Amidst all the heated arguments between the Semi-Auto CCW vs Revolver, there’s only one question that needs to be answered: which is the better concealed carry weapon? There are certain differences between the two, and you’ll learn all about that right here.
Table of Contents
- 1 revolver & semi-auto highlights
- 2 things to consider
- 2.1 Design
- 2.2 Size and Weight
- 2.3 Usage of the Revolver vs Auto
- 2.4 Recoil of the Revolver vs Auto
- 2.5 Triggers
- 2.6 Sights of the Revolver vs Auto
- 2.7 Reliability
- 2.8 Cleaning the Revolver vs Auto
- 2.9 Reloading the Revolver vs Auto
- 2.10 Repairs
- 2.11 Cartridge Options of the Revolver vs Auto
- 2.12 Cartridge Options of the Revolver vs Auto
- 3 Conclusion: Revolver or Semi Auto CCW?
revolver & semi-auto highlights
- Easy to use
- Simple design
- Faster draw time
- Doesn’t always need maintenance
- Grip changes make it easier for concealed carry
- Comfortable in the hand
- Magazines have more capacity
- Lightweight and small frame
- Less felt recoil
- Easier to conceal
- Faster reloads
- Great as a concealed carry gun
things to consider
From the way the gun works, there’s already a difference between a revolver vs. semi auto pistol. Each time the trigger is pulled in a revolver, there’s a cylinder that rotates to move the round to another shooting position. In a semi auto, a magazine holds the ammo.
In revolvers, it’s also important to know the difference between single-action and double action revolvers. A single-action revolver performs just one action when the trigger is pulled, releasing the hammer. Every shot needs you to manually cock the hammer, making this revolver slower to fire.
While this one isn’t recommended for self-defense, the single-action trigger pull is less than 4 lbs. For this reason, you won’t get off-target during a heavy trigger pull.
The second type is the double action revolver. This concealed carry handgun performs two actions. First, it cocks the hammer, and second, it releases the round. This revolver type is easier to fire than a single-action revolver because you don’t have to manually cock the hammer before each shot.
If you carry a striker-fired handgun, it takes a single action for the trigger pull to cock and fire the weapon. As a result, a striker-fired gun is designed to keep firing. You can pull the trigger until you don’t have any shots left in capacity.
Moving on to the second type of concealed carry gun in this comparison, a semi-automatic is a handgun that uses a magazine to hold the ammo. Every time you pull the trigger, the auto gun ejects an expended ammo casing. A new cartridge is then pulled right to the gun chamber for firing.
A good auto example is the Glock 19, one of the handguns today with 15 rounds of ammo capacity. Glock 19 is also a great auto for concealed carry. Here’s how to disassemble a Glock mag.
The advantage when you carry autos is it can hold more rounds than revolvers, so you can shoot at a speed until the rounds run out. The trigger pull on semi autos are also easier. Design-wise, the auto pistol is also more compact than the revolver. Glock made lightweight autos popular as well. If you choose to carry auto handguns with double-stacked magazines, however, they’re not good for concealed carry.
Just a little reminder: when we say revolver throughout this article, we’re referring to the double-action revolver. It’s the better option for self-defense and concealed carry. We also recommend knowing how to properly choose your pistol’s accessories.
Size and Weight
Comfort is one of the important aspects of concealed carry. When it comes to size and weight, it’s tricky to compare the revolver vs. semi auto because they’re both available in a broad range of sizes. But regardless of the model, revolvers are always wider than semi autos.
In the revolver cartridge department, the most popular one for concealed carry is the 38 special. Depending on the model, a normal 38 special has a cylinder diameter of 1.30 inches. Even if you carry wider at 1.40 inches with a 6-shot revolver, the revolver you have has just 6 rounds.
As for semi autos, many modern ones today are around 1.2 inches, but there are smaller, single stack semi autos that are only 0.9 inches or even 0.8 inches.
Remember that the wider semi autos have at least 10 rounds, while a thinner auto can hold six rounds of 9mm caliber ammo. If you want to take a light auto for concealed carry, Glock autos are a good choice.
The weight of revolvers and semi autos can vary. If you prefer lightweight pistols, a semi auto has a tiny edge over revolvers, but there’s not much difference in terms of weight.
That said, the Ruger LCR is one of the lightest revolvers around. It just weighs 13.5 ounces, which is very comfortable for concealed carry. Although a disadvantage is the more felt recoil, which we’ll discuss more later, lightweight revolvers like the Ruger LCR are manageable to carry.
Usage of the Revolver vs Auto
In our experience through the years, one question many people ask is which concealed carry gun is easier to operate. As the semi auto pistol has a complex make, the revolver does take the cake here.
It’s easier for a new shooter to understand how revolvers work. It might take a minute or two, but even a newbie can easily get the hang of the way it works. This is where semi autos often confuse people. However, with some practice, you’ll grasp how to shoot it in no time.
Revolvers are easier to carry for beginners or for shooters who have weaker hands. If you can’t rack the slide on a semi auto, a double-action revolver would be better. Still, many modern semi autos today require less effort to use
Another thing to consider when you carry guns is your arm strength or hand strength. If you have issues in that department, the reduced felt recoil in a semi auto is something you could use.
Recoil of the Revolver vs Auto
Recoil refers to the backward motion that happens when you fire a gun, and it contributes to ease of use and less fatigue. In this aspect, semi autos win against revolvers.
There’s really not much to do with the felt recoil of a revolver. You may try different revolver grips to reduce felt recoil, but there’s no new accessory that can help. It may likely improve with practice and you’ll get used to it.
The recoil in a semi auto concealed carry gun is a bit different. Part of it is used to operate the slide, and the recoil spring slows down as the slide moves back. This absorbs some inertia, spreading the force to slow the slide. This reduces felt recoil in autos and lets you fire each shot more comfortably.
If you’re concerned about grabbing the slide on a semi auto, know that it won’t stop the firing. You just need to rack the slide manually to get your weapon ready for another shot. This makes it different from the revolver because grabbing the cylinder will stop the rotation as well as the shot.
Double action revolvers tend to be on the heavy side, so the auto pistol gets the advantage on this one as well.
The trigger on revolvers takes about 10-14 pounds to fire. If you carry a lightweight revolver model, the factory trigger would be around 9 pounds. It may not sound that bad, but consider your aim.
Holding a 1 pound gun and keeping it steady as you pull a 9-14 pound revolver trigger is not often easy, especially for new shooters. Plus, the revolver trigger requires about ¾ to 1 inch of travel.
But more often than not, your shooting will improve with practice. Police had years at this point. And since revolvers are more difficult to fire, one would need many hours of practice with revolvers and autos.
In comparison, semi autos have lighter trigger pull weights. It usually falls around the 5-7 pound range, which is lighter to shoot. Plus, it has less trigger travel when fired, which does make a big difference in speed.
Sights of the Revolver vs Auto
If you want to carry a revolver, know that it doesn’t have ideal sights. It’s part of the revolver gun itself, so there’s no changing it. The rear sight is part of the frame as well, so even though you can swap out the front sight, you still can’t change it.
In contrast, you can change both the front and rear sights on a semi-auto. Some options include tritium sights, high-visibility sights, and a lot of other commercially available types.
Then again, this doesn’t mean that a snubnose double action revolver sucks. These revolvers are very accurate concealed carry guns that can hit targets from a considerable distance, but without practice, they are more difficult to shoot.
This may be a bitter pill to take amongst gun enthusiasts, but there’s not really that much of a difference between the revolver vs semi auto when it comes to reliability.
What really matters is the quality of the gun that you buy. When shooting with revolvers, Taurus, Ruger, and Smith & Wesson are reliable on the field. Any top brand today that’s known for quality guns will give a good performance. Large hand-gun calibers like the .44 Magnum are great as well.
If you’re going for semi autos, Beretta, S&W, M&P, Glock, and Browning are great companies. Quality still trumps gun type. If you buy a cheap auto firearm, you can’t expect it to have the best quality.
However, one thing about semi autos is that they’re prone to stove piping and jamming. You must make sure the auto stays oiled to keep it reliable for shooting.
If an auto fails in the field, even a 12-round 9mm caliber can be a single shot firearm while you still have four rounds in your J-frame auto. In contrast to a new double-action revolver, a small amount of powder residue can mess up the reliability of the semi auto.
That said, it depends on how much care you’ll be giving your small concealed carry weapon. But compared to an auto, it’s not easy to jam a revolver since it can take quite a bit of carbon build-up, so maintenance on a regular basis isn’t a must.
However, it is harder to clean a revolver vs an auto—but more on this later in the article.
Whether you carry a revolver or an auto, never put quality aside. The reliability of autos or revolvers will depend on its quality and the way you use it.
Cleaning the Revolver vs Auto
Among the pros and cons of the revolver vs auto, cleaning is a distinct one between the two. Like with any mechanical device we see, gun cleaning is an important part of gun ownership – and it’s another win for the semi auto.
Cleaning a revolver takes a little more time because you have to fiddle with the frame and 6 barrels, which is the same as the 5 cylinders. Plus, there’s carbon build-up between the cylinder and the revolver barrel that you need to remove as well.
Remember to be extra gentle with a revolver because there’s a high chance you’ll scratch the finish. With a lot of these aspects to keep in mind, you need to exert more effort when cleaning a revolver vs an auto.
On the other hand, semi-autos are easier to clean. One thing we do to make autos extra clean is by spraying a product like CLP inside the auto frame. Just let it sit on the auto for at least one minute, then blast it with 60 PSI of compressed air.
The reason we do this is because it effectively gets rid of loose carbon. Don’t touch the old carbon that’s been caked on the auto, though. We also recommend keeping your weapons in a fireproof gun safe.
Reloading the Revolver vs Auto
Most revolvers for concealed carry are 5-shot or 6-shot which means you only get 5 or 6 shots before you need reloading, hence the name. The 6-shot double action revolver is a large option already, but in the semi auto department, six is the least you can get in small auto models.
In fact, semi autos can get you 10-12 rounds. And even at this point, it will still have a small profile for concealed carry compared to a revolver.
Looking at the design, reloading a revolver vs auto is slower. With the former, you have to use speed loaders and manually reload your revolver. But when a semi auto is carried, you can just slap on a fresh magazine and you’ll be ready to fire shots.
Mechanical devices can have issues, there’s no going around that. The question is how easy or how hard these issues can be repaired, and it’s a different story between a revolver vs auto.
Revolvers have an advantage if the problem is related to ammo. In a situation when the round won’t fire., just pull the revolver trigger one more time and the revolver you carry is fixed.
But in other things, a revolver is more difficult to repair compared to semi autos. We’ve had our fair share of revolver repairs in the past, and a revolver job is never a pretty sight. Most of the time, it’s tricky to point out the issue and it takes a lot of work to get revolvers going again.
The main reason for this is the design. Revolver parts have a more complicated arrangement especially under spring tension. When you try to disassemble a revolver in full, it feels like a disaster waiting to happen. And if the situation turns difficult, you’re likely left with a paperweight. That’s where their reliability fails.
One of the pros of a semi auto is it’s much easier to repair. Although it’s hard to explain how it works, an auto is easy to take apart compared to revolver firearms. There are fewer parts too, so you can often identify where the problem lies.
Most of the time, some concealed carry autos like the M&P only need a few tools. One small hammer and a punch can fully deconstruct a small-profile semi auto , making it simpler to carry than a revolver. There might be a bit of difficulty with reassembly though, but other than that, it’s good.
Cartridge Options of the Revolver vs Auto
One thing you should know about common calibers is that their effectiveness in the field is almost identical. Whether it’s a 9mm, 357 Magnum, or a 40 caliber, all these old cartridges just poke holes when shooting. (Read about the 9mm and 38 Super here.)
The FBI switched from .40 S&W back to a 9mm caliber guns, and their main justification is that majority of FBI shooters shoot faster, better, and more accurately with a 9mm Luger compared to the .40 caliber. However, the police noticed that there was “little to no noticeable difference in the wound tracks” between the firearms.
With almost no difference between the revolver vs auto in effectiveness, it all boils down to accuracy. No matter what cartridge you carry on autos or revolvers, your accuracy in shots will determine target hits.
Cartridge Options of the Revolver vs Auto
Let’s consider the pros and cons of the semi auto vs double-action revolver in terms of concealed carry. Each has its own perks and drawbacks depending on where you’re carrying it.
As mentioned in this article, revolvers are wider than semi autos. In short, they’re the fatter weapon. But that doesn’t mean that a revolver is straight up worse than a semi auto as a concealed carry gun. We’ll be talking more about this in a little bit.
If you want to carry a 6-shot revolver, it’s too big for the purpose of concealed carry. Traditional revolver models usually have a larger cylinder, not to mention the thickness of the steel for the pressure. Fortunately, this concealed carry issue has already been addressed through 5-shot revolvers. Single-stack 9mms are also thinner.
The main places where revolvers bulge is the cylinder and the butt area. And while there’s nothing you can do with the size of the cylinder, you have more flexibility with changing its grip profile for better concealed carry.
For instance, fitting boot grips on a K-frame shooter significantly improves the weapon’s concealed carry reliability. It stops at the bottom and smoothly tapers down, which makes a full-sized revolver easier to hide for concealed carry. With a full-sized auto, you can’t really do this.
Plus, carrying a revolver is easier to draw than an auto because of its rounded grip. When you use an ankle holster or a hip holster for concealed carry, the revolver’s round surface is easier to grasp than the rectangular auto. As such, you can draw revolvers at a faster speed and start firing.
Many people carry snubnose revolvers that have a 2-inch barrel. For those who want to carry a medium-frame handgun, a 2.5-inch barrel revolver is a standard choice for reliability. But since they’re pretty big handguns to carry, you might want to layer to keep it concealed. We find that an IWB leather holster works nicely.
To compare a revolver vs auto, semi autos are thinner and with a small frame. Autos are comfortable and easier to conceal in your pocket because there’s no bulge from a cylinder. There’s a certain level of comfort since the auto can be easily carried wherever on the body.
If you make the decision to carry an auto in your pocket, the concealed carry is effective because there’s no bulging cylinder you can see. That’s the main advantage of the auto against the revolver in terms of pocket concealment.
Another issue with revolvers in terms of concealed carry is that you may feel the inner side of the cylinder against your thigh, depending on the pants and the pocket holster. This could feel very awkward and uncomfortable on your part especially for concealed carry.
But while semi autos are more comfortable to carry and easier to handle for concealed carry, revolvers have their advantages as well. For one, they’re easier to draw as mentioned in this article, so you don’t have to make a fuss.
When you imagine a compact semi auto inside your pocket, its flat-sided design can cause many problems. You practically have to claw your way in to fully grasp the weapon and draw it out. It will be harder for your fingers to get into a drawing position with a semi auto than it is with a revolver. So if you have an auto for concealed carry, that would be one of the cons to consider.
The part of the handgun that goes right above the web of your hand is another thing to consider. Of course, you won’t have a problem with revolvers that don’t have a hammer spur because nothing could catch on your trouser pocket. You just need to place your thumb in the spot where the hammer spur should be.
If you’re carrying a revolver with a hammer spur, placing your thumb over it will pretty much act as a personal hammer shroud.
In a striker-fired auto, however, the rear of the slide mostly goes right in this area. Of course, this makes a striker-fired weapon harder to draw when carried because it can snag. We don’t recommend this for concealed carry.
There are also pros and cons with holster choices as well. When a revolver is carried in a shoulder holster, it will likely give you a hard experience because of weight issues. This will never do in a critical situation. And if you’re carrying an old six-shot capacity revolver, that would double the difficulty of concealed carry.
In this revolver vs auto comparison, the revolver is easier to draw but it can be hard to conceal because of the bulging cylinder. Semi autos, on the other hand, are easier for concealed carry because of their flatter and smaller shape, but harder to draw when carried in a pocket.
Conclusion: Revolver or Semi Auto CCW?
To end this old revolver vs semi auto debate that’s going on for years, both are excellent and reliable weapons for concealed carry. They each have their pros and cons, so it’s really a personal choice on which advantages you prioritize and which drawbacks you can live with.
The revolver is ideal for shooters who want a simple design, fast draws, grip customizations, and a reliable weapon on the field. Compared to the semi auto, revolvers are more tolerable to neglect, so you don’t have to oil it on the reg.
On the other hand, the semi auto is a lightweight weapon that’s best for those who prioritize comfort, capacity, pocket carrying, concealed carry, and speed. Auto pistols are easier to clean and repair as well.