Put the Snubby Down!
Why short barreled revolvers are a bad idea for new shooters.
I have had the privilege of teaching new shooters the basics of handgun shooting for quite some time. It is an honor to be able to share my passion with others and hopefully start them on a journey that will enhance their personal safety, as well as give them a lifelong activity they can enjoy with family and friends.
Sometimes, new shooters will come to class with firearms that are not well suited for their skill level. I particularly want to talk about new women shooters who, in general terms, were given advice by well-meaning men in their lives to get a snubnose .38 Special revolver for self-defense. If you ask any reputable firearms instructor: “What guns should a new shooter consider for self-defense?” very few, if any of these instructors would list the snubnose .38 as their first, second or even third recommendation.
I am not saying that a snubnose .38 does not have valid use in self-defense. However, this is the only gun I have ever described as an “Expert’s gun.” Meaning that the gun is difficult to shoot well without proficiency in the fundamentals of marksmanship.
So, what makes this diminutive pistol that some have described as “cute” (especially when treated to a nice chrome finish with a pink grip), an expert’s gun? Let's start from the top down:
1. Sight Radius
This is the distance between the front sight to back sight. The further the front sight is from the back sight the easier it will be to align the sights with precision. This will make accuracy at longer distances much easier. An expert can align the sights with such a degree of precision that they do not need the advantage of easier sight alignment provided by a longer sight radius.
2. Ammunition Capacity
With five shots being the most common capacity for this type of revolver, accuracy is paramount. The goal of using a firearm in self-defense is to stop the attacker from harming you. Preferably as soon as possible. This is done by placing shots in areas where they will shut down vital functions as quickly as possible. This is an area in the upper half of the torso referred to as: “high center mass” which houses the heart, upper lobes of the lungs, and major arteries. Unfortunately, this is not always effective at once and more shots may be required to stop a threat. This not only requires accuracy, but ammunition. If you have fired 3 or 4 shots before realizing that your shots are ineffective you are in a tight spot. This is even worse if you have multiple attackers. Even experts cannot overcome a negative ammunition to threat ratio.
3. Trigger Pull
Some proponents of the snubnose say that the weight of the trigger pull allows for a margin of safety. This safety margin is to help avoid a “flinch response” pull of the trigger when you are startled. This is a nice thought, but the possibility that you can avoid an unintended discharge of the gun is not enough to offset the loss of accuracy that comes with a heavier trigger pull.
Accuracy with a firearm is rooted in the fact that the shooter must supply a stable platform for the gun to launch its’ bullets. A common cause for poor accuracy is pulling the trigger in a way that causes the gun to come off target. One way to fix this is by having a lighter and smoother trigger pull. The average trigger pull weight for a striker fired or single action semiauto pistol averages between 5 and 7 pounds. The average pull weight for a double action revolver is 12-15 pounds. The more force that the trigger finger must put out, the stronger the grip has to be to stabilize the gun. Newer and smaller statured shooters can find this to be particularly challenging. An expert knows that proper grip and lots of dry fire practice are needed to be effective with these types of triggers.
I don’t know how many times I have heard students tell me that they got a snubnose revolver because they wanted something small, and easy to conceal. As you can see, the revolver is essentially the same size, or larger than, most popular sized semiauto pistols.
Top L-R: Taurus 605 Polymer, .357 Mag., Glock 43, 9mm
Bottom L-R: Ruger LC9, 9mm; Kel-Tec P3AT, .380 ACP
You eagle-eyed readers will note that the revolver in these photos is a Taurus .357 Magnum, not a .38 Special. I got this pistol specifically because it was so close to the standard snubnose size. It is about a tenth on an inch wider than a Smith and Wesson snubnose and virtually identical to the Taurus Model 85 snub nose.
When it comes to concealability, width is most often more important than length. With hip and appendix carry, the narrower a gun is, the less likely the gun will “print” or cause a revealing bulge or outline in your clothing.
From L-R: Glock 17, 9mm; Taurus 605 Polymer, .357 Mag.; Glock 43, 9mm; Ruger LC9, 9mm; Kel-Tec P3AT, .380 ACP
5. Ease and Speed of Loading
I have heard some revolver fans say that reloading a revolver is simpler and easier for new shooters because they don’t have to pull a slide back like you do with a semiauto. So, lets break each reloading sequence down. (Note: this is assuming everything in the reload process goes to plan.)
Semiauto: Push magazine release, magazine falls out, put new magazine in, release slide, continue shooting.
Revolver: Activate cylinder release, swing cylinder out, point gun upward, depress ejector rod, cartridges fall out, point gun toward ground, load cartridges into cylinder, close cylinder, continue shooting.
You, yes you in the back frantically waiving your hands in the air, what did you say?
“But you didn’t talk about how difficult it is to use the slide to chamber a round! That is hard for new shooters, and older shooters, and people with poor grip strength, and, and, and…”
The idea that a semiauto pistol slide cannot be used by people have some limiting factor makes using the slide difficult is in most cases, simply false. Operating a slide is all about technique, I have shown hundreds of people the correct way to use a slide and have yet to find someone who cannot do it. (If anyone was wondering, a great illustration of my point is when I taught an 83 year old female of slight build with mild arthritis how to chamber a round from a 1911 with a 23 pound recoil spring.) With the new technology out there, like the S&W EZ pistols, running a slide is a non-issue.
S&W M&P 9 Shield EZ
Are these tiny, lightweight and reliable just terrible ideas for self-defense? Well. it depends. Obviously, if a snubby is all you have, then no, it is the best option around. Just understand that it will take more practice, both live and dry fire, to become proficient with this gun. If you have a choice, I recommend a compact 9mm, something like a Glock 19, Ruger SR9 or S&W M&P.
So, there you have it. Put the snubby down and grab a semiauto. You will have a flatter learning curve and be much more likely to enjoy your journey to a higher level of personal safety!