An interesting question was raised just the other day as to what have been the greatest law enforcement revolvers. I suppose you could look at it from several different perspectives. You might consider those guns that were the trend setters or you might tally up the guns that have had the highest production numbers. Or, you might just go with your favorites. And I suppose that there is nothing wrong with any of that.
When I first put on the badge of a Texas peace officer, the revolver was king. So I have a bit more than just academic interest in the subject. For my list, I have combined durability, longevity, and trend setting to come up with what I consider the seven greats.
Colt Single Action Army
Having been introduced in 1873, the Colt SAA enjoys 148 years of popularity although it is no longer considered a premier fighting gun. But, for about 75 years, it was the gun that most savvy lawmen chose and with good reason. Chambered in over 30 calibers (can you name them all?), the Colt was accurate enough to get the job done. And, just as important, it was a robust handgun that could often, in the old days, be a substitute for a billy-club. After all this time, it is still considered one of the iconic American handguns.
Smith & Wesson Model 10
The revolver that we call the Model 10 started life as the .38 Hand Ejector Model of 1899. Then, along came some military contracts and Smith & Wesson decided to call it the Military & Police model before finally settling on the Model 10. In its lifetime, some 6 million of the guns have been produced.
I would also venture to guess that more law enforcement officers have carried some version of the Model 10 (or its stainless versions...or its magnum versions) than any other handgun. There are several reasons for this popularity. The Model 10 is a medium-frame gun that is comfortable to carry during long hours of shift duty.
Its most popular caliber, .38 Spl., was relatively easy for most shooters to control. And the action was surprisingly smooth, and could be made even smoother by a good pistolsmith. Not as flamboyant as the magnums and other big-bore guns, the Model 10 was just a quality workhorse that could get the job done when an officer paid attention to the business at hand.
Smith & Wesson Triple Lock
The .44 Hand Ejector New Century was only manufactured from 1908 to 1915, with only about 15,000 guns made during that time. However, it showed the shooting world what Smith & Wesson was capable of building in a large-frame sixgun. And it created a line of descendants that are still with us today.
The Triple Lock became the foundation for the development of the .357 Magnum, .41 Magnum, and the .44 Magnum. If an officer had hands big enough to manage the large frame, he was well armed with just about any of the big frame Smith & Wessons. As an aside, though, I wonder just how many lawmen would have ever chosen the gun in .44 Magnum if Dirty Harry had not led the way.
Smith & Wesson Model 19
Border Patrol fast-draw expert Bill Jordan was one of the main ones to prevail upon Smith & Wesson to build a medium-frame revolver chambered for the .357 Magnum cartridge. Jordan suggested the adjustable sights, heavy barrel, and shrouded ejector rod as well and the results became known at the Combat Magnum. I carried one for many years...heck, I’ve still go four of them and use them often. Comfortable to carry, smooth action, extremely accurate, it was truly a lawman’s dream.
Back in those days, we practiced with .38 target loads and reserved our magnum ammo for serious use. However, when departments began to mandate an officer practicing with the same ammo that he used on the street, we found that a steady diet of magnum loads could cause some serious trouble for these revolvers. Thus, the Model 19 & 66 (the stainless version) revolvers gave way to the fine L-frame series and the tradition continued.
Colt Detective Special
Since its introduction in 1927, the Colt Detective Special has been a popular choice for plain-clothes detectives and off-duty carry. It is also the oldest of the modern snubnosed revolvers, predating the good S&W Model 36 by almost 25 years.
Colt employee J.H. FitzGerald started the trend when he would cut down the 4-inch Colt Police Positive to make custom belly guns for savvy lawmen and special friends. The popularity of the Detective Special paved the way for all of the snubnose guns that we’ve seen, and continue to see, today. It was definitely a trend setter.
Introduced in 1955, I suspect that the Python was designed by Colt for use in bullseye pistol matches which, in those days, the revolver ruled. However, most of us considered it the true Cadillac of cop guns, with its smooth action and great accuracy.
The Python also used a slightly larger frame than the S&W Model 19 which allowed us to handle the .357 Magnum cartridge a bit more efficiently. While you could buy a Model 19 for about $80, the Python sold for $125, but when you saw a lawman packing one, you could pretty well bet that he knew a thing or two about shooting handguns and was probably not a rookie.
Not to be outdone, Ruger introduced the Security-Six in 1972. It utilized investment casting and other manufacturing innovations to build a good revolver and keep the cost to a minimum at the same time—a fact that working cops really appreciated.
From 1972 to 1988, the Ruger DA family expanded to include stainless guns, as well as the original blue, and spin-off models of the Service-Six and Speed-Six. Typical of Ruger, the Security-Six was a lot of gun for the money. But it was just a bit too lightweight for steady use of magnum ammo, so the company beefed it up here and there and called it the GP100.
So there you have my picks for the seven great law enforcement revolvers. What’s that? I left out your favorite? Well, let us hear from you and tell us why your favorite is...well...your favorite.