Shooting

The Pros and Cons of Double-Action Revolvers for Self-Defense

Two stainless revolvers, a 44spl and a 357 magnum on top of one another

Revolvers have been around for almost 200 years. They’re the first choice for many shooters and well-liked by many others even if they’re not the first choice.

While semi-automatic handguns usually take the limelight, there’s something to be said for the old wheel-gun design, especially the double-action revolver.

While the debate over what’s the better handgun for self-defense, a revolver or a semi-auto pistol, will continue for years to come. There’s no denying a revolver can be a useful weapon in a self-defense situation.

We’re not here to argue a revolver over a semi-automatic pistol. The right gun for self-defense depends on the shooter and the situation that person is in.

What we’re here to do is to take an honest look at the pros and cons of a revolver as a self-defense handgun so you can make an educated decision as to what’s right for you.

The Pros of a Revolver for Self-Defense

Revolvers on the counter in the gun shop. Weapon

The revolver’s unique design offers plenty of unique qualities. Here are the best things about using a revolver for self-defense purposes.

Ease of Operation

Double-action revolvers are some of the easiest weapons to operate. You simply make sure the bullets are in the gun, point the muzzle at the target, and pull the trigger. In a high-stress self-defense situation, that simplicity can be a real help.

This ease of operation is one of the factors that has sustained the double-action revolver design for so long. It’s not necessarily better than a semi-auto pistol, but in most cases, it gets the job done.

Reliability

The go-to argument for a revolver over a semi-automatic pistol for a long time was reliability. The design of a revolver means it’s a weapon that will fire reliably even after years of use. You don’t have to worry about the weapon jamming, leaving you defenseless.

Revolver reliability is still a good positive of the gun today. Modern revolvers are some of the most reliable weapons you can purchase. However, quality modern semi-automatic pistols from companies like Glock are just as reliable.

The days of jammed rounds in semi-autos are behind you if you purchase a quality pistol. That diminishes the reliability pro for revolvers considerably, but it doesn’t eliminate it as a factor.

Plenty of Ammo Choices

There’s no shortage of ammo choices when it comes to revolvers. From the humble and utilitarian .22 long rifle (definitely not the best self-defense round) to the true stopping power of a .357 magnum, you have plenty of choices.

Opinions vary on what’s actually the best round for self-defense in a revolver, but the fact that there are plenty of rounds to choose from can’t really be debated.

The Cons of a Revolver for Self-Defense

Snubnose revolver with cylinder open isolated on black mat

Double-action revolvers aren’t perfect guns. The age-old design has stood the test of time, but it’s not without its faults. Here are a few.

Round Capacity

You get somewhere between six and eight shots with a revolver, depending on the design, size of the cylinder, and size of the ammunition. Some companies have ten-shot revolvers, but that’s with .22 long rifle ammo and bullets that small lack adequate stopping power.

Six shots should be enough to get the job done, but semi-automatic pistols offer many more rounds. Having extra rounds in your self-defense weapon could make all the difference depending on the situation.

Longer Reload Times

Reloading takes longer with a revolver because there’s a cylinder instead of a clip to hold the rounds. While there are speedloaders for revolvers, they’re still not as quick as semi-autos.

Another con of the revolver and reloading is that you’ll probably have to take your eyes away from your target while you reload, even if you use a speedloader. Semi-automatic pistols can be reloaded quickly and without taking your eyes off the target.

Hard Trigger Pull

Most double-action revolvers have a heavier trigger pull than semi-automatic pistols. This comes from the double-action design.

You could conceivably cock the hammer of the pistol and then pull the trigger, but that isn’t a likely scenario in a self-defense situation. Also, cocking the hammer makes the trigger pull so light that in a high-stress scenario you might accidentally discharge the weapon when you don’t want to.

A long and heavy trigger pull can negatively impact accuracy, especially under stress. Heavy trigger pulls also make shooting quickly difficult. If you’re thinking of a revolver as your self-defense weapon make sure you find one with a trigger pull that’s right for you.


Do you use a revolver for self-defense? If so, why did you choose it? Leave a comment below.

The pros and cons of double action revolvers for self defense

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5 comments

  1. Avatar

    I have revolvers as backup self defense tools. My semi autos are first line with wheel guns for backup. Unless I am in subzero weather. Then the wheelgun goes in front.

  2. Avatar

    I prefer a revolver as they are not ammunition dependent. I can load light to heavy for caliber rounds with no worries of the gun jamming. Given an average autoloader reload time and someone trained in reloading the revolver the revolver isn’t as slow as many people think. The gunfight average for non law enforcement folks is something like, three rounds in three seconds at three feet. For non law enforcement applications the revolver is fine. You’re not going to be pursuing your attacker to arrest him or her. One way to mitigate the limited capacity of the revolver is to carry a second gun. That’s a good idea anyway as folks are often shot in the hand or arm in a gunfight thus proving that we focus on the threat which in a gunfight is the gun facing us. I can carry any handgun I desire and have carried autoloaders, both single stack and double stack, but keep coming back to the revolver. Another point, if you can master the revolver you will be able to shoot well with any handgun because revolvers, while the easiest to learn, are the hardest to master.

    1. Wade Thiel

      Hey Vince. I really like where your head is at. You make some really great points here.

  3. Avatar

    Beretta,Glock,Colt 45 have all stove piped or malfunctioned one way or another. Never a revolver though. Although a Taurus .38 special revolver has an issue with not igniting(nor even touching )the primer. Other than that, from my experience a revolver is likely to always be more reliable than a semi auto.

  4. Avatar

    I carry a revolver because I know when I pull the trigger it will fire every time. I have had a semi-autos jam, misfire, and stovepipe so many times, pretty scary if I were in a self-defense situation. This has always happened at the range and made me think, what if this had happened if I were trying to defend myself? I would be dead! I do own a Glock that has never jammed or stove-piped but I still prefer a revolver for everyday carry, plus not having to carry one in the chamber, all I have to do is pull the trigger. There is the trade-off that my revolver only holds 5 rounds and my Glock holds 18.

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