Written by Mel Z – NRA Certified Instructor, Competition Shooter
Semi-automatic pistols function with a slide that cycles forwards and backwards to work the action of the gun. Ammunition is loaded into the handgun’s magazine, and the magazine is then inserted through the bottom of the grip. To chamber a round after you insert the magazine, you must pull the slide to the rear and then release the slide to allow it to go forward. When the slide travels forward, it pulls a round from the magazine and pushes it into the chamber. The gun will then be ready to fire. Once you pull the trigger the slide cycles backwards ejecting the empty brass case, then the slide moves forward again and pulls another round from the magazine into the chamber.
Please view this short video showing the cycling of a semi-automatic pistol:
Revolvers function with a rotating cylinder that has multiple chambers. Ammunition is loaded into the chambers in the cylinder, and once the cylinder is closed the gun will be ready to fire. When you pull the trigger the shot is fired, and the cylinder then rotates to the chamber with the next available round. The empty brass cases of the rounds you fired stay in the chambers until you remove them.
Please view this brief video explaining the cycling of a revolver:
Which should you buy? Several factors will determine your purchase decision. The first question you should ask yourself is for what purpose do you want to buy a handgun? In most instances you would probably not buy the same gun for concealed carry as you would if you wanted to become involved in competitive shooting sports. If you want something for concealed carry, you probably prefer something small, compact and fairly light weight. If you want a competition handgun, you want something full size with a longer barrel and more weight to better dampen recoil.
Another question you should consider thinking about is what feels like it best fits your hand? A revolver will feel different than a semi-auto. Do you want a pistol with a steel or metal frame, or a semi-auto with a polymer frame? Does the grip angle feel natural? Do you or don’t you like finger grooves on the grip? How much hand and upper body strength do you have? Some ladies have a difficult time “racking the slide” of a semi (pulling the slide rearward), whereas they might have an easier time with simply pushing a cylinder release button on a revolver (this pops the cylinder outward for loading). HOWEVER, ladies – don’t be led to believe that a semi-automatic is too complicated for you to figure out! There seems to be a misconception that women can’t control or operate a semi-automatic pistol, especially if they are a beginner. I beg to differ! When I first began shooting I started with a revolver. Don’t get me wrong, they are great handguns, but I simply did not enjoy shooting them. Once I switched over to shooting a polymer frame semi-auto, then I knew that was the proper firearm for me. Not only was the semi-auto easier on my hand, the unloading and reloading of the gun was much faster.
If you are generally unfamiliar with handguns and have little to no shooting experience, how comfortable are you with learning how to operate a semi-automatic? A semi-auto will take more familiarization to get comfortable with, and you must learn and understand how external safeties work (if you buy a gun that has them – some do, some don’t). You must also know how to clear a misfeed or malfunction in a semi-auto should one occur.
How much ammunition do you want to have available? Generally, revolvers will limit you to five (for smaller models) or six rounds (for larger models) before the gun is empty and you have to reload. Semi-automatics range from six rounds (in small pistol) up to 17 rounds (in full size pistols). Many manufacturers offer “extended” magazines, which can further increase your ammunition capacity, some up to 22+ rounds.
If you are buying a handgun for concealed carry, WHERE are you going to conceal it? On your body? Or in a purse or coat pocket? The key point to remember here is that a semi-auto has a slide that must have room to cycle backwards and forwards, and when it cycles it ejects the brass out through the ejection port. Is the movement of the slide going to be hindered or snagged in your purse or jacket pocket (should you have to shoot through them)?
How much are you willing to spend? Prices of guns will vary depending on the manufacturer and the current popularity of what you want to get (high demand and low availability may mean paying a premium price). Do you want something new or will you settle for something used? Will you need extra magazines for a semi-automatic? How much is the cost of the ammunition, and is the ammo easy to find? How much will you have to pay each time you go to the range to practice? What’s the cost of a good holster (and a sturdy, quality belt) or concealed carry purse? Are you going to buy some type of gun safe? Do you want to buy and put on different grips or sights? If you want to take firearms training lessons or take a class to get your permit to carry concealed, what are the costs of those things? Don’t forget you need to buy eye and ear protection and a gun cleaning kit or cleaning supplies. You will find that there is more to consider in cost than just purchasing the gun itself.
Ultimately, I can’t (and won’t) tell YOU what you should buy. I can’t know what are your unique, personal circumstances that will determine what is really best for you or your household situation. Purchasing a handgun is an important decision, and you should make the right choice that you’ll be HAPPY with – the first time! Although many people will give you well intended advice, please make your choice based on your opinion and what you think is right for you. John offers a Step 1 class where you can shoot different caliber semi-autos and revolvers before you buy. This is a great opportunity for you to find out what you do or don’t like before you make that purchase decision.
REMEMBER: SAFETY AND RESPONSIBLE GUN OWNERSHIP BEGINS WITH YOU! Always practice the rules of gun safety:
Learn more about John and Mel’s handgun training in the Raleigh NC area:
Send an email to: at mail@JohnZSr.com or Call 919 397-3060