Concealed Carry & Home Defense

Massad Ayoob: Maximizing Semi-Auto Handgun Performance

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By Massad Ayoob, Gun Digest

There are reasons why autoloaders are more popular than revolvers today. However, many fail to maximize semi-auto handgun performance by overlooking firepower and shootability.

It takes a five-shot and a six-shot .38 snub to equal the 11 rounds of 9mm held in the Glock 26, shown at right with Tactical Advantage sights. Author Photo

It takes a five-shot and a six-shot .38 snub to equal the 11 rounds of 9mm held in the Glock 26, shown at right with Tactical Advantage sights. Author Photo

While double-action revolvers still offer certain advantages in some tactical situations, law enforcement has followed the military into virtually total reliance upon the semi-automatic pistol as a sidearm.

However, many users don’t gain the full tactical potential these modern handguns offer. Let’s examine a few different areas.


Some purists like to say that firepower is an element that doesn’t kick in until the discussion reaches the level of squad automatic weapons. I beg to differ.

Firepower has been an advantage in any sort of human combat since the first two tribes of Cro-Magnons started throwing rocks at each other and figured out that whoever threw the most rocks fastest and straightest generally won. Unfortunately, many people who discuss firepower miss a word in that last sentence: straightest.

There are two components to handgun firepower: cartridge capacity when fully loaded, and reloading speed. It takes three six-shooters to equal the in-gun firepower of a Glock 17 pistol loaded to its full designed capacity of 18 9mm Luger cartridges.

That’s why the semi-auto, usually with double column magazine, is what you’ll likely find in the holster of your friendly neighborhood policeman, and why you may have to go to a police museum to find an example of the old .38 Police Special. Moreover, in a sustained firefight, a reload may become necessary with any firearm.

World Champion Jerry Miculek is on record firing six shots from his.45 revolver, reloading with a moon clip, and firing six more in an incredible 2.99 seconds overall. There is only one Jerry Miculek. Most folks take longer to recharge a wheel gun.

The single most popular revolver speedloader, the HKS brand, originally was advertised as the “Six Second Loader.” When you look at how long it takes to reload a revolver one cartridge at a time from cartridge loops or belt pouches, a six-second reload was indeed a major selling point, and that’s not a bad time for the average shooter to recharge his six-gun.

By contrast, a committed shooter can quickly learn to perform a two-second reload with a semi-automatic pistol. The spent magazine is ejected by the firing hand at the same time the support hand snatches a pre-loaded fresh magazine from the belt pouch, brings it to the pistol and slams it home. The slide is closed on the next live round, and the shooter is quickly back in business.

Maximizing Firepower


If you lawfully carry a gun, for heaven’s sake, carry spare ammunition. A spare magazine on the belt takes up less belt space than a six-loop slide of spare revolver cartridges, and bulges less than a single revolver speedloader in most comparisons.

A popular theme in gun forums when concealed carry is under discussion is, “Do you carry spare ammo?” There are always a few people who post, “Why should I? I’ve already got 16 rounds of 9mm in my Glock 19! When would I ever need more than that?”

To answer that question, since there’s no central repository gathering statistics from shootouts involving law-abiding armed citizens, we have to look at the police departments that keep track of such incidents involving their own officers.

True, the average guy with a CCW isn’t a cop, but he’s carrying that gun to protect himself and his family from the exact same bad guys the cops carry guns to protect us from. Seen in that light, the gun-carrying private citizen stands in the same shoes as the lone officer.

In the last statistics I was able to find from the NYPD and LAPD, three percent of the officers involved in gunfights in The Big Apple needed more than 16 shots to finish the fight, and five percent of the cops in shootouts in the City of Angels went past 16 rounds, too.

Three percent and five percent, respectively, doesn’t sound like a lot, until you ask yourself whether you’d turn down a raise in pay of that amount or extending your lifespan by three percent or five percent.

We can’t base our choices on averages because the very fact that you need to fire a gun to survive means that you’re already in a statistically improbable situation. There’s no such thing as a “statistically average aberration of the statistics.” Better to prepare for the worst.

Another reason to take advantage of the convenience and speed of a spare magazine on your person is that a huge number of auto pistol malfunctions involve a defective cartridge or a damaged magazine.

With many such stoppages, the quickest fix is to simply dump the bad magazine with the bad ammo, reload and start over. Thus, a spare magazine is the best, fastest fix for a jammed gun in many cases.

It’s important to remember that a substantial cartridge capacity doesn’t need to become a self-fulfilling prophecy. “Spray and pray” is an irresponsible strategy. We want to shoot our autos as we would a revolver that simply had a larger ammunition reservoir attached, just in case we needed more rounds.

This article is an excerpt from the Summer 2014 issue of Modern Shooter magazine, presented by Gun DigestBe sure to take advantage of Gun Digest’s free downloads to learn all about Gun ValuesAR-15 OpticsGlock Accessories and Concealed Carry Holsters.