Recently, guns have become a widely broadcast topic, aside from waging wars for the last decade or so. Regardless of your feelings or attitudes towards firearms, you will be better served to have your terminology straight before you enter a discussion on the topic. You could lose considerable credibility if you display ignorance of the basic terms.
Just to put my credentials in order, my father gave me my first 22 rifle when I was 12, after rigorous teaching, training, and practice of the gun safety and hunting rules. Later I learned about and used pistols, shotguns, and high-powered rifles. I spent six years in the US Army, including a 1969 tour in Vietnam. I have disassembled, cleaned, reassembled, and fired all the military small arms (proficiency with pistols, assault rifles, machine guns, and grenade launchers), shy of a 50-cal machine gun.
The language used in our news media, video games, and reports of gun-related incidents does not accurately match the vocabulary of those with a background in weapons. Here are several key distinctions to make in your thinking and speaking, if you concern yourself about guns:
1) Single-shot, vs. single action, vs. double-action.
a) Single shot – means the weapon must be manually reloaded and cocked before each shot. Examples: a barrel-loaded musket, a flint-lock pistol, a single-shot shotgun.
b) Single action – means the weapon must be manually cocked to reload before each shot. Examples:
i) The Colt Single Action Army revolver— also known as the Model P, Peacemaker, M1873, Single Action Army, SAA, and Colt 45; when the hammer is cocked it rotates the cylinder to the next shell chamber. The user must pull the trigger to fire the round, and then manually cock the weapon again to bring another round into position
ii) The Colt 1911 magazine-fed pistol (the firer must manually cock the trigger to fire the first round; the recoil pushes back the slide which ejects the spent round on its way back, then loads the next round from the magazine, on the way forward, and cocks the weapon, ready for semi-automatic firing )
iii) The Winchester, lever-action 30-30 rifle, (ratcheting the lever expels a spent shell and loads a live round into firing position and cocks the trigger – allowing the user to fire the round)
iv) All bolt-action rifles (ratcheting the bolt back and forward expels the spent round and loads a new round into firing position – pulling the trigger fires the round.)
v) Pump-action shotguns – store shells in the stock of the weapon. The pump action ejects the spent shell and feeds a new shell in to the chamber.
c) Double-action – means that pulling the trigger reloads, cocks, and fires the weapon. Example:
i) A six-round Smith & Wesson Police Special 38 cal. revolver pistol (the first part of pulling the trigger pulls back the hammer, and rotates the cylinder aligning a new round to firing chamber; then the last part of the trigger pull releases the cocked hammer to fire the round).
2) Semi-automatic, Automatic, Hybrid
a) Revolvers – Technically, a double-action revolver is also semi-automatic, but is not magazine-fed, and does not eject the casings. Most revolvers hold 6 rounds in their cylinder. Rapid re-loaders are sets of revolver shells in a holder that allows the firer to first, open and empty the revolver’s cylinder and eject the shells, then use the re-loader to replace all the shells at once. Those skilled with revolvers can fire at almost the same rate and continue to fire as many rounds as the users of semi-automatic magazine-fed weapons.
b) Semi-automatic tube-fed shotguns – a semi-automatic shotgun can hold 5 or more shells in a spring-loaded tube under the barrel. The recoil of each shot ejects the spent shell and loads a shell from the tube.
c) Magazine-fed – hunters have used magazine fed shotguns and rifles for decades. The military needed faster reloading, more rounds per reload, and the ability to pre-load ammunition in advance to meet the demands of combat. A military magazine is designed to hold several rounds (usually 20) and has a strong spring in the bottom to push the rounds up to the chamber. The number of rounds a magazine can hold is effectively limited by the strength of the spring to push them up
d) Semi-automatic – in magazine-fed weapons, means that pulling the trigger fires a round, ejects the spent casing, loads another round, and cocks the trigger in one action. Each pull of the trigger fires another round from the magazine.
e) Automatic – pulling the trigger fires a round, ejects the spent casing, loads another round from the magazine, cocks the trigger and releases to fire another round as long as the trigger is depressed. A machine-gun is by definition an automatic weapon.
f) Hybrid – a manual selector switch sets the weapon to either semi-automatic or automatic. When either setting is selected the weapon fires accordingly: semi-automatic requires the firer to pull the trigger for each round fired; Automatic means continuous fire when the trigger is pulled and held. Military and police rifles have this option.
I post these distinctions mostly for people not familiar with the terminology for firearms.
The media uses the term “semi-automatic” quite regularly when describing shooting incidents; without these distinctions, people who have only seen weapons on television or in movies might confuse “semi-automatic” with “Automatic” machine-guns.
Federal Gun Laws spell out requirements and restrictions that apply nationwide.
States have additional gun laws concerning registration, ownership, and use of various types of weapons
Many people know much more than I do about guns. If anyone notices a factual error, please comment so I can correct the mistake.