Is the Revolver Still Relevant in Law Enforcement Service?

It depends. As a primary sidearm for the Front-Line Officer, absolutely not; not even in Mayberry. For a Detective, Narcotics Investigator, Undercover Officer, Administrative Officers, or as a backup gun; absolutely, it is relevant, and sometimes preferred.

For a primary gun for non-line officers, and as a backup gun for patrol, the revolver offers several advantages:

They are easily concealed in the pocket, on the ankle, and even on the belt. Shrouded or concealed hammer versions are quicker on the draw, and being more rounded than an auto, they tend to snag less, and look less like a gun under a concealment garment when using a properly designed concealment holster.

They are not dependent on a locked wrist to function for multiple shots. In a close range, entangled shooting situation, if the gun is held at a strange angle or the barrel is pressed into the deadly force threat, the gun will still fire (usually, multiple shots) instead of having a malfunction induced after the first round, or worse yet, before you can even fire. I know of many people that can produce a revolver from the pocket and make a head shot at bad breath distances, in just over a half a second. This is not just skill and ability. It has to do with the revolver’s profile when coming out of a side front pocket, as well as, the trigger (mostly 8-12 lbs.) which makes it theoretically “safer” than a weapon with a lighter trigger. Heavy triggers do NOT equate safety, however, in a pocket gun, they give just enough extra margin for error, that they are a good idea.  (We will address trigger weight, extra safeties, and more in the same theme in an upcoming post.)

A common myth of snub nose revolvers is that they are only able to be used at close distances. As my friend and colleague, Claude Werner, is famous for coining the statement “The snubby is only an arm’s length gun, if you are incompetent.” Almost all of the guys that shoot with me on a regular basis can reliably get A-zone hits on 25 and 50 yard targets, from the draw, under compressed times. Many of that same crew can routinely hit 100 yard human sized targets in the chest with a snubby. If you have solid fundamentals, there is no disadvantage to the snub nose revolver in regards to accuracy.

As for holsters for the snubby, let’s look at a few of them:

Pocket: Try for a very thick synthetic, that does not flop around. It may close when the gun is removed, but isn’t so thin as to twist around in the pocket. Leather is preferable for the task of a pocket holster, specifically, horsehide, which is thicker, and more resistant to sweat and salt. Lastly, we have kydex pocket holsters. They are functional in a sense, but that’s about all I can say good about them. They are hard, rigid, uncomfortable, print horribly, and are just all around the last thing I would personally spend money on for a pocket holster. I would take a homemade milk jug pocket holster over any kydex custom pocket holster made today, even if someone gave it to me. Regardless, carry the gun in an actual holster. This separates the gun from anything else in the pocket. I got it, you don’t out anything in the pocket but the revolver, and even if you slip up, it has a long and heavy enough pull that it won’t be an issue if an errant object makes it into the trigger guard. That works real swell until the you are in a rush or have a lapse in memory, and shove something down into that pocket with the gun without the holster. Then there is a bang, and if you are lucky, you get to go around half cocked the rest of your life, or you can hit the femoral and bleed out. Whatever. Your life, your choice, but you probably should have some kind of pocket holster……….

Belt – Inside or Outside the Waistband: This one needs to stay open after you pull the gun out. You need to be able to both draw, and holster it with one hand. Again, leather is preferred for a concealment rig due to comfort and concealability. I would highly suggest a thumb break for retention if this is to be used in any capacity other than off duty concealment, or undercover. Please do not perform the functions of an Administrator, CID, or any other unit that you are easily identified as a peace officer, with a gun in a holster with zero active retention. If you have even the remotest chance that you will have to arrest someone, act in the capacity as a peace officer, and are around anyone in the general public; please have active retention on you holster. It doesn’t take a lot for us to become complacent and get too comfortable. The level one (thumb break, SERPA, T-Series, or ALS) gives enough extra security that may be an edge you need that you never knew you needed until you need it.

Ankle – Leather is preferred, and kydex is fine (if it has an active retention device). If you have to move at a brisk pace, the retention device will come in really handy. Leather and kydex are generally molded to the gun, acting as a form of passive retention. Cheap nylon holsters, or even spandex type holsters will not retain the gun properly in foot pursuits or aggressive movements. You only have to have the gun slip out of the holster once to learn this lesson. Take my advice for what it is worth, and get retention on your ankle rig.

Clips – Back in the day there was a set of stocks called the Barami Hip Grip. It had an extended tab that allowed you to slip the revolver into the waistband, and the stocks had a lip that went over the belt or pants waistband. Today, DeSantis makes a version of it. I have personally had these type arrangements work their way lose and slip down my pant leg. Needless to say, I am not a fan. If you are going to use a clip, without a holster, look for the metal version. Specifically, the one that attaches to the revolver by replacing two of the frame screws to hold it securely to the gun. These are metal, and work ok for certain tasks. Avoid the kind that glue on. Anything that attaches to a gun with glue only is a very bad idea.

Change the Gun, Change the Tactics

Considering that the snubby is a 5-6 round gun (depending on make and caliber), your tactics should change somewhat. I have heard some say that if they drew a snub they would run it dry into the threat. I think this is highly reckless for several reasons. You cannot predict how many rounds any particular threat will need. If the threat only needs 3, why fire 5? As moral, ethical peace officers and humans, we only use the minimum amount of force that is necessary for the specific threat, on an individual basis.

The standard response we are primarily trained is to fire 2 rounds to the torso. If that does not work, we aim for the head, if it is an available target. Doing this with a snubby depletes more than 50% of your on-board ammo. That is fine if you are dealing with a single threat. You may need to look at alternative responses with a gun that holds only 5. For example, consider 1 round to the torso and 1 to the head. This gives you enough for at least 2 threats, and have a round left over for a third, if it is a single, targeted head shot. Now having said all this, every situation you encounter will be unique and different. These examples are here to get you to start thinking that there is not a cookie cutter solution to everything. Use your mind and ability to think, since that is your most important and devastating weapon.

Spare Ammo

Carry it, even if you don’t think you will need it. Carrying spare ammo for a revolver is a compromise. There are basically two different types of ammo carriers for it that are practical. One is the speed loader. It is bulky, and not the easiest thing to conceal if you are going for concealment, and you probably are if you are carrying a snub. Speed loaders are, however, the fastest way to reload it. Of the speed loaders, the SL Variant, Jet Comp, and Safarianld Comp series are the slickest and most reliable of the breed. They print through a pocket, and need a belt holder to be of much use. If you are willing to deal with the extra bulk and equipment, then by all means go with it, speed loaders are the fastest option.

Your other option are speed strips. They are highly concealable, and fit fine in a pocket without a holder. They generally carry 6 rounds, but are slow to load the gun with. If the gun is designed to carry 5, then carry 5 in it. Putting 6 in the speed strip isn’t the advantage some think it is. Also, there was/is a technique of carrying only 4 rounds in it, spread a part. The theory is that this will get the rounds in the gun quicker, and you are only giving up 1 round. The problem with this is that you never know which cylinder will be the empty one, which can be a huge problem when you least expect it. I do understand getting it loaded quickly, and if you are comfortable with only having 4 spare rounds, by all means go with it, just be aware of the benefits and downfalls of your choices.

There are still dump pouches and 2x2x2 pouches. The problem with those are that they run the risk of dumping rounds on the ground while you are moving. You are moving when you have the chance, right? The pouches containing rounds not retained by a speed strip or speed loader offer very few advantages, and many disadvantages with the knowledge we have gained about tactics today. They are still better than carrying lose rounds in the pocket, so they do have that going for them.

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