NOTE: USCCA Customer Engagement team members get a lot of questions, and they pass a good number of them along to Concealed Carry Magazine Senior Editor Ed Combs. If you have a question, you can either ask it below or email it to [email protected]. We, of course, cannot guarantee answers to all questions — Ed’s a pretty busy guy — but we’d love to help you out with whatever’s stumping you.

Jared Blohm
Managing Editor
Concealed Carry Magazine

Is a Single-Action Revolver Any Good for Self-Defense?

Short answer “absolutely,” long answer “yes, but.”

Lest we forget, single-action revolvers are synonymous with Old West gunfighters, both in their cap-and-ball and metallic-cartridge iterations. It’s not like a round of .45 Colt is any less lethal when sent from a single-action than when sent from a double-action. The particulars lie in how, exactly, that round gets sent, and especially in how quickly that happens.

Drawback No. 1: Time Between Shots

In a self-defense context, the main drawback of the single-action is that its hammer must be manually cocked before each shot. (Yes, there are additional drawbacks as well. You’ll get your turn.) As such, the user cannot simply push the revolver’s barrel into an attacker and press the trigger as quickly as possible, as is commonly done with modern snubnoses. Before that hammer can fall, the shooter has to raise it into position, which will slow up even the most-experienced shooters when compared to a double-action.

Drawback No. 2: Reloading a Single-Action Revolver

Atop this issue is the fact that the most common types of single-action revolvers are laborious to reload. They are most commonly reloaded one at a time through a loading gate at the rear of the cylinder. And some of the old bargain-basement models required the shooter to remove the cylinder altogether for a reload. The only way to compensate for this is with firearms training. You need to be able to shoot quickly and accurately, and you need to be able to reload efficiently. I’ve seen good arguments that it’s faster to empty all of the chambers of hulls and only then reload them. And I’ve seen good arguments that it’s faster to reload each chamber as you eject each empty. Which of these techniques you choose is not nearly as important as whether you train regularly and effectively in reloading your firearm and whether you can use that firearm to put rounds where you want them to go.

But back to the original question.

So Can You Use a Single-Action Revolver for Self-Defense?

I can quickly tire of those who would claim a certain kind of firearm is “no good” for self-defense. I’ve heard this about single-action revolvers, revolvers in general, single-shot shotguns, double-barrel shotguns, pump shotguns (yes, really,) lever-action rifles, bolt-action rifles and just about every other platform that wasn’t the speaker’s personal favorite. In my mind, this reveals an embarrassment of riches in the modern firearms market: There are currently so many excellent options from which to choose that arguing about whether a specific style of firearm is “any good” for self-defense has become akin to arguing about baseball. None of it really means anything. It’s just a way to pass the time in the breakroom.

In my professional opinion, and at my level of training and experience, is a single-action revolver an IDEAL self-defense handgun?

Well, no. I would never advise a first-time gun buyer with no hand-strength issues to select a single-action revolver for self-defense. You will never see a law enforcement officer wearing a single-action revolver in anything other than a ceremonial sense while appearing in a parade. They’re just plain outmatched by technology that’s been in common use for more than a century, let alone the double-stack polymers you can buy for the same (and sometimes less) money these days.

But if all you have during a crisis is a loaded single-action revolver, you’re far ahead of those who are forced to face such crises unarmed.