Firearm Glossary

Glossary of Basic Firearm Terms

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  • Ammunition
    Also referred to as “ammo” and measured in rounds, ammunition is what is loaded into a firearm. It’s made up of multiple parts, including gunpowder, primer, and a projectile wrapped in a casing.
  • Assault Rifle
    A lightweight rifle used for modern warfare, assault rifles refer to various intermediate-range, magazine-fed military rifles (such as the AK-47) that can be set for automatic or semiautomatic fire.
  • Automatic
    An automatic firearm chambers, fires, and ejects multiple cartridges with a single pull of the trigger. Also referred to as a “machine gun,” it will continuously fire rounds as long as the trigger is engaged and the magazine has ammunition.
  • Barrel
    This term refers to the long tube-shaped part of a firearm. It provides an exit path with direction and velocity for a discharging bullet.
  • Blank
    As the name suggests, there is no bullet in a blank. Instead, the round is loaded with black powder so the gun will still fire. Blanks are often used on film and TV sets, to start a race, and for military training.
  • Bullet
    This is the metal projectile portion of a cartridge or round that is propelled through a gun’s barrel to hit a target. A bullet is generally cylindrical in shape with one rounded end.
  • Casing
    This is the container portion of a cartridge or round. It holds the gunpowder, projectile, and a primer in the casing unit. For rifles and handguns, casings are usually metal. Plastic casings or “shells” are made for shotguns.
  • Calibre
    The caliber of a gun refers to the diameter of the inside of the gun’s barrel, also known as the bore. The caliber determines the ammunition size that the gun can fire.
  • Chamber
    This refers to the portion of the barrel where the cartridge is seated before firing the gun. Rifles and pistols both have single chambers within the barrel. Revolvers have multiple chambers.
  • Clip
    Often confused with a magazine, a clip holds cartridges or rounds together and is used to either reload magazines (stripper clip) or is inserted into the firearm directly (en-bloc clip).
  • Cock
    The act of manually drawing back the hammer of a gun against its spring. This action arms the hammer to release when the trigger is pulled. Some firearms with internal hammers are cocked automatically when the shooter pulls the trigger.
  • Cylinder
    Found only in revolvers, this is the portion of the gun containing multiple chambers. The cylinder rotates so each cartridge aligns with the barrel before firing.
  • Double Tap
    Two shots fired rapidly back to back in succession. Typically, the shooter doesn’t aim at another target between shots.
  • Dummy
    A round of ammunition that is completely inert and has no explosive charge, unlike a blank. Dummy rounds are most often used for training exercises.
  • Ejector
    A gun’s mechanism that releases or “kicks” the spent case from the chamber.
  • Extractor
    A gun’s mechanism that pulls cases from the chamber after the ammunition has been fired.
  • Firearm
    According to the federal government definition, a firearm is a rifle, shotgun, or handgun that uses gunpowder as a propellant. The act of combustion must be present for the device to be considered a firearm.
  • Glock
    This is a series of popular semi-automatic, short recoil-operated pistols designed and produced by the Austrian company, Glock Ges.m.b.H. Although this term is sometimes incorrectly used as slang for any handgun, it should only be used when referring to the Austrian branded pistols.
  • Grain
    This term is used as a unit of measurement that defines the weight of a bullet or the amount of powder in a single cartridge. One pound is equal to 7,000 grains.
  • Grip
    The grip of a gun refers to the handle of a handgun or side panels of the gun’s handle.
  • Gunpowder
    Also referred to as “black powder,” this is the component of ammunition that is used as a propellant in firearms.
  • Hair Trigger
    A reference to a trigger that can be pulled with very little pressure from the shooter and requires steady hands.
  • Kick
    This term is often used to describe the recoil created when a firearm is discharged. The kick is the backward momentum felt by the shooter.
  • Machine Gun
    Another term for an automatic firearm, machine guns will fire multiple cartridges with just a single pull of the trigger.
  • Magazine
    This is the unit that contains the cartridges before they are fed into the chamber of the gun. The term “clip” is sometimes incorrectly used interchangeably with this term. However, they are not the same. Generally, a clip feeds the magazine, which then feeds the gun.
  • Misfire
    This describes the times when the primer in a cartridge fails to ignite and a bullet does not fire.
  • Pistol
    Also referred to as a “handgun,” pistols are smaller firearms designed so a shooter can fire it using one hand, although many shooters will use two hands
  • Point Blank
    When a gun is fired directly at a target from an extremely close range.
  • Recoil
    Also referred to as a gun’s “kick,” this is the backward momentum or force exerted by a gun as it fires.
  • Revolver
    This is a general term used for a pistol or handgun that has a multi-chambered cylinder that rotates to align a cartridge with the gun’s barrel before firing.
  • Rifle
    Fired from the shoulder, rifles have a long barrel when compared to a handgun. It is most often used for shooting that requires more precision.
  • Round
    The term used for a single cartridge or one unit of ammunition.
  • Safety
    A firearm mechanism designed to prevent a gun from being fired by restricting the gun’s trigger. With modern firearms, a gun’s safety should always be engaged until a shooter is ready to fire the weapon.
  • Scope
    A tube attached to the top of a firearm that magnifies the target so a shooter can fire accurately from a distance.
  • Shells
    This is a slang term for leftover round casings. However, it is also used to reference shotgun ammunition.
  • Shotgun
    A type of long firearm that fires small groups of pellets or large slugs housed in a shell rather than a single bullet.
  • Silencer
    A common name for a suppressor, this mechanism is attached to a gun’s barrel to significantly reduce the sound a gun makes when fired.
  • Trajectory
    When used in reference to firearms, this describes the arc of the bullet as it exits a gun’s muzzle to impact the target.
  • Trigger
    This is the actual release device of a firearm that initiates the firing sequence of a gun. Most commonly, a gun’s trigger is a small, curved lever that is pulled backward with the shooter’s pointer finger.

Learn More About Firearms

If you’re interested in learning about firearms, here’s where you can start! We’ve put together a helpful list of common phrases and basic firearm terminology below:

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