Top Five Reasons to Carry an Autoloading Pistol

Do you carry an autoloader?

Editor’s Note: The following is a post by Mark Kakkuri, a nationally published freelance writer who covers guns and gear, 2nd Amendment issues and the outdoors. His writing and photography have appeared in many firearms-related publications, including the USCCA’s Concealed Carry Magazine. You can follow him on Twitter @markkakkuri.

Read Mark’s previous articles in this “Top Five” series:

At a recent defensive handgun training class in which I participated, zero out of 12 students brought a revolver to class. All used autoloaders, as did the instructor. The students who did best were the ones with double-action-only (DAO) guns — not because the students were better shooters, but because the DAO guns were more simple to operate, especially under stress. Those with double-action/single-action (DA/SA) or single-action (SA) guns often fumbled through the drills as they tried to remember to decock or activate a manual safety. If you check out the handguns carried by law enforcement and military, they’re virtually all autoloaders. There are good reasons for this, some of which apply to private citizens.

A few weeks ago, I covered my top five reasons to carry a revolver: high degree of reliability, consistency of trigger stroke, range of calibers, availability of accessories and simplicity of use. Amazingly enough, those first four reasons are the same reasons for carrying an autoloading pistol. You can argue that autoloaders also meet the fifth reason — simple to use (depending on which one you carry) — but I’m going to drop that one here in favor of capacity and reloading speed. It might be we’ve reached a point in firearms manufacturing where there’s little difference between some key aspects of revolver and autoloader functions. But there are differences, nonetheless, even where there are similarities. With that, here are my top five reasons to carry an autoloading pistol.

1. High Degree of Reliability

Ten to 20 years ago, it was a different era in firearms manufacturing. Then, many autoloading pistols were good and some were great. A few were to be avoided at all cost. Now, many are exceptionally reliable — meaning they feed, fire and eject consistently while putting rounds on target. Manufacturing prowess has increased significantly over the years, driven by demand, which was pushed at least in part by the threat of anti-gun legislation. Even though the threat might have cooled somewhat, such high demand left a marked effect on firearm reliability. The major manufacturers stayed great, but many new manufacturers started up and, using the latest manufacturing technology, answered the demand with excellence. We live in a terrific era of firearms manufacturing where market forces get to do their thing, resulting in reliability that is consistently high. As such, many autoloaders are just as reliable as any revolver.

2. Consistency of Trigger Stroke

Concurrent with the reliability factor mentioned above, firearm manufacturers (mostly) paid closer attention to quality. As such, trigger stroke overall has improved — we’re talking smoothness here — such that the major manufacturers who boast a reputation for smooth triggers are no longer alone. Beyond smoothness, the consistency factor better applies to autoloading pistols with double-action-only fire control systems. Similar to a revolver, a DAO autoloader offers the same trigger squeeze every time. And, generally, the trigger squeeze requires less force than that of a revolver. For many, it is easier and less fatiguing to shoot an autoloader.

3. Range of Calibers

Whereas revolvers enjoy a range of calibers that include the likes of .38, .357, .45 Colt, .44 Special/Magnum and more, autoloaders have their go-to calibers too. The range includes .380, 9mm, .40, .45, and others. Like a revolver, this creates options for autoloader shooters who have varying tastes for recoil or size of gun. Notice that most of the revolver rounds are long cartridges while the autoloading rounds are shorter; this is a function of the autoloaders needing a shorter round in order to fit in a magazine and cycle reliably. Interestingly, some manufacturers are designing revolvers and autoloaders to handle cartridges typically designed for the other platform. As such, today you can buy an autoloader in .357 Magnum and a revolver in 9mm. My prediction is that this will continue to be the case as design and manufacturing expands.

4. Availability of Accessories

Depending on which autoloader you carry, there’s no shortage of every accessory imaginable, from night sights to grips to drop-in guide rods, barrels, triggers and more. And, if you carry a duty pistol (or a variant), there tend to be even more. Even if you don’t care to change anything on your gun but desire to leave it stock, there are still bazillions of other accessories you can add on to enhance it and 10 times more holsters, belts, bags and other gear that will carry it on your person or off.

5. Capacity and Reloading Speed

Here’s where autoloaders might have an edge over revolvers. A gun equipped with a magazine can usually carry more rounds on-board than a revolver. This isn’t true for every autoloader-revolver comparison — there are eight-round revolvers and autoloaders that carry fewer than that — but it is a useful generalization. And, even while private citizen defensive situations involving a handgun average very few shots actually fired, no one ever regrets having the immediate ability to fire additional rounds if needed. Still, depending on the situation, someone equipped with an autoloader also can easily perform a tactical reload — switching out a less-than-full magazine for a full one assuming a spare magazine is available. (Reloading in such a fashion is possible but a little more difficult with a revolver.) More importantly, if someone shoots every round from his autoloader, the reload process, if practiced, is very fast. Notice all the caveats required to make the case for an autoloader’s capacity and reloading speed. If you need more capacity in your gun, you’ve got it in an autoloader. If you need to reload quickly, you can with an autoloader. So, the question is begged: Do you actually need these features?

Conclusion

Back to the matter of simplicity of use and its relation to speed of operation. As far as revolvers and autoloaders go, revolvers have fewer functions required to make them do what they’re intended to do. But autoloaders are not that much more complex — at least not so much that you can’t practice up so that operating becomes second nature to you. And if you have to reload, autoloaders have some degree of complexity but revolvers even more so. So “simple” becomes relative. Do you land on the side of simplicity of the firing the gun or simplicity of the operation of firing and reloading? Regardless of which platform you choose, both require practice, practice and more practice. Even better, get some advanced training on how to shoot, reload, handle malfunctions and anything else you might have to handle under stress. Resources invested in training are never wasted.

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{ 20 comments… add one }
  • Mongo November 18, 2017, 11:58 am

    I often carry my .357 snub with 6 rounds, and an extra speed loader, and I feel totally secure with my ability to handle, and use the pistol effectively, because that’s how I practice. Another variable is that I can load it with +P .38 self-defense rounds, and it really performs well then.
    I was lucky enough to obtain a S&W M&P .45 when local LEO decided to have another brand as their duty pistols. Complete with Trijicon Night Sights, the rest of the internals were of very high quality parts just for LEO. The other wonderful thing about this pistol is when the slide is locked back on the last shot of an empty magazine, when you reload and slap that mag it, it automatically releases the slide and chambers a round; no need to manually charge. I love that pistol. But there are days when my revolver is required due to the nature of having it more easily concealed and less weight.

    Stay Blessed, stay vigilant, stay armed.

  • Sam November 17, 2017, 6:20 pm

    Ed McGivern was probably the fastest, best pistol shot that ever lived. He used S&W revolvers. I don’t doubt that he was probably very, very proficient with autos but they were not the guns which made him famous.

    When people say they’ve seen new shooters stumble over how to shoot a DA revolver, I have to ask, “How?” There is nothing to do except pull the trigger. It doesn’t get any simpler than that. There are no jams or failures to feed, fire, or eject, at least for six shots. If you haven’t obtained results with the first six, you probably won’t with the next 60, either.

    Best advice I can give is, don’t take your eye off the target and lots of practice on moving targets. Nobody stays stationary in a gun fight. Makes little to no difference what gun you use if you can’t hit a moving target. I’ve never hit a running rabbit by looking at my front sight but I’ve hit a lot of running rabbits by focusing on the rabbit.

    • Fort Cannon November 23, 2017, 4:56 am

      I think you summed that up nicely.

  • Bob Fisher November 17, 2017, 5:42 pm

    Other reasons:
    1. Auto-loaders are generally regarded as being better balanced, thus more pointable, than revolvers.
    2. Auto-loaders tend to capture more efficiently the force of the propellant, as a revolver sometimes allows some gas to escape at the union of the cylinder and forcing cone.
    3. Auto-loaders generally hold more ammo, sometimes WAY more ammo, than a revolver.
    Thanks for a thought-provoking article on a subject dear to our hearts.

    • Fort Cannon November 23, 2017, 5:24 am

      Same discussion time after time. The first accurate round wins the fight. How we get it there is the deciding factor. We can hump mega amounts of ammo if we are expecting to be offensively involved or sustained defensively. For the average down home or travelling CSWC in a firefight at 7-10 feet will not involve reloading. If it does it will be a good time to reflect on the amount of practice for efficient use we have endured if we are alive to tell about it..

  • Ken November 17, 2017, 11:33 am

    There are very good reasons for carrying both types of fire arms. It seems to me that it is just a matter of choice and how much you wish to practice. I carried a S&W mod 19 for years and 5 speed loaders, I could reload as fast as people using semi-auto handguns. I took time to practice so that my skill was equal to the task. I went to a 1911 and carried it for 20 years until I found out that its manufacture date was 1917. I carried 6 extra magazines, and it was a challenge to keep track of them for the 50 rounds versus the 31 ready rounds and the 20 in the belt loops. It really kind of evens out in the end, except for the 6 inch barrel on the S&W 625 in the Colt ammo, it also doubled as a nice mace if they get real close. LOL

  • Sky Buster November 17, 2017, 10:22 am

    Reasons not to carry an auto-loader. Failure to feed. Failure to extract. Failure to eject.
    Forgot to put a round in the chamber. Forgot the safety was on. I’ll take a revolver, thank you!

    • Scotty Gunn November 17, 2017, 6:07 pm

      I have seen revolvers jam, too. Then you are screwed. Debris caught between the recoil shield and cartridge. High primer. cylinder ejector rod walking out a bit. Etc.

  • Sky Buster November 17, 2017, 10:19 am

    Reasons for not carrying an auto-loader. Failure to feed, Failure to extract, Failure to eject.
    Forgot to put a round in the chamber. Forgot the safety was on. I’ll take a revolver every time.

  • W.P. Zeller November 17, 2017, 9:36 am

    Over the years we’ve had our instructing business, our bread-and-butter Intro to Handguns class has been run almost 300 times, meaning thousands of people.
    Getting holes in the paper out of new and newer shooters is much easier with semis than revolvers. That comes from looking at thousands of targets. In fact, we pretty much dropped revolvers from entry-level classes watching people struggle to hit with them.
    Here’s our trade secret: among the centerfires, a Smith & Wesson M&P 9 will get you better results with new shooters than anything else. We’ve tried many, and that’s our conclusion.
    What applies to the new people will pretty much apply to nearly all shooters who don’t expend 10K rounds a year on serious practice and training.
    Disclosure: I own more revos than autos, but carry an auto nearly all the time.

  • Jon November 17, 2017, 9:35 am

    I wasn’t going to write anything but as a Range Master, Concealed Carry Weapons Course / Home Defense Instructor and 30 years of pushing a patrol car on the streets of a major metropolitan county/city I feel I must. If you can think of a law enforcement action I have done it and most likely I have done it several times. I know what I am professing. I also have extensive training in advanced weapons and tactics for law enforcement coupled with nine years of military service in special projects/operations. I must respectfully offer the opposite argument to most of the article so as to best inform your average reader. I will try to be brief.

    1. Autos are easier to use than revolvers. FALSE. PLAIN DOWNRIGHT FALSE. Let’s face the facts, most, MOST, CCW carriers or those who keep a weapon in the dresser or closet for home defense, regardless of whether the handgun is a semi auto or revolver, fired only the number of rounds needed for the qualification course and if we are real lucky maybe another fifty on a range firing line during the first year. Autos require allot of experience and knowledge to operate consistently and flawlessly. I have observed thousands of shooters on the line and 99.5% of them, including trained law enf, have difficulty effectively operating a revolver let alone a semi auto. Semi autos, and I don’t care which one, are tempermental. They don’t like this ammo or that ammo, they will have a malfunction, they have smaller controls, they require force to load or place into battery or clear, and they require force to provide adequate resistance for the slide to operate in concert with the shooters grip, wrist and forearm. Oh, they are better than the originals but they are still semi autos. It is undeniable fact that the first thing to fly out the window in even the slightest stress event is our fine motor skills and I’m only talking in reference to their operation of the weapon to say nothing of their ability to effectively utilize our major motor skills like think, walk, speak, physically resist or aim. A revolver has a large easily manipulated cylinder release. It requires no more training and practice to unload/load than a semi-auto and when you pull the trigger it goes boom every single time, period.

    Law Enf shooting studies show average shooting incident occurs at a distance of be between 7’-10’, lasts 2-3 seconds, involves 3-5 rounds per participant, with the trained law enf professional hitting the intended target only 40% of the time! That is 4 out of 10 shots hitting their intended target at 7’-10’! There is no way to even fathom reaching those hit probabilities from the average shooter. I would always advise to have more ammo than less but as you can see in a stress situation the average shooter would most likely keep pulling the trigger until the magazine is empty sending bullets through walls and who knows where, possibly injuring innocents. If you need to do a tactical reload, do it. Dump your cylinder, reload and get back on target. It is no harder with a revolver than with a semi auto but the key is familiarity and practice. Remember, every bullet you fire has your name and responsibility written all over it so a six round stoppage to think and reevaluate can be a good thing. If things are not good after six rounds you are in a firefight and it is time to get the hell out. A handgun is a defensive weapon and I would highly advise against using it offensively except in the most extreme situations.

    2. Range of calibers. Who cares! I have seen time and time again shooters showing up to the range with a handgun, semi auto or revolver, that does not fit their hand or ability because someone told them one caliber was better than another. That is a bunch of hogwash! The caliber doesn’t matters to a defensive shooter which encompasses the average CCW or home protection shooter when the SHTF. At a close distance, again 7’-10’, a hit is a hit. Take a moment and reread my comment about defensive vs offensive and when it is time and the better part of valor to “Un-ass the AO” (Area of Operation). If the gun is too big or too small or the caliber too big or too small for the shooter to effectively employ under stress their handgun is as good as an expensive paperweight. A .22 round hitting its intended target 10 out of 10 times is worth far more than a .45 round hitting 0 for 10…but your ego felt good and you looked good missing your target. If you can’t hit your intended target, you can’t hit your intended target. I have heard lots of times that just throwing rounds downrange will scare someone off (hmmmm Joe Biden comes to mind for some reason). Well let me say this, you are responsible for each piece of lead and if you are not in a life and death situation you do not have a reason to send rounds down range; and if you are in a situation where you do not have time to aim then you do not have the time or the ammo supply to miss!

    3. Availability of Accessories. OH DEAR GOD! Let’s take a moment and reread my comments on fine motor skills, again, and then again. Being a good shooter and being able to effectively employ your weapon under high stress situations is worth a thousand times more than the cost of any accessory. I am not saying accessories are not good and that they don’t have their place for the experienced shooter but for the vast majority of shooters eye candy is not worth the expense. I would tell any average shooter they are vastly better served spending their hard earned dollars on ammunition and range practice. A few well placed .09 cent rounds will be worth billions more to stop an attacker than the same rounds sent downrange and then being beat to death with your empty but “tricked out” gun. As an example of myself, I recently put a red dot on my everyday carry. Before I carried it EVERYDAY I holstered and drew the weapon coming up on target probably 200-300 times before I went to the range and did the same thing firing 3-5 times each and every time, 200-300 times. Practice, practice, practice is worth far more than any accessory. The manufacturer made the gun to shoot and it doesn’t need any after market accessory other than a good shooter to do what it is designed to do. If you are going to shoot, do it well and hit what you are shooting at.

    There is my soapbox and I hope it helps those who need guidance.

    • Ken Wilkinson November 17, 2017, 10:25 am

      Somewhat similar back ground as you and agree with your comments.
      good hit with anything is better that a bad miss with the same.

    • Russ H. November 18, 2017, 1:54 am

      23+ yrs with the state police, POST firearms instructor, military firearms instructor, and over 39 yrs in the Army Reserve/Army. Jon, I agree with everything you say but will add: A person with \”enough\” training to know their way around a semiauto can easily fire that weapon as well as a revolver. Once it is loaded all it requires is a pull of the trigger, maybe two or three times (this assumes the person has a round in the chamber). Most defensive shootings are over at one or two rounds at a range of 3 – 10 ft. I do agree that overall, revolvers ARE easier to operate than a semiauto – it\’s nearly idiot proof. With the semiauto they have to remember to rack the slide to chamber a round.

    • Steve November 19, 2017, 11:49 pm

      I respect your experience but everyone is different regarding proficiency with handguns. I am 67,very fit with excellent grip strength but I can’t shoot a revolver worth sh*t. I came to guns late in life and just took to semi-autos easier.. I hate double action triggers. For me the learning curve is just too steep. So I carry a GLOCK. It’s dead nuts reliable and I shoot it very well. So I say carry what you can shoot. If that means you carry a .22 revolver that’s better than not carrying.

  • Aubrey November 17, 2017, 8:40 am

    By way of bona fides, I have carried a handgun for more than 50 years. Probably most of that time I carried a revolver, either a K or a J frame depending on concealment requirements. In the early ’90’s I made the transition to an SA/DA semiautomatic (H&K USP), although I carried the J frame when concealment was critical. For the last 10 years or so I have carried a Glock 19, or occasionally an S&W Shield or a Glock 34, again depending on concealment requirements. I have perhaps 10,000 rounds in handgun training, and many times that number of rounds in practice with both revolvers and semiautos.
    I love revolvers. I shoot them well. But I don’t buy the argument that when the SHTF a revolver is easier to use than a modern striker-fired pistol (e.g. Glock or S&W M&P). You draw, focus on the front sight, and press the trigger. Those manipulations are essentially identical for a revolver or a striker-fired pistol. One might argue that administrative manipulation of a pistol is more complicated than that of a revolver; but when it come to the fight, they are much the same, as nearly as I can judge. I am, of course, speaking of breaking the first shot. The 10th shot is a different matter altogether.
    I grew up under the influence of Bill Jordan, whom I knew personally and admired as much as any man I ever knew. He was a forward thinking man, an innovator; and were he alive today I assure you he would be carrying a striker-fired autoloader, probably a S&W M&P, given his long time association with S&W.

    • DaveGinOly November 17, 2017, 4:13 pm

      Above your comment another commenter (who favors revolvers) mentions that most defensive uses of firearms are over in three or four rounds, but then dismisses semi-autos because of their manual of arms (specifically reloading and putting the gun back in battery with “smaller controls” and processes that require more strength). If you have a semi-auto with a capacity of 12 to 17 rounds, that’s the equivalent of 2 to nearly three full cylinders of revolver fire. So according to his own figures, a semi-auto shooter will probably never have to reload in a self-defense situation. There goes the argument against the semi-auto manual of arms having any relevance to an actual gun fight. Most semi-auto carriers who are involved in lethal-force situations will likely have the luxury of loading and reloading in an administrative environment before and after the fight.

      The semi-auto user who does have to reload during a fight will already have expended a dozen or more rounds. At one hit out of four, that’s three hits (possibly more) – it would take two (or more) full cylinders to achieve the same number of hits. When the semi-auto shooter does reload, he will be capable of achieving another three or four hits before having to reload again. So although the writer above argues that he can reload his revolver as quickly as others can reload a semi-auto (I reload mine in about 1.5 to 1.7 seconds), he’ll have to reload at least twice as often to get the same number or hits. Meaning his gun will be out of the fight at least twice as long as that of the semi-auto shooter’s.

  • SteveK November 17, 2017, 6:28 am

    For EDC in non threatening times, I prefer a revolver because the likelihood of a need for multi-rounds is less, and I FEEL safer knowing my revolver will go BANG, or if not, all I need to do is pull the trigger again. However, in war-like, threatening times I would want multi-rounds and easy reload.

  • Dr. Strangelove November 17, 2017, 5:24 am

    If you can afford an auto loader in .357, (Coonan) you can probably hire a bodyguard to carry it for you.

  • William November 17, 2017, 3:53 am

    Well written!
    I have both automatic and revolver. Every morning I open the drawer and select what I will carry today. At least 90% of the time I go with the S&W 642. It’s an easy carry and comfortable.

  • JGinFlorida November 17, 2017, 3:03 am

    I don’t like the idea of spraying empties around the countryside. I do like the reduced width of an autoloader.

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