You have decided to purchase a handgun. Which one should you buy? It all depends on your goals. If you plan to use it strictly for home defense and have no plans of carrying it around, read my previous post. You might be better off with a shotgun. Otherwise read further along and I will try to shed some light on this topic.

There are two major types of handguns being sold to civilians – semi-autos and revolvers.

Revolvers

Revolver S&W 357 Magnum. Picture by Zvon.

Revolver S&W 357 Magnum. Picture by Zvon.

Everybody who’d watched a western movie knows what revolver looks like. The name comes from a cylinder block that contains cartridges and revolves with each shot.  The main advantage of a revolver is that it literally contains less moving parts comparing to a semi-auto. As the result:

  • Revolvers are more reliable. No feeding malfunction, no wrongly inserted magazines, no moving barrels. An important quality for somebody who is not trained to efficiently clear malfunctions, especially under stress of self-defense situation.
  • Revolvers have much more relaxed requirements for storage and care. You can take a revolver, shove it into a plastic bag and bury it in your back yard for fifty years. Then take it out, clean, load and shoot. Fewer moving parts, fewer springs to become loose, and relaxed oiling requirements make them much more forgiving for the lack of care comparing to semi-autos.
  • Revolvers are much simpler to learn and safer for a novice shooter. With a semi-auto it is easy to have an accidental discharge after you removed a magazine and forgot that there is one last round in the chamber. With revolvers you do not need to learn how to clear feeding and magazine malfunctions. No confusion with additional manual safety or decocking lever. With a revolver you literally just point and shoot.

The main disadvantages of revolvers are:

  • Limited capacity. Most revolvers can carry 5-6 rounds. Few, for smaller calibers, can fit in 7-8. Compare it to semi-autos that usually carry 10-12 and, in some cases, up to 17-18 rounds.
  • They are bulky. The round cylinder makes it not a good fit for concealed carry.

Semi-autos

Semi automatic pistol m1911

Semi-automatic pistol m1911

Semi-automatic pistols started gaining popularity more than 100 years ago, when FN Herstal released their famous Browning pistol. A semi-auto handgun contains a magazine filled with rounds usually carried in the gun’s handle. After every shot the force of the recoil moves the top part (called a slide) back, throwing out the used case and picking up a new round on its way back.

This design provides the following advantages:

  • High capacity. Some people say you can never bring too much ammo to a gunfight. Having additional 5-10 rounds (comparing to an old-fashioned revolver) can be a difference between life and death.
  • Compact and lightweight design. Modern semi autos can be quite thin. Some of the compact models are less than an inch thick. Compound plastics make them very light and convenient for everyday concealed carry, reducing chances of you leaving it home. And, as they say, when the stink hits the fan, a small gun in the pocket is better than a big bad-ass revolver left home in the dark of your safe.

On the other hand:

  • Semi-autos are less reliable and harder to handle for a novice shooter (see previous section).
  • Semi-autos are less accurate. Every time you shoot, a half-a-pound slide moves back and forth, causing the whole gun to shake. It is not as bad for short-barrel self-defense handguns, as by the time the slide moves, the bullet is already out of the barrel, but it does affects long-barrel hunting handguns.

Summary

With all that, a short answer to the question “what hand gun should I buy?” can be boiled down to the following:

  • If you are a novice shooter – get a revolver.
  • If you plan to hunt with it – get a very big revolver.
  • If you are a woman and plan to carry the gun in your purse and not on your body – get a revolver.
  • If you do not plan to carry, and want a gun for home protection – for God’s sake, get a shotgun!
  • And if you are a seasoned shooter and plan to conceal-carry regularly – get a semi-auto.

Have a safe day.

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