By Mike Askew
Since the mid-1980s, American firearm manufacturers have been reporting that semi-auto pistols are outselling revolvers. This is due to technological advances resulting in increased reliability, modern bullet design, and increased magazine capacity. Although large frame revolvers (Smith & Wesson “L” and “N” frames, the Colt Anaconda, Cobra, and Python series, and the Ruger family of firearms) have always enjoyed brisk sales among hunters & target shooters, those interested in the personal defense aspects of handgun ownership have been turning to self-loading pistols. Although semi-autos continue to make up almost 70% of handgun sales, the market has seen a resurgence of one particular type of revolver—the small, lightweight, easily carried and concealed firearm.
When The Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994 limited the sale of high capacity (more than 10 rounds) magazines to military and law enforcement agencies only, manufacturers and law-abiding citizens who carry handguns for self-defense began to look at large caliber (.38 Special and above), lightweight revolvers as a “carry” alternative to semi-auto pistols. The major advantages of these revolvers are: ability to handle any type of bullet design, operational simplicity, an even trigger pull, small size, ability to be fired multiple times while concealed and they are manufactured in “major” calibers. The main disadvantages of these guns are limited ammunition capacity and slowness to reload. With the civilian market showing increased interest in “carry” revolvers, manufacturers began to produce new products to increase the small-revolver market niche. Colt’s Manufacturing began offering a 21 ounce, 6 round, stainless steel, .357 magnum revolver to compete with the Smith & Wesson 23 ounce, 5 round model 649 in .357 magnum. In a breakthrough in the technology of machining titanium, Smith & Wesson has recently released a 12 ounce, 5 shot, .357 magnum/.38 Special +P revolver with a scandium alloy frame, shroud and yoke with a titanium cylinder. Even though the noxious Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994 was not renewed, these small revolvers have taken the self-defense handgun market by storm and are selling at close to manufacturers suggested retail price when and if they can be found.
Although these new models are a possible answer to the “What should I carry” dilemma that many citizens face, the problems of limited ammunition capacity and slow reloading remain. Former U.S. Border Patrol Officer Bill Jordan, the fastest and most accurate modern-day gunfighter, was a strong believer in the old adage: “Speed’s fine but accuracy’s final.” Since his duty revolver (S&W Model 19 Combat Magnum) only held 6 rounds and since a combat reload was so time-consuming, he felt that accuracy was paramount.
When reloading is a “must”, there are several ways to perform an emergency speed reload of a revolver and several accessories to aid in the reloading effort. Most knowledgeable trainers of civilians carrying in the concealed mode teach reloading the cylinder from a Bianchi Speed Strip. These small-rubberized plastic strips hold 6 cartridges by the cartridge base and are much more cancelable and easy to carry than a conventional, circular “speed loader.” There is a correct way to reload the revolver from a Speed Strip and, like other operations requiring manual dexterity, this method must be practiced to be successful. The emergency reloading procedure for right-handed shooters follows:
- Slip the support hand (left hand) under the revolver so as to allow 2 fingers and the thumb to gain control of the cylinder. The firing hand (right hand) thumb operates the cylinder release latch to open the cylinder and the 2 fingers of the support hand on the right side of the cylinder open it. The support hand thumb controls the outward swing of the cylinder.
- The support side hand now controls the firearm and the firing hand is removed from the gun.
- The support hand rotates the butt of the gun down and the support thumb smartly depresses the ejector rod to eject the cases. (Note: Additional time and dexterity is required to separate and remove only empty cases from the cylinder—therefore both fired and any unfired rounds are ejected during this procedure.) When empty, rotate the revolver to the proper loading angle while the firing hand moves to obtain and correctly position the Speed Strip.
- The firing hand should position and insert 2 rounds at a time into the top, outside positions (9-12 o’clock) of the cylinder. Once the rounds are inserted, a slight twist of the Speed Strip will release them and they will gravity feed into position. Use the support hand thumb to rotate the cylinder so that 2 more rounds can be loaded into the top, outside positions. Continue to fully reload. When loaded, close the cylinder with the support hand, drop the Speed Strip, obtain a firing grip and get back into the fight.
Learning motor skills as described above requires physical and mental programming. Once thoroughly programmed however, little conscious thought is required to perform them. This should be the “practitioner’s” goal since time is precious and armed confrontations can be unforgiving of improper gun handling.