Senior citizens are more likely to consider a revolver when purchasing a gun than younger shooters who were raised on semi autos and view the wheel gun as a relic of times long past. Despite the fact the model 642 snub nose J-frame remains the biggest seller for Smith and Wesson, many look down on the revolver. The reality is that there are benefits of both platforms to the senior shooter. Let’s look at a few.
For many of us, the revolver is what we grew up with. Although my first gun was a government issued 1911, when I left the Army and moved to Texas, I was quickly introduced to revolvers because that is what most carried and shot at the time. 1911′s were not very reliable with hollow point bullets at the time and unlike a snub nose, they were big and heavy which is not well suited to concealed carry. The .357 magnum revolver was king when I was young. A proven man stopper, it still ranks above the .45 acp in most charts attempting to rank the stopping power of calibers. It is a good and versatile cartridge that can be down loaded to be mild, or what passes for mild, and uploaded with heavy hard cast bullets for hunting. For most needs, a good .357 can stop what most of us will every likely run into, including the smaller black bears found here in Florida although some will dispute that.
Revolvers tend to be more reliable, safe and simpler to use and that is a big plus for those with medical issues or the typical memory problems that comes with old age. Many die hard semi auto shooters will argue that when a revolver jams it is more difficult and time consuming to get it back into action. They are correct in stating this. However, the frequency of revolvers jamming is very low in comparison to semi autos. Low enough for me that after shooting revolvers for 40 years to not even think that my revolver will not go boom when I press the trigger. I cannot say the same for my semi autos over the same period. You can load a revolver, put it in your night table and it will shoot 25 year later. I would not trust a semi auto to do the same.
For many who never owned a gun before, learning to load and shoot a revolver is easier than doing the same with a semi auto. Press the cylinder release latch and swing it out. Insert bullets and shut. Pull trigger to fire. Just look at the cylinder to see if it is loaded or not. It cannot get easier than that. There are some downsides to using a revolver. The first and most often presented in any discussion such as this is that it does not hold as many rounds as most semi automatics. A snub nose typically holds 5 rounds these days. My first snub nose was a Colt Detective Special and it held 6 rounds. The larger full sized revolvers can now be found with cylinders holding up to 8 rounds. Not bad for most needs.
The second and for some, most serious drawback of a revolver, is the long and heavy double action (DA) trigger pull. They can run from around 8 lbs. to 12 lbs. of pressure to fire them while trying to hold the gun absolutely still while doing so to avoid missing what you are aiming at. This is the problem I see most at a gun range with seniors shooting for the first time. Many new senior shooters buy a revolver for it’s simplicity and familiarity unaware that the actual act of firing; pressing the trigger and shooting it, is more difficult than with a semi auto. Arthritis may prevent them from using any gun with a heavy trigger and that should be ascertained before buying one blindly. To make matters worse, some will go to a smaller caliber revolver like a .22 thinking that it will be easier to shoot. While the recoil will be much less, the trigger pull will be much worse. The .22 is a rimless cartridge. There is no primer in the middle for the hammer to hit. The hammer must hit a .22 case hard enough to great a spark inside and that takes a lot more force than hitting a cartridge with a rim and primer requiring less force to fire. That means heavier springs to ensure reliability which translate to a heavy trigger pull that even a gunsmith cannot do much with and keep the gun reliable at the same time. So trigger pull and low capacity compared to a semi auto are the two main drawbacks of the revolver while simplicity and more reliability are its strengths.
There is no hiding that semi autos have taken over the gun world. You will be hard pressed to find any military or law enforcement agency using anything other than a semi auto firearm today. Most of the younger shooters will automatically choose a semi auto just like the ones they see on TV, movies and in video games. Heck even the neighborhood policeman (oops they do not exists anymore) carries one for gosh sake and what is good for them is good enough for me. What is not to like with magazine capacities that can reach 30 rounds and triggers that can be made to be as light as you want. A typical Glock trigger out of the box is 5.5 lbs. However, you can buy an drop in replacement that anyone can install themselves to bring that down to 3.5 lbs. Unlike revolver triggers that have to be fully returned to their starting position before you pull them again due to the need to move the cylinder to the next bullet location, semi auto triggers have reset points that can put the trigger in a ready to shoot position in a small fraction of its original position. That makes for very rapid follow up shots, another valuable feature in a self defense or competition gun.
The ability to carry a spare magazine and reload your semi auto gun quickly and easily is another feature that attracts people to semi autos. They do make speed loaders for revolvers but the need to first flip open the cylinder and eject the spent shells before you can reload, makes reloading a revolver very slow for most shooters except for those who practice a lot more than most will ever do. Sights are also usually better on semi auto guns than revolvers out of the box although you can find revolvers with adjustable and/or replaceable sights.
Unlike the revolver, semi autos require more from the shooter in terms of care, safety and manual of arms. For all with few exceptions, semi autos require that you be able to rack a slide all the way to the rear in order to load the first round into the gun’s chamber. Without going into how semi autos work, the spring tension needed to return a slide back into battery after traveling to the rear when fired, is high. In many cases, it is so heavy as to make it impossible or very difficult for senior citizens to work the slide. I have to admit that on some days my hands are so sore that I have a hard time racking a slide and will carry my revolver instead. Some gun brands require less force to rack than others and we will discuss that in the near future also. For many, just like the heavy trigger on a revolver, it is a deal killer.
Disassembly, while pretty straight forward on most semi autos, is not needed for revolvers for typical cleaning after using them. However, some semi autos requiring almost 3 hands to disassemble them for cleaning or a lot of hand and/or finger strength to do so. Some require that you pull the trigger before you can disassemble them and if you forget to check your gun to see if it is loaded or not, that can be a deadly problem. Others have manual safeties that need to be engaged and disengaged and require that you remember to use them when under life and death stress in order to shoot them. This is something not for the casual shooter.
- limp wristing. Semi autos need to have a sold platform so that when the slide travels to the rear after shooting, the rest of the gun does not move with it. That requires a good amount of hand strength that some senior citizens do not possess. When a gun is not held tight and steady enough and it jams because of that it is referred to as limp wristing.
- too much lubrication
- too little lubrication
- bad ammo
- riding the slide release with a finger while shooting
- accidently pressing the magazine release while shooting
- mechanical reason such as weak springs or improperly tuned extractors
- feed ramp issues
- magazine issues
The list goes on and on with some jamming problems of semi autos due to the gun and some to external sources such as ammo, magazines and the shooter. You may hear many shooters say that their semi autos never jam but upon careful questioning you may find out that they do jam but the problem is attributed to things other than the gun. As far as I am concerned a gun that does not shoot when you need it to defend your life is useless regardless of what caused it not to work so I really do not care whose fault it is. The other thing gun owners tend to do is to forget the times when their gun does jam. When I was shooting a lot in a gun club I would shoot with the same guys over and over again and see their guns jam but for some reason they would tell people that their gun was 100% reliable. If I reminded them of when I saw their gun jam they either would not remember or say it was just some cheap ammo that they were using that day that caused the problem.
If you thought that this post would decide which gun platform is good for a senior citizen you may still be uncertain after reading the above. Both have good and bad points. You will often read that the typical civilian gun fight involves 2-3 rounds fired and at about 10 feet or whatever the number is. This is according to an FBI study. It however reminds me of what my professor told us the first day of our statistics class about the man who drowned in a lake with an average depth of 3 feet. There are different kinds of averages designed to minimize the problem of sampling the two extremes that produce an average in-between them. However most times the simple average is given as that is what most people understand and you have no idea of the real distances involved without see the data. So perhaps buying a gun to prepare for the average gun fight is not a better way to go than getting a gun that will work for the average and extremes found in gun fights. That is something that those seeking to ban high capacity magazines do not consider. They focus in on the averages and state that no one needs more than that.
I can still shoot a semi auto so that is what I carry. After seeing how many people are not stopped by multiple shots, even out of a .40 caliber, I tend to want more ammo if I can accommodate it. However I have bought a lot of semi autos to find the few that I now own which have not jammed on me yet. I also have found some with lighter than normal slides that are easier for me to rack. Sig, HK and FNH come to mind but they are not cheap guns. There may be others in the lower price range but I have not come across one yet as light as the ones I have. Kahr slides are very heavy and the reason I no longer own any. I find it easier to carry a single stack semi auto. They are as light as my revolvers, thinner, have lighter triggers and I can carry a spare magazine with ease. However, I am a long time gun shooter and very familiar with semi autos. I also know how to lubricate and clean them properly and generally keep them in good repair. If you are a new shooter or the type that does not like to clean guns after a range session a semi auto may not be for you. There are some guns like Glocks that can shoot for long periods without any cleaning although I would never do so. Do not take this to mean that revolvers do not need to be cleaned because depending own what ammo you are shooting and how much, they can require cleaning often too, especially when shooting lead bullets that will quickly leave deposits until your cylinder does not turn anymore.
Which type gun is for you? That depends. Around here I see the NAA mini revolver, LCP and snub nose carried the most. They all have something to offer the shooter and you have to determine what kind of shooter and gun owner you are. Can you learn to operate a semi auto and maintain it or is the simplicity of a revolver more to your liking and your hands are strong enough to use the trigger without throwing off you aim? Are you looking for a gun for protection and for fun at the range? Are you going to buy a gun, shoot it once and then put it away in a closet somewhere never to shoot it again? I cannot answer the question of which type of gun is for you without knowing you. A good instructor at a range where you can rent guns is your best bet in picking out the proper gun for you. So many seniors buy a gun for the wrong reasons and end up with at gun that they cannot shoot well and is not suited to the type of gun owner they are. Some seniors want a gun that does not exist yet; a low cost, low recoiling, small and light easy to use gun that has a significant chance of stopping an attacker. When you go small and light you increase recoil and stopping power. When you go the other way to gain more stopping power and accuracy, you end up with a big heavy gun. Buying a gun should not be something you do on your own if you have no experience with guns. Your friends will be more than happy to recommend the best guns for you but that is going to be based on what they like or what they read. It rarely will be based on watching you shoot various guns and then deciding on what is best for YOU and that is what is really the best approach and ultimately the less costly for the senior citizen.