Revolvers Are For Amateurs

If a character who has little combat experience needs to kill someone or defend himself, chances are he's going to be packing a revolver, especially a snubnose revolver, instead of a semiautomatic. The less advanced design, smaller ammo capacity, and the shorter barrel are a good visual metaphor for the character's vulnerability and inexperience in combat.

One reason for this is that revolvers are simple and reliable firearms compared with more modern designs. There's a minimum of moving parts compared to a semi-automatic, they are less picky about what ammunition they'll take, and they don't jam under normal circumstances, so they're lower maintenance and more reliable for someone who doesn't have a lot of experience with firearms in general. Revolvers on the whole are usually cheaper, and therefore something you're more likely to find on an amateur rather then a professional who has more money invested in his firearms is also a contributing factor, and because of their inherently simpler design, a low-end revolver will outperform a cheaply-made automatic pistol in a walk, making them all the more attractive to those on a limited budget.

Doesn't count for characters who live in a time where semiautomatic handguns were rare, unreliable, or nonexistent. Doesn't count for characters experienced in gunfighting who use small revolvers as backups to other, larger weapons or for easy concealment. Also doesn't count for modern characters who are Western freaks.

Compare and/or contrast Revolvers Are Just Better, where someone who does know what they're doing decides to pack a wheelgun.

Examples:

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     Film 
  • David Della Rocco in The Boondock Saints is given a "six shooter" when his mafia bosses Papa Joe and Vincenzo set him up to be killed — unbeknownst to Rocco, he was being sent to kill nine guys instead of the two guys they told him he would have to kill. He later uses the gun in his first vigilante murder, killing two of his ex-associates before emptying the gun into the bartender.
  • Ray Ferrier in The War of the Worlds brings one with him when fleeing from the alien invasion.
  • Seen in Reservoir Dogs where Mr. Orange and Mr. White try to carjack a woman. The woman hastily pulls a snubnose revolver and manages to shoot Mr. Orange.
  • In Death Wish, Paul Kersey's first gun is a Colt revolver.
  • Pre-Batman Bruce Wayne wields a snubnose revolver in Batman Begins when he plans to kill Joe Chill. He later throws it in the river after Chill is gunned down by the mob and he is harshly chewed out for his intent by Rachel.
  • In Lethal Weapon, cautious family man Murtaugh carries a revolver, while the hot-shot badass Riggs carries an automatic. Riggs constantly calls him out on it. Lampshaded in Lethal Weapon 2, where Leo correctly guesses their weapons based on their personalities. Subverted in that Murtaugh is capable of doling out headshots with frightening accuracy and later carries a semi automatic pistol alongside his revolver as a backup weapon.
  • Big Trouble in Little China: When Jack, Wang, and Eddie arm themselves after breaking into Wing Kong territory, a humorous sequence has them trading guns, each attempting to get rid of the snub-nosed revolver in favor of the shotgun or SMG.
  • Nicholas Cage's character in Knowing decides he needs a gun, and appears very inexperienced, to the point of methodically reading the manual, and then proceeding to run around with his finger on the trigger, in direct violation of the many, many safety warnings in the manual. It appears to be a stainless N-frame Smith & Wesson with rosewood grips, so at least he has good taste.

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    Live-Action TV 
  • Noah Bennet in Heroes uses a snubnose revolver the first time he tries to kill a person with special abilities.
  • Perseus, a computer programmer, defends himself with a snubnose revolver in NBC's Chuck.
  • Threshold Shortly before going on a dangerous mission, Cavanaugh (who is experienced with guns) gives a revolver to Caffrey, who is not experienced with guns. She initially complains that he gave her "a girl-gun", but he clarifies that a revolver is more reliable and wont jam. He goes on to state that he'll give her shooting lessons when they have more time. While she doesn't use it on that mission, she does use it to save his life later.
  • Both Walter and Jesse of Breaking Bad seem unfamiliar with guns, and both end up buying small-to-medium sized revolvers when they need to arm themselves. Possibly subverted because Walter does so for a specific reason and on the advice of a competent-sounding dealer.
  • In the second season of Bones, Dr. Brennan acquires a S&W Model 500 revolver to use as her personal sidearm. Unfortunately, being chambered for .500 magnum, the pistol is ludicrously overpowered for her.
  • Spencer Reid from Criminal Minds switches to using a revolver sometime in series 4, possibly because of his issues with the standard-issue semi-automatics that he once failed his shooting qualification with in the first series.

    Video Games 
  • Probably why Alan Wake, a thriller writer with supposedly limited experience with firearms, primarily uses a revolver.
  • Invoked in the first The Godfather: You are a newcomer to the mob and the first gun you get from your mentor is a snubnose. You only get better weapons, including a genuinely Better Revolver, later. In contrast, the sequel has you established as a high-level made man from the start and your starting weapon is an automatic.
  • Receiver, a game that simulates using a gun as close as possible, features a Smith & Wesson Model 10. It is the easiest gun to use, because it has the least amount of mechanics that you can operate, thus making you less likely to screw up.

     Real Life 
  • This is absolutely Truth in Television. Revolvers are recommended for beginning shooters or people just looking for a weapon for home defense, due to their relatively low maintenance, ease of use, and high reliability. They can also be left loaded indefinitely, unlike semi-automatic pistols whose magazines need to be rotated fairly often to stop the spring from losing tension and causing the gun to misfeed after a single shot.