Revolvers have been declining in market share for three decades, a decline which really only got going 30 years after the last major military revolver user (the UK), crawled into the 20th Century. (Actually the last major military revolver user was probably the US, which issued revolvers to aviators, and to military police men and women who had difficulty with the 1911A1, up until the adoption of the Beretta M9 — but it was always a secondary weapon). They’re now rare as police firearms, and much less common than they once were as defensive firearms.
As revolvers’ presence in the police and civilian market has declined, their presence in crime has also declined. This is logical, as most criminals arm themselves with weapons diverted from lawful uses, generally by theft or straw purchase with many cut-outs and intermediaries. This increased use of automatic pistols in crime has actually been a boon for homicide and assault investigators, as toolmark evidence matching firearms to cases (cartridge type) or cases (cartridge) from one crime scene to another, has helped close more than a few cases (investigative type). Sumdood doesn’t police his brass when he rips his dope dealer, oddly enough; and he can’t police his brass when he does a drive-by, holding his Hi-Point sideways out the window.
Logisticians might dream of caseless ammo, but homicide cops don’t.
Revolvers’ mindshare has declined. They are seldom seen in TV or movies, except in period pieces or to mark a character as kind of old-fashioned (Rick in The Walking Dead with his long-discontinued Python).
Is the declining mindshare of revolvers a cause or an effect of declining market share? Both may be the right answer; market and mind share may be wrapped in a vicious circle, or spiral.
But there are a number of reasons for the classic, 1890s-style double-action revolver’s remaining children to still be used. Consider these five reasons to shoot sixguns:
- They are simple and, if quality products in good condition, reliable.
- They are indifferent to variations in ammunition.
- Misfire drill? Just fire again.
- Time spent loading can enforce a certain pace on a shooting session, improving performance.
- They can be enjoyable and educational to shoot; there’s a great variety of them.
Simple and Reliable
While a revolver’s mechanism seems fiendishly complex to those not mechanically inclined, it’s a simple mechanical mechanism. Compared to a typewriter or sewing machine there’s a lot less to go on — and compared to an automatic pistol, the same is true. Some of them are better than others, especially on durability. (An old, worn Smith is less likely to have lost time or need a gunsmith than a Colt of similar vintage. Or an NIB Taurus). It’s also intuitive and easy to learn. There’s a t-shirt with a Colt SAA on it: “the original point-and-click interface.” Steve Jobs (who lifted it all from Xerox PARC anyway), eat your heart out.
Indifferent to Ammo Variations
What ammo works with your carry gun? Sure, with modern autos the days of hollow-points not feeding are mostly over, but everyone has experience with ammo their gun does not like. Doesn’t happen with a sixgun. If the gun’s right, anything that chambers goes bang. Bang-on-demand is good.
What Misfire Drill?
As we mentioned, with a revolver you just point and click. If you do get a point and click and not point and bang, your follow-up shot is a trigger pull away (a hammer cock and trigger pull, if you’re really OG and toting an SAA or something like that). No auto pistol is that quickly back in the fight (or, for hunters, on the game).
OK, here we’re making a virtue of necessity. But anyone who spends any time on ranges has seen the shooter with more ammo than sense, blowing through 200 rounds without making a great deal of effort to hit anything. Hey, it’s a free country, and if that’s how they want to make fun let ’em knock themselves out, but… there’s a lot to be said for taking that same amount of time and firing 50 rounds with care. The mechanical, muscle-memory drill of dumping cases and loading rounds can be a great time for considering what went wrong with your last six shots, and what you can do better with the next six.
After all, only the hits count, and even 3 out of 6 into the target at 7 meters is better than the NYPD does out of a 17-round Glock mag.
The different revolver mechanisms are a blast. Everybody who has never shot a Single-Action Army before gets a thrill out of it, the first time. Ejecting the cases and loading them is fun, and they you can tell the guy or gal, “And… they were expected to do this on a horse.” Instant connection to distant times and places. Likewise, tip-up revolves.
A favorite uncle had a Harrington and Richardson 9-shot .22; it looked like a baby Webley, and was great fun to pop it open and fountain .22 brass around.
And then, there are the revolvers of 1,000 detective shows, and plenty of revolvers with interesting military history. (Colt and Smith M1917s are nice, beefy guns with a great back story and some weird engineering to let them shoot rimless .45 ACP). Early police double-action .32 pistols are fun and easy to shoot, built like jewels, and dirt cheap right now. There’s always some bragging rights in a Smith & Wesson Model 29. (Or a .500 if you’re diffident about carrying Dirty Harry’s gun, or concerned about the low power of the .44 Mag).
Everybody ought to have a revolver.
But then, the question becomes, which revolver?
Kevin was a former Special Forces weapons man (MOS 18B, before the 18 series, 11B with Skill Qualification Indicator of S). His focus was on weapons: their history, effects and employment. He started WeaponsMan.com in 2011 and operated it until he passed away in 2017. His work is being preserved here at the request of his family.