Many newcomers to handguns have erroneous views about handgun barrel lengths. It is widely believed that long barrels are the most accurate and that extremely short barrels are best for carrying for self defense. In both cases, these assumptions are not necessarily true. Longer barrels are generally best for hunting and target shooting. Advantages of the longer barrel include more precise sight alignment because of the greater sight radius (distance between the front and rear sight). Longer-barreled handguns are steadier and offer greater stability on the target.
Matters of balance and sight radius can be very subjective, however. Many older shooters find that they can see the sights more clearly if the sight radius is shorter. For example, when Ruger first brought out the Target Model of the popular .22 pistol, the initial barrel length was 6 7/8 inches. However, in response to popular demand, a 5 1/2-inch bull (heavy) barrel version was introduced shortly thereafter. Today, variants of this pistol can also be had with four-inch or 10-inch bull barrels.
It is commonly believed that the longer the barrel, the greater the velocity from a handgun. As a general matter, this is true. The longer barrel permits more complete combustion of the powder, with greater velocities resulting. However, many variables govern velocity. Among these are barrel-to-cylinder gap (in revolvers) and barrel dimensions and internal polishing. Thus, it is by no means uncommon for a revolver with a four-inch barrel to equal or even surpass the velocities attainable from a similar gun with a six-inch barrel.
It is also largely a myth that longer barrels are intrinsically more accurate. In fact, bullets are stabilized after a very short amount of barrel travel, and short-barreled handguns can be remarkably accurate.
An undeniable advantage of longer barrels, especially with powerful Magnum calibers, is that by placing weight toward the muzzle, they help reduce the punishment of recoil. They also do a lot toward muting muzzle blast. A 7 1/2-inch .44 Magnum revolver is much more pleasant to shoot than one with a four-inch barrel.
Shorter barrels are customarily considered handier to carry, but careful holster selection can often make it just as convenient to carry a longer handgun or nearly so. The vertical shoulder holster or a canted crossdraw holster is particularly useful with long-barreled handguns.
The trend in defense guns has been toward shorter barrels. In the days of the old West, many a peace officer favored a 7 1/2-inch Peacemaker. A couple of generations ago, six-inch revolvers were widely issued to uniformed police. In later years, police revolvers for uniformed carry were almost invariably four-inchers. Today, most pistols intended for police duty have barrel lengths in the vicinity of four inches. Thus, the barrels on Ruger Centerfire pistols range between 3.9 and 4.5 inches.
Many people believe that a very short barrel is best for concealed carry. For certain situations this is true. If the firearm is to be carried in an ankle holster or in certain shoulder holsters, then the short barrel is preferable. If the revolver is to be carried in a belt holster, a three- or four-inch gun can be carried just as well and offers more power and practical accuracy. An advantage of the short barrels is that they make it harder for an adversary to wrest the gun from your hand.
Most revolvers are available in a wide range of barrel lengths. The same holds true for Ruger .22 pistols. The Ruger Centerfire pistols are available in several barrel lengths within the range that has proven most practical and versatile for guns of this type. Balance your needs and your personal preferences in choosing a barrel length carefully, and you should come up with a very satisfactory personal firearm.
Some of the information on this page was sourced from Wikipedia