Differences between semi-automatic handguns and revolvers
Whether you choose to carry a revolver or a semi-automatic pistol, you should understand the differences between them. Revolvers are more reliable with certain types of ammunition and are simpler to operate. However, semi-automatic pistols offer increased magazine capacity and are easier to reload.
Handguns come in various configurations, from single-shot pistols to derringers, but the two most common types are the revolver and the semi-automatic pistol. Revolving firearms have existed in one form or another since at least the 17th century. The modern revolver (double- and single action, swing-out cylinder) and the semi-automatic pistol are products of the late 19th.
Revolvers and semi-auto hand guns can both be referred to as pistols. The revolver employs a cylinder that revolves on a cam. They normally have 6 chambers; thus the western term, “six shooters”. They can be single or double action. Single action requires the hammer to be cocked for each shot. Revolvers don’t eject the spent cartridges. Semi-auto’s holds a magazine in the pistol hand grip. Variety of capacities 6-17. Each round fired recycles the mechanism using inertia or gas to eject spent round, re-cock and feed a new round in the chamber. Faster. Revolver has become an incorrect generic term. Analogy- skis and snowboards. There are single shot pistols!
Revolvers can fail (click here for proof). But the bottom line remains: a revolver is, on the whole, more reliable than a semi-automatic handgun. They’re much more resistant to neglect than a semi. Not to mention the fact that you can’t “forget” to do anything to a revolver before shooting (aside from loading it and having one with you). And if a revolver doesn’t fire, you just pull the trigger again. And/or run.
Modern ammunition standards made it reliable enough for the automatic pistol, like Browning’s early 1900’s designs. The best part about a revolver is in dealing with the ammo, eg: bad primer, squib and special loads. I’ve heard a lot of trick shot shooting was done with wax loads back in the dinosaur days. Not to say stuff like that couldn’t be done with semi-auto pistols, but for things like blank rounds usually require modification.
I’ve always looked askance when folks say that revolvers are so much more reliable than a semi-auto. Maybe back in the early 20th century or some brands of Saturday night specials (and revolver styles of them broke too.) but not all that much more than regular pistols.
Self-defense is a broad concept encompassing all of the previously discussed factors, which is why we've saved it for last. Revolvers and semi-autos both have pronounced tactical strengths and weaknesses, so you'll need to think carefully about (and train for) the particular kinds of self-defense situations you're most likely to encounter.
When picking a handgun for self defense the most important thing is that the handgun fits you. By this I mean that the handgun must be your choice. While you may not know much about firearms you probably know someone who knows everything about firearms. This person can help you but you must choose the handgun that fits you. If you buy a handgun that does not fit you well, then you won’t practice with it and you might not even use it at all. This means the final decision on what handgun you purchase is yours.