Basic Gun Terminology

Ladies, are you often confused about the terms use in the firearm work? Here is a resource to help you understand the foreign language of the gun world.


Abbreviation for automatic colt pistol.

A firearm’s working mechanism (typically the receiver or frame and breech bolt) that facilitates its firing and loading/unloading. There are a variety of types of actions from single to automatic.

Abbreviated form of ammunition.

A complete assembly consisting of a case, a charge (gunpowder) and a projectile. Also known as fixed ammunition.

Firearm that continuously feeds cartridges, fires their bullets and ejects their empty cases.

The part of a pistol that is exposed at the rear of the grip.

The study of projectile motion and effects. In the case of guns, it refers to all factors that affect the bullet, including the velocity, trajectory, size of load, rifling, and more. Each weapon has its own unique “ballistic signature,” which leaves markings on the bullets. This allows police laboratories to determine whether two bullets were fired from the same weapon.

Benchrest (Shooting)

A competition where participants fire from a fixed shooting position in an attempt to place consecutive shots into the smallest possible grouping on a paper target. Typically it involves groups of at least 10 shots and at different target distances.

Bird Shot
Refers to shotgun projectiles that have a diameter less than .24″.

The earliest form of firearm propellant. Except for its use in antique guns, it has been replaced by higher pressure, smokeless powder.

Blank Cartridge
A cartridge containing a charge but no projectile. It is used for starter’s guns or for special uses such as in movies or theatre productions.

A gun’s blue or black metal finish that is the result of an acid bath. The coloration and protectant applied to barrels and other exposed metal parts on guns. 

A bullet with a tapered end to improve its long-range efficiency.

Body Armor
Vest type jacket worn by law enforcement or military personnel. It is usually made of light-weight, bullet resistive material such as Kevlar.

The interior of a firearm’s barrel excluding the chamber. The hole through the center of the barrel, through which the bullet travels. The bore may be smooth (shotguns and muskets) or rifled (rifles and handguns).

The rear part of a gun’s bore.

Buck Shot
Refers to shotgun projectiles that have a diameter 24″ or greater.

The projectile expelled from a gun, which is distinct from a cartridge. Bullets come in a variety of types and are usually composed of lead or lead that is shielded with a harder metal.

Describes the bottom part of a pistol grip and the rear or shoulder portion of a rifle or shotgun.

The diameter of a projectile for a rifled firearm or the interior diameter of a rifled barrel. In the U.S., the diameter is expressed in hundreds of an inch.

A single, complete round of ammunition consisting of a case, charge (propellant) and projectile (bullet).

Case, Casing
The material that surrounds and holds the charge (cartridge propellant) and/or projectile. It is typically made of brass.

The area of a firearm that holds a cartridge immediately prior to its being fired.

Charging Handle
A handle that cycles a semi or fully automatic firearm without discharging.

The diamond-shaped tool patterns that are cut into firearm grips.

A constriction at or near a shotgun muzzle. It is designed to control shot dispersion.

Popularly refers to a container that holds a group of cartridges, which may either be transferred or inserted into a firearm.

The hammer-like device on early firearms that set the weapon into firing position.

Cocking (a gun)
Pulling back a gun’s hammer into its firing position.

The portion of the stock where a shooter rests his or her cheek.

The sighting lines in a telescopic sight.

A drum-shaped component of a revolver that houses its ammunition.

An accessory, usually added to a rifle’s stock, to absorb the shock of recoil.

A very short-barreled (one or two shot) pocket pistol named after its inventor, Henry Derringer.

To fire a weapon.

A firearm that is fired either by manually cocking the weapon and then pulling the trigger or by using trigger action to both cock and fire the weapon.

Double-barreled Shotgun
A shotgun with two separate barrels allowing for two discharges before reloading.

Double-Set Trigger
A device consisting of one trigger which cocks and gun while the partner fires it.

Dry Firing
Discharging an unloaded firearm in order to become familiar with its operation.

A popular term for a cartridge that fails to fire after its primer is struck by the firearm’s firing pin. See “Hangfire.”

A mechanism that throws cases free of a firearm.

Expert Marksman
A highly-skilled shooter, capable of hitting any target falling within weapon range.

Exploding Bullet
A bullet with an explosive component that explodes under striking (ironically this feature severely reduces its ability to penetrate a target).

To move a live cartridge from a firearm’s magazine to its chamber.

Technically, any pistol, rifle, or shotgun that uses gunpowder to launch projectiles.

Firing Pin
The breech component that strikes the primer, igniting the cartridge.

Floor Plate
The bottom plate of a cartridge magazine that’s removable.

Floating Barrel
A barrel bedded to avoid contact with a gun’s stock.

The potion of a stock located under a firearm’s barrel.

Refers to a shotgun barrels bore size. The larger the number the smaller the bore. The gauge actually describes the number of lead balls the diameter of the bore that it would take to make a pound (e.g., a lead ball that would exactly fit the barrel of a 20-gauge shotgun would weigh 1/20 pound).

A unit of measure used for bullets or powder. One grain is equal to 1/7000 pound; equals a troy gain or 64.799 milligrams. A grain is not the same as a “granule” or piece of powder.

The part of the gun’s handle held by the hand that works the trigger.

Grip Safety
A locking device located on the grip, which unless depressed, prevents a discharge.

In the U.S., term may be applied to airguns, cannons, pistols, rifles and shotguns.

Gun Control
Typically refers to either existing or proposed laws involving firearm sales and ownership.

Gun Lock
The firearm mechanism responsible for exploding the primer (charge).

Gun Powder
Any powdered substance that can be ignited and is suited for propelling projectiles.

Gun Smith
A person skilled in making and repairing guns.

The firearm component that causes the firing pin to ignite a cartridge primer.

Hammer block
A safety device that separates the hammer from the firing pin until discharged.

A firearm with a frame design that conceals its firing pin and hammer.

A cartridge that has a delayed discharge due either to defective primer or a defective blow from a firing pin.

The base of a bullet or firearm stock.

A fairly recently coined term for persons with an irrational fear of weapons. Apparently pejorative, it comes from the Greek words for tool or weapon and fear.

A layer of material, metal or synthetic, which encloses the (typically lead) core of a bullet. 

The elongated hole caused when an unstable projectile strikes a target sideways.

See “Recoil.”

(Pronounced with a long “e”) Aiming in front of a moving target to compensate for the distance it will travel while the bullet or shot are on the way.

Remnants in a firearm bore that is left by fired bullets.

A firearm with a cartridge in its firing chamber.

Loading Gate
A hinged or spring loaded cover that, when opened, allows a firearm to be loaded or inloaded.

Machine Gun
A rifled firearm capable of automatically feeding, firing and ejecting high-powered cartridges. Typically only military ownership and use is permitted.

Refers to either a permanent or detachable, spring-loaded container for cartridges. It is often considered the same as a clip. One distinction is that, externally, a magazine appears to complete the firearm’s form, while a clip is an ammunition insert (or transfer device) that does not affect external appearance.

A strong spring – an energy storage device that operates the striker or hammer of a firearm.

When cartridge fails to fire due to it or a firearm being defective.

A cartridge’s open end that accepts a bullet.

A barrel’s open end that is a projectile’s exit.

Negligent Discharge
A term that is used to refer to unintended discharge of a firearm that causes bodily injury, property damage, etc. Gun advocates and proponents debate whether it should be synonymous with accidental discharge.

The forward point of a bullet.

NRA (National Rifle Association)
This organization is an advocate of the public’s right to own guns, provides training related to safe gun use, and sponsors firearm competitions on a national basis.

Partition Bullet
A two-chambered, jacketed bullet. The front portion expands on impact and the rear piece remains intact to ensure penetration.

Refers either to cloth used to clean a gun’s bore or a piece of leather or cloth that is wrapped around a bullet (round ball) before a ram rod is used to load it into a muzzle-loaded gun.

Any variety of gun, including revolvers, which may be readily held and fired in one hand.

Pistol Grip
The protrusion on the handgun, or on the buttstock or front portion of a shoulder-operated gun, that allows the weapon to be comfortably held by a hand.

Describes the very common practice of firing at various inanimate targets such as cans, bottles, etc.

The part of a cartridge that is ignited to propel a bullet.

Refers to the source that propels a projectile such as ignited powder charge in a firearm or, in pellet guns, compressed air or CO2.

Pump Action
An action that functions via a slide that moves parallel to the barrel. Rear motion acts as an ejector and forward motion loads and secures the weapon for firing.

The reactive, often violent, backwards force that occurs after a firearm has been fired.

A previously used cartridge that has been reassembled with a new charge and projectile.

Typically a pistol with a multi-chambered cylinder that rotates to line-up each chamber with a single barrel and firing pin.

Rim Fire.

A raised surface, that is located along the top of a gun barrel and is used as a sight.

A projectile that’s diverted in another direction after initial impact.

A shoulder gun having a barrel with a rifled bore.

Rifled Slug
A cylinder-shaped projectile designed to be fired by a shotgun.

Refers to cutting spiral grooves into a gun’s bore. This results in a projectile being spun when shot, creating a more accurate (stable) flight.

A cartridge with a rim that contains primer.

See “Cartridge.” Still used and refers to a bullet out of deference to the fact that they were round until the mid 18 century.

A firearm accessory designed to prevent discharge by locking the firing mechanism.

The part of a firearm that keeps a hammer cocked until the trigger is pulled.

A firearm that, with each pull of a trigger, fires, ejects and reloads a single cartridge.ets.

A shoulder gun with smooth-bored barrel(s) that is designed to fire shells filled with multiple projectiles which vary in size. The projectiles spray out when shot, resulting in a weapon that is effective at close-range.

A misnomer for an illegal firearm accessory that, when attached to a muzzle, substantially reduces the noise made by the discharge.

A gun mechanism that requires ammunition to be manually loaded in the gun’s chamber before each discharge.

A competition where participants, armed with shotguns, test their ability to hit fragile clay targets that are launched into the air at different angles, planes, and heights.

See “Pump Action.”

The strap attached to a rifle to aid in carrying the weapon.

Sling Swivel
The metal part that attaches a sling to a rifle.

Small Arms
Firearms designed for use by an individual or individuals.

Typically refers to a revolver with an unusually short barrel.

Soft Point
A bullet with a metal jacket but an exposed nose which allows it to expand upon hitting a target.

Attempting to hit a target by rapidly firing a large amount of ammunition.

A cartridge with a missing or inadequate powder charge, that fires the bullet only partway down the barrel.

The firearm component to which a barreled action is attached. It allows a firearm to be held and used.

The portion of a receiver that extends behind the hammer and fits into a stock.

Telescopic Sight
A small arms sight that uses optical lenses that provides a magnified view.

The manually operated firearm component that causes its discharge.

Trigger Locks
Devices such as blocks or covers which deny access to a pistol’s trigger.

A measure of a projectile’s speed in the direction it has been fired.

Refers to an object’s use, rather than nature; so a weapon is any item that is used in offensive or defensive combat.

Weaver Stance
A special shooting style where pistols are gripped with both hands to minimize the effects of recoil, increasing accuracy.

The farthest distance at which a projectile accurately hits its target or the practice of properly aligning a firearm’s sights.

Now that you know the terminology, take a look at some concealed carry purses with dedicated space for your handgun.


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