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:
- Top Five Revolver Myths
- Top Five Types of Revolver Grips
- Top Five Questions I Get as a Gun Owner
- Top Five Glock Enhancements
- Top Five Belly Bands
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?
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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