Revolvers vs. Auto-Loaders – What They Didn’t Teach You In Your Concealed Cary Course.

I don’t often write about firearms training, even though its been a big part of my adult life. But, people who know me expect me to do it. I guess this blog started off as a way to keep from being a one-trick pony. I wanted to write about random thoughts, advice, travel, and other things that would surprise most people who do know me well. I also wanted to write about things that wouldn’t bore people who’re attempting to read my blogs. 

Technical writing is for technical people; people who are searching for knowledge, not entertainment. I’ve written technical pieces most of my life. This is definitely a technical piece of writing – warning, you may get bored if you’re not interested in the topic. With the proper warnings having been made, I hope you enjoy my perspectives on the pro’s and con’s of handgun types….

In every attempt, past or present, to contrast the differences between semi-automatic handguns and revolvers, the inevitable arguments over function superiority arise. Much like the arguments over political affiliations, there are those who will always refuse to acknowledge even the most obvious and objective criticisms, especially when holding tight to long standing beliefs. In a distinct comparison such as this article, it is impossible to paint an accurate picture of each individual pro and/or con that is not void of some important contributing factor such as how the weapon will be used (i.e., target shooting or self-defense), and who will be using them (i.e., experienced or inexperienced shooters). With modern online forums these days, there is even a great deal of subjectivity concerning the issue of experience and inexperience. So, let’s skip the ego-centric BS and just get right to the issue.

My background gives me a unique perspective on the situation due to the fact that I began my law enforcement career during a time where revolvers still dominated as the standard police issue firearm. I became very proficient with the revolver and I still have a lot of love for quality made revolvers to this day. Within the span of five years, let’s say around 1988-1989’ish, law enforcement began transitioning to the issuance of the semi-auto handgun. I had begun my career with an S&W Model 66, chambered for .38 Special, and had recently graduated to the S&W Model 686 (.357 Magnum) when I got my first department issue autoloader, a Browning Hi-Power chambered for 9mm Luger. Although I attended my Firearms Instructor School with an autoloader, it was still early enough in the evolution of police issue firearms that the revolver was still widely used and issued. Several of my Instructor Development classmates still carried revolvers in 1989.

My career took the direction of Drug Enforcement so my weapon choices became somewhat tailored to that profession and suddenly I was being issued two sidearms, a primary and a backup. Over the course of my law enforcement career, I carried the Browning Hi-Power, the Sig Sauer(s) P226 9mm, P228 9mm, P229 .40 cal, P220 .45 ACP, and the P230 .380. I also carried the Glock 19, the S&W Mod(s) 67 .38 Spec., 686 .357 Mag., 629 9mm, 645 .45 ACP, and the Berretta Model 92F. Not to leave you completely in the dark, I will say that I did experience one weapon malfunction during my career with my 1st Generation Glock 19, an incident that was duty related, that I’ll admit was mostly caused by human error exacerbated by certain physical characteristics of the 1st Gen. weapon.

The same malfunction would likely not occur with the modern Gen. 4 version of that handgun but it’s a scenario that is difficult to replicate in a non-deadly force environment because our available motor skills work differently in non-stress training versus high stress/life or death incidents. While it took me several years to be brave enough to carry another Glock, I eventually summoned the courage to do it after my partner Tony and my wife conspired to buy me a birthday Glock and I’m happy they did. My go-to handgun of choice, still today though, is my Sig Sauer P226 – like an old friend I guess.

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With that out of the way, let’s move on to the evaluation. We will primarily be discussing and evaluating the issues of reliability, maintenance, and accuracy. Handgun features such as rounds capacity, caliber, and grip size, etc., are all important considerations in the handgun selection process. That said, I will be assuming here that you, the reader, already understand those more commonly accepted attributes; foregoing those conversations for a later time and leaving room to explore and focus on what I consider to be the real meat and potatoes of handgun type selection. Within is an illustration of what I consider to be the most important aspects of the individual operational pros and cons of both revolvers and auto-loading handguns. This includes my thoughts on reliability, maintenance, and accuracy, as well as my opinions on the weight I feel each of these features carry into the overall equations of where I hope you will rank them.

The majority of quarrels made between gun enthusiasts for either side of this common disagreement center around the issue of reliability. So it is this issue of reliable function that should be the focus of this process. There are some commonly held beliefs that should first be explored. In fact, it is generally taught that revolvers are more reliable and much simpler designs that semi-autos. Let us closely examine the complete issue of reliability and design-simplicity in order to challenge this conventional wisdom and also to professionally evaluate the level of subjectivity existing in the opinions we hold so confidently. If it’s true, let’s explain why it’s true; if not, let us accurately discern what actually is true.

Conversely, is it simplicity of use or simplicity of design that are being discussed when speaking about the revolver? These two features are definitely not the same thing and both qualities should be carefully studied.

Reliability – Common Malfunctions

First, let’s look closely at typical and non-typical handgun malfunctions. We can break them down into two distinct types or categories; jams and stoppages. A jam is a major malfunction that ties the gun up so tight that there is no way that the shooter can swiftly restore the weapon to its functional state. A stoppage, however, is a minor malfunction that can be quickly and easily cleared by the shooter in seconds, using only his or her hands – restoring the weapon to an operational condition.

Jams are usually caused by breakages, tolerance issues, lack of maintenance and operational limitations. They can also be caused by human error. Stoppages on the other hand are almost always caused by either human error or ammunition malfunctions. Stoppages can sometimes also be caused by worn or poorly maintained equipment.

A jam in a deadly force confrontation would spell disaster. A stoppage might cause the shooter a slight delay but if you train properly and include stoppage drills in your training scenarios, a stoppage could simply be a hiccup in a deadly force encounter that may not affect the outcome whatsoever.

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Common Semi-Auto Malfunctions

The most common problems that occur with auto-loaders are stoppages. The reason for this is actually pretty simple. Auto-loaders require that the shooter do his/her part; becoming part of the machine itself so-to-speak. Revolvers are different in that way and do not require the shooter to do anything other than hold it and pull the trigger. The shooter of a semi-auto, by virtue of a firm grip, provides the resistance needed for the weapons recoil spring to do its job. A shooter actually has to hold the semi-auto properly and with a firm grip or the recoil spring will not function as it is engineered to do.

Novice shooters experience far more stoppages than experienced shooters because they rarely understand the mechanical relationship between the semi-automatic handgun and its marksman. One must know that the resistance you provide by having a firm grip is actually engineered into the functional design of the firearm.  Stoppages caused by poor grips account for the vast majority of the most common semi-auto handgun malfunctions.

Gripping the semi-auto improperly can result in the slide not moving rearward far enough to pick up the next available round in the magazine. Upon firing a round already chambered, the slide moves rearward and returns to battery ejecting the spent round (sometimes not fully) but without picking up and loading the next round of ammunition from the magazine. The gun is thereby rendered inoperable unless the shooter manually cycles a round from the magazine using his/her hand by pulling or moving the slide all the way rearward and releasing the slide to return to battery loaded.

Another common stoppage in an auto-loader is a failure of the extractor to fully extract the spent round. Sometimes the spent case returns to the chamber of the barrel and sometimes it will be left sandwiched inside the ejection port between the rear of the port opening and the barrel. In either case, the shooter must firmly and quickly pull the slide rearward then abruptly let go, which allows the spent cartridge to be expelled from the weapon and for a new round to be loaded into the chamber.

Added to that, I often see people pull the slides rearward on their semi-auto handguns and gently allow the slide to move forward into battery with a live round – loading the handgun. This, in rare cases, can sometimes put the handgun into a condition whereby the slide is not fully seated into battery. If it’s not, nothing will happen when you pull the trigger. The spring tension of that slide is engineered perfectly to return that slide into battery so use that engineering to your advantage. When loading the weapon, pull the slide all the way rearward and just let it go. This is the best way to ensure that the slide returns fully into battery.

Another problem for semi-autos that can occur is when a magazine becomes old and the magazine spring begins to lose its tension. Revolvers, of course, do not have magazines which can be dropped and bent or which stay loaded under tension and unused for months or years at a time. In this condition, a sprung magazine spring can lack sufficient power to lift the next round into position quickly enough for the slide to pick up the next round and property seat it into the chamber. Either the round stays in the magazine or the tip (bullet end) of the cartridge rotates up from the magazine and the slide drives it forward perpendicular to the barrel throat and feed ramp.

Jams and mechanical problems are very rare with quality-made autoloaders and some makes of auto-loading handguns such as the H&K P7 unequivocally state that their unique blow-back operated semi-auto action can actually continue to function reliably with a broken extractor. That weapon of course carries a very high price tag. There are, of course, dozens of individual parts, pins, and springs in both revolvers and auto-loaders; some moving and some non-moving. That said, any of those parts have the potential of breaking or becoming dislodged from the weapon due to recoil or abuse. Broken parts are among the rarest of all weapon malfunctions.

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Speaking of extractors, a serious but very rare condition for a semi-auto handgun will be a broken extractor which normally leaves the weapon incapable of extracting a spent cartridge. The weapon may try to load another round into the back of a spent round causing a malfunction which cannot always be repaired simply or without the help of an armorer or gunsmith. Most of the time, it is a simple stoppage, but these can rarely jam up the action.

Extractors are essentially spring loaded hooks which claw around the rim of a chambered round of ammunition upon the slide∣bolt being closed against it (in battery). Then, upon firing and the subsequent rearward movement of the slide∣bolt, pulls the fired case from the chamber rearward until the empty case comes into contact with the ejector which pushes the opposite side of the case while the extractor, still pulling, causes the empty case to be flipped or ejected from the weapon by means of the ejection port on the slide. That said, extractors have springs which can, over time, lose their tension causing the ejector to lose its reliability.

Another rare cause of weapon malfunction is a broken firing pin. Of course, firing pins do break occasionally in both the revolver and the semi-auto but broken firing pins are exceedingly rare malfunctions for either of these weapon types. Another rare malfunction which is equally common with both handgun types are broken or weakened main springs. The result of which causes the hammer to either not function at all or to strike the firing pin so lightly that the ammunition primer is not ignited. It is far more common for these springs to be intentionally shortened or filed down by novice gunsmiths, so as to lighten the double-action trigger pull on revolvers and semi-auto’s, and unintentionally render the weapon un-serviceable or unreliable than it is for the spring to break or loosen on its own.

As I initially stated, auto-loading handguns are commonly touted as being more complex machines than revolvers. Is this true? As we move to examine the common revolver malfunctions, let’s put this one away for now and pick it back up after we more closely examine the revolver.

Common Revolver Malfunctions

Now that we have learned the difference between a jam and stoppage, can you now see the significance in defining them in the way I have done? As I move into the realm of the revolver malfunction I think you will clearly see that most revolver malfunctions tend to be actual jams instead of simple stoppages. There is a very good reason for this too. Revolvers are more prone to jams due primarily to the fragility and close mechanical tolerances of the revolver mechanisms.

The swing out cylinder of the double-action revolver is, by its very nature, a somewhat fragile and finely fitted instrument; so, the alignment of the revolver’s cylinder, crane, yoke, and ejector rod must be perfect or the action will bind up. A blow to the gun that probably wouldn’t affect an auto-loader, such as accidentally dropping it on a hard surface, could easily spring a revolver’s cylinder in the crane, rendering it completely un-serviceable. Many police officers have had the occasion to use their side arms as field-expedient night sticks in years past, and revolvers are notorious for being seriously damaged after that kind of treatment. It sounds horrible on paper but when you’re fighting for your life, you do what you gotta do.

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Minute sized grains of gunpowder or brass shavings from spent cartridges in one or more of the chambers, a high primer on an unfired round, or an over-long cartridge can all create a condition of insufficient headspace that will bind a revolvers cylinder so badly that it will take a few whacks with a rubber mallet just to open the action. One of the most common revolver malfunctions, a shell casing stuck under the extractor star, is a jam that requires tools, time, and a great deal of patience to clear.

When fouling from gunpowder residue begins to accumulate inside the finely fitted revolver mechanism, tolerances swiftly plunge below operational levels. For instance, powder buildup on the front of the cylinder and the forcing cone will cause the two pieces to drag against each other, interfering with cylinder rotation. Grains of powder in the crane/yoke area can prevent the action from being closed. Fouling in the chambers can prevent rounds from fully chambering which can create a condition of insufficient headspace that will not allow the weapon’s cylinder to rotate.

Have you ever watched an action movie where the hero loads the cylinder of his trusty blue-steel companion then abruptly swings shut the cylinder with a flick of his hairy armed wrist? Most of you probably have; if you’re old enough to be interested in the revolver/semi-auto article you’re reading right now. Well, in so doing, the hero could likely have bent the crane and caused the cylinder to be out of time. He might even have gotten some lead shavings in his face while firing at the bad guys 12 times with his 6 shot pistol – you know, the one with the silencer.

When we were talking about those pesky parts of the semi-auto that don’t exist in the revolver such as the extractor, you revolver fans may have had a moment of relaxation but the revolver has important parts too, also not found on the semi-auto’s, such as the cylinder hand which can and sometimes does break or become damaged which would cause the cylinder not to be rotated into the proper alignment. A potential nightmare. Another tiny little unseen part is the cylinder stop which pops up into the cylinder detent as the cylinder rotates into the correct alignment with the forcing cone, stopping its rotation.

Either of these two tiny little parts will render the revolver unsafe to fire and could kill, blind or maim its operator. All of the above conditions either result in a weapon jam, not a stoppage, OR more importantly, create a very dangerous operational condition.

Ammunition Malfunctions

Ammunition malfunctions cannot be predicted, although you can lower the risk of having an ammunition malfunction by just buying quality manufactured defense loads instead of buying or making your own reloads. Personally, I reload all my precision rifle ammunition and my plinking handgun ammo but I never reload nor do I purchase defense handgun ammo. Not only do I never shoot reloads through my defense-use handguns, I also never use low-powered target ammunition. I practice with the same ammunition that I carry in my handgun – in order that I don’t inadvertently create a variable that trains my hands and brain to expect one thing, knowing up front that it will be different in a gunfight. Gun-fighting and training, even advanced defense training, are immensely different things. We can talk more about that in another article.

The three types of ammunition malfunctions are misfires (a bad round that does not detonate), hang fires (a round that has a delayed detonation) and squib loads (an under-powered round that has enough power to push the bullet into the barrel but not enough power to push the bullet all the way through and out of the barrel). Neither are desirable in any circumstance or weapon but in the case of the revolver, I personally believe there is a higher inherent danger present to the shooter when any of these malfunctions occur, principally during a gunfight.

Misfires

In training, if you have a misfire it’s no big deal right? I say that because you simply wait it out, ensuring that it’s not a hang fire, then either eject the bad round from your semi-auto and continue or continue firing the rest of your cylinder on your revolver, potentially trying to fire the misfired round once again – and sometimes the misfire will detonate on the second attempt. In a gunfight though, a misfire is not little thing.

With your semi-auto, you must quickly rack the slide rearward to manually eject the misfire, let go of the slide to reload the next round and continue. In the gunfight, however, you have no choice but to quickly dispense of the situation which could result in the misfire becoming a hang fire – and an out-of-chamber ammunition detonation resulting. An injury, especially an eye injury, could easily occur in that scenario.

For you revolver fans, the gunfight misfire in your revolver is either far more dangerous or nothing at all. Instead of ejecting the misfire like the semi-auto, you just keep shooting which will rotate the cylinder to the next round. If the misfire becomes a hang fire, it will detonate inside a confined cylinder – exacerbating the explosive power of the detonation, and the projectile (bullet) has nowhere to go. The gun is likely coming apart; you may lose the use of your hand or be blinded or worse. Or, if it truly is a misfire, nothing happens at all and you simply continue shooting. The training misfire is nothing; the gunfight misfire is governed by luck and karma.

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Squib Loads

In the case of a squib load, the revolver shooter could easily and inadvertently fire a round into the rear of a bullet lodged partway inside the barrel. Of course the shooter of an auto-loader potentially could also fire a live round into the back of a squibbed bullet but there is a strong chance that an under-powered squib load fired from a semi-auto would not have been powerful enough to push the slide of the auto-loader rearward far enough to pick up the next live round from the magazine, thus negating that argument. The determining factor is whether or not we’re talking about training or gun fighting. The revolver guy/gal is far more likely, shooting quickly in the life/death scenario, to drive another round into a squibbed bullet than the semi-auto guy/gal.

The autoloader, in this same squibbed scenario, is in one of the few circumstances where the semi-auto handgun will become useless but not inoperable. If it produces an underpowered detonation, it is highly likely that the semi-auto’s slide will not travel far enough rearward to either properly eject the spend cartridge case or strip a live round from the magazine and reload the weapon. In that case, it produces a stoppage and an unsafe condition.

If miraculously, the slide does eject the spent cartridge and loads a live round, it will neither produce a stoppage nor a jam, it just produces a condition that is dangerous as hell. What makes a squib load a squib load is that the round is typically loaded with too little or ANY gunpowder. This causes the bullet to be fired without the requisite energy for it to travel the full length of the barrel. Subsequently, it gets lodged inside the barrel, creating a problem for the subsequent round. Rarely too, a squib could be caused by a degraded powder charge or bad or compromised primer that doesn’t produce a proper powder ignition.

Hang Fires

Similarly, a hang fire would render an auto-loader unsafe if he/she were to manually eject the round, believing it to be a misfire, then the round detonate outside of the weapon. As we discussed with the misfire above, the situation with the revolver is far worse because the detonation would occur while that ammunition is still chambered in the cylinder. The revolver then becomes a pipe-bomb in your hand. While the hang fire scenario is never a good thing for either weapon type, and both could result in some type of injury, the revolver hang fire consequence could be far worse.

Auto-loaders are susceptible to malfunctions based solely on bad ammunition and any malfunction will stop the gun from functioning. Revolvers, however, will continue to function flawlessly with an ammunition malfunction. The only scenario where you benefit is a revolver with a misfire. I personally would much prefer that my weapon stop me from doing something stupid when an ammunition malfunction occurs, especially considering that these malfunctions in auto-loaders are predominantly simple stoppages which can easily and quickly be corrected.

All that said, contemporary ammunition malfunctions are becoming a thing of the past unless you are buying and shooting a great deal of reloads, but when you really put some thought into the whole “only as reliable as your ammo” argument that we are prone to employ, one has to ponder whether or not you’re better off with a gun which will flawlessly fail under those circumstances. We can always train ourselves to clear stoppages quickly. It’s difficult to train yourself to react to a serious injury.

Care, Cleaning & Maintenance

What about regular care, cleaning, and maintenance? What are the primary issues of reliability for both handgun types that can be directly attributed to firearm maintenance and regular care? For the record, a person should clean their handguns every time they fire them regardless of whether it is a revolver or an autoloader. You should also clean them in regularly occurring intervals such as once per quarter to ensure they are not rusting or accumulating dust and/or debris to ensure that the weapon will function properly when it is needed. However, there are some specific issues relating to the revolver and autoloader that I want to share.

Revolvers are particularly sensitive to the accumulation of fouling. Much more sensitive than a typical auto-loader. The revolver, by its design, is like a Swiss watch; it’s a finely tuned and fitted machine with very close tolerances. Any amount of drag or resistance in the area of the cylinder and forcing cone will interfere with cylinder rotation. Additionally, the chambers in the cylinder are prone to fouling as well. When this type of fouling is allowed to accumulate, it becomes difficult to extract spent casings from the cylinder which increases reloading time. This type of fouling can also make it difficult or impossible to fully chamber a live round inside the cylinder chambers which can leave the cartridge case rim slightly protruded. In most cases, the protrusion would leave insufficient head-space for the cylinder to properly rotate. That condition also puts more pressure on the cylinder hand, compromising its ability to rotate the cylinder correctly.

In contrast, an auto-loader can be fired for many more rounds before cleaning than a revolver before excessive fouling interferes with normal functioning. Auto-loaders are a closed system. There are no open gaps between the chamber and forcing cone like on a revolver. Therefore most of the fouling occurs inside the barrel of an auto-loader or out the end of the barrel. On the contrary, revolvers have an air gap where the bullet jumps from the cylinder’s chamber to the barrel’s forcing cone. When a revolver is fired, hot gasses carrying burnt and unburnt powder along with lead particles exit the gun from that air gap and coat the front of the cylinder and forcing cone with residue. That residue builds up over time and will cumulatively contribute to a malfunction sooner or later.

Being a partner of a private firing range and a firearms instructor for 25+ years, I personally witness and I am guilty myself of firing between eight hundred to a thousand rounds of ammunition through autoloaders without any cleaning and generally experience no problems or malfunctions whatsoever. You would be very lucky to get two-hundred rounds through a revolver without experiencing some type of operational irregularity.

All that said, if you leave a revolver in your car collecting dust and never use it or clean it for a couple years, it is highly likely that you can quickly retrieve it from your glove box and deploy it flawlessly in a defense situation. In comparison, your semi-auto left in the same condition, especially with a fully loaded magazine, has the potential of losing magazine spring tension. The first round will probably be fine but who knows if a second round will chamber.

While the revolver does seem to handle neglect fairly well, it is far less able to survive abuse, which is the primary reason auto-loaders were adopted by most of the world’s armies early in our previous century. In my opinion, the auto-loader is far superior in this category due to its near indestructibility and propensity to keep functioning long after the revolver would be rendered unusable.

Accuracy

In spite of all of this, accuracy tends to be the great equalizer of handguns. Most, but not all, auto-loading handguns have a floating barrel that rocks back and tilts the feed ramp of the barrel downward while in rear battery which helps in feeding and chambering a new live-round. This very small amount of potential movement along with a typically stronger and stiffer trigger pull create a more challenging condition for auto-loading handguns to be fired as accurately as revolvers. Revolvers have fixed, and in most cases longer, barrels with crisp and light trigger pulls. These features allow revolver’s to possess a higher degree of accuracy over that of most auto-loaders. It also becomes especially important if the weapon is used more for target practice or competition rather than for self-defense.

Another aspect of accuracy can be directly attributed to grip. A proper grip for an auto-loading handgun requires the shooter to actually become part of the machine itself. If the shooter holds or grips the weapon too loosely, the slide will not travel rearward far enough to pick up the next round from the magazine – returning to battery with an empty chamber. The shooter must provide the resistance required to make that machine operation work properly. That same increased hand pressure, for some, undermines finger dexterity. Fortunately, this is a situation that can be helped through experience and training.

In comparison, the revolver is a machine that only relies on the shooter to make it fire ACCURATELY. Thus, the revolver can be fired with a much more relaxed and less tense grip while the auto-loader will not work unless the shooter uses a firm grip. Some novice shooters have a difficult time learning the difference from a firm grip and a death grip, which can also lead to inaccuracy.

Subsequently, the revolver is a much easier gun to learn and manipulate. Its design renders it a weapon which can be easily deployed and fired by novices. Quite a few women, generally having less hand strength, have a difficult time manipulating the slide of an auto-loader as some models, especially the smaller and more concealable versions, have very tight recoil springs. Thus, the revolver has gained a reputation of simplicity. Sometimes people misunderstand or misinterpret what that simplicity really means and mistake the weapon as being more simplistic than an auto-loader.

Going back to that original question, is the revolver really a more simple machine design? In my opinion no. If you research exploded diagrams and parts lists for most modern revolvers and auto-loaders, what you will find is that revolvers typically have significantly higher numbers of parts than the typical auto-loaders. And that number includes the magazines which usually have four separate parts each. An example would be a classic Colt 1911 which has 51 total parts while a Smith & Wesson model 19 has 93 total parts. If you compare only the moving parts, the revolvers still exceed the number of moving parts than in a typical auto-loader.

That said, I still believe that though the revolver is a much more complex machine, the learning curve to fire it accurately is shorter for most people. Revolvers are very simplistic to use and fire but they are incredibly complex and fragile machines. Auto-loaders, however, require more training to fire properly but are in essence very simplistic designs with fewer moving parts. It is this phenomenon that encourages folks to believe that the revolver design itself is simpler and that less can go wrong with a revolver. I hope we have put that issue to rest.

Usability

In the beginning of this article I said I would forgo discussions about rounds capacity, caliber, and grip size to move on the “meat and potatoes” and I believe I have. When you forgo a discussion on rounds capacity you also leave out the obvious which is the autoloaders feature of multiple loaded magazines which give the autoloader a distinct advantage in firepower and ease of reloading.

But, those are the most obvious features and frankly get written about incessantly. What I intended to offer in this article were the less known and discussed pros and cons which address the reliability and usability of each pistol type. I hope I have done that.

In closing, both revolver’s and auto-loading handguns have their place in contemporary times. Each have their strengths and weaknesses and each can certainly fit the needs and requirements of most gun owners. It is important, however, to know the limits of your weapon of choice. Each system has its inherent deficits and vulnerabilities and each has unique performance characteristics.

Guns that cost more are just like toilet paper that costs more. It does the job better and keep your hands looking good. If you are rappelling off a 600’ cliff, would you buy a rope on sale at a flea market or would you research the best ropes, made specifically for rappelling, and buy that one instead? If my life hangs on the rope, you better believe I’m going for the best rope I can buy. Gun selection is about making the same choices and so is ammunition selection. If it is your life or the lives of your family that motivate you to own a firearm, then please choose wisely.

End

Foes

Thank you Fate for all my foes. Am I being facetious? No, not really. I won’t lie though, I do wish everyone would like me. Am I all that different from others in that regard? I really don’t know the answer to that, I’m just assuming that the desire to be liked is consistent among all of us. I will say that it definitely hurts my feelings when I find out someone doesn’t like me, especially when it’s someone I respect or someone I’ve invested a lot of myself into. In retrospect, however, what could be more inspiring or motivating than an outright enemy or competitor? They keep us sharp don’t they?

People without foes cannot imagine the passions that burn within those of us who do – the fire being constantly kindled by people whose only real goal in life,  it seems, is to subvert the goals of others. A wise older man told me once that “most people don’t care if you do well, they just don’t like it when you’re doing better than they’re doing.” If you count yourself as a hard worker, a creative type, detail oriented, a smart cookie, or maybe just lucky as hell, someone out there is going to hate you for whatever it is that sets you apart or elevates your status above their own.

Thankfully, the laws of selection have likely killed off a good bit of that asshole DNA over the life-span of humanity. Our “old school” ancestors weren’t as obliged to take as much lip as we are these days and swords aren’t as readily accepted as a part of daily dress as they once were. But despite all that early character-cleansing activity, there’s still some decently pathetic people out there continuing to fertilize prick-eggs. They just keep coming. Just because one may die, you’re never going to be out of the woodwork. If you are a do’er or a leader or a facilitator – there’s always another sniper out there ready to put you in his/her cross-hairs.

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The jealousy gene is present inside all of us, especially me. If I meet someone who seems to have it all together, living the easy life, I’ll admit that I sometimes feel a bit of jealousy. For a fleeting moment, not really knowing the back story of that person, I unwittingly think that I want what he or she has. The key words here are “seems” and “think”. But not everything is always as it seems. Our jealousies are oftentimes out of sync with the person’s real life – perhaps they’re living a life that we wouldn’t want for ourselves at all – we just haven’t seen it naked.

Some people, though, have a jealousy gene which is Enormously Dominant. Let’s just call this condition E.D. for now.  These people are genetically engineered to feel threatened by another’s outward successes. They are so consumed with jealousy that they actually believe that your successes (big or small), undermine their own self-confidence. Maybe they believe you will be favored or loved more than them. Perhaps they have a tinge of mental illness – your popularity or success emasculates their own self-perceptions. These folks are driven to try and derail you. It’s not personal, it’s their E.D...

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We’re really never going to know the exact reasons why these insecure folks will sell their souls to undercut your efforts, or why they are drawn to careers in finance(?%&@); we just have to recognize them for the value that they bring to our lives. Haters don’t necessarily hate you, it’s far more likely that they actually hate themselves. You become a reflection of what’s missing in their own mirror and a painful reminder of their own inadequacies.

To sum it all up, backstabbers and haters are not going away. If you lose one, you will get another. Why not elevate their status in a way that brings about positivity instead of stress? First learn to recognize them, then learn to appreciate them for the challenges they help you overcome. Perception is reality, they say.

FOES

Thank you Fate for foes! I hold mine dear

As valued friends. He cannot know

The Zest of life who runneth here

His earthly race without a foe.

I saw a prize. “Run,” cried my friend;

“’Tis yours to claim without a doubt.”

But ere I half-way reached the end,

I felt my strength was giving out.

My foe looked on while I ran;

A scornful triumph lit his eyes.

With that perseverance born in man,

I nerved myself, and won the prize.

All blinded by the crimson glow

Of Sin’s disguise, I tempted Fate.

“I knew thy weakness?” sneered my foe,

I saved myself, and balked his hate.

For half my blessings, half my gain,

I must thank my trusty Foe;

Despite his envy and disdain,

He serves me well where’er I go.

So may I keep him to the end,

Nor may his enmity abate;

More faithful than the fondest friend,

He guards me ever with his hate.

W. Wilcox

Genesis 2.0

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Everyone benefits from an obsession with family history. Maybe too bold a statement…? I can only speak from my own experiences but if you will allow me to explain my reasoning I think you will agree.

Had I, like many others, not followed my genealogical paths backward, I could never have better understood the whole of who I am in the way that I do now. Knowing what I know about all of the astonishing things that had to occur and all of the remarkable people who were able to survive along the way – all contributing their own DNA along the way, it has helped me to realize just how unique we all are but also amazingly true is how similar we are.

Genealogical research has a way of reverse-engineering our souls. It breaks us down piece by piece, and reveals an honesty about our pasts which is sometimes flattering and newsworthy and just as often ugly or immoral. For some, it can reveal a surprising or hidden truth, blurred by time, exaggerations, or even lies. For the majority of us, what little information we do learn from our ancestors only represents a tiny fraction of the story of us.

I vividly remember my paternal grandfather, Papaw White, telling me that we were Scotch-Irish and that I was named after Capt. John White of early American colonist fame – Roanoke/Croatoan story. I never doubted the Scotch-Irish ancestry but somehow I never really bought the Capt. John Smith story. A couple things just didn’t add up; the Captain was English and, most importantly, after returning from England to discover that his colony was lost, he returned to England and never returned to American soil.

My grandmother, however, shared her family history with me which has turned out to be pretty accurate, albeit scant in detail. She told me her family immigrated to the United States from Germany. What I later discovered was that they immigrated from a tiny hamlet called Mitschdorf, Alsace which is actually in France. Situated on the Rhine River bordering France, Switzerland and Germany, Alsace has a complicated history as it sits just below the traditional French customs border of the Vosages Mountains although the French territories stopped at the Rhine River – just beyond the tiny town of Mitschdorf. The people who inhabited that region were principally of German descent.

The German language and customs of the inhabitants of these French outskirts continued for centuries through the 17th and 18th centuries – including the time when my Neese family immigrated to the United States. Thirty year old Hans Michael Nehs, infant son Michael and his twenty seven year old wife Dorothea along with 266 other Palatines arrived in the port of Philadelphia, PA on 21 September, 1731, sailing on the ship Britannia having sailed across the Atlantic from Rotterdam, Holland. Soon after immigration the Nehs family, either through ignorance of the language or by choice, Americanized the surname to Neese and/or Neece and other similar variations which have since scattered themselves to and fro across the entire country.

So, my grandmother was actually pretty close right? You could say that but only if her story began or stopped right there – but it doesnt. Michael’s father and mother Mathias and Maria had just been living in Rusovce, Bratislava, Slovakia prior to moving to the Alsace region of France.

Cognizant to most of us family tree-climbers is that just four generations up the tree gives me no less than sixteen great grandparents. Another generation beyond that gives me thirty-two grandparents – another gives me sixty-four… each grandparent having his or her own distinct ancestry, some of it quite fascinating. Unfortunately, some is also lost forever to time and insignificance. Perhaps we should expend more energy while we’re alive with the goal of not being so insignificant.

Most of us associate our general lineage and ancestry by our last names. The truth is that you have hundreds of last names, some you’ve never heard about. If I push my ancestry out just ten generations beyond myself, I can personally verify 128 different surnames. This does not include incidences where the same last name repeats from other ancestors marrying cousins which occurs nearly a dozen times in that same ten-generation time span. There are also familial lines where I can’t YET go back ten generations.

Family Tree

I have found a wealth of new names, belonging to me, I’d never even heard before. Some of the oddest names in my lineage: Cazeneuve, Coggeshall and Erchtebrech. The Beaufort, Ragland, Marcell and Simpson are surname lines that I’ve researched heavily while the Pfeiffer, Koch, Emot and Lisbet lines are among the many still lying in wait for me to catch an interest. The gist of everything I’m writing here is that we are all so much more than the sum of two parts, even if you’ve not been formally introduced to the other parts.

While I grew up thinking I was just an average white guy with Scotch-Irish/German ancestry on my paternal side and maternal Welsh/English ancestry, I’ve since learned that I hail from Scandinavia, Spain, Wales, Scotland, Ireland, England, France, Italy, Turkey, Belgium, Germany, Austria, Switzerland, the Netherlands, Greece, the Middle East, Hungary, Slovakia, Israel, and Belarus. My ancestors were Vikings, Jews, Knights Templar, Spanish conquistadors, American colonists, Native Americans, Revolutionary War soldiers and early American statesmen. They were Frankish kings and Welsh nobles and they were poor farmers, merchants, tin smiths and shoe cobblers.

monty_python__the_inquisition_by_emperornortonii

What my ancestors have most in common with your ancestors is that they were all survivors. They are the survivors of numerous plagues, copious wars, inquisitions, witch trials, battlefield forays, and voyages across unknown and uncharted waters. They survived attacks from neighboring warlords, tribes, and villages. They fought off zealous religious groups, parried political unrest, returned from great world wars, defeated the Nazis, found something to eat under communist regimes, lived through indentured servitude and found freedom after generations of slavery. Our ancestors avoided the horns of Jericho and the plagues of Egypt. Had they not, you and I would not be having this conversation.

flat-world

All of us are extremely lucky to even be here. There were far more opportunities for us to have never been born at all than for us to have ascended from whatever heaven and hell our people endured. If you look far enough and broad enough backward, sideways, and crossways, you’ll find a bit of both.

Since I know that I’m a Gaul, a Latin, an Etruscan, a Greek, a Celtic, a Briton, a Silurian, a Native American, a Jew, an Arab, a Spaniard, a Frank and a Viking, I can safely assume that other people living among me who are firm in their belief that I’m either a deplorable, infidel, heathen, left-winger or right-winger might also themselves be a great many things they never knew about.

Despite our differing features, sizes and shades of skin, we’re very much a homogeneous community of very blessed people of common origin and descent. Not the kind of homogeneity like Hitler envisioned but in the way that if you look deep enough, what you find is me. Hitler didn’t have the ability to know that he himself was a Jew – we, however, do. If we all choose to use our extremist obsessions to peel back the layers of our own ancestry instead of the flaws and faults of others who disagree with us, perhaps we could all realize that we are all many different things…things which would not qualify us to be the judge of all others. Said differently, if I’m an infidel, we’re all infidels; because I am you.

 

Resilience – Navigating the Art of Moving On

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Most of us are living lives that started off in one direction, confident that we would become this or end-up doing that, but instead we dove in head-first only to come up for air in some totally different place or profession which was never even on our radar at the time. We just knew that we were going to marry a certain someone, have X number of kids, have a well-paying job with excellent benefits, then retire with a great big house overlooking God’s glorious creation in its most subjective splendor. If you’re a woman, your dreams may have been much loftier and may or may not have included a sparkly crown, glass slippers, and a blue-eyed Greek shipping magnate.

Nowadays, you’re lucky to find a guy who regularly plucks his ear and nose hair so if you’re still waiting on the sparkly crown, I shouldn’t have to be the one to inform you that your high expectations may be to blame for perpetual loneliness. You could be one of those people who are thinking about all those daydreams-gone-bad and or instead you may be living and gorging yourself on every ounce of your prepubescent insight. Most of us, however, are probably somewhere in-between being pissed off at our parents for not being honest with us about our true capabilities or just happy to have a decent car, job and mortgage debt.

To put it bluntly, where I am today and where I thought I’d have been at fifty-years-old couldn’t be much further apart. I actually thought I would grow up and become a psychiatrist. A short time in college majoring in Pre-Med cured me of those dreams as I quickly realized just exactly what I was a naturally gifted at and what I sucked at. That doesn’t mean that I don’t still love giving advice or tinkering in psychological subjects. It just means that I wasn’t prepared for everything else that comes with an education in science, particularly all the stupid crap I don’t like.

So what happens when you suddenly realize that all of your dreams were simply well-intended hallucinations? In many cases, our parents push us toward our most outwardly apparent aptitudes or instead the things they always wished they’d have done and our teachers push us toward the trending job market. We were provided with lists of job-titles along with their equivalent salaries and were immediately driven toward the big 3 – Pilot; Doctor; Lawyer…? Sometimes we have dreams that don’t fall into any of the above categories. Maybe you wanted to be a musician or a dancer or an artist but you were discouraged by worried parents.

School was very easy for me. I honestly never really took schoolwork all that serious and my grades were high enough that my parents never really worried about me enough to check on what I was doing or not doing. I just sort of did what I wanted and floated through school never worrying about my grades or if I’d have benefited from making higher grades or challenging myself. My parents had much more serious challenges with another sibling so I guess it was easy for me to fall between the cracks and pretend that I was doing everything I should be doing.

That all came to a head in college when I suddenly realized that I hadn’t really paid all that much attention in high school. A perfect example of this was in my sophomore year. I was enrolled for an honors level English class but my best friend was enrolled in a resource English class. On the first day of school I showed up to his class and took a chair because I just wanted to hang out with him and when the teacher didn’t call my name from her list of students she asked the class, “Is there anyone here whose name I did not call?” I raised my hand, she wrote my name down on her list and I ended up spending that year in a class that I could sleep in and still make straight A’s. The good thing was that I was just smart enough to fool the system; the bad thing was that I was just smart enough to fool the very system that was trying to help me.

Maybe if I’d have paid more attention and taken school more serious, I’d have been writing professionally instead of writing for fun. On another note, maybe if I hadn’t have done all of those stupid things in life, I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to overcome my own adolescent ignorance with better adult decisions which led me to the wonderful life and the precious wife and son that I have today. It’s kind of like the song by Rascal Flatts called Along the Broken Road, “Every long-lost dream – led me to where you are…God blessed the broken road that led me straight to you.” The lyrics are a metaphor for adolescent stupidity mixed with a little luck or a lot of grace, whichever form of mercy you subscribe to.

Broken roads and broken dreams are just part of the plan it seems. We don’t realize it when we are fifteen but most of those dreams are pretty lofty anyway. Plus, that girl you like so much turns out to be bi-polar at forty and the football quarterback with dimples and a hairy chest is on disability, has diabetes, and plays video games well into the wee hours of the morning. Fifteen turns out to be way too young an age to determine just what is and what is not a good quality in a spouse. Boobs are a wonderful thing but if that girl don’t love you enough to protect you from your own ignorance then she ain’t worth having.

resilience-dandelion-through-asphalt

Resilience, the subject of this blog, is something you learn from all of the little and big faux pas we are destined to make along the bumpy, curvy, divided, and forked road of our youth. Even though you’re way smarter at fifteen then you are at fifty (Just ask Jeff Foxworthy), you don’t have enough real-life experiences with which to relate all that natural born brilliance. You end up learning a lot more about the real world from good ole Murphy than you ever would have if you’d actually listened to all those lectures. Murphy is a complete asshole. He helps to thicken your defenses and sharpen your offenses. But, he could also destroy your confidence and leave you crying in a fetal position if you’re not prepared.

Never afraid to pack up and move or to take on some exciting new adventure – my mistakes have spanned an immense territory and I’ve met many hundreds of people with whom I have shared some pretty stupid experiences. That kind of adventurous free-spirit comes with a price. I was talking to my wife, Emily, a few weeks ago trying to figure out just how many times I’ve moved since I first left home as a fledgling adult. The number was much more difficult to figure out than you can imagine because the number was pretty high; like 26 or something. It was this painful exercise that inspired me to write this blog.

Each one of those moves, however haphazard it may seem now, had something to do with career, emotion, opportunity, relationships or going broke. I’ve certainly never been afraid to try new things. That has probably been the defining statement of my life. The excitement that always comes with some new discovery has driven me almost on auto-pilot. You might say I have the repertoire of an articulate hobo. I’m sure my mom must have been pretty worried about me for a long time but all of that uncertainty and seat-of-the-pants living contributed to the broad vernacular you see in my blogs today. And don’t think that every move I made was done so by choice.

That resilient protective layer I’ve been talking about comes from standing in the batter’s box and taking a few wild pitches into the torso. Just being honest and good or generous doesn’t gain you any immunity from trouble at all. It turns out that Murphy is an Atheist and doesn’t care that you sent $50 bucks to Joel Osteen last week. There is a literal cornucopia of chaos that life can throw at you at a moment’s notice. Surviving these moments grows our experience-knowledge and helps us to nurture more buoyancy and assuredness so that we are able to survive the next wave of pandemonium. That level of comfort grows and grows with each struggle until we emerge with something very close to confidence. Then our confidence can be shattered when we learn that Murphy also throws a great knuckle ball.

An old Chinese proverb says “Failure is the mother of success” and I believe it wholeheartedly but sometimes people get caught up in the failure itself instead of the lesson. Failure is never a person; failure is an event. How would anyone ever know how sweet success really tastes when they’ve never tasted the saltiness of sweat and failure? So you strike out every now and then…knuckle balls are hard to hit. The players that make it in the big leagues learn how to ignore the pain or embarrassment of striking out and absorb something valuable from each failed attempt in order to improve their odds of their next “at bat”.

In discussing our near future a few days ago, Emily and I were talking about what type of home we may build on the farm and she said to me that she’d come to a place in her life where she no longer cared about what people might think about how she lives or how successful others may think we are or aren’t, she said she just wants to build exactly what we want and need within the limits of our budget. I think that moment where you live your dreams not because of what it will prove but because that is all you want to do is the definition of contentment. I’m very lucky to have her.

Being married to Emily has helped me to realize that love is not always about winning or losing. Perhaps real love is more about a few sweet moments in time, followed by an eternity of growth and discovery. The fruits of marriage can last indefinitely through our children and the people we touch. From this perspective, I realize that we not only benefit in life from the one’s we love the most, but we also benefit from the love’s we have lost and the relationships that have failed for whatever reason. We as spouses both get to benefit from each other’s failed endeavors and marriages.

That level of recognition comes from the ability to let go of baggage, hate, failures, and the heartaches in your past. Letting go of unnecessary baggage doesn’t necessarily mean that you don’t care about that person or that endeavor anymore it is simply the realization that the only person you really have control over is yourself. If the weight of certain things are dragging you down instead of lifting you up then you should move on to the next thing. Looking straight into the eyes of each person or situation; you must decide if this is going to be a part of your history or a part of your destiny.

Letting go of anger and hate is also an incredibly important concept in moving on. If you hate something or someone it/they will always be with you. You may think that you can move away from a person you hate but as long as you are feeling the emotion of hate then they are going to be with you metaphysically. Discovering that you possess the courage to move on from destructive forces or people contributes to the cultivation of our super-powers which are Resilience, Courage, Dignity, and Peace.

  • Resilience we learn from getting back up after being knocked down and discovering that no matter how hard the punch – we will always be able to find a way to get back up.
    • Courage promotes discovery which contributes to wisdom. We obtain courage from ignoring our fears and just being ourselves.
    • Dignity is a personal emotion that is derived from doing the right thing even when doing wrong would better serve you. Resilience and Courage allow us to maintain our dignity even when others question our motives.
    • Peace comes when you no longer even think about any of the aforesaid attributes. Peace is not caring either way. You know you’re going to do what’s right so why waste time worrying about what others think. Your resilience to criticism and your courage to stick to your guns give you a place of peace that only time and experience can buy.

The rest is all up to God, thus forget trying to know what all that means. God knows; man thinks. It is how knowing differs from knowing-about or wisdom. Man thinks he gets to know when he thinks, but he never does because he only thinks from his own singular experiences. Each of our human perspectives about life, the world, family, sexuality, war, or whatever are molded and shaped by what we have personally observed and learned in the way a blacksmith hammers and forges iron. Our brains are like hot furnaces that shape, anneal, and organize whatever metals get thrown inside and what comes out are products of that very individualized mixture. No matter how smart you think you are…you really don’t know much in the big scheme of things so get over yourself and be real because cousin Murphy is always watching for an opportunity to let some hot air out of you.

Finally, resilience requires you to stop judging yourself unnecessarily. There is not one human on this earth that is not also a sinner or worthy to tell you what kind of life you should be living. Insecurity, especially religiously oriented insecurities are like Kudzu to the psyche. It climbs, coils, and latches onto every part of your life if you allow it. There are few things in life that can be as destructive to your soul as the counterfeit son of Man.

As I already stated: God knows; man thinks. If I cannot really know you as God knows you and if I cannot really know why you are the way you are or why you do the things you do then how can I judge you in a religious context? I have no problem judging you as a singer or a mechanic but judgement of the soul is reserved for God only. Interpreting the word of God is not just about reading specific words; it about reading the whole book and understanding the context in which those words are describing something.

Example:
Psalm 51:5 says, “Behold, I was shapen in iniquity; and in sin did my mother conceive me.” Ephesians 2:3 “…we were by nature deserving of wrath.”

What I’m trying to point out is that we all have this very modern and contemporary view of religion which always involves some particular sub-faith being taught to us by some particular sinner, among a building full of other sinners who all have an unhealthy interest in what you’re doing such that people are less likely to be asked what they themselves might be doing. Even the idea that one church has a higher favor with God over another faith is an arrogant and sinful concept. It’s exactly what we humans do. Every generation thinks it’s smarter than the generation before so we evolve our beliefs and attempt to gain followers in order to prop up our own arrogance. Your faith, or lack of it, exists inside you and is a personal relationship you have between yourself and your God. Simple as that.

Whatever your weaknesses and guilty pleasures may be – you can be forgiven by the One who really counts. It’s not up to me and not up to your neighbors. Stop allowing the judgement of others to undermine your own confidence and self-esteem. You are always going to be whatever you are – always. If you believe that you’re sinning by being yourself then also believe in the concept of Grace. God knows that human biology creates an occasional misfire and sometimes those misfire’s can be beautiful. It’s a Grace thing. The God I know is anything but mercilessness.

There are enough land-mine’s in life and enough bully’s to fight without having to deal with them in a place of worship. Stop worrying about your failures and start looking for the hidden carrot in those failures. We all have weaknesses, find out what you’re great at and do that instead of trying to put a square peg in a round hole. If you cannot find that special job – create it. If you can’t find that special person – be that person yourself and maybe they will find you. Above all, do something. Be brave and be bold. Resilience is about fighting back.