Revolvers: Are They Still Relevant in the Modern Day?

Revolvers: Are They Still Relevant in the Modern Day?

Six-shooter. Wheel gun. Big Iron. Whatever you call them, the revolver has been a machine that has stood the test of time, used by militaries, law enforcement, hunters, and civilians alike relatively unchanged for almost 200 years. However, with the rise of autoloading (semi-automatic) pistols becoming affordable and reliable in the past few decades, the revolver has been slowly dying out as newer generations abandon it. While the revolver is almost entirely phased out of law enforcement and military use, a good number of civilians and hunters still rely on them for protecting their lives. This begs the question, are revolvers still a relevant option in the modern era?

First, the bad news:

A speedloader being inserted into a revolver.
A speedloader being inserted into a revolver.

Revolvers have some inherent disadvantages, which we will discuss here.

Low Capacity, slow reloads:

More ammo = more firepower = better survival chances. Most revolvers hold 6 rounds, while compact ones hold only 5. Many autoloading (aka "semi-automatic") handguns can hold anywhere from 7-17 rounds of ammunition depending on the size of the gun and cartridge used, although 8-12 is quite common for compact handguns. That is nearly 33-100% more rounds in a gun with similar weight and dimensions. Quite simply put, your shots must count with a revolver and in real life-or-death situations, even trained shooters (such as policemen) tend to lose accuracy.

Not only is capacity low, but reloading a revolver is slow, cumbersome, and easy to mess up. You must first count your rounds or wait for a click, as there is no indication you expended all your ammo. Then you must release the cylinder, push the ejector rod to knock out the spent casings, and use a speedloader or moon clip to insert new rounds into the cylinder. This whole process takes a few or more seconds. While this situation applies to all firearms, it wasn't unheard of in the past for people (policemen usually) to get ambushed while reloading their revolvers.

A competition shooter showing a quick revolver reload.
A competition shooter showing a quick revolver reload.

Inefficiencies

Mind the gap: Notice the hot gasses blowing out the sides of the revolver.
Mind the gap: Notice the hot gasses blowing out the sides of the revolver.

Quite simply put, revolver cartridges have some inefficiencies and some more prominent than others.

The first we will discuss is the cylinder gap, but this isn't that big of a deal. A revolver has a small gap between the cylinder and the barrel, which allows some hot gasses to escape instead of propelling the bullet forward. Only a small amount of gas escapes though, and it has a negligible impact on performance. It is more of a safety issue, as you can burn yourself with improper hand placement.

Revolver cartridges are also quite bulky and quirky. For example, the 9mm Luger (AKA the 9mm Parabellum or 9x19mm) can propel a nearly identical sized and shaped bullet with 100-150 lb-ft more energy and around 200-300 fps (feet per second) higher muzzle velocity than the most common revolver round, the .38 Special (.38 SPL), while in a 4/10" shorter case. The famed .357 Magnum cartridge also barely outperforms a 9mm cartridge in a snub nose (short, ~2" barrel) revolver, despite having much more recoil. On a tangent, there are a few revolvers available in 9mm these days and they perform as well as their semi-auto counterparts. However, as mentioned previously, revolvers are about the same size/weight as many compact semi-auto handguns yet hold less capacity. If size matters, you might as well get a compact semi-auto handgun instead.

The 9mm is faster & more powerful than the .38 SPL, doing this in a more compact package.
The 9mm is faster & more powerful than the .38 SPL, doing this in a more compact package.

Reliability is not as perfect as myth holds.

A revolver does have inherent advantages in reliability over autoloaders, but that will be discussed next. To keep it short, a revolver can still have reliability issues and they aren't as easy to fix as an autoloader. A hangfire can explode a revolver, injuring you. If a revolver cylinder locks up or goes out of time it will no longer function without taking it apart using tools. Most revolver failures require disassembly and repair by either a gunsmith or the manufacturer, whereas many autoloading failures are fixed with a simple "tap and rack" on the magazine and slide. Generally, though, if a revolver can shoot over 300 rounds without any mechanical issues, it should be good to go for years to come.

Now the good news:

A .357 Magnum JHP ballistics gel test.
A .357 Magnum JHP ballistics gel test.

Some rounds, such as the .357 Magnum, are a true man-stopper.

Sure, you might have only 6 rounds, but if those 6 rounds were will incapacitate a man in only 1, maybe, 2 connecting shots, you feel much better about your chances. A decade-long study released in the 90's studied all different types of defensive shootings and tracked each gun caliber, type of gun, number of shots it took to stop an attacker, number of deaths, failures to stop, etc.

While nearly early common pistol cartridge performed about the same (.45 ACP, .40 S&W, 9mm, .38 SPL, et al.), the .357 Magnum performed very well, with 1.7 rounds on average incapacitating a man, less than 1/10 of all shootings using it failing to stop, 44% were 1-shot-stops, and over 4/5 of shots being highly accurate. Those are numbers you can bet your life on. Not to mention, psychology also suggests the sheer power of the .357 Magnum helps to stop attackers. The massive blast and explosion make attackers lose the will to fight. Other common revolver cartridges (.38 SPL & .44 Magnum) also performed adequately. The .357 Magnum and .44 Magnum are commonly carried by hunters as backups as they can sufficiently kill or stop large game or predators that come too close.

Not to mention, statistics (although hard to confirm) show that most defensive shootings are resolved in around 2-3 rounds fired anyway, with usually around 6 being the high-end limit. So statistically speaking, a revolver's lower capacity isn't that much of a problem.

Revolvers are simple to operate, are highly reliable, and have high accuracy potential.

A woman practicing shooting a revolver.
A woman practicing shooting a revolver.

While the reloading aspect I covered earlier is certainly complex, with practice it becomes second nature. A revolver is easier to use than an autoloading handgun because once loaded, you simply keep pulling the trigger until either empty or the threat is stopped. There will then be a button or simple lever to release the cylinder, allowing you to push the ejector rod, knocking out old cases, and start reloading. The heavy double-action (not single-action revolvers, which are not for self-defense) trigger pull of a revolver is not only better for making sure you don't have a negligent discharge (ND), it also means a revolver doesn't require a manual safety to fiddle with. A deliberate and forceful trigger pull will be the only way it will fire. In stressful situations, or for those who don't have much experience shooting guns, this simple firing operation can save lives.

The revolver is also a simple, reliable design. If you hit a dud round, just pull the trigger again. An autoloading handgun would require checking that the magazine is seated properly and pulling back on the slide to clear malfunctions ("tap and rack"), something which can take time and lead to confusion for inexperienced shooters. In a revolver, only the cylinder rotates to fire stationary cartridges, rather than relying on a moving slide to eject, grab, and push a cartridge into the barrel such as in an autoloading handgun.

Lastly, because the barrel on a revolver is fixed, rather than having to move from a recoiling action, revolvers have a high accuracy potential, especially at longer ranges with longer barreled models.

Revolvers have great benefits for concealed-carry.

Revolvers: Are They Still Relevant in the Modern Day?

While there are many great concealed-carry (CC) semi-autos available on the market today, revolvers have their benefits for CC. The first is everything I just mentioned in the previous section, you want all of that in a carry gun. Next, revolvers have smooth and cylindrical shapes, which easily slide easily into and out of holsters or belt lines and fit well against the body instead of jagged/square shapes of semi-autos. The bulging cylinder seems like a disadvantage at first, but it helps to push the gun's grip off your body, leading to more reliable and easier draws.

Many compact revolvers can also easily be slid into a pocket, without even needing a holster. Some carry models are also very lightweight. This is perfect for someone who either can't be bothered needing a rigid holster attached to their waistline every day or must leave for a quick errand.

A Ruger LCR, a 5 shot, lightweight revolver. It is well known for its ease of carrying, so much so it is often carried in people's pockets.
A Ruger LCR, a 5 shot, lightweight revolver. It is well known for its ease of carrying, so much so it is often carried in people's pockets.

Lastly, spare ammo for a revolver is compact to carry. Instead of a long, extended magazine that semi-autos need, there are only bullets carried in either a moon clip or speedloader, and both can easily be thrown into your pocket.

A moon clip and rounds loaded into a moon clip. These can be just pushed into the gun, and do not have to be removed after loading like a speedloader.
A moon clip and rounds loaded into a moon clip. These can be just pushed into the gun, and do not have to be removed after loading like a speedloader.

They're cool.

"You got to ask yourself one question, 'Do I feel lucky?', well, do you punk?" - Dirty Harry

This is a rather trivial point, but it still stands in terms of relevancy. From old Westerns to action movies of the past, the revolver has remained the weapon of choice for the cool guy, whether he was bad or good in nature. Just as classic muscle cars and vinyl records refuse to die, the revolver also refuses to, partially because there is a certain element of them that remains cool to this day.

Do not let this influence your decision though, as the tool you use to defend your life should NOT rely on trends or appearances.

Conclusions

Revolvers: Are They Still Relevant in the Modern Day?

Overall, I think revolvers still have relevance to this day given the pros and cons of them. They aren't as effective as autoloading handguns but still have unique benefits that keep them alive. My recommendation for anyone considering buying a revolver is to look up reviews online first (YouTube too) and possibly go to a shooting range where you can try out the gun, or at least a similar competitor's copy. All people have unique self-defense situations. Some need protection against regular bear or coyote encounters, some are regularly in dangerous neighborhoods with gang activity, and some would like a gun on them just in case but don't want to be burdened. Think of the realistic situations you might encounter in your everyday life, and using this guide, decide if a revolver is right for you (Hint: Terrorist or mass shooter attacks are so rare the chances of you being directly involved in one is very small. Not that you shouldn't take steps to prepare for the said situation, but don't overburden yourself carrying a crazy amount of gear and firepower expecting one to happen).

If you do choose a revolver, my personal recommendation is to avoid cheap brands such as Taurus and instead buy from reputable brands such as Ruger or Smith & Wesson (S&W). The Ruger LCR (shown earlier) and SP101 are popular carry choices, as are the S&W Model 340 PD, Model 442 Performance Center Pro-Series, and the S&W Model 66 Combat Magnum. S&W also makes great larger sized revolvers more suitable for home defense such as the Model 19 Classic.

(1.) S&W Model 442 PC Pro-Series. (2.) Ruger SP101 .357 Spurless (3.) S&W Model 340 PD. (4.) S&W Model 66 Combat Magnum. (5.) S&W Model 19 Classic.
(1.) S&W Model 442 PC Pro-Series. (2.) Ruger SP101 .357 Spurless (3.) S&W Model 340 PD. (4.) S&W Model 66 Combat Magnum. (5.) S&W Model 19 Classic.

My personal recommendation is to get a lightweight model .38 SPL +P (Ruger LCR or the S&W Model 442) and have 1-2 spare moon clips or speedloaders of ammo on you. I recommend choosing a revolver with an internal or spurless hammer for concealed carry as you are less likely to snag on clothing during a draw. Some also like to get .357 Magnum versions of these lightweight concealable revolvers and only shoot .38 SPL +P in them since they are stronger guns but are slightly heavier, making them easier to shoot with the hotter .38 +P rounds. However, optimal performance for .38 SPL is out of a gun made for it only. 9mm Luger versions of these revolvers are also fantastic choices as 9mm Luger is nearly as potent as .357 Magnum out of snub ~2" barrels yet is cheaper to shoot and more common (great if you already own a 9mm semi-auto handgun). 9mm revolvers do require the use of moon clips to function properly, which might be a downside. However, both .357 Magnum and 9mm out of these small, light carry revolvers are little fun to shoot from the intense recoil, so if you are not used to powerful handguns or new to shooting I would stick to the .38 SPL models.

As for ammo selection, those of you who are well-acquainted with firearms can look at these gel tests results and make the decisions yourselves. Otherwise, for a snub-nose .38 SPL the Federal 130 gr HST JHP, the Hornady Critical Defense 110 gr FTX, and the Winchester Range LE 130 gr JHP are all great rounds for personal defense.

Thank you for reading. If you have any questions, comments, or concerns please leave them below.


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What Girls Said 8

  • Very interesting myTake. I never had a revolver, but I'd like the have one.
    My grandpa has a "kubura", it's a medieval firelock gun (like a flintlock pistol used by pirates and corsairs).

    www.antiqueandrle.cz/.../...2e503f566c0e908c1a.jpg

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  • Thank you for Sharing. Great MyTake.
    Any Gun, hun... Stay Locked and Loaded for those Bad times to Yet to Come. xx

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  • I have no need for a revolver. I do have a couple of long guns in my locker though.

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  • My husband gave me a revolver and is teaching me how to shoot. I think he said it's a 38 ruger, it looks like the one in your picture only it's pink.

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    • I'm not entirely a fan of pink guns, but they're better than no gun. It's also great he's actually taking the time to teach you how to shoot. Many either have nobody teach them, or have to pay for someone else to do it.

  • Good take

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  • Okay 😁

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  • yes they are you can kill people with it

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    • Which is the argument that many give at the end of the day. The firearms community is full of debates on which caliber/gun/guy style is "good" or "trash". In reality, if it goes bang, it can still kill a person and is therefore still relevant as an option.

  • Revolvers look super cool, I want a Smith and Wesson 460XVR fiber optic front sight. 460 caliber~~

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    • 460 caliber is definitely a round to be respected. I don't think I am even up to the task of using it.

What Guys Said 34

  • Originally I didn't want to comment, but a particularly annoying user named @AynonOMouse commented that I'm a moron for saying Level IIIA bodyarmor catches 500 S&W - and immediately blocked me. Tactics of a coward indeed.
    I'm here to prove him wrong. A well made IIIA soft bodyarmor will stop a 500 S&W
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=en7ufLoC7tw

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    • I would have lol'd, Level IIIA soft armor is trash against anything that approaches rifle energies/velocities, and 500 Magnum absolutely does.

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    • Not penetrating, but the guy on the other side certainly won't be feeling well. A 1oz slug will be stopped by IIIA but the power is so great you likely will break some ribs and have internal trauma.
      Anything approaching rifle power, even if it can be stopped by soft body armor, is best solved with hard armor.

    • Oh, that's for sure. I would wear hard body armor if someone was planning to shoot me with a 500S&W, that's for certain.
      But in this case, it was specifically about penetration.

  • Great take! My only personal preference application of a 357-44 revolver is that I like to be able to come out of a dead sleep and fire in 1-2sec and a revolver makes it easier to do that because I don't like to have an auto chambered. But auto always otherwise, Glocks 9s preferred.

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  • I have one revolver that was given to me by a family member who didn't want it anymore (a.22LR that looks like a.357). Otherwise, all autos.

    It's not that revolvers aren't useful - they certainly can be, and for certain uses (hunting or being around large game), the larger calibers and heavier bullets available are more important than capacity.

    But as a defensive gun, autos simply represent superior technology for all the reasons you've mentioned. I can carry 10 rounds of 9mm 147gr JHP ammo in a Glock 26 that is smaller and narrower than a 5-round.38, and is easier to shoot. I can reload it in half the time with twice as many rounds. And I've shot it in competitions (it's stock other than the Trijicon sites) and I took 3rd out of 40+ competitors. I'd have been lucky to finish in the 30s with a revolver.

    It's just hard to argue for a revolver today. Technology moves forward.

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    • That is the common consensus.
      Surprisingly though, even though lever-action rifles are straight civil-war era tech, Henry, Marlin, and even Ruger sell a lot of them today, despite many good autoloading alternatives.
      Different strokes for different folks.

  • A Schofield top-break revolver is fairly quick on the reload with a moonclip (with speed loader possibly even as fast as a lot of pistols). That's because the extractor arm pops up, ejecting spent shells, as it breaks open (then snaps back down at full battery).

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  • nice take , you forgot to mention 50cal revolvers as they can kill even elephants with one shot , like SECOND AMENDMENT® TRIBUTE.50-CAL.

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    • I certainly could have, but if I tried to list every cartridge and type of revolver out there this myTake would have turned into a novel!
      The S&W 500 Magnum is a beast though. It doesn't just kill the animal, it kills its soul.

  • They're still effective absolutely, but they're more of a for fun kind of item now. They were a great invention at the time before semi-automatic loading was invented, but as it always is with technology there will be an invention that replaces it.

    Revolvers are still a lot of fun, but a semi-automatic is more practical overall. Wheelguns have drawbacks that were intentionally eliminated with the advent of autoloaders.

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  • I enjoyed you item and appreciate the details and I believe accuracy of the information. Something tells me this is not your first time talking about firearms.
    I own the rugger 9MM. But my favorite is the S&W 38SP milatary police special. I used it as a backup. With the 2.5" barrell it was a special make. heavy but also easily to find because of it. Needed in a hurry I knew where it was and that I hadn't lost it. Only used it twice as a backup. But the load hit the target and the roar scared the others. Fire coming out of it's mouth in the dark seemed to calm a lot of bad guys down.
    I do not have but have considered getting 'The Judge" or the new similar handgun by Federal. I believe that is right. I believe It shoots 38 and 4.10. Although I don't understand how the shotgun load does not damage the spiral of the bullet. Maybe my personal protection gun as I age and aim becomes more difficult.

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    • I have a Colt Special Police.38, Heavy Barrel. 6" Barrel and was a government contract gun. It is heavy but shoots well.
      The Taurus Judge (or "The Governor" S&W equivalent), is a.410, 2.5" shotgun shell revolver primarily. They can also fire.45 Long Colt, and the S&W can also fire.45 ACP. These guns are both rifled, but from what I know it shouldn't be a problem as the.410's aren't powerful enough to destroy the rifling, at least not quickly. My only problem with the Judge is that they tend to malfunction or break more often than traditional revolvers, and there is doubt over the.410 being more or less effective for self-protection than a standard revolver cartridge.

  • They don't jam so often like semi automatics do. Plus they don't eject the cartridges when you fire, so they aren't leaving behind evidence with your DNA on it. :)
    They're also more powerful. Try a S&W 500 magnum on a bullet resistant vest. :)
    Not that they are a good choice for criminals, but well. . .

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    • "They don't jam so often like semi automatics do"
      Stop buying shitty handguns.
      "Plus they don't eject the cartridges when you fire, so they aren't leaving behind evidence with your DNA on it."
      If you're that self-conscious, just load the mags with gloves on.
      "They're also more powerful. Try a S&W 500 magnum on a bullet resistant vest."
      Try a.50 AE on a bullet resistant vest. Both will be stopped by the way. The difference is that you can make follow-up shots with a Desert Eagle, because the recoil won't kill your wrist after a single shot.

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    • 1) Who said glock? Plus, if you dkn't care about the gun,. don't be surprised if it blowd up in your face. Revolvers can do that too.
      2) You load the mags at home. You pack the mags. Take off gloves. Go. shooting. Are you stupid or something?
      3) A vest that stops a.50 AE will stop a S&W 500 too. Level 3A soft bodyarmor stops.44 magnum. That's almost certainly enough to stop the aforementioned cartridges.

    • @Benedek38 It was level 3A which is what is commonly sold. There are also videos showing the 500 magnum is more powerful and penetrates more.
      You're just a moron.

  • Good MyTake. The revolver has stood the test of time. The capacity is it's only drawback. Then again how many rounds do you need to put on a target. No more than two if you know what you're doing. Revolvers teach good gun craft. You learn fire discipline, how to place shots. They are also more reliable than an automatic.

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  • Great take, I didn’t know hot gases actually escaped through the sides.

    Some law enforcement organizations around the world still use revolvers. Many Japanese law enforcement branches still use the “New Nambu m60” revolver as one of their side arms. While some police officers here in the states only use a revolver as a back up.

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  • Revolvers look cool (I have a 1960s colt.38 and a 1880's black powder replica), but are useless. They have a lot of recoil and the moment arm of that recoil is large. I can't hit the side of the barn with the colt.

    I can't understand why anyone would want want except as a movie prop.

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    • I have a Colt Special Police.38 Heavy Barrel and I think it is fantastic. You certainly can't fire as fast from the recoil, but I haven't had issues with accuracy.
      Some revolvers, like the Chiappa Rhino, fire from the bottom chamber so the recoil is pushed straight back into your arm. The lack of muzzle rise is astounding.

    • If you can't fire "as fast", then you accuracy issues, not the gun necessarily, but with being able to keep it on target while firing quickly.

  • I've got 5 (I think) 6? Learn how to use them all. End of discussion. This measuring contest gets really convoluted and pointless. And there's no shortage of gun counter guys pushing.38's on grandma. If she's intimidated by "OMG all those buttons (2) and switches on a Glock..." then she's gotta learn to shoot that wrist breaker 2000.

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    • Yeah I've always found that annoying with the gun counter guys. Somehow a woman can't handle a Glock 19 but can handle a lightweight.38 with a 12 lb trigger.
      That's honestly why (while I presented the Pro's and Con's as fairly as possible), I see the argument as really overstressed. I always recommend people go and shoot different guns before buying though because if you're not used to a revolver, it might be a wake-up call when you have to go use it.

  • I use mine mostly to carry in my car or for home defence. I've never had a misfire with a revolver. I'm mostly a ruger guy.

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  • Revolvers are great for self defense because of it's disadvantages.
    If you had a glock, you could be way more dangerous to everyone.
    I mean who really needs an auto-AR? No one but people going to war.

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  • I am a complete novice when it comes to guns but I was to get one for personal protection a revovler would seem ideal for one or two shot scenario and I shouldn't have to need it anymore than that.

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    • That's the common point made. In actual citizen self-defense situations (which are hard to get accurate statistics on but nevertheless), Generally only anywhere from 1-3 shots are actually fired. Most situations are resolved just from the citizen showing/stating that they are armed without any shots fired. On the high end sometimes 5-6 shots are fired, but that's right at a revolver's capacity.
      Although many would argue that this "average" causes people to under-prepare for situations where there are multiple attackers or the attackers are armed. However, even then, a spare speedloader or clip of ammo is more than enough anyone should ever need.

  • Gun control seems to work pretty well in Japan, England, France, Germany, Sweden, Finland and Ireland. So why doesn't it work in the US? Must be magic.

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  • is it available?
    can it do the job?
    of answer to both is "yes," then it's relevant.

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  • Revolvers are good for certain people, just like most guns as everyone has a preference.

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  • nice mytake. Probably as close as I’ll get to being the gun aficionado I want to be

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  • Not really since they only fit 6 bullets most of the times, most of my friends use glocks with extended clips or drums

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