Shop Talk for Newbs
Effective communication is one of the most important things we can master. It allows us to understand and be understood. In addition to sharing clear thoughts between each other, it allows us to ask questions effectively. Part of communicating effectively involves the use of mutually understood terminology.
For a new shooter, it can be tough to navigate the shop talk, especially when the realization sets in that terms used in movies regarding firearms are nowhere to be found amongst veteran shooters.
If you are new to shooting and want to learn more, the first step is to develop proficiency in some basic vocabulary. This list will not make you an expert, but it will increase your ability to understand what you read and ask better questions.
This one is pretty cut and dry, but just for the sake of clarity: a handgun is any gun that is hand-held. This includes semi-automatic pistols, revolvers, and the like.
A rifle is a firearm with a long barrel and is fired from the shoulder. “Rifling” refers to the grooves inside the barrel that cause the bullet to spin as it rapidly ejects, increasing accuracy.
Shotguns, like rifles, are fired from the shoulder. Unlike rifles though, their barrels are smooth as opposed to rifled. Shotguns fire either “shot” or “slugs”. A slug is a single, solid piece that is ejected. Shot is made of many pellets inside a plastic shell. A fired slug carries a powerful punch concentrated in a small area; pellets from shot scatter allowing for a broad, but short range net.
A semi-automatic firearm is a weapon that only fires one round per trigger pull. Because the word “automatic” is included in the name, many falsely attribute the characteristics of an automatic weapon to semi-automatic firearms. “Semi-automatic” can be used to describe both handguns and rifles.
An automatic firearm allows for the firing of multiple rounds per trigger pull. This can be a burst or can be a continuous firing. For an explanation on the mechanisms that allow this, read an older post HERE.
Bolt action refers to rifles that are loaded by pulling back a metal handle attached to a cylindrical bolt. Before use, ammunition is loaded into the magazine (see below for definition of magazine) pushing down a spring. The spring is constantly pushing upward against the ammunition. Then, the magazine is inserted into the rifle. When the bolt is pulled back, it creates an opening in the chamber where the single round enters with the help of the magazine’s spring. The user pushes the handle forward and the bolt pushes the round into place. To fire from this point, simply pull the trigger. Reloading each round involves pulling back the bolt and pushing it forward again.
Revolvers are handguns that use a cylindrical piece to hold and feed the ammunition through the gun. The piece revolves as the hammer is cocked, preparing the next round for firing. Revolvers do not use a loaded magazine like semi-automatics since their rounds are contained in the revolving piece. They have fewer moving parts than semi-automatic handguns.
Single action refers to semi-automatic handguns where the trigger pull performs a single function: releasing the hammer. With both double action and single action firearms, hammers need cocked and hammers need dropped. The difference lies in where the energy to do the former comes. In a single action pistol, the hammer is cocked by capturing the energy of the shot that came before (the recoil pushes back the slide, which in turn cocks the hammer) and the user pulls the trigger to drop the hammer to release the next round.
Double action refers to the firing mechanisms of certain handguns. A double action handgun performs two actions per trigger pull: both cocking and releasing the hammer, which results in firing. Certain semi-automatic handguns and many revolvers function using double action. Double action triggers are typically longer and heavier to pull since the mechanical energy used to move the pieces comes from the user pulling the trigger.
The bullet does not refer to the entire cartridge, but just the piece of lead that projects from the barrel.
The magazine holds the ammunition and is to be loaded into the firearm. Rounds are loaded and compress a spring inside the magazine. The spring creates upward tension to help feed the ammunition into the firearm. Often, media mistakenly refers to magazines as “clips”. Clips hold paper. Or hair.
Caliber is a term used when measuring the diameter of a barrel or the measurement of the ammunition. You’ll see this used for both metric and imperial systems. For example, a 9mm pistol has a barrel diameter of 9mm, allowing for a projectile diameter of 9mm. A “22” has a barrel diameter of .22 inches.
Despite the unfortunate prevalence of this term, “assault rifle” does not have an actual meaning. Sometimes, people use this term to refer to rifles with accessories even though the mechanics and function are no different than if they had no accessories. Accessories include flashlights, more comfortable handles, and other aesthetic changes. “Military style” is also commonly used and people falsely use this label to reference appearance rather than function. Military weapons are typically automatic (multiple rounds per trigger pull, see above for further elaboration). A semi-automatic rifle with personal accessories may appear the same as the automatic version in use by the military, but the function is no different than if you were to add an additional handle and flashlight to your grandfather’s old dusty rifle.
Operationally, both rifles here are identical. The rifle above has rails, which allow for the easy application of accessories for those who like to customize.
This short list is by no means comprehensive, even in the explanations given, but they will provide you with enough to effectively continue your research and encourage you to communicate effectively and confidently.
Pew pew and chill, friends. Until next time. Discussion continued in the comments below.