Category: Terms & Jargon

Background Checks

Background Checks

Background Checks: A Function of Checks and Balances

I believe it safe to say that no reasonable person wants firearms in the hands of those who would use them to intentionally commit crime. Background checks at the point of sale is a minimally intrusive method to prevent the possession of firearms by those who already demonstrated a propensity to commit crime. Under Federal law it is unlawful to transfer a firearm to any person prohibited from possessing one (18 USC 922 (d)); this includes not only dealer sales, but also includes transfers between private individuals.

People Who Cannot Receive a Firearm

People prohibited from owning or possessing a firearm include anyone who is:

  • under indictment for, or has been convicted in any court of, a crime punishable by imprisonment for a term exceeding one year
  • a fugitive from justice
  • an unlawful user of or addicted to any controlled substance
  • adjudicated as a mental defective or has been committed to any mental institution
  • an alien who—
    • is illegally or unlawfully in the United States
    • has been admitted to the United States under a nonimmigrant visa (with specific exceptions)
  • discharged from the Armed Forces under dishonorable conditions
  • a citizen of the United States who has renounced his citizenship
  • subject to a court order that restrains such person
    • from harassing, stalking, or threatening an intimate partner or child of an intimate partner,
    • engaging in other conduct that would place an intimate partner in reasonable fear of bodily injury to the partner or child,
    • or by its terms explicitly prohibits the use, attempted use, or threatened use of physical force against such intimate  partner or child that would reasonably be expected to cause bodily injury
  • convicted in any court of a misdemeanor crime of domestic violence

As part of the balances to help ensure those with criminal intent are denied access to firearms, and to comply with Federal law, federally licensed dealers will process your name through the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) to verify you are not someone prohibited from owning or possessing a firearm.

Purchasing a Firearm

There are certain steps you must go through to purchase a firearm. Knowing them in advance may save some time, as well as avoid potential embarrassment. These steps include:

  • Verifying your age (at least 18 for long guns, and 21 for handguns)
  • Providing identification
  • Completing ATF From 4473
  • Undergoing a NICS check

Also, North Carolina General Statues require that you receive a copy of NC G.S. 14-315.1, which directs the proper storage of firearms where minors are present in a household, if you purchase the firearm from a retail or wholesale store. In many stores, you will be required to sign a document verifying you received it.

Handgun Sales in North Carolina

Handgun transfers in North Carolina require an additional step (NC G.S. 14-402). Before a handgun can be transferred in North Carolina, the recipient must first obtain “A Permit to Purchase/Receive A Handgun” from the sheriff of the county in which the recipient resides, or the recipient must possess a valid North Carolina concealed carry handgun permit. This also applies to transfers between private individuals!

Be aware, there are licensed dealers in North Carolina who will not permit potential buyers of handguns to personally handle one from their display cases without showing the salesperson a permit to purchase, or a concealed carry handgun permit.

Online Sales

If you purchase a firearm online, the seller will not ship the firearm directly to your door. Instead, it will be shipped to a Federal Firearm License (FFL) holder near you. After you are notified of the firearm’s arrival, you have to go through all the steps (verification of identification, ATF Form 4473, NICS check, and if a handgun, either a permit to purchase a handgun or a North Carolina concealed carry handgun permit) just as if you had walked into a store and purchased the firearm out of a display case. Be aware that a handling fee may also be charged by the local FFL holder. Handling fees range from $25 to $50 per visit, or in some cases per firearm.

Gun Shows

Think of gun shows as a collection of FFL dealers under one roof. Purchasing a firearm at a gun show means you have to go through the same steps as purchasing a firearm in a store (ID check, Form 4473, NICS check, permit to purchase, etc.). Plus, you get the added benefit of paying the gun show organizer an entrance fee. However, gun shows also offer the visitor an opportunity to see and purchase many non-firearm items and collectibles that would not ordinarily be available in a single store.

Jargon: Intentional, Accidental, and Negligent Discharges

Jargon: Intentional, Accidental, and Negligent Discharges

Intentional, Accidental, and Negligent Discharges

There is no doubt almost everyone in the U. S. has probably seen the video of the FBI agent losing control of his handgun as it fell out of its holster while he was doing a backflip, and the discharge as he picked it up. Subsequent news reports frequently term it an “accidental” discharge–I contend it was a negligent discharge. Regardless of whether it is termed accidental or negligent, this is an example of unsafe handling, and one from which we, as responsible handgun owners, can learn.

When it comes to firearms, there are three categories that address the manner of its discharge: intentional, negligent, and accidental.

Intentional Discharge

An intentional discharge is when the firearm fires under the control of the shooter. All the active and passive mechanical safeties have been disengaged by the shooter in anticipation of releasing a shot, and the firearm is purposefully pointing in the direction intended by the shooter.

Accidental Discharge

An accidental discharge is when the firearm fires unexpectedly as a result of a malfunction of one of the components, either in the firearm, or in the ammunition itself. A common type of accidental discharge among automatic firearms is a “cook-off.” This is where the chamber has become so hot that if a cartridge sits in the chamber, the heat from the chamber will cause the powder to ignite. Accidental discharges also include soft or improperly seated primers, where a floating firing pin (that is, one where its forward motion is not retarded by a firing pin spring, but “floats” in its housing) strikes the primer as the bolt closes, causing a discharge. Another example includes firearms discharging when they are dropped. Properly designed and maintained firearms will NOT fire when they are dropped, however under some conditions, e.g., extremely worn parts, parts out of design tolerances, or poor design, etc., a firearm may discharge if it is dropped.

Negligent discharge

This brings us to the third type of discharge–one due to negligence or mishandling of the firearm on the part of the shooter. The FBI dancer in the recent video is an example of a negligent discharge. As one watches the video, it is obvious the firearm did not discharge as it hit the ground. It fired when the owner attempted to retrieve it

Many contemporary firearms have only passive safeties. That is, all the safety mechanisms to prevent accidental discharges are disengaged by the natural manipulation of the firearm as the shooter prepares to fire. In many firearms, that consists of a partially cocked striker, a firing pin block, and a pivoting trigger or trigger lever, where a mechanical stop on the trigger itself prevents the internal part of the trigger from completing the firing cycle unless the trigger is fully and properly engaged. Part of the intent is that with a firing pin block, and a mechanical stop on the trigger, inertial forces exerted on the firing pin and trigger from a dropped firearm will not cause a discharge.

One of the first safety precautions shooters are taught is to keep the finger out of the trigger guard until they intend to fire. This includes picking up a firearm as it lays flat.

Lessons Learned

My guess is that several factors came together to cause the negligent discharge caught on video. It is almost certain that the firearm falling out of the holster was unexpected. The unexpected and public revelation of his firearm likely caused some considerable degree of consternation to the agent to get the handgun back under his control as quickly as possible. Apparently, in his rush to pick up the handgun, he allowed his finger to enter the trigger guard. As he contracted his fingers to grasp the handgun sufficiently for a firm grip–bang.

As responsible concealed carry permit holders, there are several lessons we can learn from this video as we carry concealed.

  • Be aware that your movements, especially extreme movements as portrayed in the video, may cause your handgun to separate from your holster. Those extreme movements are probably ones that would be better avoided. Don’t telegraph that you are carrying a concealed handgun, but never forget it, either.
  • If your handgun does unintentionally come out of your holster, whether in public view or not,  use extreme care to keep your finger out of the trigger guard as you pick it up. It is likely that you will be in a hurry; nevertheless use care.
  • Further, in some jurisdictions simply allowing your firearm to be seen in public might be construed as brandishing, or “going armed to the terror of the people.” Keep your legally concealed handgun concealed.
Jargon: A Round Primer

Jargon: A Round Primer

Introduction to the Properties of Ammunition (Corrected)

With more than a little tongue-in-cheek, “A Round Primer” is about the properties of ammunition and not a treatise on the geometry of primers. Think McGuffy’s Readers for ammunition. In a previous post, we identified the four components of a round: bullet, case, propellant, and primer. Here, we are going to briefly explore what manufacturers mean by terms commonly used when referring to ammunition. Terms such as “caliber,” “gr,” or “grain,” “velocity,” and “energy,” and others are the focus of this discussion.

Caliber

In small arms, caliber is the approximate internal diameter of the barrel’s bore. In English units, caliber is represented by fractions of an inch. For example, a .22 caliber firearm has bore diameter of approximately 22 hundredths of an inch (or .22). A .45 caliber firearm has a bore diameter of approximately 45 hundredths of an inch (or .45). In metric units, caliber is typically represented in millimeters (mm). Common examples are 7.65 mm, 9 mm, or 10 mm. However, we must be aware that caliber is only part of a cartridge’s designation. Just to make things more confusing, bullets are a few thousandths of an inch larger than their corresponding bore diameter (see the 5.56 x 45 mm below).

Cartridge Nomenclature

For many cartridges from the era of black powder, nomenclature is a function of the caliber and the typical amount of black powder used as a propellant. For example, the rifle cartridge .45-70 was a .45 caliber bullet propelled by 70 grains of black powder (we will get to “grains” in a moment), and the rifle cartridge .44-40 was roughly a .44 caliber ball propelled by 40 grains of black powder. Pistol cartridges of the black powder era generally were identified by a number and a name, for example, .38 Smith and Wesson. Occasionally we see the older conventions continue to be used with smokeless powders. Examples include the .45-70 and the .30-30 even though both cartridges are now loaded with smokeless powder.
Today, cartridge nomenclature is largely a function of the cartridge designer, or standardizing agencies. Thus, we see a .257 Roberts, .30-06 (a .30 caliber round adopted by the U.S. Army in 1906), and a 5.56 x 45 mm (a 5.7 mm caliber bullet in a 44.70 mm case adopted by NATO in 1980).

Birds of a Feather
Another wrinkle in the nomenclature category is that of multiple ways to refer to the same cartridge. For example, 9mm Luger, 9mm Parabellum, and 9x19mm all refer to the same cartridge. .45 Auto, and .45 ACP are two other examples of different designations for the same cartridge. Some handguns designed (typically called “chambered”) for one cartridge may be used with others. For example, the .44 Remington Magnum can safely shoot the .44 S&W Special, and the .357 Magnum can safely shoot the .38 Special.

Almost Only Counts in Horseshoes and Hand Grenades (Corrected)
However, you must also be aware that similar names are not necessarily interchangeable. For example, the .300 Winchester Magnum and the .300 Weatherby Magnum cannot be used interchangeably.

Note especially there are some firearms that are interchangeable in only one direction. For example, rifles chambered for 5.56x45mm NATO can safely shoot .223 Remington, but they are not reversible. That is, a rifle chambered in .223 Remington CANNOT safely shoot a 5.56x45mm NATO cartridge. On the other hand, commercial rifles chambered for the .308 Winchester can shoot both the .308 and the 7.62x51mm NATO cartridge safely, but not all rifles originally chambered for the the 7.62×51 NATO round can shoot the .308 Winchester, safely.

To get around the one-way interchangeability, some designers developed new chamber dimensions to accommodate both calibers. For example, the .223 Wylde is a relatively new design that allows you to shoot either the .223 Remington, or the 5.56x45mm NATO round, safely.

In the final analysis, you, the shooter, are responsible for knowing what caliber your firearm is designed to shoot, and for only using ammunition designed for your firearm. READ YOUR MANUAL!

Grains

The term “grains” frequently causes confusion for novice shooters. To keep things simple, we will discuss what the “grains” or “grn” label on a box of modern, smokeless ammunition means. Fundamentally, “grains” refers to a bullet’s weight, where there are 7,000 grains to a pound, or 437.5 grains to an ounce.

Shown here are typical end-caps on three boxes of factory ammunition.

The box labelled “American Eagle” is a .45 Auto. The “230 grain” refers to the weight of the bullet. “Full Metal Jacket” refers to the bullet’s characteristics, which in this case typically means a round nose lead bullet fully encased by a copper alloy jacket. The box labelled “Federal Premium” is a 9mm Luger with a bullet weight of 124 grains. The bullet profile is Federal’s “HST” JHP (Jacketed Hollow Point), which in this case indicates a bullet with a copper alloy jacket that is formed with a deep conical cavity in the nose–the hollow point. The box labelled “Corbon” is a .380 Auto with a bullet weight of 80 grains and with Corbon’s DPX bullet profile (essentially a jacketed hollow point).

Velocity and Energy

Two other pieces of data you may see on a box of factory ammunition are the bullet’s velocity in feet per second (fps) and energy in foot-pounds (ft-lbs). Most manufacturers identify typical velocity and energy as they are measured at the muzzle (aka muzzle velocity and muzzle energy), although many will provide typical measurements at other ranges, as well. For example, Winchester’s target 9mm Luger, 115 grain, FMJ has an advertised muzzle velocity and energy of 1190 fps and 362 ft-lbs. At 5 yards, they are 1176 fps and 353 ft-lbs, and at 25 yards are 1125 fps and 323 ft-lbs.

Ammunition manufacturers design cartridges for specific uses and performance features. What is suitable for target practice is very likely not suitable for hunting or personal defense applications. In the end, the responsibility for choosing the proper ammunition for a specific purpose and firearm is yours–the shooter. Always ensure the ammo you select is designed for your specific firearm!

Jargon: “Bullets” Are Components

Jargon: “Bullets” Are Components

A term that is certain to raise the hackles on shooting aficionados is to call ready-to-fire ammunition “bullets.” “Bullets” are components, and only one of the four components that comprise a complete cartridge, or round. As can be surmised from the opening lines, a complete, ready-to-fire ammunition component is called either a “cartridge,” or a “round.” Modern ammunition is found in one of two types: Centerfire and rimfire. Rimfire cartridges are most familiar as those shot in .22 caliber firearms. Although rimfire cartridges have all the components a centerfire cartridge have, we will concentrate on, and describe the components from a centerfire point of view, since centerfire components are more easily differentiated.

Primers

Primers are the ignition point in a cartridge. When looking at the back of a complete cartridge, the primer is the round component pressed into the center of the case (hence, the name “centerfire”). Primers are made with a pressure-sensitive compound that produces a spark when struck (compressed) by the handgun’s firing pin or hammer.

Case

The case is the metallic container that holds all the components in proximity to one another. It is usually made of brass, but may also be found as steel, aluminum, and in some instances, a polymer. The open end of the case is called the “mouth.” The end of the case where the primer is seated is called the “head.” Cases are made with several different head styles (called rims) mostly depending on the style of handgun for which they were designed. Rimmed, semi-rimmed, rimless, rebated rimless, and belted rimless are among those seen. Most revolvers use a rimmed case, and most semi-automatics use a rimless case, although there are exceptions for both handgun types. Rebated rimless, and belted rimless are most often seen in rifle calibers. Cases also differ in their contour. Most handgun cases are a straight wall design, meaning the diameter of the mouth and the diameter head are the same. Some cases have a reduced mouth, and the case widens to a larger diameter about 1/3 down the case. Often, these cases are referred to being “necked down.”

Powder

Powder (or propellant) is the combustible material held by the case, which when ignited by the primer produces sufficient gas pressure to force the projectile through the barrel. Smokeless powder is produced in numerous granule shapes, sizes, composition, and coatings to control the rate of combustion.

Bullet

Bullets are the projectiles forced out of the firearm by the propellant’s gas pressure, and are made in a variety of materials and shapes. So called “lead” bullets are actually alloys to increase the bullet’s hardness, and to reduce the deposition of metal deposits in the barrel and chamber, called “leading.” Other bullet compositions are jacketed and semi-jacketed. Jacketed bullets usually encase a lead core with a copper alloy or copper wash to reduce barrel leading. Semi-jacketed bullets have a partial jacket to reduce barrel leading, but leave some lead exposed to increase probability of bullet expansion upon striking its target. Recent developments in bullet technology see steel cores and solid copper bullets to achieve certain penetration or expansion goals.

The Total Package

Commercial ammunition is packaged with mostly prominent markings that identify the caliber, bullet style, and bullet weight, and, often, the average velocity. Thus, one sees packages marked, for example, “380 Auto 80gr DPX, Velocity 1050 fps”. Decoded, this is a .380 Auto (or .380 ACP), with an 80 grain DPX bullet, and a velocity of 1050 feet per second. Another example may be, “9mm Luger 124 Grain HST JHP”. Decoded, this is a 9mm Luger (also known as 9mm Parabellum, or 9x19mm), with a 124 grain HST, Jacketed Hollow Point bullet. In both instances, the letter designation (i.e., DPX and HST) is contrived by the manufacturer to identify proprietary bullet designs. One other bullet designation with which semi-automatic handgun users should be aware is “FMJ,” or Full Metal Jacket. In some instances, the user will have to be aware of alternative names by which your caliber is known. We have already seen that 9mm Luger may be labeled 9mm Parabellum, or 9x19mm. Another example is .45 Auto, which may be labeled .45 ACP.

A note of caution: modern firearms are marked prominently with their caliber. Always, USE ONLY THE EXACT CARTRIDGE CALIBER THAT CORRESPONDS TO THE MARKINGS ON THE FIREARM! Using a cartridge for which the pistol is not designed can result in serious injury or death.

Jargon: Handgun Actions-Single, Double & Beyond

Jargon: Handgun Actions-Single, Double & Beyond

Among the topics of conversation between pistol shooters is the topic of handgun actions, and which is best (as if there is a “best”). Neophytes take heart–action types are not difficult to understand, and the different action types presented below can be found in both revolvers and semi-automatic pistols, with perhaps one exception. As we begin the discussion of handgun actions, we start with the trigger press since it initiates the firing of the handgun. We also start with the trigger press since it best describes and differentiates the different types.

Single Action
In a single action handgun, the trigger press does one function and one function only–it releases a cocked hammer. Nearly everyone is familiar with the Hollywood image of a cowboy pulling a revolver from a holster, cocking the hammer, and pulling the trigger. That iconic handgun is a single action revolver.

Replica 1860 single action Colt revolver
Modern single action revolver

Improvements in internal safety mechanisms did little to change the profile of the classic single action revolver. The trigger press simply releases the hammer.

Single action, however, is not limited to revolvers:

1911 Semi-automatic pistol

The 1911-style semi-automatic pistol is a classic example of a single action handgun. One again, the sole function of the trigger press is to release the hammer.

Double Action
In a double action handgun, the trigger press does two things: It cocks the hammer, and then releases it to fire the handgun.

Modern double action revolver

This graphic demonstrates what happens internally to actuate and release the hammer.

Striker Fired
Arguably, the third unique type of handgun action is striker fired. Handgun aficionados debate whether the striker fire is a unique type, or merely a derivation of the double action. Depending on a manufacturer’s design, the striker (firing pin) is partially cocked, the trigger press merely completes the rearward movement of the partially cocked firing pin, and releases it, firing the handgun. In other designs, the striker (firing pin) is fully cocked, and the trigger press simply releases it.

Modern striker fired handgun

This graphic demonstrates the internal function of a striker fire handgun. In some models, the recoil action fully cocks the firing pin, while it other models it does so partially, only.

And Beyond. . .
Handguns also can incorporate both double action and single action. Most double action revolvers are capable of single action as well, where the hammer is cocked manually, and then the trigger press simply releases it.Some semi-automatic handguns also combine double and single action. When the hammer is decocked (i.e., in the down position), the first trigger press cocks the hammer and releases it. The semi-automatic function of the handgun re-cocks the hammer, at which time the trigger press simply releases it to fire the handgun. Most double action/single action semi-automatic handguns employ a decocker that lowers the hammer to the down position, while at the same time blocking the firing pin to prevent the handgun from firing.

Double action, single action semi-automatic, decocked

This example shows a double action/single action semi-automatic in a decocked condition with the safety on. Note the position of the safety lever on the slide, just forward of the rear sights, and the position of the trigger.

The photo on the right shows the same handgun in a decocked

Double action, single action semi-automatic ready to fire

condition with the safety off. Again, note the position of the safety lever and trigger. This handgun is ready for a trigger press.

 

In the photo, below the handgun is cocked and ready to fire. Once again, note the position of the trigger, and compare it to the photos above and right. When the safety is moved to the safe position, an internal firing pin block actuates, and the hammer is released to the decocked (down) position.

Double action, single action semi-automatic handgun in single action mode

One notes from this post that handgun actions are not limited to a specific type of handgun. Revolvers can be both single and double action, and semi-automatic handguns can be both double and single action.

 

Magazines
Most semi-automatic (that is, self-feeding) pistols are fed from detachable magazines (please, do not call them “clips”). Magazines are simply box-like accessories that hold the firearm’s rounds under spring tension. The cycling of the pistol’s action extracts and ejects the fired case, and strips a new round from the magazine to feed it into the chamber for firing. Pistol magazines come in two flavors: single and double stack. In the single stack magazine, rounds are loaded directly on top of one another in a single column. Double stack magazines, on the other hand, stagger the column of rounds. Staggering allows more rounds to be retained per fixed magazine length.

This photo shows a double stack magazine on the left, and a single stack magazine on the right. Both magazines are essentially the same length. However, in this example, the double stack magazine holds 15 rounds, while the single stack magazine holds 7 rounds, only.

Jargon: “AR”–What It Means

Jargon: “AR”–What It Means

Recent events have escalated modern sporting rifles into the national spotlight once again. Although the focus of LNPDSA is pistol training, there is a need to dispel very common misconceptions about the “AR” designation of modern sporting rifles.

ArmaLite

To begin, “AR” is the designation the ArmaLite division of Fairchild Engine and Airplane Corporation gave to its rifle line, which began with a modest, bolt action .22 caliber rifle (AR-5) that could be easily taken apart and carried. Its first big brother was the AR-10, a rifle originally designed to compete head-to-head with the current U. S. military service rifle, the M14. The AR-15 was developed after the AR-10 to chamber a round smaller than the then current 7.62 x 51 mm NATO cartridge.

Stock Design

Before we go any farther, let’s take a look at rifle stock design. Typically, rifle stocks were designed to place the rifle’s barrel in the same plane as, and in line with, the shooter’s eye when the stock was placed in the shooter’s shoulder. The rifles of the late ’50s and early ’60s were no different.

veteranarms.com
Revolutionary War Musket
“Kentucky” flintlock rifle
funnyjunk.com
M1 stock grip and barrel alignment

The AR-10 was a radical departure from the typical design; its barrel and shoulder stock were in line. With the barrel and stock in line with the other, recoil impulse is directed straight into the shoulder. In the typical design, the lowered stock forms a pivot point about which the rifle rotates from the recoil impulse.

rockislandauction.com
AR-10

However, with a straight-line stock and barrel,  shooting-hand placement becomes an issue, thus the pistol grip. The stock, by virtue of the rifle’s design, became a two-piece arrangement; one behind (the stock) and one in front (the hand-guard) of the action. The straight-line stock and barrel also inhibit a conventional, manual bolt arrangement.

spartacus-educational.com
Bolt action

The Fire Selector

So, what differentiates an “assault rifle” (more properly called a military service rifle) from a modern sporting rifle? In a clause, selective fire.

guns.com
Fire selector on an automatic rifle

The image on the left shows the safety mechanism of an automatic rifle, where the selections are clearly marked “SAFE,” “FIRE,” and “AUTO.” In the “SAFE” position, the fire selector mechanically prevents the fire control mechanism from releasing the hammer. In the “FIRE” position, the fire selector mechanically limits firing to one round (cartridge) with each trigger pull. In other words, to fire a round, the trigger must be pulled, and then released before another round can be fired (semi-automatic fire). In the “AUTO” position, the fire selector limitations are withdrawn, and the rifle can fire multiple rounds with each trigger pull (automatic fire). In the image below, the safety mechanism lacks the “AUTO” selection. NOTE, however, that the absence of “AUTO,” alone, does not make this second rifle incapable of selective fire; there are also internal changes to the action that render the rifle mechanically unable to produce automatic fire.

Fire selector on a semi-automatic rifle

So, back to the original discussion. “AR” is an abbreviation for a rifle design from the Armalite division of Fairchild. It is NOT an abbreviation for “automatic rifle.” It is NOT an abbreviation for “assault rifle.” Furthermore, according to the Civilian Marksmanship Program, the AR-15 isn’t even a “service rifle,” but simply a semi-automatic first cousin. “AR” is simply part of the model designation of designs inaugurated by Armalite, just as Model 700 BDL is the designation for certain Remington rifles, the Model 70 is the designation for certain Winchester rifle designs, and the M&P 15 is the designation for certain Smith & Wesson rifle designs.

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.

Single-shot

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

Revolver

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

Semi-automatic

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.