Guns Are Back in the News: Here's a Handy Guide

By: Chuck Klein In the wake of the Virginia Tech massacre, a new wave of gun control debate and legal measures will remain in the news for months. It would be a good idea for the press to at least get its technical terminology right in covering the developments.

My field of expertise is firearms and I am constantly amazed at the lack of knowledge and/or research (laziness?) that some writers exhibit when writing about guns or the use thereof.

For example, one noted author penned, ??he grabbed the 30.06 rifle?.? The thirty-ought-six is probably the most well know cartridge in the world. However, it is displayed as .30-06. The ?.30? is the caliber or bore diameter of the barrel. The ?06? refers to the year (1906) when the cartridge was accepted by and for the U.S. Military. This same author, when describing a group men in the early 1970s had one of them shooting a Glock pistol. Glock didn?t make handguns until the 1980s.

Some other the most egregious errors found in news media stories, articles and books include:

?The gun used was a Colt automatic.? (Did the writer mean machinegun or the more common SEMI-automatic pistol? Colt has made both).

?He took out his pistol, opened the cylinder?.? (Pistols don?t have cylinders ? only revolvers do.)

?The killer placed a fresh bullet into his gun.? (I think he means, cartridge.)

Below are some Firearm Related Terms that might help when editing a piece that includes reference to firearms:

ACTION: Moveable mechanical parts of a firearm.

BALLISTICS: Science of the characteristics of projectiles in motion.

BARREL: Part of the firearm through which the discharged bullet passes moving from breach to muzzle.

BORE: The inside of the barrel through which the discharged bullet passes. Size is determined by measuring the distance between the lands of a rifled barrel or maximum inside diameter of a smoothbore (shotgun) barrel .

BREECH: Rear portion of the barrel which includes the chamber.

BULLET: (aka PROJECTILE) The missile only. The part of the cartridge that separates, exits from the muzzle and impacts on the target.

CARTRIDGE: A complete unit of ammunition which is comprised of the cartridge case, primer, propellant, and bullet - a loaded round of ammunition.

CALIBER: Refers to a weapon's (land or grove) or bullet's diametrical size - usually expressed in thousands of an inch or metric equivalent. Sometimes includes other information to indicated powder charge (e.g., .38-40) or year of adoption (e.g., .30-06) or special designation (e.g., .38 Special).

CENTERFIRE: Cartridge case which contains its primer in the rear center portion. Usually reloadable. A firearm designed to fire centerfire ammunition.

CHAMBER: Inside portion of the breech formed to accommodate the cartridge.

CLIP: Device to hold cartridges for insertion into a magazine. See "MAGAZINE"

CYLINDER: Revolving mechanical part of a revolver which houses multiple chambers.


DOUBLE ACTION: (DA) Function of trigger pull that requires two actions to discharge a weapon. The first action is the compressing of the hammer/firing pin (main) spring by physically moving the trigger rearward. The second action is the continued rearward movement of the trigger to the point of causing the release of the hammer/firing pin.

FIREARM: Any weapon from which a projectile(s) is discharged by means of a rapidly burning or exploding propellant.

FRAME: The non-moveable mechanical portion of a weapon into or upon which all other parts are attached.


HAMMER: Moveable mechanical part of the action which, when released, drives the firing pin into the primer.

HANDGUN: A firearm (revolver or pistol) designed to be operated with one hand and without the aid of extraneous support.

INSTINCT COMBAT SHOOTING: The act of operating a HANDGUN by focusing on the target and instinctively coordinating the hand and mind to cause the HANDGUN to discharge at a time and point that ensures interception of the target with the projectile. Method developed by and term coined by Police Firearms Instructor CHUCK KLEIN.

INSTINCT SHOOTING: (a.k.a. point shooting) Focusing on the target and instinctively shooting any long gun without the aid or use of mechanical sights.

MAGAZINE: Removable part of a pistol which holds cartridges in such a way as to facilitate the chambering of these cartridges during operational functioning.

MUZZLE: The end of the barrel from which the discharged projectile exits.

PISTOL: aka: Autoloader, auto pistol, semi-auto. Any self-loading handgun that is not a revolver. Usually incorporates the chamber as part of the barrel. Requires the manually pulling and releasing of the trigger for each shot. After each shot the recoil "automatically" pushes the slide rearward, ejecting the spent cartridge, cocking the hammer/firing pin and, on the return forward movement, striping a fresh cartridge from the magazine for insertion into the chamber. This action/reaction does not disengage the sear, which can only be done by releasing the trigger.

Fully automatic weapons such as machine guns or submachine guns will continue to fire until either the trigger is released or the magazine is emptied.

POINT BLANK RANGE: Distance so close that appreciable projectile deviation of line of flight is negligible.


PRIMER: Detonating mixture structured to ignite propellant when struck a sharp blow as from a firing pin.

RECOIL: The kinetic energy reaction of the expanding burning propellant as it pushes the projectile through the bore. This is also evidenced by the rearward thrust of the weapon against the shooters hand/body.

REVOLVER: A multi-shot handgun, utilizing a revolving cylinder as a cartridge receptacle.

RIFLING: Parallel spiral groves cut into the bore to impart spin on the projectile. This spin aids in stabilizing the bullet in flight which greatly improves accuracy. This rifling so marks the bullet as it passes through the bore. These engravings (fingerprints) are unique to that particular bore and bullet.

RIMFIRE: Cartridge case which contains its primer in the rear rim portion. A firearm designed to fire rimfire ammunition. Not reloadable. .22 LR (Long Rifle); .22 Short; and .22 Long are all rimfire cartridges and are of the most common and oldest cartridges in current use. Rifles, pistols and revolvers have all been chambered for this round of ammunition.

SAFETY: Any device or mechanism which locks or blocks the trigger, hammer and/or sear to prevent unintentional discharge.

SEAR: Mechanical part of the action of a firearm which functions between the trigger and the hammer; acts as a release when the trigger is fully depressed.


SHOTGUN: A shoulder fired long-gun with a smooth (not rifled) barrel. Shotgun size and power are designated by Gauge ? not by caliber (see Sidebar). Some shotgun types are: SxS (Side by side ? a double barrel shotgun with the barrels arranged side by side); O/U (Over/Under ? a double barrel shotgun with the barrels arranged one on top of the other); Pump action (One must operate the pump to expel fired shells, load a fresh shell from the magazine and cock the hammer/firing pin); Auto-loading (The force of firing a shell ejects the spent shell and ?automatically? recharges the chamber with a fresh shell from the magazine while cocking the hammer/firing pin) Bolt action (a bolt is used to extract, charge the chamber and cock the hammer/firing pin).

SINGLE ACTION: Only one action is required to fire the weapon such as moving the trigger rearward to release the hammer/firing pin.

SLIDE: On semi-automatic or automatic weapons, the movable mechanical device which functions to extract spent cases and insert loaded cartridges.

SNUB-NOSE: Slang term usually meaning any short barreled revolver.

STOCK: Portion of the weapon which is held in the hand.

TACHYINTERVAL: Time-deception phenomena. A condition that occurs when, under extreme stress, events appear to happen in slow motion. Events, of course, do not slow down but, the mind seems to speed up due to the brains ability to digest information much faster than the body can act/react. Many people who have been in serious auto accidents or gun fights have experienced this condition.

TRAJECTORY: The parabolical path of a projectile in flight from muzzle to impact.

TRIGGER: Moveable mechanical device designed to be operated by the index finger for double action or single action mode depending on type of firearm.

TUNNEL-VISION: Peripheral-optic distortion/dysfunction phenomena. A condition that can occur during high concentration where one see (is aware of) only the center of his/hers attention. This temporary occurrence renders the victim oblivious to surrounding events.


.22 Long Rifle (.22LR) This is a rimfire cartridge and has been very popular for over 100 years.
.25 ACP (ACP means, Automatic Colt Pistol)
.380 Automatic (Popular self-defense pistol round)
9mm (Once popular police cartridge, especially in Europe)
.38 Special (Early police revolver cartridge ? still popular in snub-nose revolvers)
.357 Magnum (Popular revolver cartridge for police and self-protection)
.40 Caliber (Popular modern police pistol cartridge)
.44 Magnum (Powerful hunting and self-defense round)
.45 ACP Old (1911) and still popular police and self-defense pistol round)


.223 (aka 5.56mm. Cartridge designed for the M-16 ? and other ? military semi-auto and full-auto rifles)
.270 Winchester (Popular hunting cartridge)
.30-06 (Originally a military cartridge ? now a very popular hunting round)
.308 Winchester (aka 7.62 NATO. A military round and one of the most accurate high power hunting and target rounds)
.30-30 (Most popular deer hunting cartridge)
.470 Nitro Express (early ?elephant? cartridge usually found in SxS double barreled rifles)
.458 Winchester Magnum. (Very powerful hunting cartridge ? used for big game)


12 Gauge (.729 bore diameter)
16 Ga. (.662)
20 Ga (.615)
28 Ga (.550)
.410 (.410) Called the Four-Ten, it is actually about a 67 Gauge, but has always been referred to as the four-ten.


Related E&P column by Robert Jay Lifton: After Virginia Tech: Confronting 'Gunism'


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