Revolver or Semi-Auto Pistol: Handgun differences you should know

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If you are looking to buy a handgun or just wondering which is the best Revolver or Semi-Auto Pistol for you . Firstly you should get informed about the different types and the characteristics of those handguns. A good way to get started on that is by understanding the differences between a Revolver and a Semi-Auto Pistol.

Whichever option you select, it’ll come with both advantages and disadvantages. It is important that you choose what works for you and your situation.

In this article, we list the pros and cons of revolvers and semi-auto pistols to help you make an informed decision.

Revolver vs Semi-Auto Pistol

While most of us may use the term pistol and handgun interchangeably, the majority of handgun experts state that both pistols and revolvers are subsets of handguns, but revolvers aren’t pistols.

A revolver gets its name from the revolving cylinder containing multiple chambers (each holding a single cartridge). Revolvers sometimes make people think of gunfights in the Wild West or old school law enforcement, but they come in all sizes, weights, and calibers.

The semi-automatic is also called a self-loading or autoloading handgun. It gets its name because pulling the trigger and firing round sets up the pistol for firing each subsequent round until the next magazine change. 

Revolver Pros

• Simple to Troubleshoot Malfunctions 

Even though firearm malfunctions are incredibly rare today, they do still happen. When they do happen, solving the problem is commonly far easier when using a revolver. In the case of bad ammunition, just pulling the trigger again can often be a fix in a life or death situation.

• Resilient to Harsh Conditions 

Most people believe revolvers perform better than pistols in harsh conditions, like those with tons of dirt and dust. This is thanks to revolvers’ simple designs, which lack many of the little parts of modern semi-automatic pistols.

• Simple to Use 

The newest revolvers are double action. Meaning you pull the trigger to cock the hammer and then continue pulling it to fire the weapon. So everything you need to know to shoot a revolver is to load it, then pull the trigger. Their simplicity can also be assistive in high-pressure self-defense situations, as they cut down on steps that you can mess up.

• Stopping Power 

Revolvers are frequently chambered in the large handgun calibers, including .357 Magnum, .44 Magnum, and bigger. These large-caliber bullets provide excellent stopping power. While this could improve stopping power, it isn’t without its negative consequences, which will be discussed in the section below. It is also important to note, that while revolvers are available in some of the biggest calibers. You can also find them commonly chambered in calibers as small as .22 LR.

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• “Safer” Trigger 

Here’s an example of what many people concede to be a negative, but can also be spun as a positive for revolvers. Thanks to their heavier trigger pulls, it is less likely you shoot a revolver when not meaning to. For instance, in a high-pressure situation, in which you have your finger on the trigger, it’s unlikely you fire it accidentally. Many also feel more confident having the ability to safely unholster revolvers, as there’s less chance for accidental trigger pulls there too.

• Internal Hammer Revolvers won’t Get Stuck on your Clothes 

In a self-defense situation in which you’ve concealed carrying, there is a chance your handgun gets trapped in your shirt while unholstering. This might lead to your exposed-hammer revolver or semi-auto pistol to fail to shoot after your first shot. A revolver with an internal hammer shouldn’t have a problem in that specific situation.

Revolver Cons

• Low Capacity 

The largest downside to “six-shooters” is their low capacity. In most cases, revolver cylinders only house 6 cartridges, though 5- and 7-round capacities are also really common. 

• Slower to Reload 

Revolvers are a bit slower to reload, even with speed loaders, for the vast majority of individuals. Of course, there are special people who are able to reload revolvers unbelievably quickly, but I’d feel far more confident reloading a semi-auto pistol in a high-pressure situation.

• Less comfortable to hold

• Heavy  

The newest pistols are made of lightweight materials including polymers, whereas most revolvers are made out of steel. This allows them to handle the calibers that they’re frequently chambered in, while also helping reduce the felt recoil of these calibers. The downside to this is that you may find a revolver less comfortable to hold.

• Wide 

Thanks to revolvers’ cylinders, they’re typically wider than most pistols. Again, this can make them less comfortable to hold and more difficult to hide.

• Longer, Heavy Trigger Pull 

As we mentioned in the “Pros” section above, double-action triggers have an extended and heavier trigger pull than most semi-automatic pistols. For several shooters, this makes it harder to shoot fast and accurately, especially when firing multiple shots.

Semi-Auto Pistol Pros

• High Capacity 

The most important advantage of semi-automatic pistols, in comparison to revolvers, is their magazine capacity. Pistols used for concealed carry and residential defense usually have 10-21+ round capacities, which should be plenty for nearly all self-defense situations. For instance, the Glock 19’s magazine standard capacity is 15 rounds.

• Faster Reloads 

Supposing they’re familiar with a given handgun, the shooters should have a far easier time quickly reloading a semi-auto pistol than a revolver. As is the case for both kinds of handguns, it is usually recommended to spend time practicing this (which may be done with an empty magazine).

• Lightweight 

Polymer-framed pistols, made famous by Glock, are really lightweight. This may make it much easier for concealed carry. 

• Easier to Shoot 

Now you may be thinking we said revolvers were easier to shoot, but really they’re just easier to understand how to use. In terms of actual effective shooting, the advantage goes to modern semi-automatic pistols for a variety of factors.

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•Shorter, Lighter Triggers 

Most modern semi-auto pistols have superior triggers, requiring a bit of force over a short distance to fire. This not only helps to shoot quickly but also to shoot accurate shots, especially when firing multiple fast shots.

•Smaller Calibers 

Most pistols used for self-defense are chambered in 9mm, .380 ACP, .45 ACP, or .40 S&W, which offer far less recoil than mostly revolver calibers.


Among the pistol industry, much work has gone into making them as comfy and well-fitting in your hand as possible.

• Highly Customizable 

With pistols like Glocks presently being incredibly popular, there are seemingly infinite options for aftermarket parts. This permits you to find and create the right pistol for you. 

• M1913 rail interface systems

Developed by Picatinny Arsenal, M1913 rails allow the attachment of accessory lights and laser pointers. This way it is easier to shine a light and hold a handgun at the same time.

Semi-Auto Pistol Cons

• Less Stopping Powe

Due to semi-automatic pistols usually being chambered in smaller caliber bullets than revolvers, less energy will be transferred to your intended target. This can lead to a lower likelihood of incapacitating your target with a similar number of on-target shots.

• More Complicated to Use 

In general, all guns are really uncomplicated to use after doing a bit of research and spending some time at the range. With that said, using a pistol is surely less intuitive.

So Which is better, Semi-Auto Pistols or Revolvers?

Ultimately, it’s up to you to make a decision for yourself. We’ve talked about the benefits and disadvantages of pistols vs revolvers, which hopefully helps you determine which characteristics are most important to you in a handgun.

Whichever kind of handgun you take, the foremost important thing is to get comfy with it and learn to shoot it accurately.