Concealed Carry & Home Defense

CCW Weekend: The 9mm Snubbie Is Better Than The .38 Special

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By Sam Hoober, Alien Gear Holsters

In recent years, revolver manufacturers have been adding compact and medium-size revolvers in 9mm in addition to .38 Special. In past decades, it was a rare curiosity; Ruger offered the Speed Six in 9mm, but it wasn’t a common model and most folks preferred the .357 Magnum in that gun anyway.

Today, a 9mm revolver is offered by most of the wheelgun companies. Smith and Wesson, Charter Arms, Ruger and – sneer if you must – Taurus all offer a revolver in this chambering.

And you should totally get one instead of a .38 Special.

What? This is ludicrous! .38 Special is what you shoot in revolvers if you don’t shoot .357 Magnum; if I wanted 9mm I’d get a darn semi-auto.

Actually, the 9mm is better suited to compact revolvers in almost every dimension.

Ballistically, the 9mm actually has advantages over .38 Special when it comes to terminal performance. It isn’t so much penetration, velocity or muzzle energy; in those regards, the 9mm is only marginally “better” than .38 Special.

Instead, it’s more that there is a far greater selection of short-barrel ammunition, which is necessary in any compact concealed carry gun. Far more is made for the 9mm than for the .38 Special and will result in more reliable expansion and coming to rest inside the target. Check out Lucky Gunner Labs; short barrel loads for .38 Special still leave much to be desired. Thus, a 9mm revolver will likely yield better results in this area.

Besides, getting the best of .38 Special and .357 Magnum has always – and likely will always – require a 4-inch or longer barrel. To REALLY get the most of it, you need to handload.

As to recoil, the 9mm sits between the .38 Special and .357 Magnum. It won’t be the most pleasant, but it will be shootable. The truth about .357 snubbies is they hurt. While you can toughen up and tolerate it, another truth is a moderate round you can shoot worth a darn is better than a powerful one you can’t, so the extra “oomph” isn’t worth it.

Another significant factor is the 9mm cartridge itself. It’s rimless, meaning that any 9mm revolver must-needs be used with moonclips unless you want to continually poke cartridges out. This is advantageous, as what a lot of people don’t necessarily know is that snubbie revolvers don’t have full-length extractors.

When you reload, snubbie revolvers have to be upended and shaken if not gently tamped for the cartridges to fall free. Brass will stick a bit in the cylinder after firing as the case will have slightly expanded. With a shortened extractor, this makes getting the cartridges out a little more problematic. Not that snubbies won’t get cases out or that a Model 10 or old Colt Police Positive will never, ever fail to get a case out every time, but more that you’ll have more hangups with a short extractor compared to full-length.

With moon clips and the shorter 9mm case, you’ll get clean, positive ejection far more reliably. If you train with your carry gun – and you need to – that will make for easier concealed carry practice when it comes to drilling reloads.

Additionally, it’s cheaper! Even if you avoid the cheap steel-case ammo, cheap brass for a 9mm goes for something like $10 per box of 50. That’s some good, cheap fun. For .38 Special, it’s more like $15.

So, it works better in a defensive capacity. You have to deal with moonclips in most cases (Charter Arms’ Mag Pug, though, has a trick cylinder that doesn’t require them) which is a pain, but they’re cheap to stock up on, and a 9mm revolver is cheaper to shoot. Definitely the better buy all things considered.

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Sam Hoober is Contributing Editor for, a subsidiary of Hayden, ID, based Tedder Industries, where he writes about gun accessories, gun safety, open and concealed carry tips. Click here to visit