SKILLS: Did the Single-Stack Nine Kill the Carry Revolver?


As goes the duty gun so goes the concealed gun… Are small revolvers a dying breed? Read more…

single-stack 9 vs. snubnose revolver

SOURCE: Shooting Illustrated

Once upon a time, police officers who patrolled our streets carried revolvers on their hips. Guns like the Colt Police Positive and the Smith & Wesson Model 19 were their primary defensive firearm, and they toted .38 Spl. snub-nosed carry revolvers like the Detective Special and J-Frames for backup guns and when they were off duty.

They carried those small revolvers because they were easy to conceal and had a manual of arms that was more or less the same as the guns they carried for a living. The snub-nosed carry revolver also had the advantage of using essentially the same type of ammunition as their service revolvers, so the transition from full-sized service revolver to compact concealed-carry gun meant dealing with more recoil and less accuracy from the smaller gun, but that was about it.

Today, though, police officers are far more likely to carry a Glock or a SIG Sauer or a Smith & Wesson M&P semiautomatic pistol for a duty gun than they are a .38 Spl. or .357 Mag. revolver, and guns like the Smith & Wesson Shield, Ruger LC9s, and the Glock G43 are reflecting that new reality. Smaller, lighter and easier to conceal than their full-sized cousins, small single-stack 9mms are becoming a popular option for people who want to carry a pistol with them, but find that carrying a larger gun like a Glock G19 or SIG P320 is just too much to deal with on a day in, day out basis. I myself prefer carrying a larger pistol whenever I can, but there are times when the occasion demands more discretion than firepower, and that’s where the thinness and light weight of a single-stack 9mm really comes through.

A miniature 9mm also offers you the advantages of the same manual of arms your larger gun. If you’re used to a striker-fired gun, the operation of the Ruger LC9s or Glock G43 will seem like second nature to you, just like the operation of snub-nosed revolvers mimic the operation of their larger cousins. My fingers goes naturally to the magazine release on my 9 mm Smith & Wesson Shield because that’s where it is on the large semi-automatic pistols that I occasionally carry, and the methods I use to clear malfunctions are pretty much the same between those guns as well.

The reasons to carry a subcompact, single-stack 9mm over a larger pistol are also essentially the same as reasons to carry a small revolver instead of full-sized gun. With the right holster and appropriate cover garment, it’s fairly easy to discretely carry a full-size 9mm on a daily basis without tipping people off that you’re carrying a pistol with you. However, it’s even easier to conceal a smaller gun, and a smaller gun also opens other options, like pocket carry, that are even more discreet.

When it comes to defensive applications, the subcompact single-stack 9mm has several advantages over snub-nosed revolvers. The thinner, slimmer design of the semi-automatic means it can slide into locations for concealed carry that aren’t available to thicker, bulkier revolvers, although, counter-intuitively, I’ve found that unless you pay attention to holster choice, a small .38 Spl. revolver forms an indistinct lump in a front pocket that’s easily mistaken for a wallet and keys, while the flatter, more angular form of a mini 9 mm sticks out and says “gun” more readily.

Another advantage of a mini-9mm over small revolver is ammunition capacity. Subcompact single stacks typically have at least six rounds of ammunition in the magazine and one more in the chamber, and extended magazines that pack in eight rounds or more are common. By comparison, six rounds is the maximum amount of ammo in most pocket revolvers, with five rounds being the more common option available.

Firing a full-power cartridge from a pint-sized frame, sub-compact 9 mm pistols can be a handful to shoot, just like their smaller, lighter weight revolver cousins, and there are many factors working against shooting a small 9mm quickly and accurately. The short sight radius of a pocket gun can affect accuracy and their smaller size means there is less of the gun to hold on to as it recoils. Also, the lighter weight of a subcompact gun means there is less gun mass to soak up recoil, slowing down follow-up shots, and less mass to resist a bad trigger pull, which can dramatically influence accuracy.

Whether or not a subcompact single-stack 9mm is a good choice over a small revolver is up to you and your set of circumstances. For myself and many other gun owners in America, though, those trade-offs in accuracy and firepower are worth having a small, easily-concealable defensive pistol with features and functionality that mimic the larger, full-size defensive pistols we use in competition and in our jobs.


5 thoughts on “SKILLS: Did the Single-Stack Nine Kill the Carry Revolver?”

  1. I don’t think revolvers will ever go out of style. I understand that despite the appearance of all of these single stack semi-autos, revolver sales are still up. They are reliable and still function if you jam the barrel up against an attacker during a struggle.

    1. Very true. Many people who carry don’t train like they should. A five shot revolver in the hands of a trained person is very effective.

  2. For what it’s worth, revolvers are not dead as carry guns. And I really don’t see (people I know) carrying single stack 9’s much. Most of them lean toward double stacks, magazine capacity seems to be important to them. Personally, 9 or 40 caliber single stack most of the time. Not polymer though, steel or alloy frame. If out hiking, then it’s larger caliber 45acp or 357 or 44 revolver. Just depends where I am going for how long.

  3. The small autos (I own a few) are very hard to rack the slides especially women or someone with arthritis..Clearing a malfunction is almost impossible in this case..A couple less rounds in a very reliable platform which is easy to use is a big advantage for those folks..The simplicity of maintaining and cleaning the revolver for many that don’t spend a lot of time with firearms is also a plus..

Comments are closed.