While semi-automatic pistols are currently the rage among most self defense shooters, there remains a small but stubborn group of firearms enthusiasts who enjoy carrying and shooting revolvers. It wasn’t too long ago that the wheelgun was the primary sidearm of many a policeman, security guard, or armored car guard. But in the aftermath of the FBI’s Miami shootout in 1986, the many drawbacks of revolvers soon became apparent.
Despite those drawbacks, however, revolvers remain a viable and pragmatic choice for a self defense handgun. They are often recommended as a first choice for beginning shooters, particularly women, as they don’t have magazines to load, slides to rack, and safeties to manipulate. Load the cylinder, close it up, and you’re ready to shoot. And if the gun doesn’t go bang the first time you pull the trigger, you just pull it again, no tap-rack-bang or clearance drills required.
One of the iconic revolvers that did much to popularize revolvers among Americans was the Smith & Wesson Model 10, the first of the so-called K-Frame revolvers. The revolver’s origins date to 1899 and the production of the Smith & Wesson Military & Police revolver, chambered for the .38 Long Colt cartridge. Due to the anemic ballistics of the .38 Long Colt, Smith & Wesson began chambering the revolvers for the more powerful .38 S&W Special (now known as .38 Special) cartridge.
The .38 Special revolver has become the gold standard of revolvers, and the Smith & Wesson Model 10 is perhaps the one by which all others are judged. Over 6 million examples have been produced over the past 120 years, with barrels ranging from 2 inches to 6 inches in length. Featuring 6 shots of .38 Special, or 6 shots of .357 Magnum for the Model 19 and other magnum revolvers, the Smith & Wesson K-Frame revolvers remain in production today.
Advantages of the S&W K-Frame Revolvers
1. Ease of Use
Revolvers are unquestionably easy to use. For women and weaker individuals who may not be strong enough to rack the slide of a pistol, that makes revolvers the obvious choice for a self defense firearm.
With over 6 million K-Frame revolvers having been produced, you can find just about every variation you can think of. Spare parts and aftermarket accessories abound.
Disadvantages of the S&W K-Frame Revolvers
1. Weak Cartridge
While there are K-Frame revolvers made in .357 Magnum, the standard has always been the .38 Special. Compared to modern cartridges such as 9mm Parabellum and .40 S&W, .38 Special is anemic. K-Frame revolvers in .357 Magnum can be effective man-stoppers, but at the cost of significantly increased recoil.
2. Slow to Reload
Revolvers have always been slow to load, and even the introduction of speedloaders isn’t much of a help. A Glock 17 with a round in the chamber can fire 18 rounds before reloading, while a K-Frame revolver would need two reloads to fire that many rounds.
3. Size and Bulk
With metal frames and that bulging cylinder, revolvers aren’t the most comfortable guns to carry, nor are they the easiest to conceal. Short-barrel revolvers are more concealable, but still aren’t as thin as many modern pocket pistols.
K-Frame revolvers aren’t super expensive, but they’re still at best the same price as modern pistols such as Glocks. If you already know how to shoot and have a fixed amount of money to pay for a self defense gun, would you rather buy a bulky heavy revolver that only holds 6 rounds, or a sleek modern pistol that holds 15-17?