Pistols vs Revolvers: Selecting the Right Handgun

Published by the LearnAboutGuns.com Author on June 26, 2008 at 1:05 am
LearnAboutGuns.com > How-To Guides and Other Info > Pistols vs Revolvers: Selecting the Right Handgun

Pistols and revolvers each have their own advantages and disadvantages. This article discusses the pros and cons of each type of handgun:


A springfield XD pistol
Generally speaking, a semiautomatic pistol is a handgun where the magazine slides into the grip of the gun, and some of the energy from firing the gun is used to eject the spent cartridge and load a fresh one. Compared to revolvers, pistols have the benefits of a larger magazine capacity (often as high as 15 rounds on larger pistols), easier trigger pull, faster rate of fire, and a more compact shape. On the down side, pistols are not as mechanically simple as revolvers, and rely upon the first round firing successfully in order for the second round to be cycled into the chamber. This means that revolvers may be better suited for self defense, at least for people who don’t take meticulous care of their guns. That said, the reliability of modern pistols is exceptionally high.


The Taurus Judge - a revolver
Revolvers have multiple chambers contained in a cylinder, each which holds a round. When the trigger is pulled, the cylinder rotates and a new chamber is lined up with the barrel. The gun then fires. This system has various advantages and disadvantages over a pistol. First, a revolver is very mechanically simple, and there is little that can go wrong with the firing process. This means a revolver may be a good choice for self defense, especially for those who don’t clean and care for their guns as often as they should. On the down side, revolvers tend to be bulkier than pistols, heavier than pistols, and tend to hold fewer rounds. Additionally, many of the safety features available on modern pistols are not available on revolvers.

ALSO READ:  External Safeties on Pistols - An essential feature or a vestige from the past?

No matter which type of gun you select, be sure to handle it safely, store your gun safely, and practice firing it often. The level of responsibility and skill that the use demonstrates matter more than the specific pros and cons of the gun itself.

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  • http://none Matt

    Those who want gun control just can't "comprehend" reality. Reality is so concrete but these people don't stop to look and see where they are standing.-My own quote 😉

  • BasinBictory

    Also on the plus side for revolvers over semiauto pistols: The lack of a manual safety could be a lifesaver.

    Very few ordinary homeowners compete in pistol-shooting competitions where they have to handle their firearms under highly stressful and against-the-clock situations. Therefore, some aspects of handling a semiauto which might be second nature to the ISPCA shooter who puts several thousand rounds downrange a month might not be the case for a guy who might shoot a box of shells every few months.

    In a break-in situation where one might be awakened, adrenaline will be pumping hard, and being able to 1)check that a round is chambered 2)check that the safety is in the "fire" positions 3)check that the magazine is fully seated 4)know what to do in the event of a misfire/stoppage might be too much a feat for ordinary homwowners who don't shoot often enough for this kind of practice to be long habit. A revolver, on the other hand, is so reliable and so simple, that it's almost literally point and click. In the highly unlikely event of a misfire (the round not discharging), a second double-action pull of the trigger is all that is required to bring the next round in the cylinder in line with the barrel and shoot the gun. Then repeat as necessary.

    • hicus dicus

      If in a civilian self defense situation if you need more than 5 rounds you are in over your head and are most likely going to die..

  • http://10-lbs-to-lose.blogspot.com TKA

    Wow. I honestly can't believe how much information there is on this site. It's even debunked my recent decision to buy a stun gun. Though I don't believe I'm comfortable in choosing a gun yet, this is all good to know.

    • Hicus Dicus

      You don’t need a stun gun. If you are ever threatened by a criminal just recite some anti gun rhetoric and they will be totally stunned and while they are laughing you cam go to the nearest gun store and get something that will really work.

    • Margaret Buzzanca

      I want to get a .22 for protection and am leaning towards a revolver as opposed to a semi.

  • Betty

    If you really want to benefit society as a whole, instead of buying a gun go to your local animal shelter and adopt a one or two large dogs.

    • Hicus Dicus

      You need to get a gun to protect your dogs. Dogs cannot protect you but they can sure make you smile and feel good. But I will admit that they do lie a lot and water chair legs. I sleep with three of them every night and my wife sleeps on the floor. This is a good arraignment as she farts and scratches lot.

    • Freedom Lover

      If you want a decent large dog for protection go to a RESPONSIBLE BREEDER and purchase a BREED that was intended for this purpose. Adopting x-random mutt from a shelter may make Oprah Winfrey or your average animal-rights nutjob happy but will probably result in a dog that kisses an intruder. If you want to benefit society, don't give in to anti-breeder sentiment, it's as bad as anti-gun sentiment. See humanewatch.org

      • rozyredtoes

        Freedom lover, You are so wrong. 95 percent of dog breeders should be drawn and quartered. A dog will not protect you from a violent assailant. They do make a fairly good alarm system if you can live with false alarms. I absolutely detest dog breeders they are mostly incompetent scoundrels and totally dishonest. If you kill somebody in self defense there is a good chance you will get off. If your dog maims somebody they can file charges against you, sue you and have the dog put down.A dog that has been taught to attack a human will attack any human large or small. I believe that animals should not be abused or tortured for the pleasure of of some vile two legged animal. You apparently are of the opposite opinion which in my opinion puts you in the same category as the scum of society. If you don't like my opinion I don't really care.

    • Margaret Buzzanca

      Since I live in an apartment and my landlord doesn't allow a dog, I guess a gun would be my best bet if I was attacked.

  • https://www.learnaboutguns.com The LearnAboutGuns.com Author


    Gun ownership and dog ownership are not mutually exclusive, and I fail to see why you’re suggesting that it is an either/or proposition.

    I’m actually a dog and cat owner, and have adopted 3 dogs and 2 cats from shelters. Each of those animals has become a member of the family whom I cherish.

    Although I love large dogs, it seems they actually aren’t good for society as a whole, due to their carbon (paw)print: http://news.yahoo.com/s/afp/20091220/sc_afp/lifestyleclimatewarminganimalsfood

    • Rozyredtoes

      I guess that if you adopt animals from shelters you have to be OK guy even if you are a blithering idiot about the effectiveness of the judge.

    • Hicus Dicus

      I believe that anyone who brings up and blathers about global warming or carbon credits should be used for target practice.

      • Al

        I believe in global warming and am a proponent of carbon trading via a cap-and-trade system. Why do you want to shoot a fellow law abiding gun owner because he believes in the evidence of global waring and the economic externalities regarding carbon usage and pollution?

        • Clemorswhomp

          Do you also believe in Alien abductions and the the world was created in 6 days?

  • God-fearing Officer

    From how to pick a gun, to feeling good by picking a dog instead, to global warming, to anti-creationism… people, people, people, GET A LIFE!

    • clemoswhomp

      On picking what kind of gun, in an emergency any gun will do. If you pick a dog or the dog picks you it all feels good. The only thing creationism ever created was creationism. Nobody and I mean nobody has come back to life after being truly dead. People you already have a life, try enjoying it before it all ends forever.

      • SBD

        Thought we were supposed to be talking about what kind of gun to buy for protection not trying to provoke people who believe in Jesus– ever wonder what it is about Jesus that's so offensive to those who don't know Him?!?!? I'm gonna go revolver, i think.

        • hicus dicus

          I bet Jesus would have picked a revolver it would have defended him better than his father did.

          • Margaret Buzzanca

            You got that right.

      • Margaret Buzzanca

        I'm glad you said that any gun would do and you're right. No one ever came back from the dead because there is nowhere to go after you're dead except in the ground for eternity. That's why I'm trying to enjoy what's left of my life.

  • rozyredtoes

    I got bored the other day and decided to try something new. A real learn about guns. I got a piece of about 4×4 ply wood and tied it to a T post. I live in the country. I drew an x in the middle. I loaded 2 of my 3 inch chambered judges with XPD rounds. [ sorta buck and ball]. backed about 20 ft away from the plywood. Held them both chest high, no sight picture and emptied both of them as fast as I could. What a rush and what a mess. Cost me 10.00$ but it was worth it just to feel the power and see the devastation. It made a 1911look like a twinkie..Guns at times can be more fun than girls.

  • Denver

    I considered the question of auto vs revolver a while back. I narrowed it down between the Springfield Armory XD40 auto (pictured at the top of this page) and the Ruger SP101 .357 revolver. The XD40 is a fine weapon, but ultimately I chose the Ruger with a laser grip sight and also installed a security system. Revolvers never have feed or ejection failures so I feel they are inherently more reliable than autos. The security system doesn't eat or poop (like a dog) and might scare an intruder away saving both his life and my carpeting. There are no children in the house so the Ruger lives hidden near my bed, loaded and ready, with no "safeties" to get in the way. A weapon is not deployed without dire purpose and my wife and I are both proficient in its use. With my revolver I just have to put the red dot on what I want to destroy, squeeze the trigger, then call the carpet cleaner. The SP101 is also light enough for concealed carry or hiking.

  • Gene Tellie

    I got myself a Colt M1991 and a .455 Webley Mark IV. I feel safe no matter what happens.

    • Lloyd Booth

      You picked good, both are very good guns.

  • Margaret Buzzanca

    Folks: Anyone have an idea how you can overcome the fear of the unexpected and extremely loud noise the gun makes? Since I was a child, I've had this extreme fear and don't know how to overcome it. I start wincing when I try to aim a gun because I don't when it will go off and make that loud sound that makes me jump. I would like to be able to handle a gun without having to wear earplugs. Even wearing the earplugs, I can still hear the gun's loud noise. I was target practicing with a .22 and had difficulty with the noise. I'm told to just forget it because a .22 isn't good enough protection. If this is the case, what do I use for protection against a break in?

    • .22 Revolver

      The .22 revolver is a good gun for protection. Depending on the attacker, one may need to pull the trigger several times to stop an attack, but the .22 has been known to inflict a lot of damage and stop an attacker. As far as the loud noise, forget about it. In an attack you will be in such fear that you will not hear the report from the gun anyway.

  • Joyce

    Does anybody know how long shot gun shells last – do to a coyote attacking my little 7 lb paddle right off my porch tear her up very bad but at least it drop her when we ran out had taken her all the way to the fairway – we live on golf course – I have a snake charmer which I have 410 shell that are 25yrs or longer. Have 20&28 shot guns , right now no shell, also a 22 m hand gun but think shotgun would be better because neighbor – any suggestion – saw a 410 revolver out now

  • http://www.lasersightpro.com Lasersightpro

    When I got my concealed weapons permit, the office teaching the class recommended a small revolver for self defense because he said they dont jam and are more reliable. Contrary to what he said I went bought a couple pistols – love them – mainly because I love the different options of lasers for them. Perhaps I'll buy a revolver someday to for the fun of it.

  • mistered

    Man o man! I read these comments and wonder where common sense went to. Dogs, pistols, revolvers…most of you need a good dose of reality.

    I have put thousands of rounds downrange in a dozen different calibers. The only thing that is going to save your bacon in a real shoot out is practice, practice, practice. And you better be practicing drawing and firing if you have a CCW. Practice moving around the house in the dark. Practice drawing in your vehicle (of course dry firing unless on a range,) but PRACTICE. Learn how to be ALERT as you move about. Learn how to AVOID dangerous encounters. Learn how to ACT if you absolutely cannot avoid.

    Most of you need to google up some websites and read about these things. How many of you have even given consideration to the legal, psychological, and financial ramifications of shooting someone–in or out of the home.

    I have been there…and done that. Waaay different than just talking about it, or even just practicing. Plan on spending some big bucks defending yourself, in court and civilly. There is an old say, "talk is cheap…it takes money to by the beer."
    Wake up folks, and smell the roses of REALITY.

  • I will make it

    I have to agree with "mistered". Don't worry so much about pistol versus revolver or what caliber you are using. The most important thing is shot placement. Be able to hit what you are aiming at. That means practice, real practice. Don't just stand in front of paper and pull the trigger. If you are the average citizen and not a professional shooter, (cop, military, competition shooter) you have to realize what the conditions will actually be if you ever have to pull the trigger for real. You must practice shooting in low light conditions with your heart racing and your hands shaking. Run in place or do jumping jacks or set ups immediately before you pull your gun and start shooting the target. Practice controlling your breathing when you are out of breath. You must also walk through your house and consider scenarios in your mind…and a lot of people overlook this…realize that you can easily shoot through interior walls of a house. If you know where the bad guys is hiding don't wait for him to poke his head out and take a shot at you…shoot through the wall. 22 years behind the badge..just my thoughts….