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Revolvers Are for Amateurs

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"Revolvers tend to be easier to use than automatics, especially for amateurs. Their mechanism is simpler, and it's easier to learn how to operate them, and you're less likely to make mistakes with them."
Tamaru, 1Q84

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 than a professional who has more money invested in his firearms. Additionally, 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 non-existent (such as The Wild West), or for those who still venerate weapons from such periods as embodying the Good Old Ways. Doesn't count for characters experienced in gunfighting who use small revolvers as backups to other, larger weapons or for easy concealment. Doesn't count for characters who use a Hand Cannon, unless they're specifically called out as being out of their depth and unable to handle it.

See also Little Useless Gun, if it's the gun itself that's perceived as non-threatening, rather than the person holding it — there may be considerable crossover, of course.

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



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    Anime & Manga 
  • City Hunter: Although many professional gun users featured in the series tend to use revolvers, and they know how to use them, revolvers appeared also in the hands of amateurs, who tend to get humiliated when going against professionals (whether those professionals are using revolvers themselves or not), or even a disarmed Ryo.
  • Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex has the Laughing Man, a hacker with clearly limited fighting experience, holding Ernest Serano at gunpoint with a six-shooter. This is an interesting contrast to Togusa, who uses a revolver across the series more out of a preference for the old-fashioned than any sort of lack of experience compared to his automatic-packing partners.
  • The first gun Takashi is able to use in High School Of The Dead is a snubnose revolver, which he uses for point-blank shooting. He later passes it off to his friend Kohta and uses a shotgun for the rest of the series. Kohta himself ditches the revolver once he gets his hands on a high-power police rifle.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • 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.
  • Little Shop of Horrors: Seymour, a man clearly not predisposed to violence, carries a revolver when he goes to kill Orin. He's so lacking in confidence with the firearm that he never actually uses it, Orin instead accidentally killing himself.
  • In The Godfather, Clemenza provides Michael a .38 snub nose revolver to kill Sollozzo and McClusky. While he is a former Marine and World War II hero, this is his first foray into the "family business".
    Sonny: You think it's like in the army, you shoot 'em a mile away? You gotta get right up close and bada-BING! You blow their brains all over your nice, Ivy-League suit!
  • Clarence, the male protagonist of True Romance, favours a snubnose revolver as his Weapon of Choice. The one person he does kill with it brutally beats him beforehand and he ends up leaving his driver's licence at the scene, putting The Mafia on his trail. He tries to partake in the final shootout and gets shot in the eye for his trouble before he can fire a shot, though he does survive.
  • In Atomic Blonde, the only character to have a revolver, is Delphine - the out-of-her-depth French operative (although as a .357 magnum, it's actually a more powerful gun that most others in the film).


    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 (who suggest a revolver specifically because Walt is inexperienced).
  • 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. Booth later uses the gun to shoot a bad guy through a solid metal door.
  • 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.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Necromunda features plasma cannons, grenade launchers, web-shooting pistols, and even an average gang member can expect to be armed with a laser rifle. Your gang's raw recruits however, are so ineffective and disposable that they are often armed with only a stub revolver....

    Video Games 
  • Probably why Alan Wake, a thriller writer with supposedly limited experience with firearms, primarily uses a revolver. He even mentions to the local sheriff that he'd never used a gun until the first time he picked one up during the game.
  • 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.
  • In the Resident Evil 2 (remake), 19 year old college student Claire Redfield starts off armed with a snubnose 9mm revolver. Notably, Claire is one of the few protagonists in the franchise who has no formal combat training, the closest thing she has to that is being informally taught by her brother Chris in at least the basics of self-defense.

    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 occasionally to stop the spring from losing tension and causing the gun to misfeed after a single shot.
    • Although it should be noted that it is vastly more preferable for an amateur to get started not with a snubnose, but with a duty-size revolver with a minimum 3" barrel, and a 4 - 6" barrel would be even better. A snubnose's small size means much more recoil, less room on the handles to get a good grip, a shorter sight radius that makes aiming more difficult, and a shorter ejector rod which makes reloading more difficult since the short rod does not always fully push out all the empty casings. A beginner can probably handle even the powerful .357 Magnum cartridge out of a 4" Smith & Wesson 686 or a heavy 6" Ruger GP100, but putting the same cartridge in a sub-2" Ruger LCR or S&W Model 360 Airweight will likely result in a terrible time at the shooting range with its small size and light weight being insufficient to absorb the heavy recoil and beating up the shooter's hand.
  • Semiautomatics generally have more efficient internal ballistics than revolvers, with locked chambers, layouts that allow for longer barrels in the same overall frame size, and equivalent performance from smaller cartridges. This is most noticeable when seeking out compact handguns, of the type most commonly carried concealed by civilians. Compared to full-sized versions of each type of handgun, compact semiautomatics deliver much more muzzle energy than snubnosed revolvers, which lose as much as half of their muzzle energy relative to full-sized revolvers firing the same caliber.note  This tends to make compact semiautomatics more credible "pocket rockets" from a stopping power standpoint (though revolvers still have some advantage in reliability).
  • China was drawing on this trope when the government decided to begin arming police officers with revolvers after a devastating terrorist attack in March 2014. The Ministry of Public Security specifically noted that the revolver was "simple to operate, reliable, and durable," considerations which were particularly important for a police force where the majority of officers had zero experience using firearms.


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