revolver vs semi auto handgun
September 27, 2022

Guide to Buying Your First Handgun

If you have even the slightest familiarity with handguns, you’ll know that the two main kinds are revolvers and semi-automatics. If you’re looking to buy your first handgun, you may be stuck with which one is the right choice.

Although there are many opinions out there about semi-autos vs. revolvers, it isn’t true to say that one is better than the other. Revolvers and semi-autos each have their advantages and disadvantages.

Depending on your experience level, caliber preference, ammo capacity needs, and budget, you should be able to figure out which one is right for you. If you’re still unsure, a couple examples will be covered.

Purpose for Having a Handgun

Before you dive right into buying a revolver or purchasing a semi-auto handgun, take a moment to think about why you need a handgun. Common motivations for wanting a handgun are self-defense, recreational shooting, or a combination of both.

Your intended use for a handgun will dictate whether a revolver or semi-auto is a good fit. As far as self-defense goes, if you need a handgun for home defense, your choice may be different if you need one for concealed carry.

Both semi-autos and revolvers are well suited for both self-defense and recreational shooting, but in general, the added ammo capacity of semi-autos make them better for concealed carry. For home defense, the easy to use and dependable action of a revolver can sometimes be a better option.

Experience Level

Even more than your intended use for a handgun, your experience level with firearms is the most important factor in deciding between a semi-auto or revolver.

Revolvers have fewer moving parts and are easier to operate and reload. For this reason, revolvers are best reserved for true beginners. In the rare event a malfunction occurs, the shooter only needs to keep pulling the trigger, which is an easy thing to remember even under stress.

If you have some experience with firearms and have been shooting enough times to be proficient and comfortable with handguns, a semi-auto is the best option. Semi-auto handguns have a greater ammo capacity, are available in more calibers, and often have lighter trigger pulls.

With a little bit of practice and experience, maintaining and dealing with malfunctions with a semi-auto can become second nature.

Caliber Preferences

Another thing to consider when choosing between a revolver and semi-auto handgun is what caliber you want to shoot.

Some calibers are only chambered in revolvers, while others are only available in semi-autos. If you have your heart set on a certain caliber, the decision may have already been made for you. For example, if you’re dead set on 9mm, you’ll have to get a semi-auto handgun.

Calibers such as .38 special and .357 magnum on the other hand are only chambered in revolvers, so keep that in mind when deciding on a pistol caliber. However, most of the time you’ll choose a handgun first and the caliber comes secondary, so its not usually an issue.

Ammo Capacity Preferences

The biggest difference between revolvers and semi-autos is ammo capacity. While revolvers can only hold 5-6 rounds in a cylinder, semi-auto pistol magazines can hold between 6 to as much as over 20 rounds depending on the handgun model.

The other major difference between revolvers and semi-autos is reliability. In general, revolvers are more reliable because they consist of fewer parts, so they’re far less likely to malfunction. Semi-autos are prone to malfunction because of many moving parts and the complexity of the semi-auto mechanism.

When choosing between a semi-auto vs. a revolver, you need to ask yourself which is more important to you. Ammo capacity? Or reliability? If the answer is ammo capacity, a semi-auto will be your best bet. If your answer is reliability, go with a revolver.


Another less crucial while still important thing to consider is your budget for a handgun. While many revolvers and semi-autos can be purchased for similar prices, in general revolvers are less expensive.

If you have a limited budget, you may want to consider a revolver. However, this doesn’t mean you won’t be able to afford a semi-auto. You can still find affordable and good quality semi-autos, especially if you buy used.

With the popularity of semi-auto handguns, this is starting to change though. Soon, if not already, revolvers are starting to become the more expensive choice.

Beginner Friendly Options for a Revolver and Semi-Auto

If you’re still unsure of whether to choose between a revolver or a semi-auto, these examples should give you a good place to start.

As mentioned earlier, you need to decide whether ammo capacity or reliability is more important to you.

If reliability is the most important thing to you, a Smith and Wesson M&P Bodyguard in .38 special is an excellent choice. This is an affordable and easy to use revolver that will go bang every time.

If ammo capacity is important to you, the Glock 19 is a time proven classic. With a compact frame, a lot of possibility for customization, and a 15 round standard capacity magazine, it’s hard to beat.


There really is no right or wrong answer to the age-old debate between revolvers and semi-automatic handguns. If you can, you could have one of each in your collection for the best of both, but it’s not a necessity.

If you’re a true beginner and/or you value reliability, a revolver will be the best fit for you. On the other side, if you have even a little bit of experience with firearms and/or you value ammo capacity, you’ll be the most content with a semi-auto.

At the end of the day, the best way to decide on what handgun you should get is to hold and shoot as many different guns as you can so you can figure out which one you like best.