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Recommend  Message 1 of 3 in Discussion 
From: MSN NicknameGunrockets  (Original Message)Sent: 31/05/2003 15:31

Handgun Reviews
Best For Defense--Revolvers Or Auto Pistols?
The author shoots it out with two full-size DA round guns and two full-size autoloaders to see if he can answer this age-old question.

By Paul Scarlata
Photography: Sal Scarlata, James Walters

When my older brother, an engineer in the firearms industry and an ardent shooter, is pressed to name his favorite type of handgun, he is fond of saying, "For the first six shots, the revolver is the best handgun in the world!" Maybe it has something to do with heredity because I will freely admit to having a soft spot in my heart for the round gun. To me, the semiautomatic pistol hasn't been built that displays quite the same level of ergonomics and "pointability" of a quality, medium-frame revolver. And the smooth, rolling stroke of a finely tuned double-action revolver trigger is one of life's great pleasures. But before I am accused of waxing too eloquently in favor of the revolver, let me come to the defense of the autoloader. As with my revolvers, I own quite a few pistols and use them for both competition and daily carry.

Today semiautomatic pistols account for the majority of handguns sold for police service, defensive purposes, and competitive shooting. But the revolver continues to hold a significant share of the market, and sales of small, snub-nosed revolvers intended for concealed carry remain very strong. The round gun also dominates the hunting and silhouette shooting markets, and as action shooting organizations such as ICORE, USPSA, and IDPA revive revolver classes in their matches, it is experiencing new acceptance among competition-minded shooters.
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Revolvers and auto pistols have experienced ups and downs in popularity over the years, but there is still one question that keeps some of us awake at night: Which is the better handgun?

I decided to try to answer that question by putting two double-action revolvers and two autoloaders to a head-to-head shooting evaluation. The editor, Joel Hutchcroft, requested that I restrict my discussion to one area: full-size defensive handguns. With that in mind, I made the following two lists of the requirements for defensive handguns.

Mandatory Features:
# They must be utterly reliable.
# They must provide acceptable accuracy within normal combat ranges.
# They must be simple to operate.
# They must display good handling characteristics, especially recoil control.
# They must be chambered for cartridges with sufficient power for defensive purposes.
# They must have sufficient cartridge capacity for the job at hand.

Desirable Features:
# They should be of a weight that makes them convenient to carry for extended periods of time.
# They should be compact enough to carry concealed, with the right holster, under light clothing.
# They should have grips suitable for a wide range of hand sizes.
# They should be capable of accepting equipment making them suitable for specialized purposes.
# Extra ammunition/magazines should be convenient to carry.

The Test Guns
For the autoloaders portion of the review, the author chose the Glock 22 in .40 S&W and the Beretta 92 in 9mm.

I selected those types of full-sized revolvers and pistols that have been most popular with police and civilian shooters. My choice of revolvers included an S&W Model 10 and a Ruger GP100. The former is a modern reincarnation of that company's century-old .38 Hand Ejector Military & Police revolver, probably the most widely used police handgun of the 20th century. Ruger's GP100 exemplifies the slightly larger revolvers chambered for the .357 Magnum cartridge that came into vogue before the meteoric rise of the auto pistol. The pair feature four-inch barrels, synthetic grips, and fixed sights.

Any number of modern semiautomatic pistols would have been suitable for this report, and I narrowed my choices down to a 9mm Beretta Model 92 and a .40-caliber Glock 22. The Beretta features a DA/SA trigger mechanism and an alloy frame. The Glock uses the well-known Safe Action trigger and a polymer frame. While both of my test pistols came with pre-ban, high-capacity magazines, those sold on the civilian market today will come with 10-round magazines.

I kept the test ammunition to two examples of the more popular loadings in each chambering. In .38 Special I chose the PMC 125-grain +P JHP and the CCI Blazer 158-grain +P SWCHP; in .357 Magnum I fired the Black Hills 125-grain JHP and the Federal 158-grain Nyclad HP. For the autoloaders, I chose the Cor-Bon 115-grain +P JHP and Remington 147-grain Golden Saber in 9mm and the PMC 155-grain JHP and Winchester 180-grain Ranger Talon in .40 S&W.

The Shootout

To see how each handgun measured up (both to my expectations and against each other) I first fired each of them from a benchrest at a range of 25 yards. As can be seen in the chart, while the revolvers took honors in this stage of the testing, each member of the quartet proved more than accurate enough for its intended purpose as a defensive handgun. I think it is only fair to state that this pair of revolvers had single-action trigger pulls that were superior--light, short, and with very crisp letoff--to those of the autoloaders.
With their longer sight radius and light single-action triggers, the S&W Model 10 (T) and Ruger GP100 (B) were very accurate at 25 yards.

It might also be relevant to point out here that while the revolvers were both new, out-of-the-box guns, the Glock and Beretta were well used, each having had many thousands of rounds run through it. But that being said, their trigger pulls had only benefited from this long use (they were well broken in). We should also understand that the basic designs of the two pistols' trigger mechanisms precluded them having single-action trigger pulls comparable to the revolvers. In fact, the Glock's Safe Action trigger has only one trigger mode with a short takeup and a rather heavy letoff. The Beretta, when fired in SA mode, had a lighter, crisper letoff than the Glock but actually had longer takeup. I then set up my chronograph and measured the velocities of each type of ammunition from its respective handgun. Once again the figures show that when fired from a barrel of at least four inches, the .357 Magnum still reigns supreme. Somewhat surprisingly, however, both the hotter 9mm and .40 S&W loads come darn close.

I'm sure some shooters might use the muzzle energy figures to state that the .38 Special is at best a marginal load for defensive purposes. While there is no denying that modern 9mm, .357, and .40 loads produce higher numbers, it should be kept in mind that several of these were only obtained with increased levels of recoil and muzzle flash--both of which are detrimental to accuracy and fast follow-up shots. Shooters who have problems handling recoil should keep in mind that the only shots that count in a real-life defensive situation are the ones that hit the target. To put it bluntly, would you rather hit your opponent with a .38 or miss him with a .357/.40? For decades the .38 Special 158-grain lead SWCHP (the "FBI Load") was the choice of hundreds of police agencies across the nation and performed its job quite well. I would never feel under-gunned carrying a .38 Special revolver loaded with them.

Because accuracy testing has limited application to a handgun's true "combat" effectiveness, I ran each handgun through the following series of offhand drills on a pair of IPSC targets. For this part of my evaluation I used holsters supplied by Don Hume Leathergoods, Uncle Mike's, Bianchi, and Hunter. I also made good use of HKS speedloaders for the revolvers. Each drill began with the handgun holstered and the shooter's hands by his side. Five yards: Perform "Two & One" drill (two rounds in the body, one in the head) on each target. Perform reload and repeat.

Ten yards: Repeat drill No. 1.

Fifteen yards: Fire three rounds on each target, rapid fire. Perform reload and repeat. Twenty-five yards: Fire three rounds on each target, slow, aimed fire. For the purposes of comparison, each scoring zone was assigned a number of points: A: 4 points; B: 3 points; C: 2 points; D: 1 point. While some may question my reloading of the pistols when they still held ammunition, I did it this way simply to gauge the difference in reloading time between the semiautomatics and revolvers. No one can argue that with high-capacity magazines the Glock and Beretta could have performed these drills without the necessity of reloading, but since most civilians today are restricted to 10-round magazines, their pistols would not have held sufficient ammunition to complete the drills without reloading.

All four guns were simple to load, fire, and operate. And they proved to be 100-percent reliable--not a single failure to fire, eject, feed, or cycle out of the hundreds of rounds fired. That such reliability seems the norm today speaks volumes about the quality of manufacture. I should also point out that while the four guns had three different trigger mechanisms (DA revolver, DA/SA pistol, and Safe Action pistol) no mechanism provided any real advantage. I figured the score fired with each handgun: S&W Model 10: 147; Ruger GP100: 137; Beretta 92: 142; Glock 22: 132. The difference between the four handguns was minimal, but it should be noted that the two softest recoiling handguns--the Beretta and the S&W--provided the highest scores.

The Outcome

After completing these exercises, I had a better idea of each handgun's strong and weak points. The Glock has good recoil control and simplicity of operation, but a set of coarse sights hindered accurate shooting beyond 15 yards. The Ruger GP100 had very good sights and a rather decent DA trigger. Its negatives centered around the heavy recoil of the .357 cartridge, which greatly hindered rapid fire.
Manufacturers' Listings

Beretta U.S.A. Corp.

Bianchi International

Black Hills Ammunition Inc.


Cor-Bon Bullet Co.

Federal Cartridge Co.


H.K.S. Products
7841 Foundation Dr.
Florence, KY 41042

Don Hume Leathergoods

Hunter Co. Inc.

Michaels Of Oregon Co./Uncle Mike's


Remington Arms Co.

Smith & Wesson

Sturm, Ruger & Co.

Winchester Ammunition

I enjoyed shooting the Beretta 92. It has good sights, light recoil, and a very decent trigger. Unlike some of the breed's critics, I had no trouble transitioning from DA to SA trigger pulls, but the grip was large and the trigger reach was rather long, both of which could be problematic for shooters with small hands. What can I say about the S&W Model 10? It's a classic, and the newest version was the best handling of the lot. I was impressed with the DA trigger, and the sights were easy to use. Recoil was very easy, which helped the Model 10 win in the scoring department. But as with the Ruger, the Model 10 was hindered by low cartridge capacity and slow reloading.

One Final Consideration

Finally, to see if these full-sized handguns qualified for concealed carry, I donned the lightweight vest I normally wear in warm weather and had my photographer examine me for "signature" as I stood, bent, and leaned in various poses. With the proper holsters they could be carried completely concealed. Over the next month I wore each handgun/holster combination for a week.

While all four would have served for concealed carry, I must confess--and this is a purely personal observation--that the size and weight of some of them became problematic after several hours. In general the lighter the gun, the better suited I found it and have to admit that the Ruger GP100 and the Beretta 92 (when loaded with a high-capacity magazine) were a bit of a burden. For regular concealed carry my choices would have been either the S&W Model 10 (which, in this role, would benefit greatly from a smaller set of grips) or the Glock 22.

After evaluating these four handguns, I find it no easier to declare a winner than I did before I started the process. Any of them would be an excellent choice as a defensive handgun. Obviously, depending on a number of variables, under certain circumstances some would be better choices than others. While I was able to shoot the Model 10 more accurately than the others, the Glock 22 was the most comfortable to carry concealed. The Beretta's sights and grip shape were aids in shooting comfort, but the GP100's .357 Magnum chambering turned in the most downrange power. This test confirms what responsible shooters have been saying for a long time. Determining which type of gun is best is an individual exercise. Each shooter needs to put each type of handgun through his own range test to find out which gives him the optimum combination of firepower (the number of possible shots) and accuracy. Hopefully my experiences will provide a starting point from which you can begin your own evaluation.

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Recommend  Message 2 of 3 in Discussion 
From: autopsytechSent: 20/12/2005 00:52
Ultimately only you can decide for yourself which is the "Best". What may work for someone else may not work for you. Try different firearms out at the range and eventually you will make the choice. I vary between the two depending on where and what I have to go do. Good Shooting!

Recommend  Message 3 of 3 in Discussion 
From: BolosniperSent: 06/01/2006 10:37
I wrote this article for the Illinois State Rifle Association last year.  The following is the entire article as it appeared:

Revolver vs Semi-Auto

By Mike McIntyre

McIntyre Precision, Inc.

<o:p> </o:p>

This debate has gone on for many years with advocates for both types of hand guns claiming that their preferred weapon was the ultimate performer.  There is currently no universal answer to the question “Which is better, a revolver or a semi-automatic pistol??SPAN>  If there were, there would be only one kind of repeating handgun in production.

<o:p> </o:p>

Statistically more people in the <st1:country-region><st1:place>U.S.</st1:place></st1:country-region> carry semi-auto pistols (approximately 84%) than revolvers (14%) and these figures are from the website from respondents of a survey asking what kind of sidearm they carried.  I don’t have readily available statistics about law enforcement semi-auto vs revolver carry, but I’m sure that the scales are tipped even more dramatically towards semi-autos due to the fact that most law enforcement agencies since the mid 1980’s are now either issuing or specifying semi-autos for their officers.  Semi-autos have been carried by European law enforcement officers since before WW2.  Revolvers have always been popular in the <st1:country-region><st1:place>Americas</st1:place></st1:country-region>, but never really gained much footing with the rest of the world.  The wide popularity of revolver in the <st1:country-region><st1:place>Americas</st1:place></st1:country-region>, and the large number of civilian gun owners in the <st1:country-region><st1:place>U.S.</st1:place></st1:country-region> are responsible for this country being the world’s center for revolver R&D and production.

<o:p> </o:p>

What is very enlightening are the FBI statistics regarding officer involved shootings, which is about the only available data base for this particular statistic, and they show that officers are expending many more rounds in a gun fight than they did when they carried revolvers.  That should be no surprise, but what was very surprising to a lot of folks who should have known is that they hit their targets very few times (less than 1% of all rounds fired in a gun fight).  The statistics on the subject forces you to conclude that much more ammunition is being expended with almost no effect.  Conversely revolver statistics on the same subject show that officers hit their targets approximately 2 times out of 6.  The inescapable conclusion that I draw from the statistics is that for the average person/police officer you have a much greater chance of putting your attacker down using a revolver than you do if you use a semi-auto.  The majority of people who find themselves in a close encounter of the worst kind don’t have weeks and/or months of formalized training, and generally spend very little, if any, time at the range shooting their combat sidearm, and unfortunately this includes most law enforcement officers.  Revolvers are inherently more point able than semi-autos which makes them a better choice, especially for those of you that don’t shoot as much as you would like to.

<o:p> </o:p>

 What follows is a comparison of the relevant characteristics of both handguns.

                         Revolver                                                               Semi-Auto

Malfunction:      Pull trigger again..

Malfunction:    Slap & Rack Drill, if still not operational, field strip & clear malfunction.  Not fun to do in the middle of a fight!

Reliability:  Simple design is very reliable.  Will function under a variety of adverse conditions.

Reliability:  Poor in the past.  Much better in recent years.

Maintenance:  Simple, no disassembly is needed to keep functional

Maintenance:  Complex design, must be disassembled to properly clean to insure reliable function.

Training:  The simplicity of the design make it easier & safer for beginners.  Professionals like them for the same reason. 

Training:  More complex due to the number of designs that aren’t as reliable as advertised.  Complex immediate action drills must be learned to perfection by all semi-auto shooters so that under stress these actions can still be performed.

Manual Safety:  Not needed.  All modern designs are equipped with a transfer bar allowing a live round to be carried under the hammer.

Manual Safety:  Many designs have more than one safety so that the weapon may be carried with a live round in the chamber.

Compactness:   The semi-auto has the advantage.<o:p></o:p>

Compactness:  Advantage.<o:p></o:p>

Capacity:  The semi-auto has the advantage.<o:p></o:p>

Capacity:  Advantage.<o:p></o:p>

Accuracy:  Slight advantage for the revolver.<o:p></o:p>

Accuracy:  Design features limits accuracy.<o:p></o:p>

Firepower:  The semi-auto has the advantage.<o:p></o:p>

Firepower:  Advantage.<o:p></o:p>

<o:p> </o:p>

An autoloader can hold a lot more rounds than a revolver and it is easier to extra ammo for and to reload it.  It has less recoil than a revolver.  It can have a longer barrel for the same gun length.  An auto is flatter and easier to carry concealed.  Autos require a lot of training to use effectively and safely, and have almost no point ability.

<o:p> </o:p>

A revolver takes much less training, just aim and pull the trigger.  No safety system is needed.  Always keep a revolver holstered, that is the safety for the weapon.  No training on clearing a malfunction is needed (as is with an auto), just pull the trigger again.

<o:p> </o:p>

For the record I carry a 4 inch barreled Smith & Wesson Model 66, 357 Magnum revolver, and prior to that I carried a 3.5 inch barreled Smith & Wesson Model 13, 357 Magnum revolver. 

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