While you may not think so, a basic knowledge of handgun terminology and parts is essential in your search for a personal defense weapon. We women tend to research all major purchases relentlessly before shelling out the cash…so why should a handgun purchase be any different? If you don’t know what it means to “rack a slide,” how actions work, or what the weight of a trigger pull means you have come to the right place. Ladies, you are about to learn all there is to know about “The Anatomy of the Pew.”
What is a pew you say? According to the Urban Dictionary, pew is defined as the sound a laser weapon makes when it is discharged. Think Star Wars blasters. When my brother and I were young, we would literally chase each other around the house with our fingers pointed shouting, “Pew, Pew, I got you.” Silly? Yes, but someone has turned this into a cash cow. I want to turn it into a learning experience.
While the pew image is meant to be a joke, most people really do not know the correct terminology for guns and their parts. While this topic may seem boring to you, I implore you to read on until the end. Not only do you need this knowledge to help make you make an informed decision, the knowledge may also end up saving you a lot of money. I can’t tell you how many times I have seen uninformed people fork out way to much money for exactly the wrong handgun. Knowledge is empowering.
Now let’s get back to the image. The correct way to describe it would be to say that it is a round of ammunition, broken down by each part. The “bang button” is the primer. The primer functions as the explosive device that ignites the “magical fire dust,” or gunpowder, which is stored in the “metal holdy thing,” known as the casing or cartridge. The gas that builds up from the burning gunpowder has enough force to expel the “freedom seed,” or bullet, out of the gun. The most important thing I want you to take away from this lesson is that the bullet is the projectile that leaves the barrel of the gun. It is incorrect to call rounds of ammunition, or ammo, bullets. You now know the physics of how a round of ammunition is fired. Imagine how smart you will look to your instructor in your basic pistol class!
The next thing we are going to learn about will help you decide which type of handgun you might want to buy. The two most common types of handguns in circulation today are the semi automatic pistol and the revolver. While both have particular advantages and disadvantages, it is simply a matter of personal choice in deciding which one is right for you. Before you make that choice, let’s learn in detail about each one. First, let’s look at their commonalities.
Common Handgun Parts
All modern handguns have 3 basic groups of parts: the action, the frame, and the barrel. The action includes any and all moving parts. This includes the trigger group and all of the moving parts it takes to fire and refire the gun. There are two types of legal actions in the United States, single action and double action. We will learn more about these later.
The second main part of all handguns is the frame. The frame is simple to understand if you think of it as the backbone of the gun. It includes the non movable metal housing and the grips. All gun parts are connected to it.
The last common handgun part is the barrel. This is the metal tube that the bullet travels through on the way out of the gun.
Differences Between Semi Automatic Pistols and Revolvers
Semi Automatic Pistol
A semi auto pistol fires a single round of ammunition with every pull of the trigger, but also automatically reloads the next cartridge. Remember earlier when we learned that the bullet is expelled from the gas of the ignited gunpowder? That same small amount of gas has enough energy to not only eject the spent cartridge but also to cycle the next round of ammunition into the firing chamber! The first round, however, must be manually loaded in by a process known as “racking the slide.” When you are at a gun show or store checking out pistols, be sure to rack the slide on all of them. Some are difficult, some are easy. This should be a deal breaker for your purchase. If you cannot easily rack the slide, don’t buy the pistol. Find another one that is easier for you to manage.
Semi automatic pistols have double action triggers, but some can be used as single action as well. Double action simply means that one pull of the trigger both cocks and releases the hammer in one motion. In some semi autos, the hammer is visible and you can cock it manually if you want too. This would make it a single action, because then the trigger pull would only be doing one thing, releasing the hammer. Why would you want to do this? It makes the trigger pull easier. On semi autos, however, trigger pulls are fairly easy anyway. When we learn about revolvers you will understand the need to manually cock the hammer back. That said, many modern pistols are now striker fired, meaning there is no hammer to cock back. This means they are all double action and one easy pull is all it takes.
One of the greatest things about semi auto pistols is that the magazine (not clip, DON’T call it a clip) is made to hold a whole lot of ammo. Each state has its own regulations regarding this, but most fall between the 10-20 round range. If you have 3 magazines, 1 in the gun and 2 more in your purse, and they hold 10 rounds of ammo each, you will easily be able to carry 30 rounds on you ready to go at all times. The magazines I carry are 15 rounds, so, well, do the math.
By definition, a revolver is a handgun in which the ammunition is stored in a rotating cylinder. Depending on the caliber, cylinders generally hold between 5-8 rounds, with 6 being the most common. Does the term “six gun” ring a bell? This type of gun was carried by the old west cowboys and gunfighters. Because their revolvers only held six rounds of ammunition, they often carried two guns and multiple ammo belts crisscrossed over their torsos. Revolvers can be single action, double action, or both, but it is in your best interest as new shooters to shoot them single action. Remember that single action means using your thumb to manually pull back the hammer before your finger pulls the trigger. Why does this matter more on a revolver than a semi auto? Trigger pulls on revolvers tend to be much heavier, which means that it takes a lot of effort just to pull the trigger. My mom can’t pull the trigger at all on some of my dad’s revolvers.
Hard trigger pulls directly affect accuracy. Think about it. If it takes such an effort to pull the trigger, imagine how much the gun is moving around in your hands during this time. A simple solution to fix this is to shoot it single action instead. Cock the hammer back first and the trigger pull gets much lighter. You can also put in an after market trigger to make it lighter, but that is a post in and of itself for another time.
On a positive note, I will say that revolvers are much easier to clean and don’t fling their ammo out all over the place. You have to manually eject it which is actually kind of fun. But while they are fun to shoot, they are much bulkier and heavier than semi autos. This makes them challenging to conceal. I am going to be honest and say that I prefer semi autos over revolvers. They have higher round capacities, very easy trigger pulls and are much easier to conceal on your body. The jury is out on which one is safer, but in my opinion there is no such thing as an accidental discharge. They always involve some sort of negligence.
Whew, you made it to the end! While there is much more to learn before you actually purchase a handgun for your own personal self defense, I hope this lesson in terminology has at least given you the confidence to ask informed questions while out shopping. I guarantee that it is a lot less likely that you will be ripped off if you know, or act like you know what you are talking about. And remember that there is no wrong answer to which type of handgun you should purchase. Try them all out! Have fun racking slides and pulling triggers! Just be sure they are not loaded.
As always, comments and suggestions are welcome! Come back next week to learn all about calibers and be one step closer to finding your ideal handgun!