But they never malfunction, right?

With all the gun-related and concealed-carry-related chatter going on recently, I’ve been seeing more of the old debate about revolver vs. semi-auto. And it’s the same old reasons dragged out to justify “my choice is superior”.

Some of the typical ones to justify the revolver have to do with the bulletproof (pardon the pun) reliability of a revolver.


At the recent Defensive Pistol Skills BUG class, Karl was shooting his Charter Arms snub. Karl bought the Charter a couple years ago for Claude Werner’s snub class. It was an experiment to see how well the inexpensive Charter would hold up. It’s not as good as a S&W, but it’s been a pretty good gun for the price. Karl uses it as a BUG, so naturally it was the gun he used for demos during the class. Karl was shooting some of my .38 reloads and at one point asked me what primers I was using because he was shooting and getting a click instead of a bang. This particular batch was made using Wolf SPP, and while a lot of people are down on Wolf quality I only opted to use Wolf because so many people on the Brian Enos forum highly recommended them. Plus, my snubs have all had work done and need slightly “softer/more sensitive” primers, and all the rounds go bang for me so it was curious why they wouldn’t go bang out of his stock gun. But it’s natural to suspect the ammo. Karl tried some factory Speer Lawman, but had similar results of too many clicks when there should have been bangs. Some rounds took 2-3 strikes before they would go off, and I think one didn’t go off at all.

As of this writing I’m not sure what exactly is wrong, but all signs point to the gun malfunctioning.

Of course some will say, this is precisely why the revolver is so great, because if you get a click, just press the trigger again. Yeah, but now your 5-shot snub has become a 4-shot-or-less snub. If you saw how this went down, it was a lot of clicks before we’d get a bang, and it was a lot of time wasted with nothing useful going on. Imagine you were in a life-or-death situation and only kept getting clicks? What if only 2 of the 5 rounds went off at all? Plus consider a natural response will be to press harder/faster, meaning when one finally does go off you likely will have yanked the trigger and won’t get an acceptable hit with what little functioning ammo you had! Is that really a comforting feeling? It was disconcerting enough on the practice range, I’m sure it would be horrifying if I needed the gun to fire right now and it didn’t.

Plus, “just press the trigger again” only works if you can press the trigger at all.

After a class like that, I like to dry fire to reinforce and remember what I need. So the day after class I pulled out my 442 to do some dry practice. I unloaded it, but something didn’t feel right as I tried to move the cylinder. I locked the cylinder back into the frame and tried pressing the trigger and it was like pulling against a rock… it would barely budge! I unlocked the cylinder and tried to manually rotate it. It was like someone left the parking brake on and it would barely budge. I got scared that attempting to use the gun would break some small part from pulling so darn hard on the thing. *sigh*

Ultimately what wasn’t working was the cylinder wasn’t spinning freely. I removed the crane retention screw, but couldn’t get the crane to easily remove from the frame. After some work it came out. Then I tried to remove the cylinder from the crane, and while that should normally just slide out, it wasn’t going to come so easily. After more work I managed to remove it… and all over the sleeve was this brown something or other. I couldn’t tell if it was rust? Was it dirt and crud (the soil in Lee County is sandy loam, emphasis on the sandy)? I couldn’t really tell, but I spent a good deal of time cleaning and scrubbing it clean, lubing things up, and back together it went. It functioned fine after that.

What surprised me was how the gun ran just fine the day before, no problems in class. But the first trigger press after class was a failure and wasn’t going to happen.  That wasn’t a comforting feeling.

What caused both of these? Some might say the guns needed more cleaning. That’s probably true, but I can ignore my semi-auto (my XD-9 or my M&P-9) for many many cleanings. Look at how much the pistol-training.com torture tests specifically avoid cleaning, and those guns run and run. But if a purported reason (myth?) for the superiority of revolvers is they “just work”, well… they didn’t. Two instances of revolver fail. Myth busted.

Realize, I’m not a semi-auto nor a revolver guy — I’m both. I’ll have an M&P 9 as a primary and the 442 as a BUG. I appreciate both systems for what they provide and offer. Both have advantages, both have disadvantages. The key is to remember that both are mechanical. Both designs have been around for over a century, but in the time since then improvements have been made to tweak the system. Modern semi-autos are extremely reliable. They can malfunction in simple ways that are easy to remedy, they can malfunction in ways that require you to see a gunsmith. Modern revolvers are extremely reliable. They can malfunction in simple ways, they can malfunction in ways that get Wife upset because you now have a gun disassembled on the bed. 🙂  Neither is without risk of failure, and when either fails they can fail in simple ways or fail in difficult ways. Let’s put those justification myths aside, shall we?

2 thoughts on “But they never malfunction, right?

  1. After class I took the grips off, gave the gun a good cleaning, and it ran fine. The best I can figure, the firing pin channel had crud in it, mainly from being carried a lot. I’ve been taking that snub for granted and will need to shoot and clean it more often.

    • Sounds like a reasonable hypothesis.

      I think I too took my snub for granted. I mean, my XD and M&P run and run with neglect. I would have figured my snub could take similar neglect, but I guess not.

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