Amidst all the heated arguments between the Revolver vs Semi-Auto, there’s only one question that needs to be answered: which is the better concealed carry weapon? There are certain differences between the two, and you’ll learn all about that right here.
Features of Both Guns
From the way the gun works, there’s already a distinct difference between a revolver vs. semi auto pistol. Each time the trigger is pulled in a revolver, there’s a cylinder that rotates to move the round to another firing position. In a semi auto, a magazine holds the ammunition. But more on this later.
Going back to revolvers, it’s also important to know the difference between single-action and double action revolvers. A single-action revolver performs just one action when the trigger is pulled, releasing the hammer. Every shot needs you to manually cock the hammer, making the single-action slower to fire.
While this one is not recommended for self-defense, an advantage is that the single-action trigger pull is less than 4 lbs. As such, you won’t get off-target during a heavy trigger pull.
The second type is the double action revolver. This performs two actions, hence the name. First, it cocks the hammer, and second, it releases the round. So it’s easier to fire than a single-action because you don’t have to manually cock the hammer before each shot.
If you have a striker-fired weapon, it only takes a single action for the trigger pull to cock and fire the weapon. As a result, this is designed to keep firing until you run out of rounds.
Moving on to the second type of gun in this comparison, a semi-automatic is a handgun that uses a magazine to hold the ammo. Every time you pull the trigger, the gun ejects an expended ammunition casing. A new cartridge is then pulled to the gun chamber for firing.
The advantage of this is that it can hold more rounds, so you can shoot quickly and continuously until the rounds run out. The trigger pull on semi autos are also easier. In terms of design, they’re also slimmer and more compact.
Now that that’s out of the way, we have a quick reminder before we proceed: when we say revolver throughout this article, we’re referring to the double action revolver because it’s the better option for self-defense and concealed carry.
Size and Weight
Comfort is one of the important aspects of concealed carry. When it comes to size and weight, it’s tricky to compare the revolver vs. semi auto because they’re both available in a broad range of sizes and heaviness. But regardless of the model, revolvers are always wider than semi autos.
In the revolver cartridge department, the most popular one for concealed carry is the 38 special. Depending on the model, a normal 5-shot 38 special has a cylinder diameter of approximately 1.30 inches. Even if you go wider to 1.40 inches with a 6-shot revolver, it’s still just 6 rounds.
As for semi autos, most modern ones are around 1.2 inches, but there are smaller, single stack semi autos that are only 0.9 inches or even 0.8 inches thin. Something to remember at this point is that the wider semi autos have at least 10 rounds, while thinner ones can hold 6 rounds of 9mm.
It’s been mentioned that revolvers and semi autos have varying weights. It can be as heavy as a couple of pounds, or lightweight at less than a pound. If you prefer something lightweight, a semi auto has a tiny edge over revolvers, but in reality, there’s not much of a difference.
That said, the Ruger LCR is one of the lightest revolvers around. It just weighs 13.5 ounces, which is very comfortable for concealed carry. Although a given disadvantage is the more felt recoil, which we’ll discuss more later, lightweight revolvers like the Ruger LCR are easily manageable.
In our experience through the years, one question that most people ask about is which gun is easier to operate. As the semi auto has a more complex design, the revolver takes the cake in this round.
It’s easier for a new shooter to understand how revolvers work. It might take a minute or two, but even a newbie can easily get the hang of it. It’s not so much the case when it comes to semi autos. However, that’s not to say it’s a very difficult gun to use. With some practice, you’ll grasp the concept quickly.
Revolvers are the easier choice for beginners or for shooters who have weaker hands or wrists. If you can’t rack the slide on a semi auto, a double-action would be better. Still, it’s worth mentioning that many modern semi autos today require much less effort to use
Another thing to consider here is your arm strength or hand strength. If you have issues in that department, the reduced felt recoil in a semi auto is something you could use.
Recoil refers to the backward motion that happens when you fire a gun, and it’s an important consideration that contributes to ease of use and less fatigue. In this aspect, semi autos win against revolvers.
There’s really not much to do with the felt recoil of a revolver. You can try different grips to reduce the felt recoil, but other than that, there’s no other accessory that can help. Of course, the feel will likely improve with practice, just so you get used to the sensation.
The recoil in a semi-automatic gun is a bit different. Part of it is actually used to operate the slide, and the recoil spring slows down as the slide moves further back. This absorbs some inertia, spreading the force to slow the slide. This reduces felt recoil and lets you fire each shot more comfortably.
If you’re concerned about grabbing the slide on a semi auto, know that it won’t stop the firing. You just need to rack the slide manually to get your weapon ready for another shot. This makes it different from the revolver because grabbing the cylinder will stop the rotation as well as the shot.
Double action revolvers tend to be on the heavy side, so the auto gets the advantage on this one as well.
The trigger on revolvers takes about 10-14 pounds to fire. If you have a more lightweight model, the factory trigger would still be around 9 pounds. It may not sound that bad, but you should consider your aim.
Holding a 1 pound gun and keeping it steady as you pull a 9-14 pound trigger is not an easy task, especially for new shooters. Plus, the trigger requires about ¾ to 1 inch of travel. And you’re doing it all with one finger.
But, as mentioned, everything improves with practice. And since revolvers are more difficult to fire, one would definitely need a substantial amount of practice in the range.
In comparison, semi autos have lighter trigger pull weights. It usually falls around the 5-7 pound range, which is much lighter. Plus, it has less trigger travel which makes a big difference.
If you want to carry a revolver, know that it doesn’t have ideal sights. It’s usually part of the gun itself, so there’s no changing it. The rear sight is typically part of the frame as well, so even though you can swap out the front sight, the fact remains that you can’t change it.
In contrast, you can change both the front and rear sights on a semi auto. Some options include tritium sights, high-visibility sights, and a lot of other types that are commercially available.
Then again, this doesn’t mean that a snub nose double action revolver sucks. They are very accurate guns that can hit targets from a considerable distance, but without significant practice, they are more difficult to shoot.
This may be a bitter pill to swallow amongst gun enthusiasts, but there’s not really that much of a difference between the revolver vs semi auto when it comes to reliability.
The truth is, the thing that really matters is the quality of the gun that you buy. When it comes to revolvers, Taurus, Ruger, and S&W are most definitely going to be reliable on the field. Any top brand known for quality guns will give a good performance.
For semi autos, Beretta, S&W, M&P, Glocks, and Browning are great companies. The same principle applies – quality trumps gun type. That said, if you buy a cheap firearm, you can’t really expect it to be stellar.
However, one thing about semi autos that’s worth mentioning is that they’re prone to stove piping during extraction or jamming during feeding. As such, you must make sure it stays oiled to keep it reliable and ready.
If it fails in the field, even a 12-round 9mm can be a single shot firearm while you still have four rounds in your J-frame. In contrast to a double-action revolver, a small amount of powder residue can mess up a semi auto.
That said, it depends on the care you’re willing to give your concealed carry weapon. It’s not that easy to jam a revolver since it can take quite a bit of carbon build-up, so it wouldn’t need much maintenance on the reg.
However, it is harder to clean revolvers than semi autos—but more on this later.
Like with any mechanical device, cleaning is an important part of gun ownership. And when it comes to cleaning, it’s another win for the semi auto.
Cleaning a revolver takes much more time because you have to fiddle with the frame and 6 barrels, which is the same cleaning as the 5 cylinders. Plus, there’s that carbon build-up between the cylinder and the barrel that you need to remove.
When cleaning anything glossy, remember to be extra gentle because there’s a high chance you’ll scratch the finish. With a lot of these aspects to keep in mind, you definitely need to exert more effort when cleaning a revolver.
On the other end of the stick, we have easier-to-clean semi-autos. One thing we do to make it extra clean is by spraying a cleaning product like CLP inside the frame. Just let it sit there for at least one minute, then blast it with 60 PSI of compressed air.
It can be a bit unconventional, but it effectively gets rid of the loose carbon. Don’t touch the carbon that’s been caked on, though.
Most revolvers for concealed carry are 5-shot or 6-shot which means you only get 5 or 6 shots before you need reloading, hence the name. The 6-shot double action revolver is a large option already, but in the semi auto department, it’s the least you can get in small models.
In fact, semi autos can get you 10-12 rounds. And even at this point, it will still be smaller than a revolver.
Looking at the design, reloading a semi-automatic weapon is faster than what you can do with a revolver. With the latter, you have to use speed loaders and manually reload your revolver. But with a semi-auto, you can just slap on a fresh magazine and you’re ready to fire.
Mechanical devices can malfunction, there’s no going around that. The question is how easy or how hard it will be to repair.
Revolvers do have an advantage if the problem is related to ammunition. There will be instances when the round won’t fire. To fix this, you just have to pull the trigger one more time.
But when it comes to other things, they are more difficult to repair compared to semi autos. We’ve had our fair share of revolver repairs in the past, and it’s never a pretty sight. Most of the time, it’s tricky to point out the issue and it takes a lot of work to get it going again.
The main reason for this is the design. The parts have a more complicated arrangement especially under spring tension. When you try to disassemble a revolver, it feels much like a disaster waiting to happen.
A semi auto is much easier to repair. Although it’s hard to explain how it works, it’s easy to take apart compared to a revolver. There are fewer parts too, so you can quickly identify where the problem lies.
Most of the time, some models like the M&P only need a few tools. One small hammer and a punch can fully deconstruct a semi auto , making it much simpler than a revolver. There might be a bit of difficulty with reassembly though, but other than that, it’s good.
One thing you should know about common self defense calibers is that their effectiveness in the field is almost identical. Whether it’s a 9mm, 357 Magnum, or a 40, all of them just poke holes.
The FBI switched from .40 S&W back to a 9mm, and their main justification is that majority of FBI shooters shoot faster and more accurately with a 9mm Luger compared to the .40. However, there’s “little to no noticeable difference in the wound tracks”.
With almost no difference in effectiveness, it still all boils down to accuracy. No matter what cartridge you carry, your accuracy will still be the prime determiner of successful hits.
Let’s consider the semi auto vs double-action revolver when it comes to concealed carry. Each has its own perks and drawbacks depending on where you’re carrying it.
As mentioned previously, revolvers are wider than semi autos. In short, they’re the fatter weapon. But that doesn’t mean they’re straight up worse than a semi auto. We’ll be talking more about this in a bit.
If you’re going for a 6-shot revolver, it would be too big for the purpose of concealed carry. Traditional models usually have a larger cylinder, not to mention the thickness of the steel for the pressure. Fortunately, this issue has already been addressed through 5-shot revolvers.
The main places where revolvers bulge is the cylinder and the butt area. And while there’s nothing you can do with the size of the cylinder, you have more flexibility when it comes to changing its grip profile.
For instance, fitting boot grips on a K-frame shooter significantly improves the weapon’s concealability. It stops at the bottom and smoothly tapers down, which makes a full-sized revolver easier to hide. With a full-sized auto, you can’t really do this.
Plus, a revolver is also easier to draw because of its rounded grip. When you use an ankle holster or a hip holster, the revolver’s round surface is easier to grasp than auto’s rectangular one. As such, it’s faster to draw and you can quickly start firing.
To compare, semi autos are thinner and are easier to conceal because there’s no bulge from a cylinder. There’s a certain level of comfort that one can expect, especially since the auto can be easily carried wherever on the body.
If you decide to place it in your pocket, you can effectively hide it because there’s no bulging cylinder giving it away. That’s the main advantage of the auto against the revolver in terms of pocket concealment.
Another issue with revolvers is that you may feel the inner side of the cylinder against your thigh, depending on the pants and the pocket holster you’re wearing. This could feel very awkward and uncomfortable on your part.
But while semi autos are more comfortable to carry and easier to conceal in pockets, revolvers have their advantages in this department as well. For one, they’re easier to draw as previously mentioned, so it doesn’t take much effort.
When you imagine a semi-auto inside your pocket, its flat-sided design can cause problems. You practically have to claw your way in to fully grasp the weapon and draw it out. It will be harder for your fingers to get into a drawing position with a semi-auto than it is with a revolver.
Another thing that needs to be considered is the part of the handgun sitting above the web of your hand. In this aspect, you won’t have a problem with revolvers that don’t have a hammer spur because there’s nothing that could catch on your trouser pocket. You just need to place your thumb in the spot where the hammer spur should be.
If you have a revolver with a hammer spur, placing your thumb over it will act as a human hammer shroud.
In a striker-fired auto, however, the rear of the slide is mostly located in this area. This makes it much harder to draw because it can snag.
Overall, the revolver is easier to draw but it can be harder to conceal because of the bulging cylinder. Semi autos, on the other hand, are easier to conceal because of their flatter shape, but harder to draw when carried in pockets.
Conclusion: Revolver or Semi-Auto CCW?
To end this debate, revolvers and semi autos are both excellent and reliable weapons for self-defense. They each have their pros and cons, so it’s really up to you which advantages you prioritize and which drawbacks you can live with.
The revolver is ideal for shooters who want a simple design, fast draws, grip customizations, and a reliable weapon on the field. Compared to the semi auto, it’s more tolerable to neglect, so you don’t have to oil it as much.
On the other hand, the semi-auto is a lightweight weapon that’s best for those who prioritize comfort, pocket carrying, concealment, and faster reloads. It’s much easier to clean and repair as well.