Month: February 2018

Jargon: Basic Handgun Types

Jargon: Basic Handgun Types

The jargon surrounding firearms is often confusing to those new to shooting. Fundamentally, there are three popular types of modern handguns: single shot, revolver, and semi-automatic.


The single-shot, as the name implies, allows the discharge of only one round at a time, after which the handgun action is opened manually, the expended round removed, and a new unfired round introduced into the handgun’s action.

Double action revolver showing open cylinder


In a revolver, the unfired rounds are introduced into a wheel-like cylinder that rotates and sequentially aligns each round with the barrel, at which time the round can be fired. In a revolver, new rounds are typically loaded, and fired rounds unloaded either singly, by rotating the cylinder, or in a batch process where the cylinder swings out of the frame, thereby allowing all the rounds to be loaded or unloaded at one time. Since casings expand when fired, both types of revolvers typically have a mechanism to assist in ejecting the fired casings. Although somewhat rare, there is also a break-action revolver where the handgun rotates around a hinge at the forward end of the frame, similar to the break-action of a double-barreled shotgun, and all the casings are ejected at one time.

Typical semi-automatic pistol, action open, with two magazines


In a semi-automatic,new rounds are loaded into a magazine, from which the handgun’s action aligns a single round with the barrel. Once the action is locked to contain the explosion of the gunpowder, the round can be fired. Immediately after firing, the reaction produced by the fired round cycles the handgun’s action, extracting (pulling the casing from the firing chamber), ejecting (throwing the case away from the handgun’s interior through spring-loaded tension), and chambering (aligning a new round with the barrel) take place, preparing the handgun with a new, unfired round. No reloading (placing new rounds in the magazine) is required by the operator until all rounds have been fired.

In another post, we will tackle the jargon of action types: single, double, and striker-fired.