I occasionally carry a Smith & Wesson 686 revolver (not shown) loaded with 135 gr. Hornady Critical Duty .357 Magnum cartridges. The Smith’s a heavy old thing that delivers a significant punch. And it looks so good. In fact, I reckon a 686 with a 4″ barrel is the quintessential handgun. But there are good reasons not to carry a 686 or any other revolver . . .
1. Revolvers don’t hold enough rounds
Perceived wisdom says most gunfights are a three-fer: three yards, three seconds, three rounds. If that held true for every defensive gun use, a five-shot snub-nosed revolver would be perfectly adequate for armed self-defense. In fact, you’d end up with two extra rounds!
Well, there’s no trustworthy data supporting the 3/3/3 assertion. And even if we accept this ballistic shibboleth, are you ready to bet your life that your gunfight will be like “most” gunfights? ‘Cause most revolvers hold six rounds. Given the chances of missing and/or encountering multiple attackers, that’s not a lot of ammo.
A proper semi-automatic handgun carries at least 12 rounds. What do I mean by proper semi-automatic handgun? A semi-automatic handgun that carries at least 12 rounds. My math skills are virtually non-existent, but I reckon that’s double the capacity of a six-shooter.
Now it’s true that many gun owners schlep diminutive semi-automatic firearms that stow seven rounds (six plus one in the chamber). And some states curtail residents’ gun rights by limiting magazine capacity to 10 rounds. That’s not a whole lot of extra capacity. But . . .
2. You can’t reload a revolver
What? Sure you can! You can carry a speed loader and reload your revolver with another five or six rounds (count ’em, five or six). Or can you? As the Rabbi reminds us, the definition of an optimist is a revolver owner with a speedloader — ’cause it sure ain’t an easy thing to do when you’re under fire.
Not easy unless your name is Massad Ayoob and/or you’re willing to train hard at the skill of fast revolver reloading. And assuming you’re willing to carry the extra ammo. If you are, you’d be better advised to carry a semi-automatic pistol. The semi’s ammunition magazines are slimmer. While initially complicated and daunting, the reloading process is easier and thus faster. Much faster.
Is it the difference between life and death? It could be. Why take that risk? Especially when . . .
3. Revolver triggers are difficult to master
Controlling a revolver’s double-action trigger is not an impossible skill to master. In fact, learning to do so makes the wheelgun’s double-action trigger an excellent reason to own and practice with a revolver. If you can control a heavy double-action trigger — and they’re all heavy — a semi-automatic’s trigger will be a doddle.
While I’m at it, many people consider the revolver’s heavy double-action trigger an ideal safety feature. You shouldn’t, but you can rest your finger on the trigger without torching-off a round. As, unfortunately, many people do.
But when all’s said and done, the semi’s trigger is lighter and easier to control than a revolver’s. As your trigger press is one of, if not the most important variable when it comes to accuracy, more people are more accurate with a semi-automatic handgun than a revolver.
That said, many/most revolvers have an external hammer. You can cock the hammer and fire the gun in single-action — which gives you just as light a trigger press as a semi-automatic.
If you’re willing to master the revolver’s double-action trigger or fire it in single action mode when push comes to shove . . . you still face the issues of capacity and reloading efficiency.
As always, any gun is better than no gun. If you like your revolver, keep your revolver! But if you do carry a revolver, practice the trigger press ad infinitum (dry firing does your gun no harm) and carry spare ammo.