My thoughts on the role of a small frame revolver as a first gun for the novice shooter or casual gun carrier are mixed, at best. I like the revolver for a novice due to the simplicity and reliability of the platform. The downside, however, is the difficulty in shooting a snubby well. The small frame revolver is perhaps the most difficult platform to shoot well and many consider them “experts’ guns.” I am inclined to agree with this as only experienced shooters can really make the small revolver perform well. However, there is one thing that always brings me back to the revolver for the novice: its functionality is impervious to the incompetence of the end user.
When we discuss the appropriateness of the small frame revolver for the complete novice shooter, or, worse yet, the complete novice gun carrier, I think we need to come back to the most important issue: how truly competent, or incompetent, is the user? A lot of firearms instructors completely dismiss the snubby revolver for lesser trained people because it is very difficult to shoot and I totally understand that, but I am not quite as quick to jump on that band wagon.
Trust me, I have dealt with it too: take a completely new shooter who shows up to shoot their snub that the gun salesman talked them into and they can’t hit a barn with it, then hand them your full size auto loader and within a few minutes of basic instruction they are making hits. With this experience in mind it is easy to conclude that novice shooters have no business using a small revolver. But I have a caveat….
Under stress this complete novice runs a very high risk of fouling the operation of that auto loader. Significantly high. An untrained individual is prone to accidently ejecting the magazine or accidently obstructing the slide, or doing any number of things to turn the auto into a single shot proposition. So do we want the novice to have a gun that they are less accurate with or one that is liable to only go bang once?
If you think I exaggerate the likelihood of malfunction that is because you only observe novice shooters perform on the square range. I see new competition shooters, who have a hell of a lot more training than the person who buys a gun and only shoots it once, drop mags and impede the function of the auto during a match because it is their first experience in running their gun under stress. If you think that sort of thing won’t happen to an elderly lady who grabs her wonder nine that she shot only once 10 years ago when a few thugs kick in the door you are an optimist.
There is a second issue: there is constant talk about a lawyer being attached to each round we fire and how we need to be able to make accurate hits. The vast majority of shots fired by law enforcement and civilians during fights miss anyway. I completely agree with the importance of accuracy, of course, but hitting bystanders tends to be the specialty of the NYPD and other police departments. There are few incidents of this in civilian self-defense as the situations are usually quite different. It happens, but not often. What there are many incidents of among civilians, however, is negligent discharges or accidental shootings of a person who the defender did not intend to shoot. These are much more common than hitting bystanders due to poor accuracy. Do you trust the novice to exercise good trigger finger discipline?
I have to constantly remind people who have shot numerous times to keep their finger out of the damn trigger guard. Do you want that person to have their booger hook on a 5.5 pound striker fired trigger or on a 12 pound long double action revolver trigger when they get startled by a loud sound or their child jumping out of the corner? The complete novice is a hell of a lot more likely to accidently shoot themselves or another innocent with an auto than a double-action revolver and to me that is a far more important concern than how dead on accurate the novice will be. The novice is not going to be up to the task of taking out an ISIS squad no matter what gun they have in hand, so safety at this level is top priority and there is nothing safer for untrained people than a revolver.
I know many will disagree and as instructors our goal should be fostering maximum performance among our students. I do think that any shooter that is willing to dedicate even the slightest time and resources to becoming competent should use an auto and the snub revolver should be leveraged only by higher end shooters as deep concealment options. There is a reservation I have, however, with the revolver for untrained folks: can they pull the trigger? A typical old lady who wants a gun in the draw might have trouble with the heavy trigger pull. However, if the revolver has a reasonable pull weight and the user can indeed manage it, I am still of the opinion that it is the more fitting option for the non-interested end user.
The accuracy is not going to be there for a novice during a gunfight anyway and erring on the side of “better” accuracy at the expense of safety is, in my humble opinion, misguided. For this level of shooter the gun will provide more deterrence than performance and the gun that will fire when needed will be a better deterrent than one that gets fouled. For the non-interested individual that will only shoot the gun once then leave it in a draw, or worse yet, actually carry it occasionally despite this complete lack of training, I firmly believe the revolver is the only way to fly. There is my take, your mileage may vary.