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Revolver vs Semi-Automatic - What Are the Differences?

When you begin your quest for the perfect handgun, there are so many choices that it can be overwhelming!

Where do you begin? To start, you should educate yourself on the different types of handguns and a good way to get started on that is understanding the differences between a revolver and a semi-automatic handgun. Here's some helpful information about each type of gun to make your decision less complicated.


A revolver gets its name from the revolving cylinder in the center of the firearm with multiple chambers that hold the ammunition.  Most revolvers are double action, meaning a single trigger pull both cocks the hammer and fires the round.  Double action also means that the trigger pull is generally longer and heavier.  However, revolvers with an external hammer can usually be cocked manually, making the trigger pull feel more like a single action.  There are also single action revolvers that do have to be cocked manually by pulling the hammer back.  

Revolvers are simple to operate - there is no slide to rack and no magazine to fill and insert.  However, revolvers generally do not have the ability to hold as many rounds as semi-automatic weapons of the same size.  Some people believe that revolvers do not malfunction or jam but this is not true.  Perhaps they are less likely to experience a malfunction or jam, but it is not impossible.  And recovery from a revolver will usually take longer than with a semi-automatic.  Because the cartridges are loaded one at a time in the cylinder, it does take longer to reload the firearm if you have used all your available rounds in the cylinder. 

While revolvers sometimes make people think of gunfights in the Wild West or old school law enforcement, there are multiple types of revolvers in that don't look like the one used by Clint Eastwood in the Dirty Harry movies - they come in all sizes, weight, and calibers.


The semi-automatic handgun, sometimes incorrectly referred to as an automatic, is the more popular self-defense handgun.  The semi-automatic gets its name because of the action of pulling the trigger and firing a round sets up the handgun for firing each subsequent round until the next magazine change.

In other words, you only have to rack the slide to load up the first round into the chamber rather than before each and every pull of the trigger.  Just as with the revolver, there are semi-automatics of all sizes, weights, and calibers.  Typically, semi-automatics, even the smallest ones, hold at least six rounds in a magazine.  And with the rounds being held in a magazine rather than reloaded one cartridge at a time, a semi-automatic is faster to reload, provided there are extra filled magazines available.  These handgun types also have double action only, single action only and both the double and single action in one handgun.  However, the single action semi-automatic does not have to be manually cocked like the revolver. 

While there are more moving parts to a semi-automatic handgun, actually operating one is not significantly more difficult than operating a revolver.  There are arguments that some women cannot operate the slide of a semi-automatic, but in most cases, this is a matter of technique over strength.  Unless there are health or mobility issues, almost all women can learn to rack a slide on their own. 

In reality, the revolver and the semi-automatic are on pretty equal terms as far as operation and shooting.  You will likely find people who feel strongly that one is way better than the other for various reasons.  The discussion is complicated, but hopefully, this information will help you make a decision.

At the end of the day, whether you choose revolver or semi-automatic does not matter as long as you are choosing what works for you and your situation.


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