‘Handgun’ is a generic term for the wide variety of short-barrelled weapons out there – the kind that can technically be fired with only one hand. A 9mm pistol called the Calico Liberty III is for those particularly worried about running out of ammo. It comes standard with a fifty-round magazine that can be upgraded to a one hundred round magazine.
Capacity depends on the type of handgun. A revolver typically holds between five and six rounds in its rotating chambers, while a pistol uses magazines inserted into the handgrip. Pistols usually carry between six and nineteen rounds, but extended magazines can frequently be purchased as an extra.
There’s a difference between an automatic pistol that uses magazines and a handgun with fixed chambers – think revolvers and derringers. The chambers holding the rounds are an integral part of the gun and not replaceable like a magazine.
A 38 Special is an example of a type of revolver made by various manufacturers that usually chambers between five and six rounds.
How Many Bullets are in a Pistol?
Several variables affect how many rounds a handgun can hold. We have pointed out one of them already – the type of handgun. Other variables are caliber size, handgun size, make and model, magazine type, and the availability of aftermarket magazines.
There are single-action (SA) revolvers that require you to manually cock the hammer to fire. An example is the Ruger Super Blackhawk. SA revolvers look like the handguns you see in western films. These days they are used mainly for hunting or target shooting.
With a double-action (DA) revolver, you don’t have to cock the hammer before shooting. Pulling the trigger automatically cocks the weapon. Most modern revolvers are DAs and typically hold five or six rounds.
Semi-automatic handguns or pistols can hold the most rounds out of any handgun because they use magazines. Each pull of the trigger means one round is fired. The model and make of the gun and the size of the magazine determine how many rounds it can fire before you need to reload.
Pistols come with standard magazines, but larger aftermarket magazines may also be available. For example, a Glock 19 with a standard magazine holds fifteen rounds but can also take magazines that hold seventeen, nineteen, or thirty-three rounds. A Glock 17 holds seventeen rounds standard.
The advantage of a pistol over a revolver is that you can carry any number of spare magazines that simply clip into the handle and you are fully reloaded and ready to shoot again. Reloading a revolver means you have to turn your attention to the gun while you feed the new rounds one by one into the chambers.
Small handguns designed for concealed carry, such as Derringers, also have chambers but are not revolvers as there is no spinning cylinder. They are easily hidden in a purse or pocket and in the early days, could only fire one shot before they had to be reloaded.
Pocket guns are classically single-action guns, but in more recent times, manufacturers have made double-action derringers that can hold four rounds.
Handgun Make and Model
Many pistols come in compact or full-size. The compact version is easier for concealed carry, so you need to think about the model as well as the make. A compact gun may not always hold as many rounds as its full-sized cousin. The average for a compact is between six and fifteen rounds, depending on the make.
Because it is designed for concealed carry, a compact pistol is often smaller and typically holds fewer rounds. For example, the full-size Glock 17 carries seventeen rounds plus one in the chamber, while the compact Glock 19 carries fifteen rounds plus one. The full-size CZ P10 F carries nineteen rounds plus one, while the compact P10 C carries fifteen plus one.
The terms “compact” and “full-size “have different meanings for different gun manufacturers and are not standard throughout the trade. For example, one manufacturer’s full-size may be as big as another manufacturer’s compact model.
To add to the variety, there are also sub-compact pistols that can be carried in a pocket. They tend to have magazines that hold around seven to twelve shots, but this varies between makes and manufacturers.
Model size affects round capacity because a small gun can only hold a small magazine. Full-size models tend to have a few more rounds than their compact versions. The capacity of revolvers is fairly limited, usually half or less than half that of a pistol because of their design.
The size of a revolver depends quite considerably on the caliber of the rounds it is designed for. The most common round size is .38, but different-sized revolvers may use these rounds. In Smith & Wesson, they come in J-frame, K-frame, and L-frame variants. The K-frame is bigger than the J-frame, and the L-frame is designed for the .357 magnum round, although it can shoot .38 Specials.
Caliber refers to the round size. Generally speaking, the bigger the round, the less space there is for multiple rounds. However, handguns that take larger caliber rounds may be bigger to accommodate the round size.
Many pistols these days hold 9mm rounds. The Beretta PX4 Storm Type F Full Size (JXF9F21NS model) with tritium sights has seventeen 9mm rounds. By contrast, the PX4 Storm Compact (JXC9F20FC) holds only ten 9mm rounds.
However, there are many .40 and .45 caliber handguns as well. The number of .40 and .45 rounds a gun can hold depends on the manufacturer and the model. The famous Magnum Research Desert Eagle MKXIX uses .50 caliber rounds but only holds seven, while the Desert Eagle 1911 holds eight .45 caliber rounds.
By contrast, the Glock 22 uses .40 S&W cartridges, and its standard magazine size is fifteen. The Beretta PX4 Storm .40 holds ten rounds (JXF420CA model). The Beretta PX4 Storm Type Compact has twelve .40 S&W rounds (model JXC4F21), but there is another one that holds only ten (model JXC4F20).
From this, it is evident that caliber size need not significantly affect gun capacity, but it can make a difference to the size of the gun itself and, therefore, ease of handling. The argument is often made that you don’t need as many of the larger rounds as you do 9mm because of their higher stopping capacity, but experts disagree.
The larger caliber handguns tend to hold fewer rounds, not only because of the bigger round size but also because carrying a large number of large-caliber rounds makes the gun heavy and harder to conceal.
Most .22 revolvers can hold around ten rounds, but the larger caliber ones hold between six and eight. The Taurus 44 uses 44 magnum rounds and holds six shots, while the Taurus 66 holds seven 357 Magnum or 38 Special +P rounds. The Taurus 608 packs eight 357 Magnum or 38 Special +P rounds.
A magazine is a detachable box device that stores and feeds bullets into a pistol. The cartridges are locked in place with the aid of a spring. The single-stack magazine stores the rounds horizontally in a single column. A double-stack stores the rounds in two columns and so holds more rounds than a single stack.
The rounds are stacked horizontally in both instances. The double-stack is sometimes called the staggered stack because although it has a double-column, it still feeds rounds into the gun one at a time. In the case of concealed carry, or compact handguns, the magazine is usually shorter than for a full-size weapon.
The Canik TP9 SFx holds twenty rounds as a full-sized pistol. The Sig Sauer P320-M17 holds seventeen rounds, but a twenty-one-round magazine is also available as an optional extra. It is the civilian version of the US Army service pistol and uses 9mm rounds.
The Sig Sauer P365 is a subcompact weapon that holds twelve 9mm rounds. The Glock 26 uses a double-stack magazine with a ten 9mmround capacity.
These days both compact and full-sized pistols use the double-stack magazine, but many concealed carry weapons use the single stack. The double-stack magazines mean the pistol grip is a bit thicker and heavier. Some newer compact pistols hold more rounds than older full-size ones, so you can’t always assume that a full-size pistol can carry more ammo.
A single-stack magazine may, in some instances, carry more rounds than a double-stack, depending on its design. Extended magazines are often sold aftermarket and increase the capacity of your handgun. The Walther PPS M2 is a subcompact 9mm handgun with a total of six single-stack rounds, but Walter sells extended magazines that hold seven and eight.
Revolver Round Capacity
Revolvers typically hold between five and six rounds, and there isn’t much you can do to extend their capacity. You would effectively have to modify the gun itself to increase capacity, which is hardly worth the cost. Gunsmiths don’t usually offer any kind of aftermarket product upgrades for revolvers for this reason.
The revolvers that have the highest capacity typically use .22 rounds. They can have six or ten shot cylinders. An example is Smith & Wesson’s Model 617 revolver. Other than collectors, people who want high-capacity handguns usually look to automatic handguns instead of revolvers.
Aftermarket Magazines For Automatic Handguns
Aftermarket extended magazines for popular brands of handguns such as Glock, Sig Sauer, Smith & Wesson, Taurus, Beretta, and Walther are pretty plentiful. The Glocks tend to be the biggest, but you can also have a custom magazine made for your particular automatic.
Some American states have laws banning large-capacity magazines. The maximum capacity differs from state to state. For instance, in Colorado, the legal capacity is fifteen rounds, while in California, it is ten.
In November 2021, the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit upheld the California ban on magazines holding ten or more rounds, saying it didn’t violate the Second Amendment rights of gun owners.
Other states that limit magazine capacity are Connecticut, Vermont, New York, Hawaii, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, and the District of Columbia. In Canada, there is also a ten-round limit for handguns.
What Is The Recommended Number Of Rounds For Concealed Carry?
The size, make, model, and capacity of a handgun are very much a matter of personal preference. People who habitually carry firearms on their person, such as police and security personnel, don’t have any difficulties with larger capacity handguns but, they do not carry them concealed.
It is easier to carry a full-size handgun on a hip holster than under the arm or in a purse. You should always go for the largest legal capacity allowed for your handgun. This may be ten or fifteen in some states, but in others, while there may not be a limit, you still need to be able to conceal the weapon.
There comes a point where magazine size makes concealment difficult, and the optimum number of rounds to carry in a concealed weapon would be between ten and fifteen rounds. However, even six rounds are better than none. Statistics show that most self-defense situations require, on average, two or three rounds.
The problem is where you encounter a situation where there are multiple attackers firing weapons, or one attacker is using an automatic rifle. The more proficient you are with your handgun, the more likely each shot is to count, but shooting on a range is very different from real-life emergencies.
The caliber of the rounds can make a slight difference but not by much. People sometimes say that a .45 can do twice the damage of a 9mm, but experts say this is not true. It is better to carry a spare magazine whether you use 9mm rounds or greater.
One-shot kills are rare, and even three well-placed shots may not immediately stop the threat.
You, therefore, need to be in a position to pump as many shots into your assailant as you can to be sure of stopping them before they can get to you.
Some handguns can hold up to one hundred rounds, but this is rare; you would need an aftermarket extended magazine, and it may not be legal in your area. Revolvers usually hold between five and six rounds.
Automatic handguns can hold many more – ten, twelve, seventeen, or even twenty, depending on the caliber, the type of magazine, the make and model of the pistol, and the availability of extended magazines.