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By Rob Morse
Firearms and the use of force often confuses both the layman and the journalist. This style sheet tries to present complex subjects in simple terms that most of us can understand.
Guns- are mechanical devices that launch a projectile. Sub-classifications include long guns and handguns.
Firearm- is a gun that accelerates a projectile with the expanding gasses produced by burning propellant. Firearms are guns, but not all guns are firearms. For example, air guns, spring guns, and blowguns are not firearms, but may be regulated as such in some states. Some states also include flare and signaling guns as regulated firearms.
Long guns- are generally rifles and shotguns. They typically require two hands to support and are fired with the butt of the stock resting against your shoulder.
Rifle- a long gun that stabilizes the bullet by making the projectile spin as it accelerates down the barrel. Handguns typically have rifled barrels also. The technique for spinning the projectile was invented hundreds of years ago.
Modern sporting rifle- See ARrifle.
Shotgun- is generally a smooth-bore long gun that shoots several small pellets. (Smooth bore firearms don’t spin the projectiles they launch.) Shotguns are usually loaded with shells rather than cartridges. The shells contain shot (many BBs) rather than a single bullet.
Handguns- refer to guns that are small enough and light enough to be held in one hand without needing shoulder support. Usually a pistol or a revolver.
Holster- is a pouch that supports a handgun. Holsters are typically made of plastic or leather and cover the area around the trigger of the handgun. Covering the trigger helps protect the person carrying the gun from having a negligent discharge. Holsters may be carried on-body, or used in off-body carry when the handgun is stored in a purse or bag.
Revolver- is a handgun that stores individual cartridges in a rotating cylinder. After it is fired, the spent cartridge case remains in the cylinder until the firearm is reloaded. Modern revolvers fire each time the trigger is pressed. Revolvers were in common use by the mid 1800s.
Pistol or auto-pistol- is a semi-automatic handgun. They are typically loaded with a removable box magazine. These handguns unload the fired cartridge and automatically load an unfired cartridge into the firing position after each shot. Automatic loading pistols were invented in the late 1800s and were in common use by the early 1900s.
Bullet- The word comes from the French word for “small ball”. A bullet is the projectile launched from a gun. Bullets are typically made of lead or lead and copper. The bullet is distinct from the modern brass casing that holds the bullet. The casing stays in the gun and is not fired down the barrel. The nose of the bullet may be solid or hollow.
Cartridge– Modern ammunition combines a bullet, casing, powder, and a primer into one mechanical assembly called a cartridge. Ammunition cartridges were invented in the early 1800s.
Brass– a term of art referring to a cartridge case usually made of brass. Often used in the phrases “Pick up your brass.” or “They left their brass behind.”
Clips- are mechanical strips that hold several cartridges so the cartridges can be easily loaded into a firearm. Most clips do not become part of the gun when it is fired. Modern firearms hold their ammunition cartridges in removable box magazines rather than using clips.
Silencer, muffler, or can- a baffle or muffler attached or built into a firearm. Mufflers designed for firearms were patented in the early 1900s.
Lethality- All guns are lethal. Metal objects moving over 200 miles per hour will penetrate skin. Even being shot in the hand could prove fatal without medical attention. Handgun bullets are moving at about the speed of sound. Rifle bullets move at twice that velocity.
Autoloading or automatic loading is a technical term that describes how a firearm operates. During each shot, an autoloading firearms removes the spent casing from the gun, loads a new cartridge, and prepares the firing mechanism to shoot again. These actions take place without the intervention of the shooter. In contrast, some firearms require the shooter to perform each of these actions separately. Autoloading guns are distinct from automatic firing firearms.
Automatic vs semi-automatic weapon– A semi-automatic firearm shoots one bullet each time the trigger is pressed. In contrast, an automatic firearm shoots as long as the trigger is pressed. Most modern military long guns are automatic weapons. The few automatic firearms owned by civilians are collectors items. They cost tens of thousands of dollars and take months of federal background checks to buy. Automatic rifles were invented in the late 1800s.
Concealed carry- carrying a handgun either on-body, or in a case or bag, where the firearm is easily accessible and not visible to the casual observer.
Open carry- displaying a handgun, typically outside the waistband, and uncovered by other clothing.
Concealed carry license (concealed firearms license, concealed weapons permit)- is a state permit allowing the person to carry a firearm in public. Most states do not regulate carrying a firearm on your own property. Some 15 million people are legally allowed to carry concealed in the US.
Concealed carry class- the training taken to carry a firearm concealed. Different states impose different requirements on the classroom and range-training required to receive a concealed carry license.
Reciprocity- The legal agreements between states where one state recognizes the rights of civilians and law enforcement officers to carry a concealed firearm if the individual is licensed to carry in his home state. Some states don’t have reciprocal agreements.
Constitutional carry states- are states that allow legally armed citizens to carry a firearm in public without a license. At least 14 states passed constitutional carry.
Magazine- the compartment inside a firearm or on the outside of a firearm where ammunition is stored. Long guns frequently have an external box magazine that attaches to the bottom of the gun, or a tubular magazine that runs under the barrel. Auto-loading handguns typically have a magazine in the grip where the gun is held. The box magazine may be removable or fixed in place. Contemporary firearms are reloaded by removing the empty magazine and inserting a loaded magazine. Ammunition magazines can be reloaded when they are removed from the firearm.
Sights- are mechanical aiming devices that usually sit on top of a firearm.
Optical sights- usually a telescope with an internal crosshair used for shooting distant targets. Optical sights can both magnify the target, and allow the target and crosshairs to be in focus at the same time.
Stock a.k.a. furniture- The extensions that fill the space between the mechanical parts of the gun and the person holding it. The butt end of a rifle’s stock rests against your shoulder. The piece lying under the barrel is called a foregrip. Once made of wood, most are made of plastic these days. Stocks may be fixed or adjustable to fit different size shooters.
Caliber- the size of the bullet, and also the name of a cartridge. Caliber generally refers to the diameter of the bullet. Some cartridges that shoot the same diameter bullet are given slightly different names to differentiate them..and to confuse everyone else. Some are measured in thousands of an inch, and some in millimeters.
High-powered firearm- this term traditionally meant firearms used to take medium to large animals while hunting. Firearms that pushed a heavy bullet at high velocity killed animals quickly. Some states prohibit hunting with low-powered firearms because a wounded animal may run away and die slowly.
AR rifle- A rifle developed by the American company Armalite. Military versions are called the M-16, and later the M-4. They are medium-powered, lightweight, military rifles developed in the late 1950s. Only a handful of civilians own a true military AR rifle because these guns are automatic weapons. Civilians typically own a semi-automatic version called the AR-15. Military forces do not, and would not, field an AR-15 rifle.
AK rifle- A rifle developed by Russian Mikhail Kalashnikov and the company named after him. They are medium powered, medium weight, military rifles developed in the in the late 1940s. Military versions were called the AK-47. Only a handful of civilians in the United States own a military AK rifle because they are automatic weapons. Civilians own a semi-automatic version patterned after the AK rifle, though both are called AKs. Military forces do not and would not field the civilian semi-automatic version of the AK rifle.
Assault Rifle (military)- Dedicated assault rifles were developed at the end of World War II. These rifles fire a medium powered cartridge since troops were expected to shoot them on the move. These rifles are designed for light-weight since troops have to run with them during an attack. Contemporary assault rifles can be selected to fire automatically, semi-automatically, or in short bursts. They are neither as powerful nor as accurate as a main battle rifle. The few assault rifles in civilian hands are expensive collectors items since they are automatic weapons.
Assault Rifle, assault weapon (political)- a firearm with features a politician doesn’t like. Most modern firearms have been called “assault weapons” by some anti-gun politician at some point.
Background check- a search of criminal records to determine if a person is prohibited from buying a firearm. The background check is typically conducted through the FBI NICS system. Some states perform their own background checks in addition to using the NICS system.
Prohibited person- someone with a criminal record who would not pass an FBI NICS background check.
FFL- a federal firearms licensee. A person who received authorization to buy and sell firearms on a regular or commercial basis. There are several types of federal firearms licenses depending on the type of business and the firearms being sold. FFLs typically start the background check process.
Private sale, person to person transfer- A firearms sale that does not involve a federal firearms licensee. Private sales are legal in most states.
Interstate transfer- moving a firearm from one state to another state for sale. Based on federal law, guns must first be transferred from a FFL in one state to a FFL in another state before they are then sold to an individual. Some states restrict interstate transfers of all firearms.
Armory- a storage place for weapons.
Self-defense- is a human right. Self-defense is also an affirmative legal defense in that the defendant stipulates that he deliberately used force, but that the use of force was justified. The claim of self-defense is qualified. The defendant must show that he did not start the fight, faced a serious threat, that the threat was immediate and unavoidable, and that the defendant was engaged in an otherwise legal activity.
Castle doctrine- is a legal doctrine that an individual is secure in his residence, vehicle and place of business. Castle doctrine places the legal burden on the state to show that the use of force was unwarranted. In particular, the castle doctrine modifies the duty to retreat.
Duty to retreat- is a legal doctrine that says individuals have a duty to avoid a violent encounter. The law came from English common law, where one party in an attack asserts that he took a step back and his attacker closed the distance in order to attack him. This established who was the attacker and who was the defender. It is generally held that a defendant does not have to retreat if doing so would present a greater risk than remaining in place.
Stand your ground law- is a legal doctrine that modifies the duty to retreat. For example, some states would deny a claim of self-defense by a domestic violence victim as long as there was any remaining means of escape from a violent situation. Some states with a stand your ground law place the burden of proof on the state in cases of self-defense.