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The Gun Safe

Gun Question: Do Revolvers Jam?

Whilst the pro-revolver side of the latter debate will readily concede the advantages of the semiauto when it comes to “firepower”, i.e. ammo capacity, and speed of reloading, they’ll counter with, “But revolvers don’t jam” and “Six for sure!”

Revolver Shotgun Taurus Judge. Image Credit: Creative Commons.

Amongst the ongoing debates in the handgun enthusiast community – the equivalent of the endless Ford vs. Chevy debates in the automotive world – arguably the most intense arguments are 9mm vs. 45 ACP, double-action (DA) vs. single-action (SA) vs. striker-fired, and revolver vs. semiautomatic pistol.

Whilst the pro-revolver side of the latter debate will readily concede the advantages of the semiauto when it comes to “firepower”, i.e. ammo capacity, and speed of reloading, they’ll counter with, “But revolvers don’t jam” and “Six for sure!”

But how many of these claims are truth vs. old wives’ tales? Can and do revolvers actually jam?

Do Revolvers Jam? Short Answer: Yes

To expand on that, I turn to page 64 of Massad F. Ayoob’s excellent 1987 book “The Semiautomatic Pistol In Police Service and Self-Defense.” Atop that specific page is an eye-opening photo accompanied by this caption: 

“Auto pistol malfunctions must be kept in perspective: revolvers jam, too. This Smith & Wesson Model 65 service revolver is solidly jammed with .38 Special shell casing trapped under the ejector star, will take far longer to clear than most auto pistol stoppages.” As a side note, that’s no implication of the quality of the S&W M65; though no longer in production, it was a highly-respected option in Smith’s medium-sized K-frame wheelgun series. For further elaboration within the main body of the text, then-Lt. (now retired Capt.) Ayoob notes on pp. 32-33:

“While it is true that some autoloading pistols are more likely to ‘jam’ than the average revolver, it is also true that most auto pistol jams can be instantly cleared by the shooter himself, while most revolver jams will so thoroughly disable the gun that it won’t fire until it has been attended to by a gunsmith. A high primer on a cartridge case can tie a revolver’s cylinder up so tight that it not only won’t rotate to permit firing, but may require an armorer to pound the cylinder out of the frame with a rubber mallet … The most common revolver jam, a spent casing jammed under the ejector star of a Smith & Wesson, normally takes the average officer some ten seconds to clear, minimum, and requires special tools like the Persuader IV DeJammer if it is to be rectified any quicker.”

What Causes Revolver Jams?

For this, we turn to the Neckbone Armory website, specifically an article titled “Can Revolvers Jam? Common Causes And What To Watch For.” Therein, the author lists those common causes: Using an improper shooting technique; Loading the revolver incorrectly; Bullet creep; Bent ejector rod; and Bent moon clip (this last applies to revolvers chambered for autopisol cartridges such as .45 ACP or 9mm Parabellum). 

Regarding “improper shooting technique,” the most glaring example is the godawful thumb crossover grip that I see all too many shooters employ on the firing line; with autopistols, that grip invites “slide bite” on the thumb that ends up not only potentially jamming the pistol but also gets blood and gooey bits of flesh on the slide rails; with sixguns – or even fiveguns for that matter if you’re using a snubnose revolver – the thumb can slip upward and block the hammer, thus jamming the “wheelie.”

Personal Experiences with Revolver Malfunctions

The most recent – not to mention egregious – example of hands-on experience with a wheelgun malfunction that comes to mind was with the Taurus Judge .45 Colt/.410 shotshell combo DA revolver that my buddy Dr. Murray Bessette and I rented last month at Silver Eagle Group (SEG) indoor shooting range in Ashburn, Virginia. Granted, rental guns tend to take more abuse and accelerated wear and tear compared to a lot of individually owned firearms, ofttimes going longer-than-optimal time gaps and round counts between cleanings, but still, this one was, in the immortal words of Goober the cartoon dog, “Ridic-a-lick-a-lick-ulous!” 

To reiterate what I said in my verdict, er, review of the Judge, it “was a nightmare. The cylinder kept binding, and even when the cylinder turned, thumb-cocking for single-action (SA) and trigger-cocking for DA fire were both VERY rough!!” Doc Bessette had noticed some kind of burr on one of the chambers, by the extractor star; afterward, he commented that “The Judge needs to be impeached and disbarred.”

Now, one could simply chalk that up to the Judge being a junk gun, but I’ve had incidentals with high-quality, impeccably reputable wheelguns that I hold in very high personal regard. Think back to my “.357 Magnum Revolver 3-Way Range Showdown” that was published at the beginning of this month: two out of the three guns I fired for that eval – my personally-owned Colt King Cobra and the SEG rental Smith & Wesson Model 686 – gave me sticky cartridge extraction issues that required multiples activations of the ejector rod, and in some cases having to use my fingers to pull the partially ejected empties. In a static range environment, this was a mere annoyance, but in a real-life gunfight that involved the need for a speedy reload whilst the bad guys were still fighting, that sort of thing could’ve cost me my life.

The Ruger LCR 9mm Revolver. Image Credit: Creative Commons.

The Ruger LCR 9mm Revolver. Image Credit: Creative Commons.

I’ve also had instances in the past where the freshly-fired hot empty cases were practically fused against the cylinder walls, requiring me to tap the ejector rod with either a rubber mallet (shades of the “Mas” Ayoob passage I quoted earlier) or a heavy-duty multitool

Hopefully this dispels the old wives’ tales and slaughters a (proverbial) sacred cow for good measure (yes, I’m mixing metaphors). 

Christian D. Orr is a Senior Defense Editor for 19FortyFive. He has 34 years of shooting experience, starting at the tender age of 14. His marksmanship accomplishments include: the Air Force Small Arms Ribbon w/one device (for M16A2 rifle and M9 pistol); Pistol Expert Ratings from U.S. Customs & Border Protection (CBP), Immigration & Customs Enforcement (ICE), and the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center (FLETC) Criminal Investigator Training Program (CITP); multiple medals and trophies via the Glock Sport Shooting Foundation (GSSF) and the Nevada Police & Fires Games (NPAF). Chris has been an NRA Certified Basic Pistol Instructor since 2011.

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Written By

Christian D. Orr is a former Air Force officer, Federal law enforcement officer, and private military contractor (with assignments worked in Iraq, the United Arab Emirates, Kosovo, Japan, Germany, and the Pentagon).