Deadly Wheelguns

Combat Controller sends me this overview, with a single word:  “Interesting.”

Theory (based on sample data):  revolvers may be more lethal than semi-autos.

Here’s what we’re talking about:

I admit that the numbers used in the article are quite impressive, but I’m a little leery of them because:

  • the universe was New Jersey
  • only four years’ data

I have another idea, but basically there is no data (as quoted):  gun type by caliber.

I could make all sorts of suppositions about this in the absence of that data:  handguns are generally loaded with .38 Spec or .357 Mag — most likely .38 Spec, according to a large FBI study which concluded that over a ten-year period of time (nationally), the most commonly-used gun to commit crimes was a S&W .38 revolver.  I think we can ignore the outliers:  .44 Spec/Mag, .45 ACP and so on.

Automatics, however, come in a plethora of caliber choices:  .25 ACP, .32 ACP, .380 ACP and then the popular ones:  9mm Para, .40 S&W and .45 ACP, with the preponderance likely being towards the 9mm and smaller.

Could it be that the higher lethality of revolvers is because they’re skewed towards the .38 Spec, whereas the autos are more likely loaded with 9mm and smaller calibers?

I don’t know the answers, and I don’t think anyone can know them either, because of the small sampling universe and short time period.

Whatever;  I’m comfortable with my choices:  1911 .45 ACP, S&W Mod 65 in .357 Mag, and (backup) S&W Mod 637 in .38 Spec+P.

I’ll be talking about a more interesting recent development in self-defense chamberings later on in the week.


  1. When the results of the study don’t give you the expected answer, simply adjust the parameters until you get the desired result.

    So anytime you see a study done with a very specific set of parameters that don’t make much sense, you can be sure that the choice of the data ranges was not accidental.

  2. My conclusion is: you can’t draw a meaningful conclusion from this study.

  3. Maybe revolver carriers know that they have 5-6 shots, and reloading takes longer. So they aim better.

  4. I learned how to shoot a pistol with a revolver. I have had many different semi-auto pistols over the years. I still shoot a revolver better than my semi-autos.

  5. I also have 1911, M65, and M642 as my goto guns. I love 1911s, but if I were reduced to just one it would be my old 4″ M65 New Rochelle PD surplus revo. 😉

  6. Wheel guns are real guns. While I like both semi auto and revolver pew pews, let’s face it. Revolvers look amazing and you don’t have to fart around with magazines. And they are beyond simple to use. Load, point, shoot unload, Rinse repeat.

    Ruger GP100, Smith 586 & 686, Colt Python, hell even the Taurus revolvers. All are stylish. Reliable. And have substantial rounds (357, 44, 454 etc). Pick your poisen.

    I even like the plastic revolvers from Ruger. LCR. 9MM version is good to go. It’s like what a revolver would be if Glock ever made one. Steel upper (on the 9MM , 38 is aluminum) plastic lower. 38 version is awesome too. They both kick hard, but it’s a get the fuck off me gun. Not a range toy.

    While I totally trust and enjoy the Sig P229 or the Glock 19, if a true shit hits the fan situation came up, it’s nice to not have to rely on magazines. Just the revolver and some ammo and you are good to go.

    I love the GP100 4 in stainless 357. It handles any round, light or heavy (from 38 to 357) with ease.

    For carry the LCR in 9MM is good to go. There are moon clips with the 9MM LCR but they are NOT required. You can use the LCR without them if need be. You just have to manually extract each empty casing if you don’t use the moon clips. At 15 bucks per 3 they are much cheaper than magazines.

    And as Mr. du Toit has written before, the Ruger single action in 22 LR and 22 Mag convertible is just magical. 2 great rounds in one great gun. It is a pleasure to shoot the Single Six revolver.

    Semi’s are awesome. But revolvers are just a step up, old but still great! “Antiques” as some would say “still have it going on”.

    1. “… it’s nice to not have to rely on magazines.”
      Many people may not realize the significance of that statement.
      Without a mag, a semi-auto pistol is just a single shot with a very awkward reload process.
      Same rationale applies to fixed or tube fed vs detachable magazine rifles.
      Best bet is to have one or more of each type on hand.
      And plenty of magazines, as required.

  7. Yup…statistics don’t lie….Hiliary won. Biden got 81 million votes.

  8. In the good old days, up to 1986 there were tons of cheap, crappy RG revolvers sold, in .22LR for as low as $14 with some .38 spc for a bit more but still cheap. Those things were kind of almost guns Saturday Night Specials, gun of choice for Hinkley to shoot Regan. I think that going into the 1990’s the market for those things dried up due to laws about crap guns. I had a friend who house was broken into in the 1970’s, he heard the guy making noise so he got his RG and yelled at the burglar who ran out the door and my friend tried to shoot in the air as a get out of here faster signal and the gun failed to fire. My friend whacked it with a hammer and threw it away. When he shared the experience with me he said the only way that gun would hurt someone is if it was thrown at bad guy and my friend said he did not have a good enough arm to make that kind of throw.

    I had one of them, got it from an old lady relative, I had no idea she had it for years thinking it was an adequate home protection gun. I gave that piece of crap to a nephew over 20 years ago so he could shoot .22 blanks when he was training his bird dog. I told him it would be stupid to use the revolver for anything else.

    I think the sheer number of cheap revolvers made in the last century up to the 1990’s might have had a lot to do with the revolver stats, the revolvers being used by muggers and hold-up crooks and punks shooting family members as close up belly guns. There were tons of crap revolvers sold in the bad old days and at one time over 30 years ago I heard that the .22LR was the bullet that caused the most gun deaths. Of course it might have taken a week for the victim to bleed out so there’s that.

  9. Because of the increase in bear activity here in SE Texas, I’ve ordered a shiny new revolver. Weighs 4 pounds, shoots a .44 caliber bullet. If it runs dry, I can beat the bear to death with it. The idea of it makes me smile. That’s the only data point I could possibly care about.

  10. Any comment on this article:

    Especially this statement|: “The 9mm is ballistically superior to the .38 Special, there’s no doubt about that. Standard pressure .38 Special only produces 264 foot-pounds of force (147-grain bullet at 900 feet per second out of a 4-inch barrel), while standard pressure 9mm can produce 365 foot-pounds of force (124-grain bullet at 1,150 feet per second). This is 38.25% more energy at the muzzle in favor of the 9mm.”

  11. I was a little pressed for time this morning and only skimmed the original article, so my observations may be in error.

    I didn’t see much if any discussion about the ammunition type in the study. Twenty five years ago much of the ammunition available for automatic pistols was jacketed military ball and such rounds are much less likely to cause serious damage. I’m also aware that hollow point ammunition was illegal for civilian use or even possession in the People’s Republic of Jersey. Of course the bad guys aren’t going to obey such laws, but I suspect that the more lethal ammunition types would be less available in New Jersey.

    Low end revolver ammunition is usually round nose lead or lead semi wadcutter. While those rounds are not specifically designed to expand, they will tend to flatten especially if they hit bone and definitely make a bigger hole than a jacketed bullet.

    I don’t know if the lead vs jacketed bullet issue is enough to sway the numbers, but it could be a factor.

    1. @ ITDAVEL – As I am sure you are aware, there is no magic bullet. Every year or two there are these NEW MAGICAL rounds that come out. They TOTALLY ARE TECHNOLOGICALLY ADVANCED and all that bullshit.

      Basic thing with bullets is, to put holes in things that did not have holes before so that the bleeding, shock and hits to body will stop the threat. Period.

      In magical tests, hollowpoint bullets dump more energy INTO a target, no matter the brand. Ball ammo puts holes and zips right through, no matter the brand.

      Much like any tool, some work better than others.

      And there are cases where 9mm outperformed 10mm, or 357 outperformed 44 magnum.

      At the end of the day, the gun you have on you will be the one you use. Whatever you think you can make good hits with is what you should use. For example, While I would not suggest 22 LR as a self defense weapon, if that is all you can shoot comfortably, then that is a hell of a lot better than nothing.

      For me, .38, 9MM, 357, 12 gauge, are all viable rounds. I have confidence in all of them.

      For ammo brand, while I really prefer GOLD DOT or HORNADY, if the round is quality and of a known quantity name brand, then I am good to go.

      As for hollow point vs ball, of course i’ll choose hollow point any day, but if ball is all that is around, then it is better than no ammo.

      All these statistics are just that, numbers on paper. Assholes who look to harm others have been successfully stopped by 22 and other assholes have walked right through 45 ACP.

      Way too many factors to consider what is the superior caliber.

      Carry anywhere you can legally. Carry what you are comfortable with. Ease your mind on the caliber debate. It is really a moot point in many ways.

      A hit on target with a lowly 22, or an underpowered 38 special is way better than misses with 357 or 44 mag.

  12. I wonder how much the date as skewed by “gangsta” style shooting, with a semi auto having it’s magazine dumped as a statement more than as a targeted shooting.
    Years ago a work mate was involved in a drive by type shooting, afterwards there were 30+ holes in the homes behind him but his one shot (from a .44) found it’s mark and the event ended.

  13. Plus my .357 lever action makes for a great combo with the wheel guns of the same caliber for home defense. If I ever retire Mister Twelve Gauge, it’ll probably be for the ’92.

  14. Between the above-mentioned spray-and-pray that is easier with semiautos, and the fact that autos chambered in .22 and other sub-optimal cartridges are more popular these days than revolvers in the same, it’s not hard to figure where the numbers could have come from. Additionally, someone who carries a revolver -may- be more likely to choose a quality bullet, rather than an FMJ, as he or she is more likely to know the value of making each shot count, so does their best to maximize those shots.
    As for .38 Special vs 9mm Luger? The 9 is a higher pressure and higher velocity round. Given equal quality bullets, the 9mm wins. The only inherent advantage the .38 holds is the ability to use heavier bullets and still function in the pistol.
    Not that I would “feel undergunned” with a .38. I’d just worry I didn’t have enough bullets in the gun.

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