Gemini Customs Smith & Wesson 642 (courtesy The Truth About Guns)

The National Shooting Sports Foundation has launched a monthly newsletter for participants in their First Shots program. The NSSF’s command of the Internet may lack a certain je sais quoi, but the newsletter knows the hot button issues for new shooters. Their inaugural email links to Revolver or Semi-Auto: What’s Right For You? Writer Tom McHale scores it this way. Reliability? Draw. Recoil? More or less a draw. Capacity? Semi, but is that really important? Complexity? Draw. In other words, the industry lobby group ain’t sayin’. No surprise there. Here at The Truth About Guns we tell the truth about guns. My take? If we’re talking about a self-defense gun for a newbie, I recommend a pocket-carried .38 caliber Smith & Wesson 642 revolver. If it’s a bedside gun (that can be used at the range for fun and practice), I’d go with any decent polymer semi with night sights. What do you reckon?

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158 Responses to Question of the Day: Revolver or Semi for New Shooter?

    • Ruger LCR 357/38 snubbie for a home defense/concealed carry/first gun. It doesn’t get more simple, reliable, and multi-use capable.

    • Yeah, to be honest those who claim semi-autos are as reliable as revolvers are in denial if you ask me. I think the argument could possibly be made that semi-autos are tougher. But more reliable? Go to any gun forum and compare the semi-auto subforums to the revolver subforums. The former is rife with complaints about their semi-auto malfunctioning; the latter is mostly people talking about trigger jobs, grips, and whether or not the internal lock is or isn’t prone to failure and the theoretical likelihood of their revolver failing at some point. I know it’s not necessarily a fair, scientific comparison for many, many reasons, but it is noticeable.

      A semi-auto will malfunction if you hold it incorrectly, or if you (or someone else) ride the slide, or if it doesn’t like that particular bullet at that particular time, or if it gets pressed out of battery, or if you torque the magazine one direction or another too much… while a revolver will function just fine in all of those situations. Sure, the trigger pulls on the snubs usually suck, and sure, you only have 5 shots. But I would rather have 5 near-guaranteed shots (with a quality made revolver) vs. 7+ shots that might not all be there unless you’re capable at that moment of doing a tap rack bang.

      This is not to say semi-autos are bad. On paper they’re far superior to revolvers in most regards, and in fact if I can’t improve my accuracy to acceptable levels with my J-Frame (I’ve only been able to get to the range with it once so far), if I decide not to put a different trigger spring in it to see if that improves things (the idea concerns me, for reliability reasons) I’ll consider also carrying a slim semi-auto in addition to the revolver which I’d draw instead of the revolver if I, God forbid, ever needed to take a shot at a greater distance that I didn’t feel comfortable taking with the snub and if running wasn’t an option.

      But in the real world, for real people who aren’t cops and are looking for a CCW weapon to defend themselves at in my opinion more realistic distances, in my non-expert opinion I think revolvers are probably a way better choice. Not for everyone, but for most.

    • Revolvers’ reputaion for reliability is over rated, in my experience. Broken firing pins and light strikes are nowhere near as rare as .01% of trigger pulls. That reliability reputation is one of the top five greatest gun myths out there. Right up there with shotguns not having to be aimed in a DGU.

      • My empirical experience has been decidedly to the contrary. I have seen and suffered dozens of semi-auto malfunctions in a couple of decades of being around firearms; I have seen exactly one revolver malfunction in all that time (OK, make that two, if you count the 1888 Webley with the broken latch stirrup that my father-in-law gave me).

        • Any random revolver vs any random semi will give the reliability nod to the revolver. But if you limit yourself to semis widely used and carried by police (Glock et al), I doubt that remains true. Or even extend that selection conservatively.

          Nowadays, almost all high volume shooting is done with semis, so there are simply many more trigger pulls that could possibly go wrong with them. Which is likely where the overweight of problems reported with semis come from.

          For actually training a new shooter, all the mechanics for how to shoot a semi, is good practice for revolvers as well. Even if revolvers may be more amendable to be fired from the hip weak handed while still in your coat pocket. Or being drawn with the finger on the trigger without (usually) causing injury.

          For non gun people, who just wants to stop by the shop and pick up a gun to carry, without any more muss and fuss, I’d say revolver. If for no other reason than it is very obvious, even to someone who refuses to touch the owners manual, how to clean it. But also because, if you just plain couldn’t be bothered to learn anything about operating your gun, the revolver is more immediately intuitive and less likely to do something you don’t expect.

      • A light strike, resulting from a bad primer or internal malfuntion with a revolver, doesnt require immediate action to continue firing (racking the slide) you just have to pull the trigger again and hope for the best. Broken firing pins do occur but its pretty rare and even more rare with high quality wheel guns.

  1. Oh boy, this ought to be fun. I’m having a flashback from about 1990 or so.

    First Rule: “Have a Gun.”

    I think a good approach is to let the new shooter handle and shoot both and see which THEY prefer. That, of course, will depend on their “use profile.”

    No right answer, no one single “better.” They are all useful tools.

    • What “they” prefer after the first ten minutes of their lives of ever touching a gun, may very well not be what they would prefer if they stuck with it for awhile. Just like “whatever you prefer” may not be the ideal answer to someone asking whether he should take up a habit of drinking cod liver oil or Coca Cola.

      • I will always suggest a revolver to anyone who is open to such suggestion. If they aren’t, then I’ll talk to them about a Kahr, or a Glock. The trick with the revolver is to NOT make it an airweight snub! Snub, fine, but try to go with a 2.5-3″ barreled medium frame. The weight will mitigate recoil, the action will be superior to a compact(normally), better selection of grips, bigger sights, etc.

  2. New to Carry? M&P Shield 9mm. Bedside gun? Glock 17 or M&P 9 Full size.
    Someone incapable of operating a microwave safely i.e. 157 years old, .38 spcl 4″ or better wheel gun.

    • So, you’re saying that a gun with a thumb safety that is relatively difficult to actuate is a great newbie’s carry gun? What about that time the safety accidentally snicked on and you don’t know why it ain’t going BANG? I have no problem saying polymer striker semi for a newbie’s carry gun, but let’s stay away from active safeties. Kahr, Glock, I’d even count the XD/XDs/XDm series with the grip safety, but not the Shield, not the Ruger LC9 or SR9. KISS

    • When in doubt, get a Glock 19….. After all, that what everyone else did or does. Then carry (if you can 🙁 ) and bedside the same gun. But only after at least some semblance of practice. Starting out with two different guns until you know your primary well, is likely counterproductive.

      Or, get a 3-4″ barreled revolver, if they’re more “you.” Not because you cannot operate microwaves. A good K/L frame is rarely meaningfully less effective than a semi, if operated well. I believe it has a different learning curve (easier when 100% green, harder when the Glocker has some practice, but then the revolver closes in again.) Going by hits-to-misses ratios from police shootings, it sure doesn’t seem like the added capacity and potential speed of semis are beneficial for much more than cranking up ammo budgets and putting holes in backstops.

      For people who don’t train a lot, at least stick with fairly similar guns everywhere. Not a gritty triggered snubbie half the time, a racetuned 1911 bedside, a Glock in the car and a Super Redhawk when in the woods. All that’s fine and good for bona fide gun nuts, but anyone asking the internet for advice on what to buy, should try to keep it somewhat simple and consistent until sufficiently experienced to know if “breaking the rules” are beneficial for them.

  3. Give the new shooter a variety of guns to try. Let him/her decide what he/she likes. Whatever is fun to shoot, he/she will practice with and carry.

  4. My wife flatly turned up her nose at having a revolver for her first gun, because everyone she knew shot automatics. After convincing the guy behind the counter that she knew what she was getting into (despite having never in her life picked up a gun) we got her an LC9.

    Her first time ever picking it up was at her concealed carry class. She shot it fine, and tried 4 other guns (including 2 revolvers) and still liked the LC9 best.

  5. I’m a big fan of revolvers for first-time pistol shooters. Sturdy, easy to use and (if you start with a good one, say a Smith J-frame) damn near indestructible. ANd even a .38 Special will have plenty of punch to stop a bad guy (with the upside of being relatively cheap and easy to shoot)

    For a bedside gun? I suggest the biggest caliber wheelgun you can comfortably control.

  6. I just started shooting handguns last year (after shooting long guns for 29 years). I started out with a XD-M on the recommendation of a gun shop employee after spending a couple hours going through all the options. It’s a fine gun, no doubt, but the double stack magazine ultimately doesn’t fit my hands well. I’ve since moved on to a 1911 with slim grips applied and I play to start looking into some revolvers this year.

    I wish there had been range options locally where I could have rented multiple handguns and tried them all out before picking. Oh well, I’m sure I can get some trade-in value for the XD-M towards a wheel gun (or another 1911 heh) 🙂

    • Firearms hold resale pretty well, so long as you didn’t booger it up or seriously mistreat it. You should get a good price.

  7. I go with revolvers as well. Reliability, no feed problems, pull the trigger and it shoots. The second time as well.

  8. I used to think a revolver was infallible…until my S&W 686 choked on 158 defensive ammunition. My perspective is whatever the owner can shoot reliably will be good enough.

    If it makes he/she feel good that they have a semi auto, so be it. Heck, even if it’s a .22, it SOMETHING!

      • There are still too many very good used S&Ws out there for me to ever considering buying a new one with that lock.

        • Is it possible to remove the lock without damaging the gun (and breaking the bank)?

          Not that important for me since I tend to stay away from revolvers, they are fun and strong but can’t be suppressed. I was just wondering.

        • @lolinski, removing the lock on a S&W revolver is a ten minute job, at most. There are lots of viddies that show how. The only thing that needs to be removed is a little, internal leaf, so there’s no hole left in the frame.

        • Now you have me confused. It is easy to remove and it doesn’t harm the gun, but still people complain and avoid them like the plague? This reminds me of the SCAR’s reciprocating handle and the feelings/reactions of one writer who reviewed one.

          In case you don’t get what I mean, I mean a non-issue that people blow out of proportion.

        • Yeah, but you had to pay for it, take the trouble to remove it, and a space had to be made in the frame, ie, bigger than necessary. Stupid idea.

  9. I don’t think you can beat a 686/66/19 or similar if you are only going to have one revolver to cover all bases. For totally novice carry, a 642 or even better, an LCR, maybe a 60.

  10. For first time shooters it’d have to be a revolver. Think about it: A revolver just goes “bang” while a semi-auto goes “bang” then the slide rushes back at the shooter taking thumb skin with it while a piece of hot brass shoots out the side.
    Okay that was dramatic but the point being that first time shooters can be a bit gun-shy so I personally feel it’d be best for them to use a firearm with the least amount of action happening at once.

    • I’ve seen it when a new shooter was given an auto will very little instruction and skinned his thumb. Yes a wheel gun is better for new shooters.

      • For those who absolutely refuse to get any instruction or training, a revolver is “better,” for the reasons you mentioned. But for everyone else, semis are pretty darned simple these days.

        I’d rather suggest that the main reason to pick a revolver for a newer shooter, is that it slows them down more, making them less likely to start pushing speed before they have mastered the requisite accuracy.

        Also, good revolver shooters tend to get good with semis much quicker and more consistently than the other way around.

  11. I used to just recommend a .38 revolver for new shooters. It’s my personal favorite after all. But now I break shooters into 2 groups.

    1) Folks that just want to have one gun for peace of mind and hope they can put it away and never have to use it. These folks I recommend the revolver, .38 special.

    These are the people that aren’t going to carry 24/7 but want the peace of mind that having a gun brings. 4 inch barreled duty size revolver for them.

    2) People that are new but wanting to learn and expand their knowledge and capabilities. I point them towards a Glock brand Glock in 9mm for their first gun. It’s a starting point and they can decide from there what’s right for them.

    I tell all noobs that regardless of their reasons for owning a handgun or their desire to expand their tool collection every household in America should have at least one shotgun available.

    • Glocks? They work but there are way better options, I would recommend an used CZ-75.

      I agree with you regarding the revolver, if it is going to be a piece that you familiarize yourself with, then store until needed I would prefer a revolver (mainly because it has no magazine). Other than that I would go pistol all the way, mainly because a pistol has a much simpler mechanism than a revolver.

    • jwm, I agree 100%. The only thing I would add is: if they can afford it they should have an AR-15 as well. Only because it’s the rifle our armed forces use and I think everybody should have one and be familiar with it just in case things get real.

  12. Drives me batshit when a new shooter (especially female) comes in with a J-frame sized revolver. I always wound up getting one of my .22 pistols to teach them the basics.

    J-frames are great, don’t get me wrong, but there’s a steep learning curve for the newbie. In addition to the noise & recoil, there’s the sights (or lack of).

    I always told new shooters to handle several different firearms to see what felt good in their hand and what they could manipulate the best.

    • Although they are hard to find and the ammo is scarce, the .32H&R/.327Mag J-frame size revolvers can be a decent compromise for someone with small hands/weak grip. You can practice with .32S&W or .32S&W Long, with about the same recoil as a .22/.22Mag. The down side, of course, is the ammo scarcity. Like, you should probably plan on reloading for them.

  13. I would think a revolver for sure. It’s analogous to what, in my old retail camera sales days, we used to call a PHD device (push here dummy). Only in this case substitute trigger pull for camera shutter release push. Other than learning safety and shot placement, a revolver is relatively foolproof for a beginner.

  14. Depends on the shootist. Is he/she willing to take the time and effort to learn how to run a semi-auto, including the whole clearance drill gig? Or are they looking for something that will go bang when they pull the trigger, without them getting too involved in the whole process? How strong is their hand/grip? How much range time are they willing to invest in the learning process?

    The nice thing about a revolver is that the cartridge does not have to go through the whole complicated semi-auto process to load, fire, extract the empty, reload: “OK, do we have proper spring tension in the magazine, feed lips not tweaked, chamber ramp is at the right angle for this bullet profile, UP WE GO INTO THE CHAMBER!, mainspring is good, extractor fits over the rim, bolt closed properly, primer worked right, no limp wrist on the recoil, empty case extracted fine, picked up the next cartridge, …” For a revolver, the process that the cartridge goes through is described as “sit here and wait for the firing pin.” And if the primer is a dud, the clearance drill is “pull the trigger again”.

    So how much time is the newbie willing to invest in their training?

    • There is a reason that the military switched to semi-automatic pistols. Larger magazines sizes, less recoil, lighter trigger pulls and higher cycle times. Revolvers only have one advantage, i.e., long barred revolvers offer higher accuracy over long distance and larger caliber that make a revolver useful for hunting or long range target shooting. If your primary use for the weapon other than target practice and/or three gun or IDPA is self-defense you want to go with the semi-automatic.

        • Yeah, I know. I was just pointing out that alleged superiority of the revolver is contradicted by the fact that the world’s militaries shifted to the semis because it was easier to shoot and more accurate. That is why it is better to start a newbie on semi than a revolver.

        • Aha–but military has different priorities, different mission than newbie civilian shooter. In those priorities, capacity is a lot higher up on the list, and lack of training time is not a problem.

        • Saying that the right thing for a newbie to do is pretend to be a professional doesn’t seem right, somehow.

        • The question is how to introduce a newbie to a handgun. When you do this you want to give him something with an smooth, easy trigger, the least possible recoil and insure he gets positive feedback by hitting the target. The characteristics that caused the military to move to semiautomatic pistols are the same things you want a new shooter to experience.

          Let’s take Robert’s suggestion of an S&W 642. It is about the same size as a Springfield XD/s.

          Trigger pull: 642 is heavy and long. The XD/s is shorter and lighter
          Recoil: The 642 has substantially more recoil than XD/s
          Ballistics: A sub 2″ barrel vs a 3.3″ barrel. Much ballistics and more accuracy.

          So which one do you think a new shooter would do better with?

        • I would call military newbies. Let me explain. The military has to train many different people with differing experience to firearms to a certain level. Many, who join the military, have never shot a weapon before. And the suggestion that just because you are in the military and have received initial training that you are in some way an expert… well….. I don’t know what ranges you went to, but in many units you get one or two days of instruction and range time then 40 bullets per year for “familiarization”/qualification. I’ve seen high ranking individuals on the 9mm range who couldn’t hit the broad side of a barn standing inside of it, who miraculously end up with holes in their targets (when I’m in the lane next to them). My point is that in the military, unless you are combat arms, service members are trained from a novice to a person that at least won’t shoot themselves level, and the reason they carry is for “self-defense”.

          My take on what a noob should carry was stated before, whatever THEY like (which means, whatever they will actually practice with and actually carry). I have a friend who was talked into a j-frame revolver that was big and bulky and yes was super-duper reliable. But she doesn’t carry it because it doesn’t fit in her clothes and it’s too heavy for her purse. So what good is it? Another friend bought a pocket pistol, but took it to the range once and because it “hurts” her hand when practicing with it, she doesn’t practice. Now she doesn’t feel confident about the pistol, so she doesn’t carry…

  15. The biggest advantage a revolver has is where you’re using special ammo that may not cycle in a semi. Specifically I am talking about shotshells.

  16. I would go with any compact semi. While revolvers are easy to operate the heavy trigger will reduce accuracy and the ballistic performance is inferior for any total gun length.. For example, a J-frame S&W model 60 with a 3″ barrel is as big as a Browning Hi-Power. You can match its ballistic performance in a 5.65″ Beretta Nano. The suggested S&W 642 is as big as XD/s with a little more than half the barrel length. From weapons effectiveness/concealibility standpoint a revolver is not a good choice for a person who only will have one gun.

      • Superslick double action trigger, tiny, light, and inexpensive. VERY concealable, down to pocket carry.

        Boy, screwed that up, didn’t I? You get my gist.

        • My afterthought:

          Revolvers are superior at ranges beyond 25 yards or when the bad guy is in your face. Anything in between semis are better. When I take someone who hasn’t shot before shooting I will usually set the target at 3-7 yards and if he/she does well I will move it out from there to 15 yards or so. That is semiautomatic territory.

      • Ten yards, 5 rounds. I go first with an automatic. You go second but you have to shoot at the same rate of fire. You may hit the ten ring on the first shot but you lucky to hit the paper on the next four.

        An I will put a custom super smooth 3.5lb competition trigger in the XD/s

  17. Having the ability to bring several of each is ideal.
    I usually start with .22’s, then move up in caliber from there.

  18. OK, I’ll tell my pet peeve story here. Collector’s Firearms, Houston Texas, 20-something couple comes in, guy thinks he’s a gun guru, girl is an absolute newbie. Guy’s chattering about how 9mm is the only caliber and she shouldn’t consider anything but a semi, don’t recall if he specified Glock or not. They find a clerk, guy tells him girl HAS to have handgun for IMMEDIATE use, like, starting tomorrow (have no idea why, she looks like a social worker, not a newly-minted cop). So the clerk shows her a Glock, tells her how to rack the slide. She tries, she grimaces, she pulls, it’s one of those things that is really pretty short in absolute terms but seems like forever. And it WOULD be forever in a potential DGU situation. Clerk says, “You’ll get used to it.” (Right, by tomorrow? or the next day? or the end of the week? Not to even consider an FTF or a stovepipe or some such) Across the store, frail-looking elderly gentleman talking to similarly-seasoned clerk, needs a self-defense gun, asks about semi-auto. Clerk asks, is there any reason why a revolver wouldn’t suffice? You all see where I’m going here: If it’s for immediate use, and you’re a complete newbie with untrained, maybe not very strong, hands: revolver, no question in my mind. If you have time to accustom yourself and your hands to handling the gun, then consider the semis if you think you need more than 6 or 7 capacity or you think you can conceal the semi more easily and thus carry it more regularly, or–whatever you want to consider. I say this as someone who carries a 7-round semi, because it’s easy to conceal, has been impeccably reliable, and–it’s what I wound up with and I’ve seen no compelling reason to replace it.

  19. For a new shooter? I’d have them shoot a single-action revolver in .38 Special. It’s a “cowboy gun” but there is something light-hearted about it.

  20. When my granddaddy taught me to shoot, he started me off on a Colt Woodsman in .22, but once I got the hang of things, we bumped up to government issue 1911. Now that I’m older and introducing new shooters to the whole guns thing I like to use my SIG P226 Enhanced Elite in 9mm. Heavy weighted pistol in nine so there’s no recoil issue, and the beavertail keeps slide-bite related issues to a minimum. Ultimately though, the new shooter should be the ones making the call. I’m there to answer questions and provide support, but they’re the one going to fire the thing. I load it up with one cartridge, rack the slide, decock, and hand it over. The rest is up to them.

  21. If possible allow them to shoot a variety of guns. If not possible, just get them to shoot what is available. The first gun they use for any length of time will probably always be a “favorite” of theirs.

  22. New shooter? Let ’em try everything and pick for themselves.

    Now for the *shy* shooter, who isn’t looking for a hobby, just the peace of mind that having a gun can bring, I’m thinking Ruger LCR in .38.

    DAO, only one control to think about. No hammer to snag. Will fire from a pocket and then fire again. Will fire as a belly gun and then fire again if needed.

    • Ruger .38 LCR, is not a bad choice IF you replace stock front sight with an XS standard white dot, dry fire a couple of hundred rounds to smooth out the trigger. Don’t make the mistake I did by buying it with Crimson Trace grip, buy with standard stock grip If I had not been so determined to find a way to have a short barrell SD revolver that did not have the kick of a mule, it would have ended up at the bottom of the Pedernales River. That’s how much I hated it! Now it’s my car gun, pocket gun for EDC, loaded with .38 hollow points. It’s not for plinking but I do put 10 to 15 rounds down range monthly to stay proficient.
      Unfortunely, there are not many revolver trainers out there anymore. I learned to shoot a revolver by reading and studying Defensive Revolver Fundamentals: Protecting Your Life With the All-American Firearm. If you get a revolver, get this book or the revolver might just end up in a river!
      by Grant Cunningham

  23. IMHO, for both of your scenarios, a revolver still works better. I find that people who come to my class and only want a beside gun purchase the gun, never go to the range, and sits the drawer if the time should ever come. IMHO, it is a lot harder for a revolver to accidently go bang in a sock drawer and if you do not use it for month or years, it is just point and shoot.

    I am sure this discussion will go every which way I am sure

    • How is it harder for a revolver to go bang in a sock drawer? I am geniuinely curious.

      Both are drop safe I presume since it is made in the latter half of the 20th century.

  24. I have seen new shooters both love and hate revolvers. The hate comes from the long and heavy double-action trigger pull which can be incredibly frustrating to a new shooter. Everyone likes to hit what they are aiming at, and not being able to do so as a new shooter is not good. Ultimately, I say let them try both. And after they do, I suspect that most would select the semi-auto.

  25. I’m a whore for a 1911. So its a 1911 for me. Though my first was a SA XD-40 Service (does it count that I was looking for a 1911 when I bought the XD?)

  26. It is easy to forget there is another round ready to be fired in an autoloader! I have seen folks swing their pistol around, not realizing or forgetting that that “autoloader” means “will fire again at the pull of the trigger”
    A single action only wheel gun is a good choice for a beginner, and .22 caliber is a good choice because of mild recoil, and low cost ammo (when you can fid it!)
    I have a Heritage revolver in .22 cal. These firearms are inexpensive and a lot of fun to plink with. They are safer than an autoloader, because you must cock the hammer for each shot.
    After the new shooter has become safety conscious, they can move on to a heavier caliber, and make a choice between the auto loader, or revolver. And, they will also have a second firearm for fun.

  27. Eh. Both are tools, and they are similar but with some very distinct differences. I think it’s a matter of discussing the options with a new shooter and determining what is the logical choice based on their needs. There are numerous questions that could be asked that may affect the decision.

    Does the newbie plan to open carry, concealed carry, or simply keep it at home? Is it for basic target practice? Does he/she plan to do competitive shooting? Are they in a bad neighborhood where they might need more rounds than a revolver holds? What fits the user’s hand best? How much strength do they have in their arms/hands? How much time and effort are they willing and able to put into practice & maintenance? There are many questions to ask.

    It’s almost like asking “which is better, a car or a pickup truck?” or “which is better, a PC or a Mac?” It’s not a simple question. It’s dependent on the person.

    • The PC vs Mac is far simpler- do you want to do something? PC. Do you want to look hip or tweak pictures? Mac.

  28. Standard answer: yes, a new shooter should have a revolver or semi. Go to a range that rents them, try them out, then decide. Find friends and shoot theirs. I am a huge fan of try before you buy.

  29. I hate when people try to suggest that new shooters need a revolver. Revolvers have a point, but its insulting in my opinion to suggest that new shooters are going to be overwhelmed by a semi. People act like semis are either trigonometry to a new shooter are the shooter is just a idiot. Its better in my opinion to ask what there needs are so they can get them the gun that works best for them. Not acting like the gun buyer is a complete retard who can’t breathe and walk at the same time.

    • In my experience it was the gun guy insisting on semis who was treating the actual purchaser like she was an idiot–and trying to foist a gun on her that she physically was unable to operate at that time. Like I said, if you have the time to invest, go for whatever you like best. For immediate, possibly life-saving use right now, the odds overwhelmingly favor the reliability and simplicity of a wheel gun. I don’t know the answer, honestly, but it would be interesting to see how many of the folks who maintain that no, semi’s are really no more complicated to use, even considering FTFs and FTEs and such, than revolvers, are also of the “you have to train, train, train, then take some courses, then train some more to merit having a gun” school of thought.

      • If you are talking life saving for immediate purpose, go with the semi without a safety. You got a much higher capacity versus a revolver. Which if somebody can’t reload a semi under stress they sure are not going to do well with a wheel gun and 6 to 8 shots just ain’t much.

        • Umm, I watched the lady trying a Glock. The Glock doesn’t have a safety. The lady could not rack the slide. If she limp-wristed it (given her appearance and general demeanor and difficulty with racking the slide, not exactly an unlikely event) all that extra capacity would mean exactly zero. I’ll recognize the possibility that she would indeed eventually “get used to it”. But for tomorrow or the next day or the next week, no, that wasn’t gonna happen. If she really and truly needed that SD gun immediately, her gun-guru boyfriend was well on the way to getting her killed. How someone can seriously recommend a handgun that will consistently misfire, with all that entails in a semi-auto, if you just so much as hold it wrong , to an absolute newbie with unconditioned hands, for use the next day in a life-or-death situation (and we haven’t even started on the “it just isn’t broken in yet” issue)–over a weapon that will consistently fire as long as the trigger is pulled, where the immediate reaction to a misfire (pull the trigger again) is precisely the correct action–well, it’s just beyond me. And if the lady got in a situation where 6 to 8 shots would not get her out, as a rank newbie, she would almost certainly be toast anyway, even with those extra rounds.

        • You have seen one woman who could not rack the slide? And that is the basis of your opinion. How much strength do you think that takes? I have seen small children rack the slides. I used to be a small arms instructor in the military. I had to train chicks who pretty much never touched a gun how to use a semi, I have never seen even the most petite female not be able to rack a slide. So short someone who was physically incapable due to a injury, I don’t see how anybody can honestly have trouble racking he slide.

        • Well, she did. And truthfully, maybe I’m overreacting a bit–it kind of got to me, the way boyfriend was playing up his supposed expertise–but if he was wrong, it was her safety that was forfeit, not his. And I don’t know that the situation was that dire, I have trouble seeing how it could be. But that was their story, so I’m taking them at their word. And I will say this, I was standing maybe 10 feet or less away, and she was unable to pull back the slide on the first try or two, and only managed to pull it back after several full seconds seconds of effort, twisting her arm back and forth. You may have never seen something like that–fine, but I did, and I’m pretty confident that she isn’t the only adult person in the world, or even in Houston Texas, with similar problems. And like I said, that’s just ONE issue. We still got limp-wristing, (it was a 9mm Glock, recall) we got break-in time, we got clearing-jam issues. I would say my opinion is at least as reality-grounded as yours.

  30. I have a 642. I am proficient with it, but it took some time to get comfortable with the recoil and shooting one handed the cylinder thumb piece bites my thumb. I’m considering the Ruger LCR, due to the lack of thumb piece in what is apparently the worst possible spot for me. I have been consistent from the start with my 3rd gen S&W semiautos and CZ 75s. In short, get a compact CZ 75 or old S&W like a 6904 and learn the operation. Capacity win, second strike win, tough and reliable win, easy recoil win, good for carry or home defense. Having said that, the simple operation of a Glockish gun is awesome for newbies, and we have just that in our “bump in the night” arsenal. Mag in, rack, point, shoot.

  31. My wife picked out a Ruger LCR in 357. She is new to firearms and the complexity of a semi has her nervous about using one in an adrenaline moment.

    She understands the benefits of semi’s but is not yet ready for one, yet. Right now, a point and click LCR wheel gun fits her grip, is easy to learn, comfortable for her to shoot, and allows her to gain confidence (by shooting 38’s at the range) in using a firearm is the perfect side arm for her at this point.

  32. For someone learning how to shoot, a revolver is better. Not only do you get a simpler manual of arms and no casings flying aound, but there are some tricks you can do with a revolver that aren’t as easy with a semi. Say someone is pulling their shots, saying “the gun is off!” Leave a couple of chambers unloaded, have them fire as if it’s full-up, and see what happens when they drop the hammer on an empty chamber (watch them nose-dive the gun!) Plus I’ve never found a semi with a nicer, smoother trigger compared to a good wheelgun.

    If it is a first defensive gun (not just learning how to shoot) the advantages of a semi-auto may outweigh these… though I carry a revolver often and don’t feel outgunned.

    • I used to say that about the triggers, until someone handed me his Kimber and I was paying money 5 minutes later. For DAO, squeeze a few times on a Ruger LC9 or LC.380, it’ll change your outlook.

  33. The buyers comfort with mechanical things counts. If the person is “all thumbs” and experiences a sense of relief when they change a lightbulb and it works…. they should buy a revolver.

      • Why, if they can safely and effectively operate a revolver, even with those limitations? Why should they not have a gun to defend themselves with?

        • Why you ask,
          Who is going to decide if they can safely handle a weapon. Would you want someone shooting next to you who couldn’t figure out how to put the safety on, or let the hammer slip while cocking the gun.

        • DA revolver–no need to cock a hammer, no safety to not know how to put on. Point this part, pull this part back, it shoots what you are pointing it at. So yes, I wouldn’t have a problem with that if they could perform those two operations in a safe manner. Why would you? ( and yes, I understand you can simply deny the premise–do you have any argument beyond that?).

        • Well, of course if the person can safely handle the weapon, I see no reason why they should not have one.
          I guess I got the two things mentioned in the post, 1. All thumbs and a sigh of relief when they saw that they could screw in a light bulb, and it worked. 2. could safely handle a revolver, all mixed up.

          To me , it was like saying you could drive a car safely, but couldn’t figure out how to work the gear shift.
          No offense meant.

        • No offense taken, you are simply denying the premise based on what was surely a bit of hyperbole being taken literally. Or again, I may have overreacted to what was perhaps a bit of sardonic wit on your part, in which case I would also say, no offense meant, and ask that you excuse me for misreading you. BTW–push-button transmission, maybe? Or to put it another way–lots of folks can operate an automatic transmission auto who would be lost, at least at first, with a manual, no? That being the case, I can’t say that such a person shouldn’t be driving a car at all.

  34. ????? I don’t get it. The handgun bias is soooooo here. How about getting a newbie out to shot a rimfire rifle? A 20 ga shotgun? No it has to be a .50 AE Desert Eagle. Gotta teach them ancient ninja one touch death punch.

    • Guess I, and a lot of other folks, are thinking in terms of something you can carry with you all day.

  35. Nothing beats a good .22 semi-automatic. I’ve had really good results introducing new shooters with a Ruger 22/45 type pistol.

  36. As I have introduced new shooters to the sport, what I quickly learned is it isn’t a question of “revolver or semi”, it’s the size/shootability of a pisol that makes it good/bad for a new shooter. A single action .22 pistol is an awesome introductory pistol. So is a duty sized 9mm/38 special. PF9? Bad idea.

    A friend of mine refused to shoot another feiend’s CZ 75, after equating “9mm” to the PF9 I let him shoot first. (We finally talked him into it, and he loved shooting that gun)

    I do agree that the LCR/642 are probably the best guns for the person who may buy a gun, shoot 5-15 rounds thru it, and put it away and hope they never “have” to shoot it again. The LCR/642’s are unique in being able to fill the role of beginers “get off me” gun, and a seasoned shooters edc gun, in one small, easy to carry package. And the lock work may be complex, but They can sit in a drawer for years loaded with no risk of wearing springs out.

  37. I started out on revolvers and moved to semis much later.

    I would not start someone on a revolver for a few reasons. Revolvers are hard to shoot accurately when shooting double action. Speeding up makes it extra-difficult. I can’t imagine how much training you would need to accurately and quickly fire double action under stress. Shooting a revolver single action requires the shooter to remember to cock the hammer and have good enough trigger discipline to only fire when intended. Many revolvers, especially good ones, have very light single action triggers. Lots could go wrong here under stress.

    I would put a newbie on a full size Glock. I’ve watched newbies get good results right away with a Glock 22. They could do the same or better with a nice, full size revolver shooting single action, but double action no way. For a defensive situation, assuming the shooter stores a Glock (type pistol) with a round chambered, I think it would be easier to get rounds on target quickly than with a revolver.

  38. My wife’s first gun was a 38 snub. While it would go bang every time, it wouldn’t have done much good, as she didn’t practice with it enough to learn how to shoot a 38 snub. Since then, she has owned a G26, a 22/45 Hunter, and now owns an LC380. (In Lilac, no less.) With the GLOCK, she shot high consistently, but we figure it was a balance issue she never got figured out, as she shot my G31 disturbingly well. Her 22/45 she shot very well, without problems (No failures with a rimfire autoloader, screw you, stereotypes.)

    Her LC380 she loves more than any other gun she has ever shot. The old idea that “A revolver goes bang every time” is horrible advice to base a purchase on. Anybody, man or woman, young or old, should find a gun, revolver or auto, that they like. That they can shoot well, and are willing to practice with.

  39. I’m a dyed-in-the-wool 642 fanboy and self-identifying Smith weenie — but I wouldn’t recommend an Airweight to a newbie. They’re not hard to shoot, but they are hard to shoot well and the recoil, even with plain-Jane .38Spls, can be a bit much for some beginners.

    • I rented one for the wife to try, and had a couple +Ps left over from something, at the end of her trial she fired those with an “Ouch!” after each one. I said, “hurts, huh? guess you don’t want that.” She says “Oh, yes I do! I don’t plan to SHOOT it, I plan to CARRY it.” When she requalified for her CHL, she used her Sig .380, which weighed about twice as much, but her purse was already over a ton, a lighter gun was her priority. And as reported, a revolver is foolproof in the 1 in a thousand chance she’ll ever actually stake her life on it.

  40. If you are not REALLY into shooting, and simply want a gun for self defense, a heavier, small revolver may work for you. Find a heavy smaller revolver and stick with it.
    If you exist, I do not know who you are. Having one gun to me is unusual. I see a gun as task oriented, and a lot like golf clubs. You do not putt with your driver, and do not drive with your sand wedge. Thus creates the addiction of firearms ownership. A myriad of guns for carry based on dress, conditions, and need. A myriad of guns for defense and fun. Short range, long range. Just when I think I have exhaused my desires, I find that I am searching for another gun or accessory. Some small snub revolvers are like a firecracker going off in your hand. Then, you get to liking the feeling of a small firecracker going off in your hand. Addiction. I am not prone to addiction, unless it has a trigger on it. There must be some Federal funding for this addiction. I claim ADA protections based on this issue.

  41. Maybe just a personal quirk, but I’m more accurate with a revolver than an auto; something about the way it fits my hand.

  42. I would start them off with a .22 semi, then a 38. revolver. Maybe then, give them something a bit nippier, say, 45. ACP in a 1911, to see how they handle it.

  43. Remember the posting on measuring recoil by muzzle rise and which pistol had the least recoil? It was the 1911. I taught my wife to shoot with one. Single rounds for a few rounds, then two at a time to make sure she didn’t double tap. By the time she was shooting full magazines she was carving up the 10 ring. If the question is literally first time shooting then if you want to give them a feel for a centerfire pistol then a 1911 may be the best way to go. Nake it even better a 1911 in 22. No pistol has a better stock trigger.

  44. Most newbies today will be:1. women 2. who want it for home defense.(but this applies to men newbies too.)
    Therefore,: revolver in .38 or .357, loaded with .38’s (+P is okay).
    Size: K frame or larger. (MIn. 3-inch bbl.) J frames have too short a sight radius and far too much recoil to have fun during practice. Until they get used to idea of having a gun, they won’t carry it anyway.
    Later, when they are comfortable with firearms, teach and give newbies as much experience with as many guns as possible.
    Then, based on their lifestyle and mindset, HELP them decide(don’t dictate) the kind of self-defense firearm(s) they want to live with/carry.

  45. Wheel guns all day every day. Even for experienced shooters, it’s hard to beat the simplicity, reliability and overall practicality of the revolver.

  46. First gun should be a .22, for lots of practice.
    Very personal choice on self defense gun, and many people go through several semi auto gun before they find the right one for them. One gun most people keep is a snub revolver.
    I would advise a 2 inch 38 revolver

    • Yeah, we’ve got an Airweight and a 40-yr-old Colt Detective Special, wouldn’t part with either tho they’re rarely actually fired. I like the Colt better!

  47. Whatever the newbie thinks that feels good in their hand. Regardless of the operating system you can’t shoot any handgun well if it doesn’t fit. Also it needs to be in a self defense caliber…….. of coarse.

  48. I love every last thing about my Ruger LCR. It’s simple, fantastic trigger, and comes in .22lr now.

    I would certainly recommend picking up a .38/.357 AND the .22lr version to anyone who wishes to learn to shoot/defend/carry.

  49. Semiautomatic. I’m a relatively new( a few years) shooter ,even though I shot rifles, shotguns & my dads .22revolver when I was a kid. My first gun was a .38 snubby. I hated shooting it & was highly inaccurate. Next I got a 9mm Taurus that I shot with great accuracy & ran perfectly with ZERO malfunctions. Having more than double the capacity & a comparable weight helped too. Whatever you shoot best. On a completely different track I just drove by a 2nd Amendment rally as I was crossing I-80 in Illinois. Gave ’em a BIG THUMBS UP & a hearty honk!

  50. I fail to see how any single gun, even a type of gun(such as we’re discussing) is right for everyone? I say ANY new shooter should go out, shout a variety of guns, preferably a large variety(from snub nose revolvers to the giant ones I know nothing about, from tiny pocket pistols to massive rip your arms off semis) and then decide what they like?

  51. How about let them shoot both and THEY can decide. Would you ever decide what kind of dog someone ELSE should have?

  52. Fwiw my first handgun was a semi. It wasn’t til later I got a revolver. And that was because the Governor came out and it was hilarious. Throwing up clays with my right hand and busting them with my left was good old-fashioned fun.

  53. Glock 19 or 17. My gf went from zero to hero in no time. The glocks have a simple manual of arms, and it is much easier for her to shoot them than my GP100s.

  54. I worry about women having to work the slide on a semi-auto to chamber a round or clear a malfunction. It is much easier to teach them the basics of loading, shooting, clearing a malf., unloading, etc. with a revolver. Only if they’re willing to put in enough time to learn the ins and outs of semi-auto use would I feel OK giving that choice my blessing.

  55. Shoot both a lot , main ccw is a Charter Arms DAO .38undercover with a speed strip in right front pocket , bedside firearm is a Ruger GP-100 with .38+P Federal Hydrashok , the load in the ccw is the Federal Hydrashok standard .38 load , the reason I carry the standard in my snubby is that most +P loads don’t burn all of the powder before leaving the barrel and cause a heck of a muzzle flash , I do also have a Ruger P90 .45acp close by in the bed room also . I say that newbies should try to ask friends if they can try their firearms , or go to a range that rents firearms out , if one is available in their area , and try out some firearms to possibly see what suits them . Personally though I would recommend a revolver , because most folks once they have tried shooting will probably buy more than one firearm . Be prepared and ready . Keep your powder dry .

  56. For a one and done shooter who doesn’t plan on practicing much, I would recommend a Ruger SP101.

    For a shooter with interest in practicing, and potentially expanding the collection I would recommend a Springfield XD in 9mm.

  57. Both.

    Striker fires semi auto with no external safety OR quality wheel gun.

    My wife loves revolvers. At least the way they look. The trigger pull on them causes her to be wildly inaccurate, as well as discourages her. For some reason she loves the glock 9mm she used in training. She also did horrible under pressure int he class with an FN-FNX. External safeties, double action single action… etc. KISS.

  58. I don’t recommend guns for new shooters. I recommend new shooters practice with their firearm on a regular basis.

    For instance, a gal I know just bought her first gun, a snubbie .38. I suggested she take part in our club’s BUG match.

    I don’t really care what kind of gun a newbie buys. I do care that they practice using their firearm.

  59. My wife wanted a semi auto. So we went to the range and she prefered the semi. Then I set up a stoppage in the revolver and the semi. She now understands why the revolver is better for her. She doest practice stoppages religiously like I do so she is not proficient at them. Any ok necan squeeze the trigger twice.

  60. It does not matter. The new shooter should learn both. Both platforms have their advantages and disadvantages. I like to start new shooters with a Ruger MK III and a tuned S&W K18.

  61. For hand guns i start people off with my S&W 15-3, dead nuts accurate, clean single and double action. I can also load every over chamber to teach them to relax and not flinch with the shots.
    Then if we want to go into CCW option just about every S&W, colt, and tuarus wheel gun have the same grip angle, safety, and loading procedures.

  62. I’m on the doorstep of becoming an OFWG but only started training w firearms 5 yrs ago. I consider myself to be nearing the end of noob phase. I did lots on online research and started my collection w a P229 in 9mm. I wish I’d started w a 38 special.

    Being as I’m in a non-free state, I’ve introduced at least a dozen friends to shooting over the last five years. There are so few folks in NJ who exercise their 2A rights that even a noob becomes a trainer!

    I was fortunate to inherit a friend collection a few years back and added a couple of my own. Here’s what I take to the range to intro a new shooter and the order we shoot.
    1> P226 in 22LR at 7-10 yds
    2> Walther PPK/S at 10 yds – adds some bang and illustrates how shortening the sight radius impacts accuracy. This dissuades most from the Ruger LCP they all seem to have on their list
    3> P229 in 9mm at 10 & 15 yards – puts a smile back on face and we already went thru manual of arms extensively before firing the P226
    4> SW Model 60 w 2″ barrel at 15 yds – add some more bang and reiterate the sight radius point. Knocks Jframe and LCR off most lists
    5> Colt Officer Special w 6″ barrel circa1968 at 15 yds – the improvement in accuracy over P229 and the Model 60 amazes everyone. It’s typical for them to put 5/6 first shots inside the 8 ring. That’s the target they all want to keep and take home to show their spouse. I really love this wheel gun and feel that it is a great example of the 1st 100 years of revolver evolution – it doesn’t look like a technological marvel, but the balance, weight, trigger and overall is close to perfect IMHO. I paid $400 for it at my LGS about 3 yrs ago – can’t think of anything at that price point that will better serve a noob and serve as a training aid for them down the road.

    I want to add a single action 22 to my safe once I get thru moving to PA this summer. I am happy to report however that So far this introduction has put 2 used 38sp service revolvers into NJ households that were previously voluntarily gun free zones

  63. I gave my wife a LadySmith .38 3″ for her personal HDW when I am away. No slide, no safety, etc. – just point and shoot. My personal choices are the HK USC and a Glock 30 as backup, obviously both semis. Semis have come a LONG way re: reliability over the years – I shoot several different makes/models (SIG, Glock, Springfield) and they simply have not malfunctioned (I keep them well-serviced). If a semi malfunctions, usually it’s an ammo problem, IMHO (or a piece of crap semi, which I don’t own).

  64. A little psychology here, but if we’re doing handguns (I usually start with rifles), I’ll get a new shooter started on my 92FS, then move to the 1911. Not only are both very iconic firearms, but by starting with 15/17 round capacity and moving backward to 8 I open the door to a discussion about magazine capacity limits (“what? this one is empty already?”).

    While all the various considerations about whether a gun is a good fit to the shooter apply, my top concerns are promoting both a fun experience and an awareness of absurdity in current and proposed regulations.

  65. Two answers to one question. I prefer 22 semi auto for new shooters, like a Ruger Mark II or III. Getting comfortable with shots on target first. Then make a choice on your self defense firearm in center fire.

  66. not a newbie, but I like the S&W .40 shield for carry (small, thin, easy to conceal, comfortable to carry), and the Taurus Judge 45/410 for the nightstand.

  67. Something most of the revolver proponents are missing:

    If concealabilty is an issue, many people HAVE to go with a semi-auto.

    At 5’8 and 150 lbs, living in South Florida, any CCW-worthy revolver sticks out like a sore thumb no matter how it’s carried in daily attire. For me and many others, the Ruger LCP was a godsend.

  68. The question of semi vs. revolver I’ve found to be a question of reliable vs dependable.

    Part of the design process of a Semi-auto firearm is the acceptance that it is going to reliably jam by the very nature of it’s design; it might be after dozens, hundreds or even thousands of rounds, but it will jam. One of the goals is to make the clearing of these malfunctions as quick and simple as possible to minimize down time. So shoots reliably, jams reliably, is cleared reliably, repeat.

    You can depend on a revolver firing if there are rounds in the cylinder. There’s none of the delicate chambering/extration dance we see with the semi auto. But if something really does go wrong with the firing mechanism (rare, but it happens) you will most likely be depending on someone else to fix it for you.

    Yes I know there’s outliers to each of the above, but we’re assuming that we’re nice people and will be teaching our students using a quality, modern(ish), firearm,

    I like revolvers for new shooters because it gives them a minimal number of operations to be concerned with while we’re driving the four rules into them. Once they are natural with the four rules, then I can hand over something that’s going to have a few more steps to learn to effectively operate.

  69. If you’re talking a new shooter then I’d go with a revolver all the way. Normal sized frame and lower power. I have an older Dan Wesson .22 revolver that I usually use. It’s simple, easy to learn and probably the simplest of all the pistols for learning I have found the a lot of supposedly knowledgeable folk want you to learn with a 1911. I’m here to train and get/keep them interested in the sport or starter and if they wish to learn self-defense then they first learn how to shoot. I’d rather have a new shooter happy and burning through ammo with a .22 than buying a .357 or the like and keeping it in a drawer only to be used “in an emergency”. DA revolvers are easier too load and unload, easier to tell if loaded and simpler in operation. You must be trained and make a conscious effort to fire a DA revolver. ADd to the fact the most semi-auto’s are harder in loading and more difficult to unload. I also have a lot of women who find they cannot cycle a smaller semi-auto under stress.

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