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Are revolvers inherently more reliable than semi-autos?

Discussion in 'Handguns: General Discussion' started by hi-impact, Jul 28, 2016.

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  1. Llama Bob

    Llama Bob Member

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    I'd say I've probably seen 1/100th the number of revolver malfunctions on a per-round-count basis that I've seen with autos. That's just a guess, but it's and order of magnitude different. And I've never had any revolver I owned malfunction in a way that would preclude continuing to shoot it in an emergency (that is, ignition failure doesn't mean you have to clear a jam).

    The only revolver failures I've experienced are a hard/bad primer that didn't ignite in a S&W 586, several .22 rounds that didn't ignite in a S&W K22, and a rear sight that worked lose on a S&W 29.

    I've seen so many things go wrong in autos I'd hit the post size limit and still have forgotten lots.

    That said, I carry an auto. They're reliable enough. Just not nearly as reliable. I also don't carry a backup. I figure there's lots of other things I could carry with that weight that I'm more likely to need than a 2nd gun.
     
  2. 45_auto

    45_auto Member

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    So long as we're discussing reliability issues, a sword or a spear is mechanically superior to either a semi-auto or revolver.

    I would bet that the military and police have "gotten the word". I would guess that the military and law enforcement have analyzed trading off the reliability of the sword and spear versus the increased effectivity of firearms. It appears that the unanimous decision has been that the increase in effectivity more than offsets the loss of reliability.

    A similar trade study analyzing the increased effectivity of semi-automatic handguns vs the minimal loss in reliability compared to a revolver was most likely also performed. It would appear that the military and law enforcement have "gotten the word", and effectivity again triumphs over a minimal increase in reliability.
     
  3. Vern Humphrey

    Vern Humphrey Member

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    The Air Force began issuing S&W .38 Specials in Viet Nam. Naturally, Army Aviation had to have the same. I've seen many an S&W turn into junk in the jungle, but the M1911A1 kept soldiering on.
     
  4. Kendal Black

    Kendal Black Member

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    A revolver's field induced failures can often be cleared with a stiff steel bristle-brush to remove garbage from cylinder face, under the star at the rear and out of the bolt notches on the sides.

    There is the old huzzah about "can you field strip your weapon blindfolded and reassemble it?" Absolutely no problem. A revolver is field stripped enough for cleaning when you swing out the cylinder. I once saw an Army manual that informed the troops that they were not authorized to remove the sideplate. Good guidance!
     
  5. atomd

    atomd Member

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    I have had more than one revolver fail on me. One was a Dan Wesson and one was a colt (not cheap junk in other words). Neither were capable of firing or at least firing safely without being repaired. I have also had the same thing happen with autoloaders. Anything can break and everything will eventually break if you use it enough or you treat it rough enough.
     
  6. stiab

    stiab Member

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    Other than ammo related, just this one time. But it's impossible to 'clear' a broken firing pin, you are out for the rest of the fight...

    365147580.jpg
     
  7. Hangingrock

    Hangingrock Member

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    I never saw a military issued revolver until finishing out my military experience with 3Rd-BN 8th Marines at GITMO the Navy SP's carried S&W M15 revolvers.

    The only handgun I ever witnessed being issued in the Marine Corps was the 1911A1. Revolvers would show up occasionally but were brought in country by individuals or arrived in care packages.


    Now if we look at durability, we could use the S&W K frame as an example, when extensive usage of 357 Magnum ammunition was required, service life and durability became an issue thus the S&W L frame.
     
  8. Rexster

    Rexster Member

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    Either system can be well-made, or junk. Buy quality, either way.

    Out-of-spec ammunition can shut down either system. Buy good carry ammo, and inspect each cartridge before it goes into the magazine, cylinder, speed loader, or other ammunition carrying/loading accessory. I bought some IMI ammo that had flared case mouths, and would not chamber reliably in any .45 ACP weapon.

    Test-fire any auto-loading or revolving pistol with generic ammo, to sort-out such issues as an improperly heat-treated part, that may warp as soon as it gets warm, or magazines that will feed nothing reliably. (I am looking at you, Kimber!)

    Then, test-fire the auto-loading pistol with your chosen duty/carry load, to make sure there are no compatibility problems. When switching to a different bullet profile, test again. I had a Glock G22 that would run reliably with any 165-grain load I tried, but when I had a high-round-count pistol class, and needed several hundred rounds of ammo, I had to settle for some 180-grain ammo, and soon learned this Glock would tend to lock open, with live rounds still in the magazine, with 180-grain ammo. The out-of-spec slide latch would be bumped by the wider "noses" of 180-grain bullets.

    A well-built, tightly fitted revolver can suffer from an ammo-related malfunction, caused when debris left-over from the powder-burning event. During the ejection/reloading procedure, this debris can fall onto the momentarily-exposed surface of the extractor "star," and then prevent the extractor/ejector assembly from returning to its normal position. Notably, this is NOT limited to dirty, poorly-maintained revolving pistols. Old-school lawmen learned to keep an old toothbrush handy during long "quals" and training sessions. The best solution is to make sure one's carry ammo burns very cleanly, leaving no "crumbs" to land on the inner surface of the ejector.

    Notably, early Ruger GP100 revolvers' cylinders had grooves, which could accommodate a certain amount of this debris, allowing the ejector/extractor assembly to reliably return to position. My example is a very-early-Nineties GP100. This would be my choice if I had to carry defensive .357 ammo of unknown quality.

    Not that most of us would choose a single-action revolver for defensive purposes, but a single action revolver is not susceptible to such a failure as just described, as there is no extractor, just an ejector rod.

    Many, if not most, auto-loading weapons are susceptible to "limp-wrist" malfunctions; some more than others. Ideally, the shooter has a firm grasp, and the frame remains relatively stationary during the recoil cycle, so the slide can compress the recoil spring properly, to cycle the pistol. When I had to complete a day-long "stress" duty pistol class, with my duty pistol, in 2011, my aging, aching right wrist rebelled against the muzzle flip, and I started getting this type of malfunction with my P229, .40 S&W*. No amount of voluntary will-power could prevent the malfs.

    My work-around was to transfer the pistol, during the draw, to my healthier left hand. This affected my draw-and-fire times, significantly, but I passed the class. My longer-term solution was to switch to 9mm Glock duty pistols, four years later, when my chief finally authorized 9mm as an alternative duty pistol cartridge.

    Notably, Glocks seem more susceptible than SIGs to limp-wrist malfunctions, so I did not switch to Glock for this aspect of reliability, but because 9mm Glocks enable me to train with realistic-power ammunition with no per-shot pain. An option is an all-steel pistol, which has the recoil-damping mass to mitigate the snappiness of any muzzle flip, such as my 1911, .45 ACP. (Cumulative recoil will cause discomfort or pain, if I fire enough of anything, except .22 LR.)

    Obviously, revolvers do not suffer from limp-wrist malfunctions. A shooter who has trouble with autos and limp-wrist malfunctions would be better-served by a revolver. To be clear, I am not using "limp-wrist" as a slur against ANY person! ALL people are entitled to the right of self-defense!

    *I should add that I do not "blame" .40 S&W for my wrist and hand ailments. I shot plenty of big-bore Magnum ammo in the Eighties, and plenty of full-pressure .357 Magnum in the Nineties and into the first decade of this century. My fingers not being long, I had to use fairly small-volume grips on these revolvers, which means my hands and wrists were punished all that much more.
     
  9. Kendal Black

    Kendal Black Member

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    If you were to pick up a number of cops by their ankles and shake, that would garner you quite a few small revolvers.

    You are right that as a service weapon the auto pistols have taken over. They hold more shots, are faster to reload and generally have better triggers. The days when you could trust automatics to feed FMJ and nothing else are (mostly) behind us.

    I like 'em both. But when I go shooting with my revolver, I have a simpler time of it. I do not practice the tap-rack-bang. I do not practice the tap-rack-OHS! No bang! drill.

    As folks have noted, if a revolver is screwed up it is most often totally screwed. Seldom happens, but it happens. This is the time for the New York drill.
     
  10. Kendal Black

    Kendal Black Member

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    It might not have been guns and shooting, at all. Some time after the gray started, I had terrible problems of the kind and blamed pretty much what you did. But...

    "Explain your exercise lifestyle, Mr. Black?"

    "Well, Doc, I walk a lot and jog sometimes and ride a bike, and I like to work out on the heavy punching bag..."

    I did not know that a doctor's eyebrows could shoot up fast enough to give him whiplash, and I sure hope his insurance covered it. Apparently an older guy who complains about his wrists and practices one-twos ought to consider his ways. :uhoh:
     
  11. Tallball

    Tallball Member

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    I have probably seen 100 times more malfunctions in semiautomatics than I have in revolvers. I have taught a lot of new shooters, and they can come up with amazing creative ways to make a semiautomatic malfunction. Revolvers are IMHO more intuitive and harder to make a mistake with. That being said, I carry a semiautomatic sometimes and own quite a few that I would be willing to trust with my life.
     
  12. sgt127

    sgt127 Member

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    #8
    sgt127
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    I've posted this several times....My ideas..


    Revolver VS auto. Random thoughts.
    I started out shooting revolvers, years ago. Revolvers are quite reliable. Autos came along and designs improved, bullet shapes improved. The reliabilty of the auto came up to what I felt was the level of a good well maintained revolver. And I carried an auto.

    Some random observations I have discovered. Revolvers will occasionally malfunction. So will autos. Lets remove parts breakage from the equation for a bit. I can accept the fact that a high quality auto is just as likely, or unlikey, to break a part that stops the gun from functioning, as an equal quality revolver. I have actually broken more parts in auto's than revolvers, but, I can attribute that to sheer luck. Slide stops have broken, firing pins have broken, but, statistically, I would argue that neither one is likley to just "break" when you need it.

    On the few occasions that I have had a revolver stop working, it was a cumalitive effect of shooting. It started to get dirty, crap under the extractor star, the barrel cylinder gap got lead and powder residue, the chambers got sticky from lots of .38's and then having to force a .357 in the chamber. In other words, most of the problems came on slowly. I knew, eventually, the gun was going to stop working. The trigger pull got heavier, it was harder to close the cylinder, something along those lines.

    But, for no apparent reason, a clean well lubed auto, would sometimes just not feed, fire or eject a round. Bullet nose caught on the feedramp, empty failed to get out of the way of the next round, some other failure that seemed to occur randomly, and without warning.

    Now, standing on the the line, at the range, neither gun failed very often. Nice firm grip, dry hands, locked wrists, all is well in the world of handgunning.

    Recently, I have watched a few episodes of "Under Fire" on Court TV. Autos, good quality (and, hopefully) well maintained autos, sometimes crap out in the middle of a gunfight. Whats the difference? Weak one handed grip, rolling around on the ground, upside down, shoved against the bad guy, sweaty blood covered hands, whatever. The auto needs a solid platform to work off of. Something it can't get in a real world, up close gunfight.

    At a distance, involved in a shootout, the auto's rarely seem to jam, much as I would expect. But, if its a fight, that leads to a gunfight, the auto may turn into a single shot.

    A particular episode that comes to mind is the Officer that was fighting a real, no kidding boxer, that was about to beat the Officer to death. He finally drew his pistol and got off one shot, in the BG's midsection, with little effect, the BG grabbed the gun and beat the Officer with the gun, tossed it and the Officer picked it back up later in the fight. (Interesting video if you ever get a chance to see it)

    On duty, I have to carry a Glock 35. And, I'm not sure I am ready to give up the general reliabilty, mag capacity and ease of shooting of a good auto for the vast majority of shooting situations. But, as a back up, I carry a 642. And, it seems alot of others are big fans of the little revolvers as back up guns.

    But, Off duty, I find myself carrying a 3" S&W M65 more and more. I envision an off duty encounter being a very fast fight that turns into a gunfight. Bad guy rushing you with a knife, BG jumping you, knocking you down and attacking you, two guys pinning you into a corner and the fight is on. Capacity becomes secondary to utter reliability for me at that point. I can still get good hits with a revovler out to 25 yards or so, if I have to, but, its not really something I see happening. Truth be known, the odds of needing a gun at all are pretty remote, but, we all plan for the unexpected.

    SO, what are some others thoughts? Have you taken your favorite defense auto out to the range, held it with your left hand, bent your wrist and elbow and tried getting off as many shots as you could? Upside down? Cover your hands in soapy water and empty a magazine? Shove it into the target and see if it gets pushed out of battery? Does it jam after the first shot? I have, and, the reliabilty of a previously Utterly reliable auto went down hill.

    It seems that most autos jam during the feeding and ejecting cycle. That's the one part that you do manually before and after the festivities with a revolver. During a gunfight, a revolver cannot have a feeding malfunction or ejection malfunction.

    I realize that clearing an auto jam is alot faster than clearing a revolver jam. But, that really cool "tap-rack-bang" that you practice on the range really needs that off hand to work. If that off hand is keeping a boxcutter off your throat, things go downhill in a hurry. High primer on a revolver? Pull the trigger REALLY hard, it just may go bang again...

    If this little ramble gets a few people to thinking, and making you more aware of you and your guns abilities and limitations, great. If it just makes you train harder, for what YOU consider a real world gunfight, even better. Practice alot, and, best to all.
     
  13. Hangingrock

    Hangingrock Member

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    Name a current front line major law enforcement or military entity that uses thus favors revolvers over semiautomatic pistols in the primary rule.
     
  14. Kendal Black

    Kendal Black Member

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    That is a non-sequitur to the question asked. If (for another example) the rifle working every time were the best criterion, armies throughout the world would be issuing Remington Rolling Blocks.

    I remember when the cops switched over. (I got a really good revolver really cheap.) The publically stated argument was that all the drug thugs have these semi-Uzi-matic assault rifle machine guns, but the real reason was that seventeen shots are better than six, and there was this company off somewhere in Austria or someplace that could give you seventeen that worked.

    The rest has been other companies playing catch-up ball.
     
  15. cstarr3

    cstarr3 Member

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    Are we speaking quantity or quality? Revolvers tend not to break down as often, but when they do, be prepared to take it to a gunsmith. A S&W M&P may have a statistically higher chance of having a problem than a S&W 629, but probably not something that changing ammo, replacing a magazine or recoil spring, or a installing a new slide release won't fix, and you can do most of that by yourself with the aid of the right YouTube video.
     
  16. Ratshooter

    Ratshooter Member

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    A long time ago I would have said the revolver was the more reliable of the two. But for the last 25+ years the gunmakers have been focused on semi autos for self defense, police and the military. They have made the semi auto about as reliable as it can be made with all types of hollow point ammunition. So I think the margin is now pretty narrow.

    But I still believe the revolver has a tiny edge. And thats with a new or untrained shooter. The very best semi auto can be jammed with nothing more than a shooter with a limp wrist hold. The revolver will keep on going.

    I have more revolvers than semi autos because I like revolvers better. But I have to say that the S&W 9VE I carry in my truck is about as bullet proof as any semi auto I have ever owned. And thats not the SD9ve. Mine is the model before that. My Ruger model P89 was right there with it. I really wish I hadn't sold that P89. What a brute of a pistol that was.
     
  17. Kendal Black

    Kendal Black Member

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    If you are going into a backward region where you cannot trust the quality of the ammo, I suggest you tuck away a revolver.

    That would include the USA if you like to shoot .22LR.
     
  18. entropy

    entropy Member

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    Oh, yes they can, and have. A more accurate statement would be 'During a gunfight, a revolver is much less likely to have to have a feeding malfunction or ejection malfunction. People have actually reloaded revolvers in gunfights; it used to happen when LEO's carried revolvers. And malfunctions can happen then. I described the most common one in post #4: ejector rod unscrewing itself and locking the cylinder closed. If it can happen Sunday afternoon at the range, it can happen Saturday night in a back alley. As for feeding malfunction, see below, Schwing's account of a primer binding up a revolver. It can happen with factory ammo, and some people do use handloads for SD. :what: If it can happen Sunday afternoon at the range, it can happen Saturday night in a back alley.

    460 Kodiak asked for the gunsmiths on this forum to chime in; at least two have by my count; Me, and Jim K. Dpris, want to weigh in on this? You've worked on a few revolvers that have had problems, I'm sure.

    Schwing is not a gunsmith, I'm guessing. ;) And yes, the primer binding was still a malfunction, though ammunition based, manufacturer notwithstanding.
     
    Last edited: Jul 29, 2016
  19. bannockburn

    bannockburn Member

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    Over the years I have had two "problem children" in the way of revolvers. First was a Charter Arms Undercover that proceeded to disassemble itself after less than 50 rounds of 148 gr. wadcutter ammo. Next one was a "budget" version of the Colt Agent which couldn't make it through a complete rotation of the cylinder without getting stuck against the forcing cone of the barrel. Other than those two the rest of my revolvers have been trouble free.

    As to semi-autos I have had my share of "finicky" pistols, mostly pint size .22s, which had any number of difficulties getting up to speed with just about any type of rimfire ammo. A stainless Walther PPK/s comes to mind as having numerous problems right from the get go. Same with a stainless Colt Officer's Model that had quite a few cosmetic issues to go along with the slide assembly not going completely into battery. Both of these guns were purchased new and I learned after that to take my time and do a thorough job of checking out the gun before I bought it. Just because it came from a "brand name" manufacturer didn't mean that it was going to run perfectly right out of the box.
     
  20. Vern Humphrey

    Vern Humphrey Member

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    Actually, it can. For example, a backed out primer or a bullet that has jumped crimp can tie up the cylinder big time. That's a "feeding" malfunction.
     
  21. 460Shooter

    460Shooter Member

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    That's an excellent point.
     
  22. Wil Terry

    Wil Terry Member

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    I WILL ADD THIS: I known men who's combined gunfights are a bit over one hundred. Two of the three I asked said if you want the best chance of seeing you ass come out upright your first gun pulled better be a powerful revolver. After that it's anything-you-like-Katy-bar-the-door. One man, who preferred a 3" S&W M29, had excellent results with an AMT 22MAG auto as a backup bootgun. OH...the stories...
    And so it goes...
     
  23. FL-NC

    FL-NC Member

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    The short answer is yes, because there are many semi-autos that are junk, there is no shortage of junk ammo, and junk mags, and there are opportunities for poorly trained shooters to induce malfunctions on a semi-auto, That being said, a reliable semi with decent ammo and a competent shooter = success. For this reason, I see no practical reason to choose a revolver over a good auto, unless there is a need for magnum calibers for hunting.
     
  24. Ratshooter

    Ratshooter Member

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  25. shafter

    shafter Member

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    If you want to carry a revolver as a backup because it's more reliable then wouldn't it make sense to carry the more reliable weapon as your primary?

    Revolvers are great, they have a history of reliability and are quite versatile. In my opinion though, today's autos are just as reliable, conceal easier, and have higher capacity.

    Unless I needed the power of a 357 or 44 etc (wilderness use) I would use a auto.
     
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