to do is open the cylinder and look.

    The two step process of dropping magazine then checking chamber in an auto pistol is really hard to remember if you don’t pick up the gun more than twice a year. I have seen so many newbies rack the slide of an autopistol without first dropping the mag. Surprise! There is a shiny cartridge there, ready to be propelled into the chamber as soon as you let go of the slide.

    Every time I meet a woman carrying a .25 or .32 auto in her purse I ask “Is there a round in the chamber?” The answer is either “Huh?” or “I don’t know.” Once I explain why it is important to know the loaded status of the pistol we have a little seminar on loading the autopistol. Most women don’t have the hand strength to work the slide. A “push-pull” technique using both hands usually works.

    Please don’t think I am sexist. My father never knew whether the autopistol he depended upon had a round chambered or not. The women I have introduced to shooting have been much better students than the men, and almost always shoot better as well. But any novice, male or female, has to work hard to master the manual of arms for an autopistol.

    A Glock 19 is probably the best all around handgun for a novice shooter, but ONLY if the shooter will put in the time to learn how to manage the gun and maintain control of it’s status. Otherwise a .38 revolver is the best choice.

  17. avatarJason says:

    What is the point of this article? Is it that people who don’t train are worse off with a snubbie than with another type of firearm? Is it that snubbies suck? I can’t figure it out.

    I think anybody that carries any type of firearm should become proficient in its use. It’s like saying gas stoves are worse for people who don’t know how to cook. Who cares– learn how to cook.

    There are pros to the snubbie. One major one is that it’s hard to disarm someone with a snubbie. The barrel is small and short and doesn’t provide much leverage. In addition it can’t be placed out of battery. Trying to disarm a snubbie is likely to result in the loss of several digits.

    There is this conventional wisdom that if an auto fails to shoot, it can be cleared easily but if a revolver fails then it would me a trip to the gunsmith. This is comparing apples and oranges. One is just talking about failures in operation while the other is talking about the actual gun breaking. The auto could also break in a way to make it not operational. A spring could break, something crack etc. Are the breakage rates of autos any less than that of a revolver? I doubt it.

    The shape of a revolver is more organic in my mind and may fit someone’s body better so that it can be more comfortably concealed. I like how people just compare the max width of the cylinder to the overall width of an auto. It’s only wide in the cylinder! The rest is quite narrow. I suppose if you built like a lego-man then maybe something like a glock would fit quite well.

    Anyhow, you get the point, there are pros and cons of each. This sentence “If they thought (or paused to consider) that the ability to draw their gun quickly and efficiently or hit what they’re aiming at was more important than simple concealability, they wouldn’t have bought a snubbie.” implies that there are no good reasons to use one. I’m not sure if Robert is talking about novices or not but it seems to imply it’s a bad choice for all.

    Jason B

  18. avatarAdam Rinkleff says:

    Agreed!
    -Adam Rinkleff

  19. Is this article in support of snubbies or against snubbies?

  20. avatarJohn Baltes says:

    I guess I’m the odd-ball of the bunch. I have “mastered” my snubbie to the point of it being the gun I shoot the best. I know what it can and can not do. Loaded with Speer 135 gr +P GDHP’s, I feel I am very well armed.

  21. avatarAndrew Smith says:

    Revolvers are just simple. Meat and potatoes. Nothing complicated, pull the trigger and let the round do the work. If you hit center mass with a .38 or .357 your assailant is done. I prefer having more power in the rounds I fire. Aside from a .45, automatics just don’t have the punch that revolvers do. My .357 puts fist sized holes in ballistics gel. In a bad guy that means dead.

    Here’s another thing to think about: when an automatic is “out” everyone that can see the gun knows. Unless they’re counting your rounds, an automatic doesn’t announce to everyone that you’re out of ammo.

  22. avatarAndy says:

    I own a Charter Arms DAO .38 undercover love the little gun shoots to point of aim,doesn’t spray lead eats anything I feed it,I depend on it everyday,my first choice of ccw.I haven’t had it happen yet,but if a round does not go off when I need it to all I have to do is pull that trigger again,in a concealed carry moment an auto would need more attention,could turn out bad!Five rounds plus a speed strip in the pocket will do the trick in most confrontations,trust my families and my life to the little gun.Ya’ll have a good one,and Keep your powder dry.

  23. avatarFred says:

    Old retired LEO here, former firearms instructor and match pistol shooter. I know guns very well (specifically handguns) and I can carry any gun I want CCW; I choose to carry a S&W 442. I load it with Speer Gold Dot +P, with an IWB holster (Lefty Lewis), and I don’t feel underpowered or handicapped in any way. If push comes to shove I just yank and crank with no safeties or feeding/extraction issues to worry about. I have always been a strong believer in the KISS philosophy as well as function over fashion.

  24. avatarBertoworld says:

    Not really a well thought out article.
    Yes, a snubby is a difficult weapon to master, like most small handguns tend to be…but in the realm of pocket guns, it offers the most reliability and overall benefit to those willing to put in the effort. Any handgun is difficult to use under pressure if you don’t invest the effort to master shooting one, a snubby is no different.
    If you do invest the effort, the snubby can be more accurate, reliable (Esp at contact ranges) and deliver a heavy expanding and deep penetrating load like the better FBI loads from Remington or Buffalo Bore
    Instead of projecting a personal sense of incompetence, try learning to shoot a double action revolver , it’s a skill that will benefit you with most handguns, including the small revolver.

    • avatarTom says:

      I agree with the need to practice regularly with whatever weapon you carry and the ammunition that you carry in it.
      It works out any problem that one may have, including hitting what one is shooting at, before an emergency. If your a civilian, and you do not do anything while armed that you would not do unarmed, there is a good chance the most important factor is having a weapon and knowing how to use it. A good .38 special revolver is not a bad choice for a self defense weapon.

  25. avatarJohn Volden says:

    Wow. One of the most worthless gun-related articles I’ve ever read. No useful, technical information. No real substantive reason why snub-nosed revolvers are lacking. No alternatives presented. Thankfully, I didn’t waste too much of my time perusing this drivel.

  26. avatartom says:

    I carry my airweight j frame S&W revolver everyday. My glock 19 just collects dust at home until I go to the range and is otherwise completely negelected. Five shots of +p .38 special hollow point ammunition along with 2 speed strips of spare ammo gets me through everyday and everynight just fine. It is there 24/7 365 becuase it is easy to carry and probably all I really will ever need and I feel I am completely confident I am safe. I am now an old man and I am a very very experienced shooter.

  27. avatarFred says:

    Tom, except for the idea that you can actually get through a reload with a snubbie under tactical situations, I agree with your post wholeheartedly. I, too, carry a 2-inch 5 shot revolver for the very same reasons you cite and I’m more than confident with it under normal circumstances, but as we all know “normal circumstances” is a subjective term, and sometimes a full-up Glock 21 with 3-13 round mags wouldn’t be enough. That said, I opt for comfort and concealment unless I know something different ahead of time.

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