Revolver vs. Semi Auto: What’s the Difference?

You may be brand new to the world of guns, or possibly have only had limited exposure to this vast industry.  If you fit into either of those categories, it’s quite easy to feel overwhelmed by the unending variety of guns, calibers, industry terms, and other bits of gun knowledge you need to know in order to make an informed purchase.  In a previous blog post, we addressed the need to take a strategic approach to purchasing handguns, especially if you’re a beginner. Among the tips we shared for finding the right gun for you was the recommendation to learn handgun terminology and the different types of handguns available on the market. This information is essential for those who are new to gun ownership, as well as current gun owners looking to better educate themselves on their choice of firearm.

Two Categories of Handguns

Quite simply, handguns break down into two categories: revolvers and semi-automatics. Revolvers are distinguished by the cylinder in which a certain number of rounds are housed and rotated to line up with the firing pin and barrel. There are two distinct ways in which revolvers differ from semi-automatics:

  • A revolver employs a mechanically-driven process for setting up a fresh round of ammo for firing.
  • A revolver is designed with more complex internal mechanisms.
  • Based on the trigger design, revolvers can be single-action, double-action, and double-action-only.

Semi-automatic Firearms

Semi-automatics, or semi-autos, on the other hand are named for the manner in which rounds are loaded to prepare for firing. The only process that is “automatic” in operating a semi-auto is the feeding and cocking actions. Rather than a mechanical action that puts the round of ammunition into place, rounds are placed in the firing chamber by force that is created from the slide back drive and is propelled forward by a recoil spring. This movement also cocks the hammer or striker in the gun to allow for another shot. Some distinguishing factors regarding the use of semi-autos include:

  • Rounds are loaded and fed into the firing chamber via the magazine.
  • Shooters must release the trigger and pull it again so the firing mechanism will be released and trigger the next round.

Like revolvers, semi-autos come in single-action, double-action, and double-action-only, but these types are based on how a fresh round of ammo is brought into the firing chamber. Size variations can also determine the type of a semi-auto. The most common size breakdowns are service or tactical (barrel length of 4-4.5 inches or more); compact (barrel length of 3.5-4.5 inches); and sub-compact (barrel length of 3.5 inches or less).

This only skims the surface when it comes to what you should know about revolvers and semi-autos. No matter which type you’re interested in purchasing, we encourage you to learn as much as you can so that you make an educated decision. For handgun information, product reviews and more, explore the USCCA website, and be sure to follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

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