EPIC KABOOM. Faulty .38 Revolver, NOT Reloads. Shooter Shares His Story

The internet is littered with KABOOM reports where the shooter blindy swears it was not fault or his reloads. It takes a real man to admit he made a mistake. A read emailed me with photos of a KABOOM that happened on 4 July. He admits he should not have been shooting the old, poor quality gun and is sharing his story in the hopes that it will make people more safety conscious.

He writes …

Here is my story which I share in the hopes that the incident will help make people more aware and more conscious. I know there will be them that will say “that would never happen to me” well I was one of them yesterday and considered myself a safe and conscientious gun owner but I became complacent in my knowledge and skill and it led to this kaboom.


A couple years ago I inherited a RG-31 revolver chambered in .38 Special, a  brand that helped to create the term” Saturday night special” and which was notorious for poor manufacture and performance. I have put many rounds through it in spite of it having a sloppy and somewhat unreliable double action. I continued to use the gun in single action. Today while celebrating our day of freedom with a day of target shooting with the family and after shooting more the 20 rounds prior today the gun exploded. This wasn’t reloads or a squib load incident. It was due to the sloppy action. The cylinder failed to line up with the barrel. Which left nowhere for the bullet to go. These were semi-wadcutter rounds, I suspect if they were round nose the round might have sifted into place. The resulting explosion sent half of the cylinder 30 feet away denting a friends vehicle we never found that half! This could have ended up a lot worse and we are thankful it didn’t


Note in the pictures the off center primer strike compared to a casing from same gun earlier in the day and the piece of copper jacket at the edge of barrel where it peeled off.


I hope this will help to remove the “It will never happen to me” mentality for our minds. Please inspect your guns if there is ANYTHING questionable don’t use it! I intend to frame my mistake and put it in my gun room as a constant reminder of what could happen if I let myself get complacent again

Steve Johnson

Founder and Dictator-In-Chief of TFB. A passionate gun owner, a shooting enthusiast and totally tacti-uncool. Favorite first date location: any gun range. Steve can be contacted here.


  • Julius No

    Very interesting that it can be so misaligned that it would strike the primer and yet not allow the WC to clear the forcing cone.

    • Anthony

      Ever thought of becoming a doctor, Julius?

      • ozzallos .

        Coroner in this case.

    • Kelly Jackson

      It’s a pretty off center strike though, it’s nearly to the edge of the primer

  • Gregory

    Regardless of the cause, this proves one thing, we are our own worst enemy.

    • Ralph Napier

      If we buy guns made from rejected Hipoint pot metal.

  • PK

    These revolvers have the reputation they do because they earned it, frankly. They need extra attention and care to make certain that they’re safe to fire, and personally I refuse to work on them. In the same price bracket, there are far better options.

    • Cymond

      Who the heck has a smith work on a RG? It seems like they would cost more to fix them replace.

      • BigFED

        As a gunsmith for over 55 years, I wouldn’t work on an RG at any time and I don’t know many other smiths that did!

        • Cymond

          That’s fair, and I understand, but did anyone ever ask you to work on one?

          Currently, I think a RG sells for like $100, and gunsmiths charge like $50/hour for general labor. I’m suggesting it would be cheaper to throw the gun in the trash and buy a new one.

          • BigFED

            Actually, Yes, several times folks would bring in a RG that need repair or parts replacement (most often). When I refused to work on them they wanted to know why! So like Jack Nicolson character said in the movie “A Few Good Men”, they could handle the truth!

          • BigFED

            BTW, When RGs first became available, they were in the $19.95 range and were available in some convenience stores.

  • Gambler X

    A brief google search into RG would have told you that they had problems like that. And yet he considers himself safe and continued to shoot it…..

    • M.M.D.C.

      I think that’s the point he’s making.

    • Bob

      Continued to shoot it after it stopped working in double action, which is even crazier than trusting the internet…

  • thedonn007

    Looks like it would have been a good candidate for a gun buy back.

    • Bob

      Quick, find the other cylinder half and fetch the superglue, Daddy’s going make some quick cash!

      • Anonymoose

        Probably get $100 from one of those things- more than he bought the gun for.

        • Cymond

          I have a couple that I would gladly take to a “buy back”except I never hear about them in time.

        • Wyatt Earp

          He didn’t buy it, he inherited it.

      • Gary Kirk

        You could use duct tape for all they care..

  • Dave Y

    Though this particular gun appears to have “had a reputation” for this kind of issue, I was shooting next to a guy at the range a couple years back. He didn’t know me, but was a regular, and knew I was in to wheel guns. He came and got me and said ‘something doesn’t feel right’. Sure enough, the cylinder wasn’t timed correctly and not lining up to the barrel. I believe the … ‘pawl’, was not engaging to stop the cylinder from rotating.

    It was a Ruger GP100 or SP101 I don’t remember which, but we agreed he should not shoot it until fixed. I can’t remember if he’d admitted to taking it apart or not but it was the first I’d ever seen this. quite scary.

    • Anonymoose

      I’ve heard about Colts getting out of timing a lot more than other quality brands, but that’s because there’s not as many smiths who know how to fix them anymore, and they were always harder to work on than S&Ws.

      • Bill

        IMHO, Colts are somewhat more “delicate” the others when it comes to timing, particularly on a diet of a lot of heavy loads, and it takes an artisan to tune them, but when they rock, they roll.

  • Spencerhut

    Those guns are well known to be junk, have always been junk.

    Here is a tip, avoid guns with a reputation of being junk.

    • hikerguy

      RG=Rotten Gun. That’s what we used to say back in the day, anyway. This was not an unusual event for them.

  • Swilson

    Yikes, that is pretty scary. I have a Colt Police Positive from 1922 that i occasionally shoot (always works flawlessly). However this definitely will make me more aware of the timing on that ol’ gal and any revolver for that matter.

    • My Official Police is a couple decades newer than your Colt, but still pretty old, and well worn. It still locks up real well on all 6 chambers, and the cylinder to forcing cone gap is still within spec.

  • DIR911911 .

    are you people ever going to proof read an article before posting? it’s like reading AND translating at the same time.

    • Cymond

      Admittedly, the wrist offenses in this one are direct quotes from the guy who owned the RG, not from a TFB writer.

      • nads

        too shay

    • nads


  • Todd

    I’m glad it turned out ok. Thanks for sharing!

  • lee1001

    Thank you for sharing, in my industry we call this a lessened learned.

  • iksnilol

    So much for revolvers being reliable.

    Tsk tsk.

    • Anon

      If a semi-automatic pistol was made from the same crappy materials as this revolver, the same thing would’ve happened, because pot metal guns are pot metal guns.

      The fact that it’s a revolver is irrelevant.

  • Bob

    I saw a .22 LR RG revolver a while back in a pawn shop for $175. Looked nice and in good shape, but a quick Google search on my phone stopped things right there…

  • Bradley Jones

    the gun was an RG its a POS the companhy was sued out of business years ago I would see one and sahy Oh thats an RG that must stand for Real Gun

  • Ralph Napier

    It’s a freakin RG. They quiver in the presence of plastic cap guns.

  • Hoplopfheil

    This is why I don’t think AMT Backups should be considered Saturday Night Specials. Yeah they might have been unreliable (okay they totally were), but at least they didn’t blow up under normal use.

  • Would you believe the Röhm once marketed a .44 Magnum? I suspect you would have to be somewhat suicidal to fire the RG57.

    • Burst

      .44 magnum with completely unshrouded ejector.

      Oh Lawdy.

      • Doesn’t look long enough to eject anything. At best, than’s an extractor rod.

        • 9911kelly

          You pull the rod to remove the cylinder, just like the RG .22 LR I had years ago.

    • I’m pretty sure it would be cheaper and less messy to just jump off a tall building.

      • Gary Kirk

        Cheaper?? Not by much.. Less messy? Probably not.. More efficient.. Ding!

    • Wyatt Earp

      “Write for complete details”

      How quaint. I wonder how many people actually “wrote for further details.”

      Thank goodness for the web.

  • marathag

    What do you expect for potmetal?

    That said, got one in 22 that has been great for decades.

  • Röhms are toilet guns, man; actually trying to fire one will be a self-correcting mistake sooner or later.

  • Kivaari

    “RG” = junk. Pot metal guns designed for Europeans where rubber bullets, tear gas or blanks are used. Send them here, and expect kabooms. They have not been imported for 20 plus years.

  • Cymond

    I bought a couple of RG revolvers years ago when money was tight but I wanted a diverse selection of guns. I got a RG-23 for demonstration of how a double action revolver works, and for $80 cash & carry, I’m pleased it even throws lead. The RG-66 is a hassle and doesn’t have any safety features like a transfer bar, but mine has a trigger that’s about 7/8 (0.875) of a pound.

    But yeah, they’re junk. I just trust that 22lr doesn’t have enough energy to make a real Kaboom.

  • jerry young

    You get what you pay for! pay for junk you get junk! sometimes it’s better to display old guns rather than shoot them, I recently had the opportunity to purchase a couple of old guns a little chief .22 rifle which I did buy but as a wall hanger and an old top break .32 revolver that I turned down only because of lack of interest since I have a top break .38 short revolver in my collection, the point being when I researched the guns I found the revolver was for black powder loads only which would make it unsafe for modern ammo, while the revolver looked in very good condition and may have been capable of firing the loads are not easy to come by, I reload but don’t know anything about loading black powder shells, I have read where people use lighter modern loads in older guns like these but sometimes you have to question is 1 second of pleasure worth a gun exploding in my hand!

  • 9911kelly

    Years ago I bought an RG .22 LR revolver. Back then, I was in my early 20s and didn’t know much about revolvers. The quality was so poor that the cylinder wouldn’t line up with the barrel, and as a result, a person standing beside it would get hit with small bits of lead. Fortunately, no one was injured. At least being a .22, it wasn’t likely to blow up.

    The gun was so inaccurate, even at 15 feet, that a friend once though he was shooting blanks. I had to show him the ammo to prove to him that it was real ammo.

    • Navy Davy

      See IJ reply above; and,
      I inherited an IJ .32 revolver, it still works, but it would shoot at 25 yards six FEET high and right. Yes, feet, not inches. 2 yards from bullseye.
      But, I fixed the aim point with a Dremel tool so it is now right on.
      Still shoot it occasionally. Made before 1931.

  • Andy Kay

    Shooter’s fault.

    RG makes crap guns. Shouldn’t have bought one in the first place.

    Knew the gun had a sloppy action. Kept shooting anyways

    All on the shooter.

    Those RG’s were NOT high volume firearms

  • BigFED

    The RG’s took the pressure off of IJ (Iver Johnson) for being low gun on the totem pole! But, at least the IJ and other makes) were all steel construction, but the cylinder locking method was suspect if the shooter was not firm on the trigger. The way the cylinder was held in proper alignment was by the hand/cylinder pawl pushing the cylinder in place and (in several models) there were no locking notches to keep it in alignment. If pressure on the trigger was relaxed, the cylinder could “reverse” enough to be out alignment with the bore. Not all IJ’s were of that design.

    There were some other manufacturers that also used this method and they were equally suspect.

  • spydersniper

    RG was banned by the feds about 40 years ago. They had parts made out of pot-metal and failed the “melt test”. If you got that many rounds out of it, you were lucky! I bought an RG-22 back around 70 because it was the cheapest thing out there. I went to the range to play a bit. Somewhere in the 2nd box I started feeling something over my shooting hand, and there was what I thought was powder burns on my index finger. I fired a few more rounds and the guy next to me started looking at me funny. Then he came over and asked to look at the gun. He said he had been feeling something every time I fired it. The timing had already gone hither, and it was shaving the rounds, and he apparently was getting hit. You don’t want to know where that gun ended up!

  • BigFED

    To put some perspective on the role of the RG brand of cheap/inexpensive handguns, it needs to be pointed out that way back then, there was a SERIOUS effort to get rid of handguns by establishing some arbitrarily high standards about “cheap, easily concealed handguns” meant to apply to only those awful “Saturday Night Specials” as they were called AND SPECIFICALLY the imported ones! Congress went so far as to propose certain criteria the guns had to meet, like how many rounds could be fired before it failed, certain size requirements, etc. Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on point of view), the standards ALSO included domestically made guns.

    Under the criteria, many things happened. First, it was determined that any testing could not exclude domestic products from Smith and Wesson, Colt and others. So as testing got underway, things started going south quickly! A HIGH QUALITY handgun like the Walther PPK ended up on the BAD list because it didn’t meet the size requirements for caliber, length, and height. Nothing wrong with it except its SIZE! It was particularly popular model at the time because of the Jame Bond movies. Back then, Walther’s were only manufactured in “W Germany” and they didn’t meet the newly established import standards! So the clever folks at Walther, just married the PP frame to the PPK slide and, tada, the Walther PPK/S was born! Not really that simple, but you get the idea. Years later when Walther opened their manufacturing plant in the US, they re-introduced the PPK since it no longer had to meet “import” standards as it was being produced domestically.

    An interesting note was that the reliability standards offered some surprising results and were quickly canned. The rule about “failures”… well, that is another story! As I understand it, the well respected testing laboratory H.P White was contracted to do “destructive testing” on several makes and models of handguns. Name (domestic) brands as well as those cheap imports, to be fair. I don’t remember the specifics, but ironically the OVER ENGINEERED critical parts of the “Saturday Night” specials, the hammer, trigger, pawl/had etc out lasted their domestic counterparts on S&W, Colts, etc!!! The domestic guns were engineered for style, weight, size, etc. and apparently their parts didn’t endure as well as the “cheap” guns! One thing about the RG and several others, the major component was a zinc frame, but all critical items were steel. The barrel had steel liner, the cylinder was steel (or steel sleeved) and as I pointed out the critical parts were steel, and over engineered at that. One couldn’t break the hammer spur on a RG without disabling the gun, but I can’t tell you how many hammers I had to replace for a S&W broken hammer spur that happened when the owner dropped it!

  • Simcha M.

    As soon as my eyes saw the “RG” I knew it had to be either a quality/metallurgy problem. Even with safety glasses and hearing protectors this could have been tragic, glad it wasn’t.

  • BigFED

    Ironically, an addendum to my comment!!! Absolute truth!!! Just two days ago (Jul 21, 2016) a man come into our shop/range and had TWO identical RG38 4″ that had belonged to his father. He wanted to shoot them and asked if they were safe to shoot. They looked almost new, but I told him they UNSAFE when they were BRAND NEW!!! Well, he didn’t like my answer and wanted to shoot them.

    Pays his fees, buys a box of .38SPL ammo, goes out on the range. About ten minutes later comes the service counter with both guns! He had a cut on his right thumb and was holding a sliver of lead in his hand! The cylinder failed to index properly and a round had peeled off that sliver of lead and hit him in the chest, not hard enough to harm him, but hard enough to get his attention!!! Point made!