The Myth of the .38 Snub Nose Revolver as a Good First Gun

October 3 2013
by GSL Staff
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Stock Gun Photo - Revolver and BulletsWe’ve all seen it in a gun shop. Maybe we’ve even been the recipient of the sales pitch.

“Looking for a first gun, huh? Well you can’t go wrong with a .38 snub nose revolver. We have this super lightweight titanium model here, weighs next to nothing. Here, let me get you some +P+ rounds for it…”

I’m not sure when the snub nose revolver became the de-facto choice for a first gun, or why gun shops push them in this role so hard. You see them especially pushed on women.

However, mastering a snub nose, especially one of the newer, ultra-light weight models, especially with high pressure loads, is one of the hardest things to master. It requires tons of practice with a gun that really isn’t too much fun to shoot. This is especially true of more modern revolvers which often incorporate additional internal safeties which makes the trigger pull even longer and heavier.

The trigger pull is usually very long and heavy. Sights are usually small and hard to pick up. The sight radius is extremely short. Firing one of these guns quickly and accurately for follow up shots takes tons of practice to deal with the stout recoil. Snubbys generally aren’t too much fun to shoot. Depending on the loading and the grips on the gun, it can downright hurt some shooters. No one wants to practice with a gun that isn’t fun to shoot. Less practice means worse shooting when it counts.

Now, there are certainly some big pluses to the snubby category of guns. They are lightweight, easy to conceal, very safe to carry (due to that long and heavy trigger pull), ultra reliable and use a somewhat respectable round (depending on the load you’re carrying). Perhaps these reasons are why the snubby is so overwhelmingly recommended to new shooters and women.

However, these pros don’t mean too much when the shooter can’t accurately shoot the gun past 3 yards.

Every new shooter I’ve ever taken to the range has enjoyed two types of firearms the most – .22 pistols of various types and full size 9mm striker fired pistols. Full size, all steel revolvers with real sights are also popular.

I think new shooters enjoy the full size 9mm (in my case either a Glock 19/17 or a S&W M&P) for a variety of reasons. The larger size of the gun allows them to get a better grip which helps mitigate recoil and inspires more confidence. These guns have real sights with a decent sight radius. The weight of the gun helps absorb recoil much better than a small gun. Also, 9mm, in standard pressure loadings, is a very forgiving round, but is also the bare minimum most people consider for a self defense round.

Now some people might think I’m hating on the snubby for self defense. Nothing could be further from the truth. I actually carry an all steel .38 snubby every single day, even if I’m carrying something bigger on my belt. However, it took me a long time to get to a point where I could get multiple rounds on target, using full powered self defense loads in a short amount of time. Many instructors say if you’re going to carry a snubby for self defense you should be able to do the 5/5/5 drill, 5 shots in less than 5 second with a grouping of less than 5″. It takes more practice than you may think.

Most shooters (not all, but most) will be able to become proficient with other gun types in a shorter amount of time than it takes to become proficient with a snubby.

So what is the best recommendation for a new shooter. Well, there isn’t one. If you’re planning on buying your first gun, you should try to put your hands on as many guns as possible and shoot as many guns as possible. Everyone has different hand shapes, sizes and finds different types of sights easier to use. The best first gun is the one that you can shoot most accurately. Once you find that, then you can start fine tuning your decision based on weight, concealability, caliber, etc.

It is almost insulting that some gun shops still push the snubby on new shooters and women. I guess these guys think that these types of new gun owners don’t have the intelligence to learn the operation of a gun that would probably be a much better match for them.

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