Revolvers will get you killed – Or will they?

Sheriff Jim Wilson posted an article on the NRA’s Shooting Illustrated website recently that has generated some controversy.

Pros and Cons of Concealed-Carry Revolvers

In particular, one of his statements wasn’t particularly palatable to many folks.

Frankly, while magazine capacity might be an issue for members of law enforcement, it is not much of one for the legally armed citizen. Research into actual gunfights involving the armed citizen seldom shows more ammunition is needed beyond what’s in their concealed-carry revolver.

Let’s look at some examples of how he might have arrived at this seemingly outlandish conclusion. At least one source that could be used would be The Armed Citizen (TAC) column of the NRA Journals. The May issue of The American Rifleman was just published.


One of the criticisms I often hear about The Armed Citizen column is that it may not reflect the reality of armed encounters. In other words, Citizens may get into troubling situations that reading The Armed Citizen doesn’t give a sense of. This is absolutely true but not in the sense that those who criticize it think. Years of research shows that those troubling situations, Negative Outcomes, actually involve shooting yourself, shooting someone you didn’t want to, either intentionally or unintentionally, or other problems that have nothing to do with either the capacity or caliber of the gun. In fact, such problems are usually the result of what Infantrymen jokingly refer to as ‘headspace and timing’ issues, not gun issues.

Here’s how TAC broke out for May. Before getting into issues such as capacity and caliber, it’s useful to see what tasks were involved.

The Armed Citizen task list May 2017 Skill uses
Number of incidents 7
Shoot with handgun 6 86%
Retrieve from Storage (handgun) 3 43%
Engage multiple adversaries 3 43%
Challenge (verbalize) from ready 3 43%
Move safely from place to place at ready 2 29%
Draw to Challenge (verbalize) 2 29%
Shoot with non-threats downrange 2 29%
Intervene in another’s situation 2 29%
Engage from ready (handgun) 2 29%
Draw to shoot (seated in auto) 2 29%
Shoot in midst of others 2 29%
Fire warning shot(s) 1 14%
Challenge (verbalize) with non-threats downrange 1 14%
Hold at gunpoint until police arrive 1 14%
Counter gun grab attempt 1 14%

Now that we have some idea of what we might need to do, let’s take a look at what we might need to carry out the tasks.

Number of Shots Fired
Average 1.43
Median 2.00
Mode 2.00
Max 2.00

Doesn’t look like a lot of ammo was required, does it? Looking at the circumstances of the individual incidents is also interesting.

The California arson attempt involved two warning shots. The homeowner chose not to shoot the would-be arsonist but rather to fire warning shots and hold him at gunpoint for the POlice. Holding someone at gunpoint is a skill not too many people practice.

Skills involved:

  • Retrieve from Storage (handgun)
  • Move safely from place to place at ready
  • Challenge (verbalize) from ready
  • Engage from ready (handgun)
  • Shoot with handgun
  • Fire warning shot(s)
  • Hold at gunpoint until police arrive

Adversaries: 1

Shots fired: 2

In the Indiana incident, a woman saw a sworn Conservation Officer struggling with an individual he was trying to take into custody. After retrieving her handgun, she came to assist. She then fired one shot, most likely at close range, at the man while the struggle was going on. He was hit in the torso, ceased struggling, and later expired.

Skills involved:

  • Decide to Intervene in another’s situation
  • Retrieve from Storage (handgun)
  • Move safely from place to place at ready
  • Shoot with handgun
  • Shoot with non-threats downrange

Adversaries: 1

Shots fired: 1

The Ill-Annoy incident has several interesting aspects to it. The Armed Citizen was seated in his car with a friend. When they were accosted by two criminals, he drew his handgun and shot one in the face, killing him. This caused the second criminal to become alarmed because he realized he was late for another appointment. As he turned to leave, he ran into the second bullet fired by the Citizen. This caused him to forget about the other appointment. He was transported to the hospital and was subsequently charged with Felony Murder because of his friend got shot in the face while committing a crime.

Skills involved:

  • Draw to shoot (seated in auto)
  • Shoot in midst of others
  • Shoot (someone in the face) with handgun
  • Engage multiple adversaries

Adversaries: 2

Shots fired: 2

Fortunately, the State’s Attorney for the County chose not to charge the Citizen with violating Ill-Annoy’s law about Concealed Carry. There is no reciprocity with other States and the Citizen’s permit is from Missouri.

Intervention was the cause of the Michigan happening. A woman was being beaten in a store by a former domestic partner of hers. Another customer intervened in the situation, first by challenging the maniac and then shooting him twice when the maniac tried to grab the Citizen’s gun. The maniac got the message and was subsequently hospitalized in critical condition.

Skills involved:

  • Decide to Intervene in another’s situation
  • Draw to Challenge (verbalize)
  • Challenge (verbalize) from ready
  • Challenge (verbalize) with non-threats downrange
  • Counter gun grab attempt
  • Engage from ready (handgun)
  • Shoot with handgun
  • Shoot with non-threats downrange
  • Shoot in midst of others

Adversaries: 1

Shots fired: 2

A revolver was used in the Georgia episode. A store manager was attacked by two criminals in the parking lot of his store after closing. Although the criminals got one gun from his car, he had another stashed and managed to shoot one of them once. The shooting jogged both criminals’ memories about other engagements they were late for. The County Sheriff’s Deputies subsequently assisted the men with an appointment to remain in the jail. Because the manager’s pistols were being held as evidence, a local gun shop gave him a new S&W .38 Special as a replacement.

Skills involved:

  • Draw to shoot (seated in auto)
  • Shoot with handgun
  • Engage multiple adversaries (sort of, since one was already running away)

Adversaries:  2

Shots fired:  1

No shots were fired in the New York incident. A woman pulled an ice pick on a taxi driver in lieu of paying her fare. The taxi driver drew his pistol and warned her not to approach him. She decided that was a good idea and was subsequently taken into custody by the POlice.

Skills involved:

  • Draw to Challenge (verbalize)
  • Challenge (verbalize) from ready

Adversaries:  1

Shots fired:  0

A storekeeper in Washington became alarmed when he saw two men enter his store with bandanas over their faces and pistols in hand. He declined to make a cash donation to their cause and pulled out a .40 S&W instead. Two shots were sent in their direction, which caused them to remember being late for another appointment.

Skills involved:

  • Retrieve from Storage (handgun)
  • Shoot with handgun
  • Engage multiple adversaries (or fire in their general direction, anyway)

Adversaries:  2

Shots fired:  2

Notice how many non-shooting tasks were involved in relation to the shooting tasks.

  • Decide to Intervene in another’s situation
  • Retrieve from Storage (handgun)
  • Move safely from place to place at ready
  • Challenge (verbalize) from ready
  • Draw to Challenge (verbalize)
  • Challenge (verbalize) with non-threats downrange
  • Counter gun grab attempt
  • Hold at gunpoint until police arrive

From the technical standpoint, the marksmanship tasks were both simple and low round count. It would seem that all of these incidents were much more intensive on incident management skills and much less intensive on capacity issues.

So maybe carrying a revolver won’t get you killed on the streetz, at least if your headspace and timing are set correctly.

40 responses

  1. Get on YouTube and watch some Active Self Protection. The Armed Citizen is trying to spin. Carry the “biggest”weapon/ highest round count your comfortable with. If that’s a stub nose, great. Why not a Glock 26? I never heard of somebody being in a gun fight an wishing they had fewer rounds.

    1. Care to point me to something a little more specific?

      1. “Why not a Glock 26?” I’ll tell you why. Full disclosure, I am wearing one as I type this. The G26, and it’s big brother, the G19 – are nearly perfect CCW handguns in my experience. That said, many, MANY, people, if not the majority who are carrying concealed handguns make it to the range about twice a year. When they come out with their fancy pocket autos, and even a solid CCW pistol like the G26 / G19, they are completely unprepared and unable to run it from awkward, one-handed positions, and to clear malfunctions. They just shut down when they get a FTF malfie, let alone a double feed. No way a few hours with me, nor a trip to the range every six months will fix that. Once you get into a real world self defense shoot situation, you won’t have two hands, and if you jam that auotoloader up without reflexively clearing it, you are vulnerable to having the balance of the fight tipped to your attacker. Very, VERY unlikely that even a 5-round revolver would “get you killed” in 99.9% of personal defense shoots, but VERY likely that fumbling around with an out of service handgun would. Autos simly require more training to reach the minimum level of proficiency required to defend one’s life with them.

      2. @tacticalprofessor – Just type in “Active Self Protection” in the YouTube search engine. Pretty decent videos and analysis.

        @Instructor Guy – Don’t we want everyone proficient? Why not point them to the best tools available today and encourage training. Yes, slightly more practice is required. Dry fire is invaluable, as this site has taught me. But, tap , rack, bang, isn’t a hard concept to teach or practice, shooting live or dry. Reloading an autoloader is most definitely easy than a revolver. Is it even possible to reload a revolver one handed?

        I guess at the end of the day I’d rather turn one person into a proficient shooter, than have 10 people settle for carrying revolver and never train or want to train.

    2. When most people who are poorly trained/undisciplined carriers fire their weapons in a stressful situation, they usually fire EVERY ROUND they have loaded. By Usually, I mean… Joe and Jane Schmoe feel threatened, produce their carry pistol or revolver and keep firing until their Gatling runs DRY!
      That is WHY everyone who was ever in a situation with shots fired wants more rather than fewer rounds. Those folks who’ve survived an armed encounter and seek further training in defensive shooting tactics usually ask for help on counting their fired rounds so as not to run dry again.

    3. The Glock 26 is a little large for discreet carry. Before you call on us to dress around the gun ask yourself how does a air conditioning repairman, a plumber or a car salesman wear a cover garment at work. My j frame is in my pocket whenever my pants are on.

  2. Boy, are you going to be unpopular in the Teacher’s Lounge…

  3. Well said Claude. As an ardent adherent to the, “J frame lifestyle,” for many years, in many situations I’ve found myself in, I’ve always been well served by a 5-6 shot revolver. I also agree on your interpretation of the data.

  4. Excellent article!!!

    HOWEVER – 7 incidents may not be a representative sampling would it?

    Jim Liesen

    1. Do you have data to the contrary?

  5. S&W Model-10 served me well, in three On-Duty shootings. If you give some people a handgun with six shots, they want ten; Give them ten shots, and they twenty. Give them twenty, they want a hundred.
    Keep the weapon tuned and clean, just as you are tuned and clean.
    Remember: “ONLY THE HITS COUNT.” (USMC Teaching)

  6. Epic recaps Claude, I LoL’d, literally, as in I expressed mirth audibly.

  7. I agree with the conclusions as they relate to the data presented, but taking just these examples, and pursuing to the logical conclusion, one could just carry a two shot derringer and call it good. And people have prevailed with derringers, but I think there are other considerations.
    A (slightly) larger auto pistol may be easier to shoot well, easier to conceal(thus making it more likely to be carried), be more functional if dusty, dirty,etc.
    Rational arguments for both…wait, maybe both systems could be carried(!?!)
    That said, I’m pretty comfortable with a G43, and usually one reload(have a sub too-don’t tell anybody!)

    1. G43 for me too (w/2 spare mags), unless it’s the J-frame Smith for pocket use. The G19 got to be a bit much for all day wear, though I still CCW it in the boonies at times.

  8. David Loeffler | Reply

    The conclusion I find from the above data and my own experience, carrying either revolver or autoloader, when accosted, either works. I also concur, I do not remember being disappointed at having ammunition left over after any of my encounters.

  9. Conversation about deadly force encounters should rightly conducted by those who have actually engaged in deadly force encounters. In order to qualify for a deadly force encounter discussion, a death would have to occur. Preferably not your own. So, lets hear from those qualified to join the discussion… LEO’s and Military performing sworn service have their unique experiences and conclusions, which will differ from traditional citizens. A fight you hear or read about does not qualify. Qualification would require that your own personal finger pulled the trigger, killing an assailant . Now, tell us revolver or pistol and why. Thank you.

    1. The problem Mr. Graham is the threats I face as armed citizen in an area of urban decay sre different from the challenges I faced as an Infantry men or even during my time as policemen. The threat is at conversational distance and I must carry concealed. On a positive note the suspect sees me as a sheep to be shorn and not as a threat to be ambushed or avoided

    2. Barry, do you know anything about the author of this blog? Do a friggin nano second of research prior to taking a few minutes to post. But, for the sake of anyone else reading this who has the same thought, I retired from the Illinois State Police after 26 years and did two more years with a Sheriff’s department. Chuck Haggard (who commented above) has 30+ years in police work (and still going). We were not police administrators, for most of our careers. We both worked in the field, in high impact capacities. I worked patrol, SWAT, narcotics, and investigations. I am also a life long martial artist. Both Chuck and I teach firearms and martial arts to thousands of people a year. I have been involved in multiple deadly force incidents. I consider the author of this blog to be a mentor and one of the smartest men in the firearms industry.

      All that said. Data is data. Claude is not making an argument, he’s presenting data. He even threw in a caveat. This is not the first time Claude has presented similar data (but I believe it was an analysis of 482 incidents), with the exact same results. Police and military uses of force are different animals than civilian use of force. The circumstances and motivations which drive the contact between predator and civilian are vastly different than the context which brings LEO and MIL in contact with predators. Even the predators mental framework is different.

      There are times when I read comments and literally laugh out loud thinking, “if they only knew”. Barry, there are going to be a ton of extremely hard dudes, been there done that people, who are going to laugh out loud at your comment. I’d say the same thing for “Don” above but I was unable to decipher what he was trying to say.

      1. Barry Graham

        Larry, you a very experienced LEO. And, while I appreciate your comments, they are biased by your experience. I wondered what civilians, experienced in Deadly force incidents would prefer. As a citizen, without LEO experience or bias, there is no; 1) duty to go looking for trouble 2) No obligation or interest in taking an offender into custody 3) There are also no statutory protections that are available to LEO’s. Leo’s, may almost be on a separate planet from everyone else, which is why I will not take your derisive comments personally. In fact I specifically asked for people with your background to not respond to my inquiry. Notice, I did not offer any recommendations, so why would there be Laughing out Loud? Claude posted the article. I know, like, and respect Claude. We have trained together several times. Claude has opinions that may not be ‘universal’. Where is the harm in soliciting conclusions from non-Military and non-LEO who are actually experienced as differentiated from the ‘read about it – talked about it’ but did not actually do ‘it’ people who would make recommendations not based upon actual personal experience.

      2. Berry, that is a reasoned response. I read your first post as a challenge to Claude’s qualifications to post this data. Must have misread into it. Regardless, I don’t read Claude’s post as anything but analyzing data. It really doesn’t matter who is reporting on the data, it’s data.

      3. Barry Graham


  10. “Average” is not the criteria in a survival situation. “Maximum” is the criteria.

    So, fine, you’re carrying a six-shot revolver. You now turn the corner and are faced with 50-100 rioters intent on beating your brains out because you’re [insert issue here]. Or maybe just five criminals (two shots to center mass each, oops, you’re out after number 3…)

    There are plenty of cases where police had to engage two or more criminals who were armed, who took cover and fired back, and the fight escalates into one or more magazine changes. There is no reason to believe that a civilian might not also encounter such an event, however rare.

    “Better to have it and not need it than need it and not have it” remains the criteria. As such, I am utterly uninterested in revolvers.

    1. Using the example you’ve provided, a battle rifle with multiple magazines would be the bare minimum, an armored vehicle with a pintle mounted medium machine gun would be more suitablble. Is that how you roll? I mean, seriously. If you’re going to provide an unlikely scenario to justify your choices let’s have an unreasonable solution.

    2. If we told soldiers overseas they were going on patrol alone, with only a pistol, two spare magazines, soft body armor, no helmet, in a unarmored vehicle, they’d think we were nuts. But hundreds of thousands of police officers do that every day in this country without thinking twice about it.

      Why? Because METT-TC is completely different. Same for the Private Citizen.

  11. I note the Armed Citizen almost never reports on instances where the defender failed in their attempt and ‘died trying’; attempting to prove a hypothesis by only looking at instances where it worked is the textbook definition of ‘selection error’, and makes this a fundamentally flawed analysis.

    1. I’m open to refutation of my analyses of The Armed Citizen. I actually have searched for years to find incidents as described in the above comment. If anyone has any, please let me know.

      Here’s the caveat: No Law Enforcement incidents; only incidents involving Private Citizens are of interest. I can supply a loooong list of POlice failures involving full size service caliber pistols where more than one magazine was fired.

      1. Barry Graham

        Every day requires consideration of: Will I have to Fight a Fire Today? So, I keep three 30 Pound Dry Chemical Extinguishers strategically located in the house. Will I have to Fight Felons Today? So, I carry 3 Fighting Knives, and 2 Easily Accessible, High Capacity Pistols loaded with .45+P, which supplement my H2H Skills… Thus far; I have, at work, fought and stopped one Propane Fueled Fire using 75 pounds of dry chemical, at home, Fought 3 Felons, killing one. The ‘One’ required seven hits to be returned to his maker (faulty product). Is it worth it to spend a lifetime planning and equipping for an event that may only happen once, if at all? I expect the answer is “It depends how much you value your own life”. Lazy, worthless people don’t need protection from anything. Rather than clearing obstacles and killing enemies, they are just killing time. Getting to’ Heaven’ is their goal. Actually, I have the same goal. But, I want Special Credit and the Best View of the Universe. So, I do what I believe is necessary.

      2. i watched a video and i cannot tell you where on the internet but the store clerk in the video was trying to rack the slide on his gun and died trying to defend himself along with his son. it only goes to show you that you should carry with a round in the chamber. i have tried to talk to a friend about it but so far i guess being safe to him is better. i not sure how being safe is better then dead but in his mind he has worked it out.

      3. I agree that the NRA articles cannot be used as a basis for making statistically supported conclusions about non-LEO defensive gun uses. As stated, there is a selection bias. Unfortunately, there is no data set that could be used for making statistically supported conclusions about non-LEO defensive gun uses. LE agencies have the resources to study each use of force and then to use the cumulative results to reach conclusions. There is no agency similarly studying non-LEO defensive gun uses. There are several well-known incidents in which the non-LEO shot more than 5 rounds and/or used multiple weapons. Lance Thomas was involved in four gun battles and used multiple guns in three of the four incidents. The Beverly Hills Jewelry Store gun fight (which did not take place in Beverly Hills) is another well known incident. The owners of the Beverly Hills Jewelry Store and Lance Thomas both switched from revolvers to semi-auto pistols as a result of their experiences. Does this mean that revolvers are inadequate? No. Moreover, LE agencies have changed their policies based on isolated incidents as opposed to systematic studies. The 1986 Miami shootout caused the FBI to revamp its policies (long guns, 10 mm, .40). The Newhall Incident caused the CHP to change its policies (standardized ammunition, speedloaders). All guns are a series of compromises. We each have to decide what we want and what we are willing to compromise. We can study what has happened before in an attempt to make educated decisions about what we will need.

  12. we can talk about averages all day long. how many people, how many shoots, etc. the only problem is averages only mean what is most likely to happen. you never know how many, you never know how your adrenaline will affect your shooting, and you never know how the perps will react. i would rather go home with ammo then need more then i had. one of the 2 times i have drawn my gun was when 4 people got out of a car and started toward me and someone else. they had chains and clubs and knifes. they saw my gun and ran back to their car and left. i am glad i did not have to do anything but pull my gun. the way i understand it is if someone with a knife is within 20 feet or so, he can kill you. he might die after he kills you but that is not winning. in the FBI shootout the guy was hit something like 17 times and he was still shooting agents. that’s when they went to the 10mm, then they went to the 40 sw, and now they are back at the 9mm they started with. we do have better bullets now though.

  13. Your gunfight will be YOUR gunfight, not the statistical average. Most armed confrontations involve ZERO shots fired, the perpetrators cease their actions and/or flee the scene, does that means we do not need to carry our weapons loaded? The crackhead with a blunt object might well require only 1 or 2 shots to force a stop, whether physical or psychological, does this mean we can load couple rounds in our firearms and call it good?

    Having lived and worked security in Detroit I have seen or have first hand knowledge of violent attacks by groups of armed dangerous predators. I myself was confronted by a group of 5 individuals in a mall, my quick identification of them as dangerous and my quickly seeking cover and drawing my weapon caused them to reassess and flee. The fact that they saw fit to retreat without any shots being fired did not mean my 15 shot 9mm and extra magazines were a foolish extravagance that put me into the camp of the Walter Mitty’s, rather the individuals were dissuaded by my readiness to fight. If I had a revolver would they have made a different calculation? Likely not, but we shall never know.

    I am quite comfortable carrying a revolver or low-capacity automatic here in rural Montana. In an area, like my hometown of Detroit, with the much higher population density and crime rates I would be much more likely to carry a more capable weapon as more capacity is generally better than less. Frankly this entire argument is like telling people not to buy fire-extinguishers because MOST fires in and around the home can be solved with no more than quick thinking and a little water. It may be true, but I would rather have equipment that will let me exceed the requirements of ‘Most’ situations than to discover I face something other than ‘Most’ without the equipment to deal with it.

  14. […] My esteemed colleague, Claude Werner, penned an excellent analysis: Revolvers will get you killed – Or will they? […]

  15. […] Revolvers will get you killed – Or will they? […]

  16. Great article. There are indeed outlier events that have proven to demand more than what a small-frame revolver can offer but they are exceedingly rare. The reality is I often speak with people who proclaim that they would never carry anything less than a full-size duty pistol. However, when asked to see said pistol these diehards will tell you that it is out in their car. I would posit that a J Frame in the pocket is a better solution than a full-size wonder gun that is across the parking lot. I usually carry a double-stack 9mm but I often need deep concealment and only the snubby provides it for me in the dress code that I sometimes need to accommodate. I don’t feel unarmed when this is my only option and for those willing to invest the effort into becoming proficient with the platform I think it is a great deep concealment option.

  17. […] Claude Werner takes on some criticism of Jim Wilson’s opinions, and finds out that the data supports the Sheriff’s conclusions — much to the chagrin of some people! […]

  18. One minor quibble: Claude is absolutely right that Illinois has no reciprocity. Furthermore, they flatly refuse to issue a non-resident CCW permit to those of us from MO, or indeed from any adjacent or nearby state. But IL law DOES allow in-car carry by out-of-state folks with a home-state permit. Thus, in the event described, the State’s Attorney had no basis to charge.

    But, as others have noted above, this article is simply a byte-size sample of Claude’s much larger, much longer-term database of real-world incidents. And that database, as well as the similar results by others who study **non-LEO** self-defense events, show none where more than a revolver-worth of rounds was needed.

    Thus, “my little friend Jay” is always in my pocket, even (ESPECIALLY) when I have to traverse the Peoples Democratic Republic. And, should the worst happen, I carry a couple extra strips of .38+P, to reload after the festivities.

    1. As I understand it, you can carry a loaded firearm in your vehicle while traversing the great state of Illinois. Should you exit your vehicle for any reason, you are required by law to proceed directly to the trunk of your vehicle, unload your firearm, stow the firearm in one locked container, your ammunition in another locked container, then go about your business. I never was able to figure out what the accepted and legal process was to reenter your vehicle with a loaded weapon. I would presume the reverse but couldn’t find any information to that effect.

  19. Great article. Once I obtained my CCW permit, I quickly discovered that my full size handguns were not a realistic for everyday carry. Especially in non permissive locations. I quickly decided it was time for a J frame Smith. It’s a great choice because it’s on me all the time every day where ever I go. Semi auto’s are just too big and the tiny 9’s are just not for me. Most of them have crappy triggers. I have carried my j frame for about 7 years now.

  20. Here’s the simple truth. Anyone carrying a revolver for self defense has a leg up on the guy who left his Glock (or whatever) at home because (insert reason). Good for anyone smart enough to carry something. Train, practice, and live life.

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