Definition Series - Part 7: "Revolver"
by Kirk Lawson

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In our continuing series of definitions for the firearms community we examined the legal definition for "handgun" and saw that it was, basically, a "gun" designed and intended to be fired with one hand. But there are different kinds of handguns. These are often times differentiated in the community by function, purpose, or mechanical design. One of the most popular of the broad categories is a "revolver."

Webster's defines a "revolver" as: "a handgun with a cylinder of several chambers brought successively into line with the barrel and discharged with the same hammer." The basic concept is one of the oldest ways to get more than one shot in a firearm, dating back to the late 16th century with flintlock revolving pepper-box designs. The principle difference in the mechanical design of modern revolvers is the cylinder; a concept which itself predates the U.S. Civil War.

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[The cylinder of a Ruger brand revolver]

In modern revolvers, self-contained metallic cartridges are "loaded" individually into each chamber of the cylinder.

Modern design revolvers are usually either Double-Action/Single-Action (DA/SA), or Double-Action-Only (DAO). [Check out the article on Actions and Hammers & Strikers]

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[Single Action revolver top, Double-Action/Single-Action revolver bottom]

There are a lot of slang names for revolvers. "Six-gun" is one popular slang name, referring to the typical number of chambers in a revolver cylinder. It is often applied to the classic "cowboy" style Single-Action revolver, but may be applied to any revolver. Another popular slang term is "wheel-gun," or "wheelie" for short, referencing the "revolving" nature of the design.

In the modern firearms community it is popular to make a distinction between the term "revolver" and the term "pistol," suggesting that the word "pistol" should be properly only applied to the semi-automatic handgun, which we will discuss in a future article. However, historically speaking, the term "pistol" significantly predates the design of the semi-automatic and was used to refer to any handgun of the period ranging from single-shot flintlocks to revolvers and, now, more modern designs. If you use the term "pistol" to refer to a "revolver" and someone tries to correct you, just smile, say "ok," and know that this is some poor soul suffering from "green belt syndrome." [Article - Green Belt Syndrome]

It should be noted that the number of chambers in a revolver cylinder is traditionally 6, but may be less or more depending on many factors. It could be 5 or 9 or some other count.