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Concealed Carry of Firearms - Revolver or Pistol?

Updated on July 24, 2013

If you are considering a sidarm for self-defense one of the important considerations will be whether a revolver or semi-automatic pistol will work best for you. Neither is perfect and they each have their supporters and detractors. I carry a pistol most of the time but do occasionally carry a revolver . I’ll cover the pros and cons of each in this article and help you start to narrow your choices.

Pros of the double action revolver:

  • Easy to operate.
  • Relatively safe due to the long, heavy trigger pull required.
  • Reliable.
  • Easy to clean and maintain.
  • Available in more powerful calibers than a pistol.
  • Not finicky about bullet shape.

Cons of the double action revolver:

  • More difficult to shoot accurately due to the long heavy trigger pull.
  • They’re wider and bulkier which requires more effort to conceal effectively.
  • Generally carry fewer rounds than a pistol.
  • Slower to reload than a pistol.
  • If a malfunction does occur, it’s usually very difficult and time consuming to clear it and get it back into operation. It may even require a visit to a gunsmith.

Pros of the pistol:

Easier to shoot accurately due to the shorter, lighter trigger pull. (Generally this is true. A friend let me shoot his striker-fired pistol that had such a heavy, stiff trigger pull that I felt a blister forming on my trigger finger after shooting one full magazine.)

  • Thinner and therefore easier to conceal.
  • Generally carries more rounds.
  • Quick and easy to reload.
  • Malfunctions are usually easy and quick to clear.

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Cons of the pistol:

  • More complex to operate.
  • Racking the slide requires an amount of hand strength that some people don’t have.
  • Magazines can be difficult to load. There are accessories however to make this easier.
  • More difficult to clean.
  • Uses less powerful calibers.
  • Some may not reliably feed certain bullet shapes such as semi-wadcutters or hollowpoints.
  • Requires more maintenance; mainly recoil and magazine springs, and lubrication. All guns need proper lube but a revolver will operate without oil better than will a pistol.
  • Requires more attention to operate safely due to the short and usually light trigger pull compared to a double action trigger pull.
  • Some semi-autos don’t have a manual safety and that requires extra attention to avoid a negligent discharge.
  • Some have a manual safety but that requires extra attention to ensure that it’s being used when required.

Side Note

Excuse me while I digress. I feel that now is a good time to talk about reliability. I intentionally left reliability out of the pistol pros and cons. Semi-auto pistols still carry the stigma that they are not as reliable as revolvers; and at one time this was true. A good quality, well designed pistol of today however is extremely reliable. The pistol that is now my primary carry has a couple thousand rounds through it of factory loads and hand loads, and has zero malfunctions. With a quality semi-auto pistol, the difference in reliability between it and a revolver is about nil. Try to find a cop that carries a revolver. They’re few and far between.

It’s important to recognize that any mechanical device can fail. If you believe that it can’t fail, you won’t know what to do when it does because you haven’t prepared for it. I’ve talked to people that swear by revolvers because they claim that revolvers do not malfunction. That’s not true, they can fail, they do fail, and they have failed. And like I stated above, a malfunction in a revolver is usually not something you can fix by yourself, under pressure, and in a hurry. This is where backup guns enter into the equation regardless of whether your primary carry is a revolver or pistol.

In addition, both pistols and revolvers can be disabled intentionally or unintentionally by an attacker. If someone grabs the cylinder of a revolver, it cannot be fired unless the hammer was cocked beforehand. If someone grabs the slide of a pistol and moves it backwards slightly, which is called “out of battery”, it will not fire.

Okay, I’m back from my digression!

The pros and cons are a start but they don’t tell the whole story. Let’s go a little further. Some other considerations are:

  • What is your budget? I would trust a cheap revolver more than I’d trust a cheap pistol.
  • Will this sidearm be for concealed carry, car carry, or home defense only? For home defense or car carry a revolver is fine as concealability is not a factor.
  • How do you plan to carry your sidearm gun? Ankle or pocket carry, purse, inside or outside the waistband holster, shoulder holster, etc. Men generally have more options in this area due to the differences in men’s and women’s attire.
  • Your hand size and strength. Can you easily reach the trigger and controls? Are you able to rack the slide and remove and insert magazines easily? Are you able to load the magazine? Revolvers require very little effort and strength to load and unload.
  • How much time, effort, and money are you willing to put into training? If your answer is, “Not much.”, then a revolver is probably the better choice due to its simplicity.
  • How much will you be able to practice? Again, if your answer is, “Not much.”, then a revolver is probably the better choice due to its simplicity.

Well I hope that gives you some things to consider. If you're having trouble deciding, don't worry, that's normal and we all go through it. Consider your daily habits and attire when trying to decide and you stand a better chance of making the right decision the first time.

And if you don't make the proper purchase the first time don't worry. We all go through that too. Sometimes it takes a couple of tries before you find "the one". My XD-40 was my second attempt at a sidarm and it turned out to be "The One".


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    • AZDog profile image

      AZDog 2 years ago from Arizona

      A malfunctioning revolver is a con, as is a malfunctioning pistol, double barrel shotgun, or single shot derringer. If it's a mechanical device intended for self-defense and it malfunctions, that's not good. I think you're confusing breakages with stoppages. If it's mechanical, it can break, internally or externally. So, you are correct; internal parts can break on either pistol or revolver. My point actually is to illustrate that revolvers as a general rule have less of a chance for stoppages.

      Another reader commented that he has experienced stoppages in a revolver from over-pressure rounds, lead accumulation, uncrimped bullets, the ejector rod unscrewing, and crane warpage "by some yahoo flicking the cylinder closed." If you abuse a revolver, use improper ammo, poorly reloaded ammo, don't keep it clean, and don't maintain it, then yes, it's going to fail, just like a pistol will under the same circumstances.

      There are indeed some problems that a revolver can have that a pistol can't and vice versa. For example, the cylinder can't lock up on a pistol because it doesn't have one. Conversely, the magazine will never fall out of a revolver because it doesn't have one. My article actually lists several more cons for a pistol than a revolver. My intent was to point out some things to be aware of. The revolver vs. pistol debate has gone on for decades and therefore can't be fully discussed in a short Hubpages article.

      I don't prefer a pistol over a revolver nor do I prefer a revolver over a pistol. I own several of both and carry either, sometimes both. When all is said and done, if it spits out lead and you're comfortable and proficient with, and have it with'll work for self-defense.

      Thank you for reading and commenting on my article.

    • profile image

      Nagurski 3 years ago

      Have you ever seen any of these on a pistol? Overpressure round popping out a primer and locking up the cylinder, lead accumulating in the forcing cone and locking up the cylinder, uncrimped bullets shifting forward during recoil, ejector rod unscrewing, warping the crane by some yahoo flicking the cylinder closed. Here's something that happened to me personally, I bought a used snub nosed for pocket carry, it was perfectly fine on the range with .38 but the first time I shot .357 out of it it jammed. It turns out that there was a miniscule burr that was scratching the back of the brass (I guess the .357 was slightly thicker in the back than the .38). Some of the rounds had a normal trigger pull, some had a trigger pull well over 30 pounds some had a trigger pull that I could not pull with two fingers on the trigger and all of my strength.

    • profile image

      Whistler 3 years ago

      The comment about a malfunctioning revolver being a Con is disingenuous and dishonest. The malfunctions which could happen in a revolver and might require a gunsmith (such as internal components breaking) can also happen in any pistol, and for most people will require a visit to a gunsmith. Meanwhile a revolver is immune to issues such as magazine failure, failure to feed, failure to eject etc.

      If the author prefers pistols to revolvers that's fine, but it is dishonest to suggest a revolver can have any major type of malfunction that a pistol can't. A pistol has the same potential for all of a revolvers problems, plus several of its own.