Historically, most revolvers used .45, .357, or .38 caliber ammunition. The 9mm round gained popularity along with the 9mm automatics in the past 50 years or so. Today, several high-quality revolver options use 9mm ammunition.
Rimmed vs. Rimless Ammunition
Revolvers traditionally fire rimmed cartridges, which headspace on the case rim. Headspace refers to the distance between the breech face and the point in the chamber on which the cartridge case seats, stopping its forward movement.
The revolver rim also functions as the extractor flange, providing a surface for the extractor star to impinge against for unloading. Rimless pistol cartridges, such as the 9mm Luger, headspace on the case mouth, and the rim is the same diameter as the case body.
To load and unload rimless ammunition in a revolver cylinder, the use of full- and half-moon clips is generally necessary. Moon clips are ring or star-like accessories that snap into the extracting grooves of rimless pistol cartridges. Instead of a revolver rim, the weapons use the grooves.
“Why 9mm instead of 38 Special?” The 38 Special, after all, is probably the most common revolver cartridge and a mainstay among snub-nosed wheel guns for self-defense.
The answer is performance, availability, and cost. The 9mm cartridge generates a lot of pressure, and the performance usually exceeds the performance of the 38 Special.
There are also a wide variety of modern defensive loads available in this caliber, increasing its terminal wounding performance. The 9mm ammunition is generally less expensive and easier to find than .38.
The Ruger LCR is a double-action-only (DAO) snub-nosed revolver available in several chamberings, including the 9mm Luger. In 9mm, the LCR has a 1⅞” (1.87”) barrel, an overall length of 6.50” — the same as the Glock 26 — and a height of 4.50”.
Its compact design is also lightweight at 17.2 oz. unloaded. For increased durability, the LCR has a monolithic 400-series stainless-steel frame cylinder. DAO revolvers often have long and heavy trigger pulls. Ruger uses a patented camming system to reduce friction between the internal components to ensure a smooth trigger action.
Although the 9mm cartridge isn’t known for its recoil, a snub-nosed revolver doesn’t have a reciprocating slide or recoil spring to compress to reduce the impulse. The Ruger 9mm revolver has a Hogue Tamer Monogrip to dampen the impulse of the backstrap against the palm.
The LCR’s primary weakness is the rudimentary sighting system: A replaceable front ramp and a rear U-notch in the polymer fire control housing. However, with high-quality ammunition and at realistic defensive shooting distances, the LCR is sufficiently accurate for practical purposes.
The LCR uses moon clips for extraction, which also double as speedloaders. You press the latch inward toward the frame to unlock and swing out the cylinder with Ruger revolvers.
The Taurus 905 is a snub-nosed 9mm revolver with a 5-round cylinder, but unlike the LCR, the 905 has a double-action/single-action trigger and an exposed hammer spur. This allows you to fire the weapon by pressing the trigger or manually cock the hammer with your thumb, which reduces the length and weight of the trigger press for increased precision.
With a 2” barrel, this Taurus 9mm revolver has the same overall length as the LCR, but its height is one-tenth of an inch shorter (4.40”). The Taurus has an alloy-steel (or stainless-steel) frame, a stainless-steel barrel, and no polymer housing, so it’s heavier at 21 oz.
However, the increased weight reduces impulse, allowing a more comfortable shooting experience. In Taurus, Charter Arms, and Smith & Wesson revolvers, you press the cylinder latch forward to unlock the cylinder.
Charter Arms Rimless Pitbull
Charter Arms is perhaps most famous for its Bulldog and Undercover revolvers. The Charter Arms Pitbull is a snub-nosed DA/SA revolver with a 5-round cylinder, a 2.2” barrel, and a weight of 22 oz. The Pitbull has a stainless-steel frame, which Charter Arms has glass-bead blasted for a non-reflective finish, and the grip is neoprene.
Where the Charter Arms Pitbull stands out is its loading and unloading system. By using a dual coil-spring extractor system, you can eject the spent cartridge casings without moon clips, significantly simplifying the reloading process.
Rock Island Armory Model AL9.0
Departing from 5-shot snub-nosed revolvers, the Rock Island Armory AL9.0 is a DA/SA 9mm revolver with a 6-round cylinder and a 4” barrel. The overall length is 6.75” and the height is 4.09”. Somewhat heavier than the Pitbull, the AL9.0 has an unloaded weight of 24 oz., which increases to 27.5 oz. when fully loaded.
This service-size revolver is an affordable alternative for home defense, concealed carry, or target shooting. It’s also an excellent choice for new shooters and those unfamiliar with revolvers. The AL9.0 cylinder latch moves forward to unlock the cylinder for loading and unloading.
Smith & Wesson Model 986
The 9mm Smith & Wesson Model 986 is a DA/SA L-frame revolver with a 7-round titanium cylinder contained inside a stainless-steel frame. The standard Model 986 has a 2.5” stainless-steel barrel, an overall length of 7.5”, and a red-ramp front sight. The weight of the standard variant is 31.4 oz.
In the Massachusetts and California compliant variant, the barrel length is 5”, the overall length is 10.5”, and the weight is 35 oz. A partridge-type front sight replaces the red ramp.
Thanks to the increased weight and capacity of the Model 986, this is one of the best 9mm revolver options for home defense.
Smith & Wesson Model 929
The Smith & Wesson Model 929 Performance Center is a DA/SA N-frame 9mm revolver with an impressive 8-round capacity for competitive target shooting. This is the same capacity as some old-school 9mm single-stack pistols.
As with the Model 986, the frame and barrel are stainless steel, and the cylinder is a titanium alloy. The barrel, which is equipped with a single-vent compensator and partridge front sight, is 6.5” in length, and the overall length is 12.3”. The heaviest revolver on the list, the Model 929, weighs 44.3 oz.
At this weight — twice that of an unloaded Glock 17 (without the magazine) — the Model 929 is already a light-recoiling weapon, even with +P loads. Add the compensator and front-heavy barrel, and the gun is a soft-shooting tack driver.
Shop Our Semi-Auto and Revolver Holsters
The 9mm revolver is an excellent choice for home defense or concealed carry. To protect your firearm, browse the selection of Kydex or leather holster options at We The People Holsters.
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