A whole new language to learn… 

We thought it might be helpful to those newcomers who are just discovering the world of firearms to have a “glossary of terms” to introduce you to the language we speak. 

Here is a listing of some common terms you might hear: 

ACP: An abbreviation of Automatic Colt Pistol. Designates various John Browning cartridge designs and calibers primarily used in Colt and Fabrique Nationale de Herstal semi-automatic pistols, like .45 ACP, .380 ACP, and .25 ACP.

AK-47: An incredibly popular automatic assault rifle developed in the Soviet Union by Mikhail Kalashnikov, and first used in active service back in 1948. They are very reliable and cost very little to make so they’re the gun of choice for many military and revolutionary outfits. As of 2004, “Of the estimated 500 million firearms worldwide, approximately 100 million belong to the Kalashnikov family, three-quarters of which are AK-47s”

Ammunition (ammo): A package of components that includes gunpowder, a primer, and a projectile encased in a casing. Amount of ammunition is measured in rounds, which is the what’s loaded into a gun. Ammunition comes in hundreds of sizes, and must match the firearm in order for it to be used.

AR-15: Stands for ArmaLite Rifle-15, not “assault rifle.” It’s a lightweight semi-automatic rifle that comes in a wide variety of models. They are considered “modern sporting rifles” by some and “assault rifles” by others. Variants of the AR-15 have been used in many high-profile mass shootings in the U.S., including Sandy Hook, Aurora, San Bernardino, Sutherland Springs Church, the Las Vegas srip, the Stoneman Douglas High School shooting, and most recently the Waffle House shooting in Nashville, Tennessee.

Assault rifle: A technical term for a selective-fire rifle, usually used by a military or police force, which fires reduced-power ammunition from a detachable magazine. It can fire in either semi-automatic or fully automatic modes. Examples include AK-47s and M16s.

Assault weapon: A political term, not a technical term, that changes depending on who is using it. Connecticut defines assault weapons as “selective-fire firearms capable of fully automatic, semi-automatic, or burst fire at the options of the user.” Virgina defines it as any weapon with a magazine capacity greater than 20 rounds. The Federal Assault Weapon Ban, which was passed in 1994 but is now expired, had its own complex list of guidelines for defining assault weapons.

Automatic: A gun that continuously fires bullets as long as the trigger is pressed or held down and there is still ammunition in the magazine. More commonly known as a “machine gun.”

Ballistics: The science and study of cartridge discharge, and the launch, flight, behavior, and effects of projectiles (in this case bullets). Ballistics experts can determine where a bullet was fired, where it went, and what it did.

Beretta: An Italian firearm manufacturing company—Fabbrica d’Armi Pietro Beretta. It’s the oldest active manufacturer of firearm components in the world. They make semi-automatic pistols, revolvers, shotguns, rifles, submachine guns, machine pistols, and more.

Blank: A round of ammunition loaded with black powder but no bullet. Commonly used in film, TV, theatre, military exercises, and for starting races.

Bolt action: A type of rifle that fires one round at a time. Once a round is fired, the user must manually pull back a metal, cylindrical mechanism called the bolt to unload the empty shell and load another round into the chamber.

Buckshot: Shotgun ammunition that contains medium or large-sized pellets (.24” in diameter or greater) that fire out of a shotgun shell all at once. Used for self-defense and hunting large game.

Bullet: The projectile in a cartridge or round of ammunition. When the primer is struck, the gunpowder is ignited, and the bullet is propelled down the gun’s barrel and toward its target.

Casings: The containing unit of a cartridge or round. It holds the gunpowder, the projectile(s), and has a built in primer (for igniting the gunpowder). Usually made of metal for rifles and handguns, plastic for shotguns. Sometimes called a “shell.”

Caliber: The diameter of a gun’s bore (the inner diameter of the barrel) measured as fractions of an inch. It also determines the size of ammunition that can be fired by the gun. For example, “.22 cal” or “.45 caliber.” Caliber can also be measured in millimetres, like “9 mm,” but there is no decimal point and the word caliber is dropped.

Clip: A unit of multiple ammunition rounds (usually stored on a metal strip) that are ready to be quickly loaded into a firearm or magazine, as opposed to loading a gun a single round at a time. Also, often used as a slang term for a magazine (see below).

Cock: The action of manually drawing the hammer of a gun back, arming the hammer to be released at the pull of the trigger, which would fire the weapon. Many weapons, especially those with internal hammers, can be cocked automatically by pulling the trigger. This that action and sound you see and hear in movies and TV when a standoff escalates.

Double tap: Simply two shots fired in rapid succession, usually without re-aiming the firearm between shots.

Firearm: By federal definition, under the 1968 Gun Control Act, it’s a rifle, shotgun, or handgun using gunpowder as a propellant. Air guns and other devices that fire projectiles without combustion are not considered firearms.

Flash suppressor: An attachment at the end of a firearm’s barrel that lets hot air and gas escape the barrel. It makes for a smaller flash of light when a round exits the barrel, improving visibility for the shooter.

Folding stock: A rifle or shotgun stock that can be doubled over for compact storage.

Gauge: This is the bore size (the width inside of the barrel) of a shotgun, similar to the way caliber is for rifles and handguns. It’s based on the number of round lead balls of bore diameter that equals a pound.

Glock: A series of popular semi-automatic handguns designed and produced by Austrian company Glock Ges.m.b.H. (or GLOCK).

Hair trigger: A trigger that can be pulled (or “breaks”) with little pressure and an extremely light touch.

High-capacity magazine: In most jurisdictions, it’s any magazine that holds over 10 rounds. Some high-capacity magazines can hold as many as 100 rounds. Note: many modern semi-automatic pistols have magazines that hold between 15 and 18 rounds; modern semi-automatic rifles come standard with magazines holding between 20 and 30 rounds.

Hollow-point: A bullet with a concave nose designed to increase expansion and fragment upon penetration of a solid target. Does more internal harm to the target, but is considered safer for innocent bystanders who might be otherwise struck with a bullet that passes through a target.

Magazine: A container that holds cartridges or rounds under spring pressure to be fed into a gun’s chamber. Magazines are usually detachable and refillable. With a semi-automatic or automatic weapon, a full magazine is inserted into the gun, the hammer is cocked, and rounds are automatically loaded into the gun’s chamber from the magazine as it fires.

Pistol: A type of handgun that fires bullets. It’s a small, portable, concealable firearm designed to be easily fired from one or two hands. They can be single shot, semi-automatic, or fully automatic in the form of a machine pistol. Glocks, revolvers, snubbies, and Desert Eagles are all pistols.

Pistol grip: An extra handle attached to a rifle or shotgun behind the trigger like you’d find on a pistol.

Point blank: The distance at which a firearm can be directly aimed at a target without worrying about trajectory. Believed to come from old bowmen terminology in England and France, referring to practice conducted with white bull skull targets. Point blank, or “point blanc,” meant the archer was standing very close to the target and could easily point their bow directly at the white of the bull’s skull.

Private party transfer: A second-hand purchase of a firearm involving you exchanging cash for a gun from a private party, no questions asked, like at a gun show. Some states require records to kept for such purchases, but most of them don’t.

Recoil: Often referred to as a gun’s “kick,” or the backward force the gun exerts when it’s fired. The heavier the bullet and the faster it leaves the barrel the more recoil there is.

Revolver: A handgun or pistol with a multi-chambered cylinder (usually holding six to eight rounds) that rotates with each pull of the trigger. If you’ve ever seen a western, they’re all using revolvers. “Single action” revolvers require you to manually cock the hammer back before firing each round.

Rifle: A gun with a long barrel that’s fired from the shoulder and used for precision shooting. The barrel has helical pattern grooves cut into the bore walls (the inside of the barrel), a process known as “rifling.” They come in many varieties, including bolt action, semi-automatic, and automatic.

Round: A complete unit of ammunition (also known as a cartridge) that has a casing, a primer, a propellant, and a projectile.

Safety: A mechanism on modern firearms that prevents a gun’s trigger from being pulled, thus preventing the gun from being fired. Typically, the safety should always be left on until a user is ready to fire their weapon.

Saturday night special: A colloquial term used for any inexpensive handgun, especially a very small pistol that can easily be concealed in your pocket. They’ve also sometimes been called “suicide specials.”

Sawed-off shotgun: A shotgun that has had its barrel shortened to less than 18” (often by sawing it off), or a shotgun with an overall length less than 26”. These types of guns are federally restricted.

Scope: A magnifying tube attached to the top of a rifle, shotgun, or pistol that allows a shooter to see and aim at distant target more easily.

Semi-automatic: A self-loading firearm. It fires one bullet each time the trigger is pulled, but also performs all necessary mechanical steps to prepare another bullet to be fired. Once a magazine is loaded into a semi-automatic gun and the gun is cocked, a user could pull the trigger over and over firing bullets until the magazine was empty.

Shells: A popular, slang term for the leftover casing of a round. Also, sometimes used to describe shotgun ammunition.

Shotgun: A firearm that fires groups of small pellets or very large slugs instead of bullets. They’re designed for shooting fast moving targets, like birds, deer, or rabbits, at close range.

Silencer: A slang term for a suppressor. This device is attached to the end of a gun’s barrel and reduces the sound of its discharge, or altering the sound’s characteristics so it’s less intense. They are tightly controlled under federal law.

Snubby: Slang for a revolver with a very short barrel. They can be considered to be “Saturday Night Specials” (see above).

Stopping power: A term often used to describe an ammunition’s ability to cause a human or animal to be incapacitated when shot with it. It’s an imprecise term, but basically, a cartridge or round with high stopping power is doing more damage per each shot than a round with less stopping power. Self-defense rounds are usually marketed as having high stopping power.

Strawman purchase: When you have someone else purchase a gun for you, then they hand the gun over to you for a much lower price or small fee. It’s illegal, but it’s hard to stop in states where Private Party Transfers aren’t regulated.

Waiting period: The legally mandated time between purchasing a firearm and receiving the firearm, anywhere from seven to 25 days. It’s designed to give law enforcement officials time to perform a background check on the purchaser, and provides a “cooling off” period to help prevent impulsive acts of violence and suicides.

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