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The Pistol vs. The Revolver

Aug 17, 2007
The term " pistol " is frequently applied indiscriminately to the single-shot pistol and the revolver. A marked distinction between these arms has gradually been developed.

The pistol is now recognized as a single-shot arm, adapted for a light charge and designed to secure extreme accuracy. Its use is limited almost exclusively to target and exhibition shooting.

The modern revolver is an arm with a revolving cylinder holding five or six cartridges, which are at the instant command of the shooter before it is necessary to reload. It is designed for heavy charges, and is a practical and formidable weapon. Revolvers are made in great variety, and adapted for various purposes, such as military service, target shooting, pocket weapons, etc.

The best grades of pistols and revolvers may be had at a reasonable price. The cheap grades with which the market is at all times flooded should be avoided. They are incapable of doing good work, and frequently are positively dangerous, on account of being made of inferior materials.

The magazine or automatic pistol is the latest type of hand firearm. It is a multishot pistol in which the mechanism is operated automatically by the recoil. Pulling the trigger is the only manual operation necessary to fire successive shots until the supply of cartridges in the magazine (usually six to ten) is exhausted.

The first models were introduced about 1898. These had many defects and objections, such as failure to function regularly, danger in manipulation due to insufficient safety devices, poor balance, unsightly lines, etc. Nevertheless the advantages of this type of arm over the revolver for military purposes in effective range, rapidity of fire, accuracy, interchangeability, etc., were soon recognized and manufacturers were encouraged to improve and perfect them.

Practically all the mechanical defects referred to have been corrected, the balance and the lines improved, and safety devices introduced so that these arms are now well adapted for military use and are rapidly superseding the revolver as service weapons in the United States army and navy. A synopsis of the severe tests leading to the adoption of a magazine pistol by the War Department of the United States government may be found in the Appendix.

The revolver and the magazine pistol are used for military service. To fulfill the requirements these arms must be strong, very durable, and withstand a great amount of hard usage without becoming disabled. The effectiveness, or "stopping power," is of prime importance. The caliber should be large, the bullet should have a blunt point, and the powder charge should be sufficiently powerful to give a penetration of at least six inches in pine. There was a tendency some years ago to reduce the caliber of military revolvers. While this resulted in increased velocity and penetration, and reduced the weight of the ammunition, it did not improve the stopping power of the arms.

The ineffectiveness of the .38 caliber service revolver charge was frequently complained of by the officers and men serving in the Philippine Islands. This was due to the light powder charge and the conoidal shaped point of the bullet. To remedy this weakness .45 caliber revolvers were issued for the Philippine service, and a new .45 caliber cartridge designed to which magazine pistol manufacturers were invited to adapt and arm. Unfortunately this new cartridge, which is now the service ammunition, has also a conoidal pointed bullet, is not well proportioned, and consequently develops only a part of its stopping power possibilities.
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