Handguns come in a wide array of types for a variety of purposes and needs. Explore this section for information on pistol sizes, calibers, actions, and styles. Learn the working parts of a pistol, what makes it fire, need-to-know terminology, and more.
- Revolvers are a handgun that contains a cylinder with multiple chambers. When the trigger is pulled, the cylinder rotates around a central pin to align the next chamber with the firing pin. A single barrel will fire one round per trigger pull.
- Semi-automatic pistols are a type of handgun that uses a single chamber and barrel. The pistol fires a chambered round, extracts and ejects the empty casing and then loads a new round into the chamber (if additional rounds are in the magazine) with each trigger pull. Glock pistols are semi-automatic, but are more lightweight and can hold a higher capacity of rounds when compared to other handguns.
- Frame: The frame makes up the basic structure of the pistol to which the other major parts are attached.
- Barrel: The barrel is a long hollow tube through which the projectile travels on its way to the target. The ‘rifled’ (grooved) texture inside spins the bullet, creating velocity and accuracy. In most cases, the length of the barrel determines the velocity. The shorter the barrel, the less velocity is produced.
- Slide: The slide is the steel upper portion of a semi-automatic pistol. It slides along its rails during the recoil process. The slide chambers ammunition into the barrel and extract the spent casing after the round is fired. It also slides along its tracks during the recoil process to provide the link between the breechblock and barrel. The slide is used to chamber the ammunition into the barrel and extract the spent casing from the fired ammunition.
- Magazine: The magazine contains the ammunition and ensures that it is fed properly into the barrel.
Terms to Know:
- Ammunition: Ammunition is also known as a ‘cartridge’ or ’round’. It consists of casing, primer, powder, and projectile.
- Trigger: The trigger is the release device in the firing system that allows the cartridge to discharge. It is usually a curved piece that is pulled back by the shooter’s finger, therefore activating the hammer.
- Trigger guard: The trigger guard is the material around the trigger that provides protection and safety.
- Hammer: The hammer impacts the firing pin or cartridge directly, discharging the ammo.
- Firing pin: The Firing pin is the hardened pin centered behind the primer of a chambered cartridge. When struck by the hammer, it impacts the primer cap of the cartridge and discharges the ammunition.
The Action of the Gun:
The action of the gun consists of all the moving parts that facilitate the loading, firing, discharging of the empty case, and unloading of the gun. There are two types of action:
- Double-Action: A long trigger pull both cocks and releases the hammer/firing pin to fire the gun.
- Single-Action: The trigger is used only to release the hammer/firing pin and does not cock the firing mechanism.
How a Pistol Works:
- Feeding – moving a cartridge from the magazine toward the barrel.
- Chambering – a cartridge is fully in the barrel chamber area.
- Locking – the barrel and slide ‘lock’ together mechanically.
- Firing – the cartridge primer is hit by the firing pin, powder is lit, pressure builds and the projectile (bullet) leaves the barrel.
- Unlocking – the slide and barrel mechanically separate slightly.
- Extracting – the slide moves rearwards and the extractor ‘hook’ is pulling the empty cartridge casing out of the barrel by its rim.
- Ejecting – the ejector hits the empty cartridge rim turning it/pushing it out the slide ejection port.
- Cocking (resetting the action) – the trigger and the firing pin are set together and ready to fire another round if desired.
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