Buying Your First Revolver
Image: Mcumpston (talk)Mike Cumpston [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
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By Ben Jimenez

If you grew up reading gun magazines in the 1980s (yes, print media was the only option then), you were frequently bombarded with monthly topics like “9mm vs. .45,” “Rubber vs. Wood Grips,” or the hotly contested “Revolver vs. Semi-auto.”

GLOCK had just released the G17 and some in Congress began speechifying about “undetectable pistols” getting through airport security. The U.S. military had just retired the classic 1911A1 pistol and replaced it with an Italian 9mm “mouse gun.” People were hyperventilating as the sacred cows of the gun world were slain one at a time.

Police departments across the nation began issuing semi-auto pistols, from Beretta 92’s to GLOCK 17’s. Smith & Wesson semi-autos were popular choices, but every cop and handgun-shooting civilian knew how to run a revolver and probably owned one or more.

Webley Mark IV .38 (Courtesy Kevin DeCausemacker)

Flash forward to 2018 when almost every police department in the country issues some sort of semi-auto pistol to their officers. The NYPD, who had allowed officers of a certain tenure to keep their .38 Specials, finally retired those officers and their guns, ending over 120 years of the .38 wheel gun on patrol in the five boroughs.

Many law enforcement officers get their only firearms training through whichever academy is attached to their organization, and that academy only teaches new recruits how to use the firearms that their department issues. This maximizes the resources that the academy has and ensures that the freshly minted rookies will be highly qualified with whichever model auto pistol, shotgun or rifle they are issued.

The downside to this is that we now have generations of police patrolling the streets who have never held a revolver and have no idea how to operate one. They often don’t know how to open the cylinder to clear it if they run across one in the wild or check to see if it’s loaded or not.

The problem isn’t limited to police professionals. The pool of civilians capable of training others to use revolvers has dwindled to where it’s becoming a specialized skill that is taught by a handful of instruction sources. Our collective knowledge base has been boiled down to operating a high capacity, polymer framed striker-fired pistol.

handgun semi-auto practice training

And the issue isn’t limited to revolvers. If you are an armed professional or a civilian who carries a handgun for personal defense, you need to know how to run the majority of the guns you might run across.

Why? Because you may find yourself having to use the gun you wrestled out of the hand of an assailant. Or one handed to you by a neighbor. Or you may need to clear a gun on a scene, or in an attic or garage.

If you have prepared yourself in the ways of armed self-defense, you need to know how to utilize the tools at hand, even if they’re not the most modern or ideal. A 100-year-old gun with one round in it can still kill you as dead as one that rolled off the assembly line yesterday.

Browning Hi-Power MkI (image courtesy JWT for

What types of pistols might you encounter? Depending on where you live, it may be a single action revolver, a double action revolver or a break top revolver. It might be a steel-framed, single action 1911 in .45ACP or a Browning High Power in 9mm.

Bond Arms derringer (Bigstock)

It could be a High Standard Derringer in .22 Magnum or a Bond Arms in .45LC. These are sometimes found with “wallet holsters” meant to disguise the gun and are only legal for law enforcement after the ATF reclassified any gun equipped with one.

You might need to run a Smith & Wesson DA/SA Model 59 or a Beretta 92/M9. Do you know where the safety/de-cocker is? Which direction means “fire?” (On a DA/SA with slide mounted safety, point the safety in the direction you want the bullets to go–forward = out the front, down = stay in the gun).

It could be a European version of a gun you’re familiar with but it has a heel-type magazine release.

9mm Luger
Dan Z for TTAG

Going through grandpa’s old trunk? Is that a German Luger in there? Did he bring back a Broomhandle Mauser C-95? Can you tell if it’s loaded or not without pulling the trigger?

Broomhandle Mauser
Outlaw Tom Horn escaped from jail and grabbed a Broomhandle Mauser, but surrendered when he couldn’t figure out how to operate it. (Bigstock)

Did your partner just hand you her backup Smith J-frame .38 with a spare speed strip when you dropped your GLOCK down the sewer grate or you ran out of ammo? What the heck do you do with that?

What if you just saw a cop get shot and the perpetrator took their gun. Do you know where to check them for a backup weapon? An ankle holster, vest holster, pocket holster or IWB holster could contain the gun you need in that situation. Would you know how to run what you find? A J-frame or a Walther PPK?

There are resources to help you gain the knowledge you need. The National Rifle Association is the nation’s leading resource for firearms training. They have a number of classes that can expose you to a variety of firearm types.

If you are “on the job,” see if your department has a firearms unit or shooting team. These frequently attract the firearm experts in an organization who would be more than happy to share their knowledge. Also, try your local gun shop, especially if you are considering the purchase of a concealed carry or backup gun.

Until recently, had been an outstanding source of obscure firearm information. While they are in the process of running off anything firearms-related, you can still find videos on the internet that can introduce you to the world of metal guns. The Military Arms Channel and Forgotten Weapons can show some really obscure designs, but also cover items that you may run into on the street.

Whether your job is patrolling Chinatown or making sure your kids make it to the bus stop safely, if you carry a gun, you should also arm yourself with the knowledge to operate any gun that may come within your sphere of influence. If you need it to shoot or you need it to not shoot, it’s a safety issue that could mean life and death for you or a loved one.

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    • Much the opposite actually. I enjoy my K-frames quite a bit and even my airweight J frame has grown on me over time. A Smith 66 is my desk gun today.

      • I can go a year without shooting a handgun. I try not to, but it has happened. I can pick up my k frame and within a couple of shots I’m back in the groove. I have to work at my semi’s longer to get the same results.

        Fortunately I’m retired now and can shoot more frequently. Now, if I can just get my bow to quit flinging arrows every which way. Stick and string must be defective. 😉

        • I’m just the opposite. A few times in my life, work and location got in the way and I didn’t make it to the range often. I’d be right on with my Colt 1991, but it took some time to get back with my King Cobra (old one, not the new one).

          I’m retired too so I’m good to go now! Also on the bikes when there was a few times I got out of practice…

    • I have owned several revolvers. Unfortunately, many years ago, I had to sell almost everything I had, including all my revolvers, due to financial reasons.

      Except for low capacity, serious downside, there’s a very lovey-mechanical feeling I get with revolvers that I don’t get with semi’s.

      I am still looking for THE revolver for me. All the suggestion here at TTAG are good for investigation, but I really have to touch before I buy.

      I’ll keep looking and fondling.

      • I’ve heard/read a lot of good things about the new iteration of the Colt King Cobra. Haven’t yet touched or seen one in reality yet though.

      • Agreed on the “lovey-mechanical”. I prefer 1911s and Glocks, but it’s pretty rare to experience a (gun, not ammo) malfunction on a revolver. Other than cleaning, there’s no much you need to do with it.

        My larger-framed LE edition .38 special is nice, but I would prefer a smaller snubby if I were to own only one revolver as my go-to.

        I believe every gun owner should at least train to know how to shoot a revolver, as there are still too many to count out there. It’s not like it’s a dead style.

        • Just make sure the cylinder pin isn’t bent from hot loads, it indexes properly, cylinder chambers are sized properly, plenty can go wrong with wheel guns if something is broken or out of alignment.

      • I know a lot of TTAGers despise them, but I recommend a .44 Spl Charter Arms revolver. They aren’t too expensive. I have one with a 3″ barrel, but they come with longer “target” barrels as well. If you want to use it for a carry gun, you can get one with a shrouded hammer. These revolvers are of overall good quality, but I recommend a trigger job (gets rid of the gritty feeling and improves the DA trigger pull) and lots of practise. The recoil on my Pitbull isn’t too bad. For carry, the Hornady .44 Spl Critical Defense round is just the thing – it won’t blow a bad guy ten feet backward, but it will slow down/stop an assault. The Buffalo Bore .44 Spl wadcutter is also pretty good defensive ammo – expensive though. The only thing I don’t like is that the front site is not swappable for a tritium night sight. However, you can get a laser grip to help there. Anyway, just a suggestion…

        • Best carry 44 special I’ve found is the Rossi 720c. Hammerless, fixed sights. About the same size as a K frame. I was very pleasantly surprised by the trigger. It feels similar (maybe not quite as smooth) as my Smith 696.

          They’re getting harder to find, but they’re still out there.

  1. The fact that there are gun owners out there that genuinely need this article makes my head hurt. Oh btw you may not wanna lay hands on a wounded officer and start rifling through their shit. That’s a wonderful way to get stabbed, shot, tased, or just generally get your shit caved in should cop regain consciousness or back up arrive. There really is no good way to approach that situation unarmed and I highly doubt the officer is going to volunteer you his back up gat.

  2. When I was a pup guns were for a lot of things. Hunting, recreational shooting etc. Nowadays a very large portion of ‘gun owners’ see them as for self defense only. If all you see a gun as is a self defense tool then get a Glock and an AR and call it done. But you are limiting your fun and education in so doing.

    Shooters used to gather for fun, not tacticool training. I was exposed to and learned to run a dizzying array of new and old weapons. Shotguns, rifles, pistols, machine guns, hand grenades. All before I enlisted.

    Variety is the spice of life. Specialization is for insects.

    • Not much more fun than going some place with a table full of guns, ammo and space to use them. Few ways I’d rather spend an afternoon.

    • I agree and will take it a step further. I call bullshit on this modern perception that a polymer striker fired 9 is the best handgun. I even call bullshit on the concept that it’s the best handgun for new and untrained shooters. My personal experience with new shooters and women is they shoot the best with guns that “gun people” would never expect. They’ve just been pressured into the Glock phenomenon. The reason why striker fired 9s dominate the side arm world right now is pure logistics, and not superiority.

      • Whenever I bring a newbie to the range, I’ve always progressed in this order when stepping them up as their comfort and confidence grew:

        .22 LR Ruger Mark series
        .38 SPC revolver
        9mm Glock
        9mm or .45 ACP 1911
        .22 LR rifle
        .30-30 lever gun
        12-ga shotgun with clays
        5.56 AR-15
        7mm Rem Mag deer rifle, if the person was brave enough

        Allows them to experience variety, and every single time without exception they asked to come back again. Although our new CA ammo law has made me want to conserve my existing ammo stockpile, and I haven’t asked extended the offer to anyone for a few months.

        • Also, some of those above-mentioned guns aren’t readily available to me now (some are mine, some aren’t), as my buddy is also conserving his ammo, and isn’t bringing his guns with him to the range for us to use with newbies anymore.

          This ammo law needs to be struck down.

  3. Tom Horn, not Billy the Kid. Billy had been dead 15 years before the C96 was released. Horn was arrested in 1902 and hanged on 1903. The Kid escaped with a shotgun he used to kill a guard.

  4. If there is actually a human in America today that truly cannot figure out how to fire a revolver they are most likely either a moron or already a member of congress or local government.

    But, I repeat myself…

    • Teens in America now can’t figure out how to use a rotary phone, how in hell can they operate a revolver?
      Good article.
      I enjoy guns, feel confident that I can operate most any gun and unless it’s really messed up, could probably hit what I aim at.
      I have revolvers, semi auto hand guns, semi auto rifles, bolt actions and pumps. Also a new Henry single shot break action in .410.
      My most favorite gun is my humble 10/22. My oldest is a 1973 model and my newest and sweetest is a 2008 synth stock w/stainless and a caliber specific 3×9 scope.

  5. What if your squad car craps out in the midst of a firefight, you commandeer a passing motorist’s vehicle – and don’t know how to drive a stick?

  6. A 100-year-old gun with one round in it can still kill you as dead as one that rolled off the assembly line yesterday. Very true indeed. In fact, an 18th century British Brown Bess .75 caliber smoothbore musket, better yet a modern reproduction, remains just as fully capable of doing so today in the 21st century. I sometimes think with all the hype today in the gun magazines on tactical, the older vintage firearms of yesteryear tend to get ignored. How about the venerable versatile and classic K-Frame Smith and Wesson Model 10 .38 Special Military and Police revolver? This will protect, secure, and defend it’s owner just as effectively as it did the cop during the 20th century. And yet the S&W Model 10 tends to get over looked, ignored, and pushed to the side by way too many gun writers today. Why? It worked back then, and can still do so today in the 21st century. The S&W Model 10, including it’s variant the Model 15 Combat Masterpiece (stainless version is Model 67) can simply be improved by replacing the skimpy factory Magna grips with a pair of Pachmayr or Uncle Mikes (hard rubber) combat grips. If the gun is older, which of course many are, a competent gunsmith can strip, detail, clean, and lube inside of revolver. Plus loaded with .38 Special 148 grain lead target wad-cutters they still remain fun to shoot.

  7. Many law enforcement officers get their only firearms training through whichever academy is attached to their organization, and that academy only teaches new recruits how to use the firearms that their department issues. This maximizes the resources that the academy has and ensures that the freshly minted rookies will be highly qualified with whichever model auto pistol, shotgun or rifle they are issued.

    Bzzzzt. Wrong.

    Most police department training is nothing more than the bare minimum necessary for an officer to be able to hit a static (not moving) human size target with a majority of shots in slow fire with their department issued firearm/s.

    While a minority of departments go beyond this standard — and some police officers take it upon themselves to go well beyond this standard — it is a false claim to say that, by and large, “freshly minted rookies will be highly qualified” with firearms.

    • I had this very conversation recently with a good friend of mine who’s a full time LASD firearms instructor (can you say dream job five times fast?). He said the CA P.O.S.T. requirements are among the highest in the nation, and the typical LEO under his scrutiny gets north of 80+ hrs range training initially, with 40+ hrs annually afterward for re-qualifications. He can’t speak for other states or departments, but here the cops get ample training.

  8. Considering the fact that the majority of people today buy auto’s and not revolvers and the people who buy guns like Glocks have no idea how they work internally do you really think these same geniuses would understand how a revolver works or have any inclination to even learn how a revolver works.

    That said perhaps I am being too hard on them in a way because the revolver is technically obsolete and has been for many decades when it comes to self defense. Well that is not altogether true as many first time gun owners are probably much safer with a revolver especially if they were thinking about getting an unsafe Glock when even many people who own multiple firearms are as ignorant as first time gun buyers are as to how the Glock actually works.

    The disadvantages of a revolver are that it is low capacity and difficult to load under stress and its about as concealable as an elephant in a circus ring. To hit anything with a revolver the majority of people must cock a revolver back into the single action mode and I have seen people under stress drop them when attempting to do so or fire them off before they had a chance to properly aim them. Trying to shoot them double action usually results in a miss which can get the operator killed or an innocent bystander. I could quote pages and pages of such incidents. The most tragic was a women who trued to kill her attacker with a Smith & Wesson .357 Magnum and when she fired double action only she only managed to hit the attacker in the hand. He then took the revolver away from her, raped her and then killed her.

    The advantages are that non gun people have a gun that is simply to check if it is loaded, way more simple to clean, and somewhat safer than the idiotic Glock type weapons that are accidents waiting to happen because they have no manual safety and act more like a single action weapon and are cocked internally which the operator does not understand in any way shape or form nor does he understand the gun will fire if the trigger is snagged accidentally. A prescription for disaster. With the revolver the operator has a long hard double action pull and if the weapon is cocked the hammer which is visible and cocked back makes it very apparent that it is ready to fire with only a few pounds of pressure on the trigger, something that many of the retards that own Glocks fail to understand and never will understand.

    I do own a few revolvers which are the older made guns from the distant past that had outstanding workmanship and accuracy. I have them for nostalgia mostly as they serve me no real useful purpose and never will.

    Some people will claim they need a revolver for protection against bears when fishing but in reality there is no revolver that equals the power of a rifle and a light small handy rifle carbine is way better insurance while fishing. I once did a test with a .41 Smith & Wesson Magnum pistol and a .30 Carbine rifle and the rifle far out penetrated the pistol. And of course they have been many bolt action military and commercial rifles made with very short barrels in some very powerful rifle calibers in the 18 inch barrel range and some people have shortened them to 16 inches. And if you must have a powerful handgun there have been auto’s made in some very large pistol calibers which often have more firepower and are quicker to reload under stress. Again more proof that there is little need anymore for a revolver if you are a person familiar with the use of firearms.

    • Okay, Vlad.

      Here, take this scoop of troll kibble and munch on it while the adults talk about their Glocks.

      • I got slashed in the hand once to the point of needing a 5 hour long surgery to repair the nerves and tendons, and if a hand injury doesn’t make you (to paraphrase the Righteous Bros) lose that rapey feeling, nothing will short of getting your dick shot off. Hand injuries are by far the most excruciating, fiery kind of pain imaginable.

        • All those nerve endings in a small area. And a hand injury, like a head injury, bleeds like a mofo.

  9. Instructors don’t like their trainees to try revolvers because they know a large percentage of them will prefer them over semi-autos.

  10. When I was teaching CCW classes I tried to give my students experience with all the basic firearms types. For those who did have a handgun, or brought an unsafe handgun (happens more often than you’d think) I’d loan one of my 3″ round butt 65s. At the end of the course of instruction I would then bring out a Colt SAA, the 65s I already mentioned, S&W 442, 1911 and Browning Hi-Power, Beretta 92 and Sig P220, Khar, Glock, and H&K P7M8. This covered SA, DA and DAO revolvers. SA, DA and DAO autos and a couple that were neither fish nor foul. I would demonstrate loading, unloading and function. Then each student would get a turn on the line with each. I provided the ammunition for this part of the class. One reason I would barely break even.

  11. I must’ve missed the bandwagon considering most of my handguns fall into the categories of guns not everyone uses.

    Sure I own a Glock and an M&P Shield, but the polymer striker guns are frankly outnumbered exponentially by the DA/SA and SA semi-auto’s they share a safe with. I will admit though I have no interest in derringer’s considering most of them feel like toys in my hands.

    Good points on the revolvers though, I used to have a S&W Model 10 that I would teach new shooters to use after they got used to my Ruger .22 pistol, but then my sister wanted it enough to pay me more than what I paid for the gun to have it, so now I better start hunting for another one…along with their bigger brethren the Model 19, Model 27 and Model 57.

  12. I enjoy shooting my revolvers (SAA and DA/SA), iI enjoy shooting my auto-loaders and I enjoy shooting my repro cap and ball and flintlock repro Scottish 18th Century pistol. There’s guns I loved and kept, a few I reluctantly departed from, and several I wish I’d never purchased (Raven .25 ACP comes to mind or an 80’s era AR-7 that was a piece of crap). One or two I sold simply because they were impratical or too expensive to shoot. I’ve been asked many times to assist a newbie, and we start with a trip to the range where they’re given the pros and cons of each type of gun and a fairly wide caliber choice to try. I’ll even go with them to the gunstore, so that I can ask the questions they might not think of, but will pop up later down the line, and I’ll continue to meet with them at the range to make sure they can safely operate and use their purchase.
    I agree though, if we don’t start disseminating the information, it will be lost.

  13. I love revolvers. I almost purchased an lcr as my first carry gun because it provided 2 of my requirements at the time. 1 = No safety. 2 = A trigger that isn’t going to cause me to worry too much about an ND. I bought a Kahr instead. Could have went the hammer fired direction, too. Now I sport a 365 which doesn’t satisfy #2 nearly as much as the Kahr or a revolver, but I have been shooting the sig a lot and feel comfortable with it on my body. I think I enjoy my GP100 at the range as much as anything else out there. It eats rounds like candy and it can shoot powderpuff loads or hard hitting magnums. I can probably rip 100 rounds through the gp faster than any of my semi autos because I spend less time reloading magazines.

  14. The first handgun I ever fired—as a little boy in the 1970s—was a 4″ S&W 66. Dad had autopistols but I wasn’t allowed to shoot them until I became proficient with the DA trigger(but when I was wee I was allowed to shoot SA). I shot that for years until I was allowed to shoot his S&W 639.

    When I was able to buy my own firearms, I bought a S&W 686, a SIG P226, then a S&W 3913, which became a SIG P239. All either DA or DA/SA.

    I then started carrying a Kahr P9—mainly because the trigger is so “revolver-like”. I have Glocks, and I like them, but all the years of shooting other types of triggers which are more difficult has made shooting those EASY. If you can be stable through a long DA trigger pull, being stable for a Glock or 1911 trigger is a piece of cake.

    But when I take a Glock-only shooter out and give them my revolver or my Kahr, they can’t shoot them well. My brother is a 1911 guy. The Kahr trigger throws him off, but I can take his 1911 and outshoot him.

    Spending most of your time with an ultracompact Kahr CM9 will make you a better shot with everything.

    • Is the trigger on your Kahr as smooth as silk, or do you feel some roughness in the trigger as you slowly pull it? I had to take some fine grit sandpaper to the trigger bar on my K9 where the spring holds it in place to smooth it out. Also the spring itself wasnt fully seated and could move laterally as the trigger bar moved, so I recontoured the spring to eliminate any movement. Improved trigger smoothness greatly.

    • I prefer the smooth roll of an S&W double action for superior field accuracy.

      With all the emphasis on autoloading pistols, I suspect many of today’s handgunners have never experienced the smooth trigger pull and accuracy of a well tuned double action revovler.

  15. Wow, the number of articles people are pushing out as to why revolvers are oh-so-important (as in hint, hint, revolvers are better than semi-autos, hint, hint, say no more, say no more)…just got ridiculous.

    So this guy expects everyone who carries concealed to buy twenty or thirty revolvers just in case they need to grab the bad guy’s revolver. Right, uh, huh… Yes, I know, he says you can take courses.

    Or, you know, just look at some Youtube videos, for Christ’s sakes. LOL

    Not to mention that most of the bad guys are also carrying semi-autos… From a recent article at Concealed Carry:


    As I stated above, this study contains the details the most recent 85 firearms taken from criminals by my agency. Of those 85 guns:

    67 were handguns
    13 revolvers
    52 semi-automatic pistols
    1 Derringer
    1 illegally-converted fully automatic machine pistol
    11 were rifles
    4 bolt actions
    7 semi-automatic rifles
    7 were shotguns
    4 pump actions
    3 single shots or double barrels

    End Quote

    So I guess we need to train in every concealable weapon – maybe including RPGs and LAWs.

    Get serious. The concealed carrier needs to know how to run his own gun or any similar piece. Period. End of story. Cops should presumably get at least some reference to revolvers in their training. If not, that’s their problem. Cop incompetence should not surprise anyone by this point.

    Stop trying to push revolvers in articles with spurious click bait titles. If you want to push revolvers over semi-autos, have the balls to say so.

  16. anybody who has a ccl should likewise know how to run an ar or an ak
    you may just run into one someday
    at your local church
    or shopping mall
    or movie theater
    its increasingly becoming more and more of a life skill

  17. One of the joys of being a History major, with a military background, a love of living history/re-enactment, and a collection of antique arms and armor, is a familiarity with a variety of firearms from match locks to the latest semi=autos.

  18. Just one man’s opinion, but if we can be teaching sex education in elementary school I don’t see why we can’t be teaching basic gun safety (don’t touch, tell an adult, etc.) in kindergarten and by junior high school kids should be capable of unloading and making safe any commonly used weapon.

  19. Have to say I agree with the premise here. Shooters should be educated in the different types of firearm actions.

    As an example I made it a practice with my daughter to introduce her to guns by placing them disassembled laid out on a towel on the dining table. Along with tools to assemble it and snap-caps to experience the assembled action. Nothing too extreme, juss stripping the guns down to the level they would be for cleaning. But this practice exposed her to a variety or rifle, shotgun and handgun types.

    When the first live-fire was done she began with exactly one cartridge in whatever gun it was. Be it a single shot .22 bolt action or a 1911 .45 or a .38 snubbie or a 12 gauge pump … put all the mechanical build it and snap-cap it into shooting it, show she understood it for real and then the real fun can get going!

    Her Junior Air Force ROTC Drill Rifle was presented to her in pieces, as was her first .22 rifle and various guns in my collection. We had lots of fun father-daughter times in these exercises and she came out of it with a good basic knowledge, an appreciation of the importance of understanding the mechanics of different gun types and she just likes having tools and mechanical things to do.

    So there’s loads of good effects to encouraging a young person to learn firearms from the stripped down for cleaning state upward. It’s all Win-Win in the best ways! 🙂


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