Is a revolver still a viable option for concealed carry?

Revolvers can be an effective home defense tool, but as a carry option while out in public? As always - It depends

The iconic .38 special snub still has a place

Revolvers can be an effective home/stationary defense tool, but what about as a concealed carry option while out in public? In an era in which micro-compact semi-automatic pistols are being released seemingly everyday, has the revolver finally become outdated? As with most scenarios, “it depends”.

There is a reason that police officers, military personnel, nuclear security officers and other ‘tactical’ roles have been using pistols over revolvers for decades. Pistols provide more rounds, more options for attachments, more holster options, faster reloads and can be just as reliable as revolvers. They are also flatter, and some consider them easier to conceal than a revolver. In addition, pistols can be had in absolutely tiny formats that can still be effective for personal defense. They can be more easily repaired in many cases, and are generally less expensive. But do you have the same needs as a tactical operator? What defensive (key word there) situations are you preparing for? While those professions listed above have a duty to respond towards a threat, overwhelmingly a citizen’s defensive goal is to break contact and leave. The tool must fit the job at hand.

Squib closeup
Beware the Squib!

As noted elsewhere, a revolver is a more simple machine to operate than a pistol. Load, close the cylinder, aim and press the trigger. With a misfire, just press the trigger again (see my article on squib loads though!). As long as the trigger can be pressed and the cylinder can rotate, the next round will fire. Pressing the muzzle against a target, or firing from inside a pocket/purse, won’t stop the revolver as it often will with a pistol which requires room to actuate the slide. Revolver grips can be changed to fit your hand better, and they are available in effective personal defense calibers. Especially with stainless steel or cerekoted options, they are less prone to neglect and exposure to the elements. This includes carrying in higher debris areas such as in ankle holsters, pockets, purses, etc. They are offered in incredibly lightweight options, and many models have an identical all steel option that adds some weight if you prefer.

Another often overlooked benefit is that revolvers function well with a wide range of bullet weights and power levels within a caliber. For example, the quintessential .38 Special snub nose revolver will function well with everything from 50 grain fragmenting (practice) rounds through 158 grain high pressure defensive options. You can even run “snake shot” - #9 birdshot in a capsule useful for those working around such threats. There is .38 special defensive ammunition from the 77 grain ARX, 90grain Hornday Lite through the heavier traditional 158 grain loads. Lighter weight usually translates to less recoil - a consideration for those with limited hand strength. If you have a .357 magnum revolver the options are even greater, as you can safely fire any .38 special rounds through super heavy magnum rounds – Corbon makes an excellent hard cast 200 grain .357 magnum round designed for bear defense. That’s four times the weight of the lightest frangible! With such a large range of ammunition, you can find what works best for your gun and you. This isn’t always the case with pistols that rely on a consistent amount of energy from the shot to operate the mechanism.

Common revolver frame sizes
Yes, your revolver can be too small

Some note that revolvers, especially compact styles, have limited capacity and are more difficult to reload under stress. Both points are accurate, as most small framed revolvers have five or six rounds depending on size and caliber. However, the smallest pistols hold just slightly more. The S&W Bodyguard .380 holds a total of seven rounds, with the .380 ACP being significantly lower in energy than the five rounds from a .38 snubnose with +P defensive ammunition. In states with capacity restrictions, the difference is a small consideration. Reloading a revolver does take a specific skill set and is slower than inserting a full magazine. And while I always recommend carrying a reload whether in a speed loader, loading strip, or in loops several studies have suggested there is an average of 2-4 shots fired per citizen defensive firearm use in the US. In fact, in nearly 82% of citizen defensive uses no rounds are fired at all. Now, while I wouldn’t want to guarantee you’ll only need the five rounds in your snubby, everything is a compromise. In a previous article I referred to a Paul Harrell youtube video where he discusses 'diminishing returns' of increased capacity ie; there is a point where the extra cacapity stops being productive. While “stopping power” of different rounds is a comprehensive study in itself, recognize that most people who are shot (or pepper sprayed, or Tased, or hit with a baton…) rarely immediately stop. It takes time for the body to recognize and start shutting down in all but a few instances. You must be prepared to continue to deal with a threat even if you have shot them.

The 6 shot .357 Kimber compact revolver

In the end, it is up to the individual to decide which tool best fits their needs. A defensive firearm is just a tool, and you should decide which tools are best suited to your anticipated situation. As always, proper mindset and preparation is vastly more important than what tools you have. Recognizing dangers, self-extracting out of a dangerous situation, and pure avoidance are vital. In this age of incredible liability, the mantra “Not my people, not my problem” needs to be a fundamental part of your mindset. If you don’t NEED to be involved in the fight to save yourself or your people, why would you insert yourself? Sworn law enforcement and some limited others have a duty and responsibility to respond and attack threats – non-sworn citizens do not.

When I started as a cop 25 years ago, we used to ask “What are you willing to die for?” when evaluating response options, ie "risk a lot to save a lot". I would say the modern version is “What am I willing to go to prison for the rest of my life for?”. With that in mind, do you feel a full sized semi-auto with extended magazine fits your needs as a private citzen? The humble snub nose might be a good option.