I was out at a range for a little while today in conjunction with taking the NRA Personal Protection in the Home instructor’s course. Once again I saw two people with semi-autos have to deal with various failures during qualification shooting. These were two experienced shooters (people taking the instructors course for personal protection). One I know was shooting a Kimber; I believe the other was shooting a Springfield, or some other quite decent 1911-type. Experienced shooters with high-quality weapons (that Kimber costs more than any single gun I own; more than most pairs of weapons I own).
And also once again I saw somebody with a revolver have ammunition trouble. In this case they were definitely reloads.
I’ve seen quite a lot of people on the range shooting carry permit qualifications this spring and summer. Every single time, I’ve seen people have some sort of trouble with a semi-auto—either they fumble things, or the gun jams in one of the common ways. Every time the shooter has managed to deal with it and still qualify, too, to be fair. Sometimes it costs them two whole bullets, though.
Far more often than I would have expected, I’ve seen people have ammunition problems, too—and those people always seem to be shooting revolvers. I haven’t figured it out yet. I think I’m seeing something about demographics rather than about gun types. Something like people qualifying with a revolver are more likely to come from the part of the shooting community that reloads, and reloads by most people are not as reliable as commercial ammo. (I include myself in that; though in fact I’ve never had trouble with a reload I made myself, I suspect that’s just because I haven’t done it often enough yet).
(Also, ammo problems in a revolver cost you one shot and very little time; any sort of problem in a semi-auto costs you at least one shot, and considerably more time even if you manage to get all the jam-clearing drill to happen right, which may be optimistic under stress.)
Everybody, by which I mean AACFI and the NRA, teaches that reliability is the first priority in the choice of a defensive handgun (and presumably ammunition and the rest of the package, too). The shooters I’ve seen shooting qualifications this summer are nearly all relatively experienced shooters. But close to half of them have had some sort of trouble.
What’s going on here?
My tentative conclusion is that our firearms technology simply isn’t as reliable, in the hands of fairly ordinary people, as we’d like it to be.
I think this has a number of implications. One of the bigger ones, in my mind, is that the argument for getting beginners to carry revolvers is greatly strengthened. The complexity of jam-clearing operations on semi-autos is much, much higher than anything you deal with with a revolver (and that’s on top of the added complexity of manipulating safety switches and such on some of them).
Be honest with yourself. If you shoot a semi-auto, how many range sessions have you gotten through without some sort of malfunction? I know mine aren’t 100%. I’ve had failures to extract in the Kahr (still fairly new), and I’ve had them even in the Glock 17 (well broken in, but not always cleaned frequently). And of course the P-32, we mustn’t forget the p-32 (which, as a last-ditch type of weapon, probably carried as a backup, perhaps needs even greater reliability).
Excuse me, I need to go out to the range and practice with my revolvers some more now.
 I don’t mean to belittle other groups or individuals teaching Minnesota Carry Classes; these are the only two groups with published materials that I’ve had access to.