It’s no secret that I’m a big fan of wheel guns. I think they’re a lot of fun to shoot and under certain circumstances, they are still a viable option for the contemporary self-defense-minded citizen. But over and over I continue to hear people recommend revolvers to new shooters because they “don’t jam”. This is simply not true.

Revolvers do not suffer from some of the same kinds of malfunctions as semi-auto pistols, but they can and do exhibit problems that cause them to cease functioning when you expect them to work. The reputation that revolvers often still enjoy as The Everlasting Fightstopper™ is a holdover from the days when semi-auto pistols were, on average, not as reliable as the pistol designs we have now. Prior to the last few decades, semi-auto pistols had a much-deserved reputation for being temperamental machines. In contrast, revolvers boast the following characteristics:

  • Not as ammunition sensitive as semi-autos.

  • Failure to fire requires no remedial action. Simply pull the trigger and keep going.

  • Does not require magazines in order to function.

  • Will typically function with little to no lubrication.

  • Easier learn basic operation (no manual safety, simpler loading/unloading process, etc.)

These were and are still are excellent points in favor of revolvers. But when, just as one example, a modern bone-stock semi-auto pistol exhibits only 2 stoppages in over 60,000 rounds, it’s harder to use the reliability argument to justify the major drawbacks of a wheel gun – in particular, the low ammo capacity and the fact that they’re generally more difficult to fire quickly and accurately. Furthermore, revolvers do occasionally have hiccups that could potentially take them out of a fight. Many of these malfunctions may be uncommon, but the ones that I’ve experienced and witnessed have often been the result of user error or inadequate maintenance. Revolver owners have to understand basic maintenance requirements in order to avoid these issues; a step that is often overlooked by those recommending revolvers to novice shooters.


Broken LCR Trigger

Even with a perfect maintenance schedule, problems still arise. If it’s not the operator’s fault, maybe it’s the ammo that causes a problem. Or maybe the gun just plain breaks. The photo to the left shows a piece that broke off the trigger of a Ruger LCR 357. The problem was completely undetectable from looking at the gun on the outside and only became apparent when it was taken to the range.

The trigger was pulled, but the cylinder did not rotate and the internal hammer was not engaged. At some point when the gun was fired previously, the trigger must have cracked or broken, but it took some time for the problem to show up. I’m not trying to pick on Ruger here. They are the last company I would expect to make a revolver that would have a parts breakage. But that’s just the point: any gun — even a revolver… even a Ruger revolver —  can fail. Ruger repaired this revolver quickly under warranty, didn’t ask any questions, and covered shipping both ways. They have top-notch customer service, and the LCR is generally a very well-built, sturdy snub nose. But it’s not immune to failure, and neither is any other gun. So from this little incident, I’d take away the following:

  • Know how to identify problems with your self-defense firearm. Also know the most common types of issues and how to get your gun back up and running ASAP.

  • Periodically function-test your self-defense firearms. Especially your carry gun. Even 30 seconds of dry fire once a week will be able to reveal many potential problems if they exist.

  • Don’t recommend revolvers to novice shooters for silly reasons. A revolver may or may not be the best choice for any given new gun owner, but the revolver’s reputation for reliability should not be the sole driving factor.

  • Have a backup self-defense plan. By itself, owning a gun does not constitute an emergency self-defense plan. Think through what you might do in various self-defense scenarios and then consider how you will react when/if that plan doesn’t work, including what to do if your firearm fails to function as you expect. Chances are, something will not go according to plan.

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  • Jon Register

    Very good points.. There is just something about a revolver that is reassuring to me though.. I have a Taurus 357 mag and it has not given me or my father (who gave it to me) one problem in 30+ years of owning it. That could all change with one shot but it feels solid with each pull of the trigger! When I am going hunting or camping… the .357 is my choice of gun to be with me over my semi autos.

  • Michael A. Murray

    This LCR malfunction is also due (clearly) to the manufacturing process used by Ruger. This is cast instead of milled metal. A nice way to cut costs, at the expense of reliability.

  • John Hubbard

    I’m a huge fan of semi-automatic pistols, but just recommended a revolver to a friend for a protection gun for the very reasons initially listed above. For someone who is not a veteran shooter, I think the simplicity of use of a revolver is a major trump card over a semi-automatic in a life and death situation. Of course, this could be very different for an experienced shooter. My friend was able to limp wrist jam my Glock 17 on her very first shot whereas I have not had a failure in a 1000 shots. She was immediately comfortable shooting her LCR. Add to that the loading/unloading and procedures necessary for unjamming a semi is very daunting for the amateur. I had my Ruger SR-45 snap closed on my finger while trying to clear a jam the other day even though the slide was fully locked back, so even the experienced can have trouble with semis. Even after a warranty trip to the factory, the SR-45 still experienced too many jams, so it was traded for a Glock 21SF. No problems with the Glock so far.