Tag Archives: firearms terminology

Q&A: Gun Tropes

Not sure if this is your domain, but I will still ask a general question: Using guns. What are some common tropes that people get wrong/right? For example, I heard that dual wielding has no use in real life and let’s not forget about the villains who never seem to run out of bullets.

Poor trigger discipline drives me up a wall. Poor barrel discipline is probably a close second. I’d lump in general gun safety issues, but those two are the biggest offenders.

“Trigger discipline,” is a central rule of gun safety: Do not touch the trigger until you’re ready to fire. Usually you’ll keep your trigger finger straight, or rest it along the frame when you’re not about to fire. In some cases, and depending on your hand, you might rest it against the trigger guard. Regardless, do not touch the trigger until you are sighted in and prepared to fire.

The problem is a generation of directors and photographers have insisted on poor trigger discipline for their films and photo shoots. Often with the justification that, “it looks more dangerous.” Of course, this is because it is significantly more dangerous. It’s a recipe for an accidental discharge.

Barrel discipline is another of these. The safety rule is, “never point the gun at something you don’t intend to shoot.” The full implication extends a bit further than that; you want to maintain awareness of where your gun is pointed at all times, and don’t point it at anything you’re not okay with putting a round into.

I’m a bit touchy about these because I have been around people who didn’t take them seriously. Mercifully, I’ve never seen these go horribly wrong in person, but these are central rules to gun safety for very good reasons. If they’re not respected, there’s a very real danger of a catastrophic accident. I still have a .gif around here of someone playing with a laser sight and accidentally putting a round through his hand, as a bit of schadenfreude.

Related to both is a problem where characters are way too happy to draw their gun, long before its warranted. This is the same reason, it communicates danger to the audience. However, this actively dangerous behavior. It’s reasonable if someone’s going to open fire if they see you, but someone who wouldn’t open fire on someone simply for being there is more likely to start shooting if they think that person is coming to kill them.

Threatening someone with a gun is illegal. It doesn’t matter if the gun’s real, fake, if you really meant it, or if it was a bluff, it’s brandishing, and that is a crime.

I’ll confirm the dual wielding thing for you, it doesn’t work. Modern pistols are two handed weapons. You stabilize the gun with your off-hand. While you can hold one in each hand, the result is going to be messy, and you’re not going to hit what you want. The entire philosophy of, “but I’m firing twice as many bullets,” doesn’t really play because you can’t put those rounds where you want them. Also, trying to manage mismatched pistols is just distracting. If you’ve got different ammo counts, you’re going to be staggering them out or running one dry much faster than the other. Reloading is disproportionately more cumbersome. I get that it looks cool, but it does not work, and is not as fun as it looks.

The other example you’re coming up with is a little more complicated than it sounds, so we’re going to be here for a minute. Also, some of these numbers might be a little off, I haven’t thought about film production in years, so I’m spitballing numbers from memory.

Ammo accounting while filming is hard. The more rounds a weapon loads, the harder it will be for the editor to ensure the weapon isn’t firing beyond its capacity. Especially given that the editor is probably not a firearms expert. They had a consultant on set who can quote off the specs, but it’s unlikely the editor and armorer ever met.

You have a film where the protagonist carves through people with a shotgun before running dry, discarding it, and switching to their sidearm. They have two spare mags for the sidearm, and it carries 15+1 rounds. The shotgun carries 8+1, with a 4 shells in the carrier.

As fights on screen goes: this is a pretty easy set up.

They shoot the initial sequence. Everything goes well, except a squib pack fails to deploy on one of the stunt performers. At this point the pistol hasn’t been used at all, the shotgun’s run through 11 rounds.

The armorer restocks the shotgun, and they shoot the initial sequence again. This time it goes to plan.

The armorer restocks the shotgun, and they collect a set of insert shots. Close ups of hands. The protagonist moving shells from the carrier into the shotgun. The protagonist is filmed dropping the, “empty,” shotgun three times. The second time, the shotgun is scuffed when it lands, and is replaced by another rental of the same make, model, and modifications. (These are called hero props, by the way. If you get a closeup of it, that’s a “hero prop.” If you’re seeing something it wide shots, it might actually be a facsimile. Hollywood uses a lot of plastic guns for scenes where you’ll never get a good look at it, and it’s never fired.) If they have to go back and do some pickups of shots they did earlier, it will now be with a different shotgun, because the first prop has now been visibly altered by that scuff.

Second sequence is shot, this more elaborate, it involves involves a lot of insert shots, a lot of cuts. There’s a wardrobe change midway through, as the protagonist’s jacket is damaged by gunfire. They’re also, “injured,” requiring a makeup change.

The shooting schedule says that everything after the injury was shot last week, along with a couple dialog scenes and some shoe leather for the post fight wrap up, so that’s already done. Everything after the wardrobe change will be done in the afternoon. Wardrobe says they have four copies of the “damaged” jacket on hand. (Same reason you have the extra shotgun: If something happens to one, you need a replacement on hand immediately.)

So, shooting begins. Each of the shots on the schedule for the day have to be done repeatedly. Again, I’m being generous here, but we’ll assume a few go on the first take, and some require a few tries. An easy way to make sure it works as intended is to carve up the shots into the smallest pieces possible, so if something does go wrong it doesn’t cascade out, they can call “cut,” and redo that specific component.

So an individual shot may just be the lead firing a couple rounds, or reloading. One of the henchmen getting shot, taking a dirt nap. Some of this may be arranged by who’s available at the moment, and some of the shooting may get slightly out of sequence if something malfunctions, or they have to swap out props.

Still here?

Six months later, an editor is handed the film, along all of that chaos. They now have roughly 10 hours of footage, of which they’ll use a few minutes. Remembering they’re not an expert on firearms, they do not know what the handgun can hold, or how many rounds you can put in a pump action shotgun. They now need to construct a coherent fight scene from yards of film that are partially out of sequence, and were shot on different days.

When the film gets to theaters, someone who sits down and carefully counts will note that the protagonist just fired 19 rounds from a SIG P226 without reloading.

Oops.

This even happens with films that are very careful about this stuff. I may be misremembering, but I could swear there’s a scene in John Wick 2 where he fires 11 shells from a Benelli M4 without reloading. For reference, a military variant of that shotgun will usually carry 7+1.

On the downside, some directors and editors really don’t care. So you won’t have any shots of reloading or the reloading inserts will get dropped by the editor. (“Left on the cutting room floor,” used to be literal, not a figure of speech.) There’s a lot of things that can happen here. I don’t generally hold a grudge about it. “John Woo clips” are their own kind of joke at this point. That said, when you see director and editor who are being careful about this minutiae, it’s always a nice touch.

“Clips,” and, “magazines,” are both correct terminology, however, they’re not interchangeable, and most of the things non-gun users refer to as clips are magazines.

Every repeating firearm will have a magazine. It’s where extra rounds are stored before being loaded into the receiver. In the example of a pump action shotgun, it’s the tube below the barrel which holds shells in reserve. Magazines do not need to be removable, though it is convenient when they are.

A clip is a device which holds lose rounds in place and assists in feeding them into the magazine. On many rifles with integrated (non-removable) magazines, a clip will be used to quickly feed loose rounds.

The easiest rule of thumb is, “if the object mounts into the gun and stays there,” it’s a magazine. “If the bullets are removed, the object is emptied and discarded, during the reload process,” it’s a clip. I can think of a few oddball counter examples to those specific descriptions, but the basic idea is there.

So with that in mind, “John Woo clips,” is technically incorrect, because the weapons in his films used detachable box mags, however, that’s the idiom.

Extremely rare guns will sometimes raise an eyebrow for me. The Pancor Jackhammer comes to mind. It was a fully automatic shotgun developed in the late 80s and has a very distinctive look. That said, it never hit commercial production, and only three prototypes were ever built. At least one of these ended up with a Hollywood Armory, and was rented out extensively in the 90s.

The handheld minigun from Predator and Terminator 2 is a similar situation. There’s one prop, and it keeps getting reused in films. The real M134s are mounted weapons, not handheld.

Conversely, I’ve got a soft spot for the M91, because the gun never existed. A Vancouver gunsmith rigged the thing up in the early 90s to fire blanks. I’m not sure how many were made, but they pop up intermittently, starting in the early 90s.

There’s an inverse example where production companies will simply use standard firearms as advanced sci-fi hardware. I still hold a grudge against the BSG reboot for handing out unaltered Vektor CP1s and FN P90s. Firefly, is another egregious offender here.

In contrast, there’s stuff like the M41a Pulse Rifles in Aliens, which were actually Thompson SMGs, with mounted underbarrel SPAS-12s. Good luck realizing that while watching the film.

Star Wars is infamous for kit bashing existing firearms, and I do really wish people would stop modifying surviving Mauser C96s into “BlasTech DL-44s.” That’s a fairly rare antique they’re destroying. When they could just get a non-firing replica for a fraction of the price. Fun trivia: If you watch carefully, you can actually see the Stormtrooper Blaster Rifles ejecting 9mm shell casings in some scenes from ANH.

I’m not wild about Desert Eagles. They’re simply not worth the price. I get why they’re used in film. It’s a very distinctive looking gun. It’s a very intimidating design. But, it’s not a good weapon, and every time I see someone who’s supposed to be some kind of special operations badass pull one, I’m immediately gone.

Bullets pass through objects. If you’re shooting at someone, and they “take cover,” behind a couch or an interior wall, just shoot through it. Those won’t stop a handgun round. You need solid barriers to protect against gunfire. It will punch through things. Taking cover behind the engine block of a car or the wheels is an option, but hiding behind the body won’t work. The bullet will simply pass through that, and you.

You cannot snipe with a laser at long ranges. Lasers can be useful at very close ranges. If you’re in the same room, it can help you get a bead on where your round will go without having to sight in. However, a laser is still a focused beam of light. It gets wider the further it lands from you. Meaning, as an aim point it loses its value. Second, and more critically, your bullet is a physical object, your laser is a stream of photons. Your bullet is affected by gravity and wind. Meaning, at range, you’ll need to adjust for bullet drop. It is not as simple as lining up the crosshairs and pulling the trigger. At extreme ranges (over a mile) it gets really complicated. Short version, a sniper with a laser gets nothing from it, except the ability to inform their victim a bullet’s about to hit.

Suppressors do not silence a weapon. They can significantly reduce the sound from a gunshot, but it’s still going to make a lot of noise. The sound of the gunshot is the rapidly expanding, burning gasses. If you could fully capture those, you would dramatically reduce the noise a gun makes. This is somewhat possible with purpose built firearms designed to be as silent as possible, however it takes a lot more than just screwing a can on the end of your barrel. Suppressors do let you fire a gun without alerting the whole block, but everyone the immediate area will still hear the (quieter) gunshots.

Related bit, threaded barrels on firearms are a little unusual. Most commercially available guns in the US cannot mount a suppressor without modification. Variants with threaded barrels do exist (for many), though getting access to those will take extra work.

When it comes to silencing a firearm, the magic number is 343m/s. If your bullet is traveling faster than that, it is faster than sound, and the bullet will create an audible crack as it travels. This is, literally, a mini-sonic boom and the only way to prevent it is to keep the initial velocity under that. Incidentally, if you’re using a modern 9mm pistol, your muzzle velocity will be at least 360m/s, unless you’re using subsonic ammo.

“Gangsta Style,” shooting, where the the gun is held horizontally, doesn’t work. You can’t hit anything. You need to be able to use the sights of your weapon.

Do not close your opposite eye while aiming. You might squint a bit, but you need that eye to help judge distance, and improve awareness. This might not hold true when you’re firing a .50 into an adjacent zip code, but, 99% of the time, keep it open.

Magazines aren’t disposable. Those are actually fairly expensive ($15-$20 USD on the low end for common magazine types.) You really don’t want to just drop them on the ground and forget about them. You want to swap a partial mag for a fresh one, depositing the partial in a convenient pocket, pouch, or whatever. Restack your mags when you have time, after the shooting is over.

Related to that, you don’t want to run a gun dry. Reload when you have a moment and are starting to run low, not after it’s empty. The only time you want to empty your gun is when you’re doing practice shooting on the range. The last thing you want to is drop a hammer an empty chamber when someone’s trying to kill you.

Firearms magazines aren’t cross compatible between weapons, except when they are. Handgun mags are, very rarely cross compatible. If a weapon is built to a specific pattern, like the Beretta 92/M9 knock offs, Then magazines built for that pattern should be compatible with other pistols of the same pattern. The entire point is to allow multiple manufacturers to supply military contracts.

There’s one major exception with handguns: Glocks are very cross compatible. If the magazine is sized for the correct cartridge, you can cross load any magazine from a larger, compatible Glock. For example, the Glock 26 is a subcompact 9mm. It will accept magazines from the full frame 9mm (the Glock 17), the compact 9mm (the Glock 19), and (I assume) a few of the more recent 9mm variants like the Glock 46. Conversely, your Glock 17 can not load any of the smaller magazines.

When it comes to assault rifles, there’s a couple standards, and a lot of rifles that aren’t interested. In the early 80s, NATO adopted the STANAG format. This isn’t a single magazine type, it’s standards on how the magazine should interface with the weapon, so that they are cross compatible. The entire idea behind NATO was transnational joint operations, and the STANAG was adopted along side the selection of 5.56mm as the standard assault rifle cartridge. Having a shared magazine format would make logistics easier to manage in situations where multiple armed forces were operating together. The Warsaw Pact had a similar standard, it’s used in the AK, though I’m unaware of what the formal name is.

Ammunition names are more than a little idiosyncratic. Generally speaking there are three different conflicting measurement systems.

Metric is the simplest, this is the diameter of the projectile, expressed in millimetres. Sometimes this comes with a qualifier, or with the length also expressed. So, 9mm Parabellum and 9x19mm are the same round. This is often abbreviated to 9mm without qualification, but that’s actually a problem, there a lot of common 9mm cartridges. So, 9×19, which is “the standard” 9mm cartridge you’d think of. There’s 9mm Makarov (9×18) which was the Warsaw Pact 9mm pistol round, there’s .380 (9×17), there’s .357 Magnum (9x32mm though you’ll rarely see the metric measurement for this one.) If it’s a .38 (including the .357 family), it’s a 9mm round.

Caliber is where the wheels come off. In theory, the caliber is the diameter of the bullet in hundredths of an inch. In practice, it sometimes adjusts that value as a ratio against the length of the cartridge. This is probably why a .38 and a .357 are both the same size, even though the .38 should be significantly larger if it were just hundredths of an inch. (And, unless my math skills are worse than usual, 9mm should work out to around .36, so probably .357, meaning the .38 is the one messing with us here.) I say, “probably,” because sometimes the caliber changes on a whim. The .30-06 comes to mind. It’s a .30 round but the “06” refers to 1906.

Gauge is used exclusively for shotguns, and this one is a really goofy measurement system. The size of the bore is calculated based on a lead sphere weighing one pound divided by the gauge. So, a 12 gauge is the diameter of a lead sphere weighing 1/12th lb. So, a 12 gauge has a bore diameter of 18.53mm (and yes, I had to look that up.) This means, as the gauge goes down, the size goes up. It also means looking a metric measurements for shotguns is really messy.

If that’s not confusing enough, there’s also one shotgun shell (the .410) which uses a caliber instead of a gauge. It’s also the smallest commercial shotgun shell.

While we’re on the subject of shotguns, it’s worth noting these things have a lot of range to them. This is very dependent on the individual shotgun, but figure a “normal” 12 gauge pump loaded with buck will have a six foot spread at 100 yards. There’s two implications to this. First, it kill someone at 100 yards. Second, you need to aim. It’s not a scatter gun that will paint everything in the room.

There’s also a very specific consideration with shotguns, slugs or shot. A shotgun can put a monstrous slug down range, and if you have rifling, that’s going to be fairly accurate, and lethal, beyond handgun range. Shotguns are a little weird here, because there’s multiple roads to rifling. You can have a rifled barrel, you can have rifled slugs, or you can have a rifled choke. Firing shot down a rifled barrel will widen your cone (not sure exactly how much, I haven’t done this personally.) If it’s a slug, you want to make sure you’re getting rifling somewhere, or the slug will tumble in flight, and your accuracy will suffer.

I’m not sure when this transitioned from a list of gripes to a firearms primer, but here we are. I hope you enjoyed.

-Starke

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I’ve seen you write some really great in-depth things about firearms and most of it goes way over my head. There are words that I recognize as having to do with guns, and I have no idea what they mean. Any chance you could give kind of a brief Guns And Characters That Shoot Them 101 crash course for those of us who might work with characters that use guns and don’t want to sound like idiots while writing them, but aren’t necessarily going into the nitty-gritty details of gunfighting scenes?

Let’s see what I can do. Fair warning, there’s probably going to be a few very minor technical inaccuracies. I’m typing this off the top of my head.

Gun: pretty much any gunpowder based weapon. This includes both hand weapons and artillery. It does not (normally) include weapons that fire self-propelled ordinance, such as a missile launcher.

Gunpowder: This is actually a catch all term. Early gunpowder (now called “black powder) was mixed from saltpeter (potassium nitrate), charcoal, and sulfur. Modern firearms use variations of smokeless powder, originally developed in the late 19th century. Black Powder is still used with some antique and replica weapons.

As an academic distinction, it’s worth pointing out that gunpowder isn’t actually explosive, it just burns very aggressively, which results in the expansion of gas and bushing the bullet into motion. Unburned powder that remains in the gun is a persistent headache in gun design, and why guns need to be cleaned frequently.

A tiny amount of an explosive, called the Primer, is used to get the powder burning. Historically this has included substances such as picric acid and nitroglycerin. I believe modern primers use lead styphnate, but I’m honestly not sure, off the top of my head.

Cartridge: The entire package of a bullet, powder, and primer. In modern weapons, the container itself is referred to as a shell casing. The shell casing can also be referred to as a shell or casing, independent of the other.

Shell casings are sometimes referred to, idiomatically as “brass” because it is the most common material, though aluminum and other soft metals are used.

Idiomatically, shotgun cartridges are referred to as shells. Historically these were frequently made from paper. Modern shells use corrugated plastic, color coded to denote the contents.

After having been fired, a cartridge (or shell) is referred to as “spent.”

Firearms/Small Arms: Firearms, primarily refer to handheld gunpowder weapons. Small Arms refer to guns with a bore diameter (literally the size of the barrel) smaller than an inch.

Bore: This is the literal hole in the center of the barrel, that the projectile(s) travel through.

Chamber/Battery: Both terms are technically correct. This refers to where the bullet resides when the weapon is ready to fire. If a weapon’s chamber is empty, it is impossible to fire it.

Chambered: Both the state of a round being in the chamber, ready to fire, and a term that refers to the cartridge size a firearm has been designed to accept. Examples: “Chambered in .308.” “It has a round chambered.”

Incidentally, “rechambering” a weapon refers to changing the rounds a weapon will accept, removing a round and loading a fresh one is cycling (see below). Rechambering a weapon usually involves replacing the barrel, action, and magazine. Though it can be more involved if alternate parts aren’t available.

Action: The mechanical systems that clear and replace the bullet in the chamber whenever the weapon is fired. We’ll come back to this with a couple varieties in a bit.

Cycle: The actual process of the action functioning. Depending on the firearm, this can either occur automatically with each trigger pull, or it can require a direct user input.

Receiver: The physical housing that holds the action.

Hammer: a physical component behind the pistol which strikes the firing pin. Not all firearms have one.

Bolt: This is the component that actually locks the cartridge in the chamber, when the weapon is ready to fire.

Firing Pin: This is a small metal cylinder pin which (in modern firearms) strikes the back of the cartridge, detonating the primer, igniting the powder. Usually this is a separate articulated component, though some weapons have a simple stud soldered onto the bolt.

Open Bolt/Closed Bolt: This refers to which configuration the weapon fires from. Technically the bolt needs to be closed in order to actually get the bullet moving.

With an open bolt design, the act of dropping the bolt will detonate the primer. This is primarily used with fully automatic weapons (see below). The bolt will fall, igniting the primer, recoil will send the bolt back, and the return spring will cause it to close, firing again.

Magazine: This is where rounds are stored inside of the weapon, before firing. The action will extract a round from the magazine each time it is cycled. Depending on the firearm, this may be removable.

Clip: A device used to load a firearm’s magazine. This is NOT interchangeable terms. Usually these are short metal strips that grip the base of the shell, though speedloaders for revolvers sometimes qualify as clips.

Clips can be used with modern weapons to quickly reload box magazines, but they’re somewhat uncommon.

If the firearm’s reloading process involves loading the rounds and then ejecting the clip, that’s, well, a clip. If the reloading process involves removing an empty container, and loading a fresh one, that’s a magazine.

Few things will irritate someone with firearms training faster than mixing these terms up.

Rifles: The term actually refers to two separate things. Rifling are mildly spiraling lands and grooves cut into the barrel of a gun. This prevents the bullet from tumbling once it leaves the barrel, and massively improves accuracy. Rifles originally referred to any firearm that featured a rifled barrel. However, the term is no longer inclusive, because handguns and other non-rifles include rifled barrels.

Handgun: A smaller version of a firearm that can be operated with one hand. This term is inclusive of several different varieties of firearm. It should be noted: you should not use a handgun one handed, but it is possible.

Pistol: This refers to nearly every handgun, except revolvers.

Revolver: A firearm that rotates to feed rounds into the chamber. Most often this refers to handguns, though some grenade launchers also use a revolver design. Revolver rifles, carbines, and shotguns exist, but are rare. There is a small gap between the cylinder and the barrel, which tends to vent burning powder when fired, which makes revolvers with a fore grip unpleasant to use. That is to say, they’ll try to set your shirt or arm on fire.

Shotgun: This refers to a weapon designed to handle unusually large cartridges, holding multiple projectiles. These are frequently smooth-bore (see below), but rifled shotguns do exist. In modern combat, shotguns are more characterized by their ability to accept a wide variety of projectiles to accommodate different situations. Shotguns can be loaded with everything from water (disruptor shells), to grenades (FRAG-12s).

Smooth-Bore: A barrel without any rifling. Most common with shotguns. This favors projectiles that will somehow self stabilize (such as flechette darts, yes, it’s another shotgun shell variety), or fire multiple simultaneous projectiles (such as a shotgun).

Single Shot: This refers to a weapon that can be fired once, and then must be reloaded. This includes muskets and some shotguns.

Semi-Automatic: A non-revolver firearm that will fire a round with each pull of the trigger until the magazine is depleted. Critically, the weapon must do this automatically as a result of firing. If a weapon needs to be manually cycled, such as a bolt or lever action, it is a repeater, and not semi-automatic. In any case where “automatic” is paired with another word, it can be abbreviated as “auto.”
Automatic: A firearm that will fire multiple rounds with each pull of the trigger. Also sometimes referred to as Fully Automatic. Idiomatically, semi-automatic pistols are sometimes referred to as “Automatics.” This is incorrect on a technical level, but the actual meaning is, usually, understood.

Burst Fire: An automatic firearm that fires a specific number of rounds with each pull of the trigger and then stops. Three round burst settings are the most common, though two round burst weapons have proven popular in some circles.

Select Fire: An automatic firearm that can be switched between multiple fire configurations. Most often this allows switching the weapon between semi-auto and full auto, or semi-auto and a burst fire setting. Select fire almost always includes a semi-auto setting. It can include multiple other settings, including (rarely) both 2 and 3 round burst settings.

Single Action: A firearm where pulling the trigger will not cock the hammer. This is intermittently used as a safety feature on modern handguns. It is also somewhat common among sport revolvers, and antique revolvers.

Single Action firearms often have a much lighter trigger pull (the force needed to draw the trigger and fire the weapon). This allows for greater accuracy. It also allows automatics to be carried with a round in the chamber and the hammer down, without risk of the weapon firing as a result of an errant trigger pull. It’s still shouldn’t happen with safe weapon handling, but it is another safety feature.

Double Action: A firearm where pulling the trigger will cock the hammer. Almost all revolvers intended for practical use include this. It’s inclusion with semi-automatic pistols varies widely.

The complicated issue with single and double action handguns comes from semi-auto pistols. When the slide cycles, it will recock the hammer, this means a single action pistol can be fired repeatedly, without having to manually recock the hammer.

SAO/DAO: Single Action Only/Double Action Only. These terms get applied to pistols because there are pistols designed to switch between single and double action based on a variety of control parameters.

For example: pulling the slide back ~1/4″ on a Walther P99 will switch it from single to double action, and vise versa. Though it also exists in SAO and DAO variants that remove this feature and lock the action in one of the modes.

Bolt Action: A firearm where the bolt must be unlocked and manually cycled by the user. This allows for substantially heavier loads than any other style of firearm. Though it is a popular configuration for hunting and varmint rifles.

Lever Action: A firearm where the action is cycled by use of a lever, usually mounted under the handgrip. Originally these allowed for faster cycling than a bolt action weapon. These are fairly uncommon now.

Pump Action: A firearm that cycles the action by use of an articulated foregrip. This is normally seen on shotguns, though a few pump action rifle models probably exist.

Machine Gun: This refers to a fully automatic weapon. By itself the term is antiquated. Most often, when someone uses the term, they’re incorrectly referring to an Assault Rifle.

Assault Rifle: A select fire weapon chambered in an “intermediate” rifle round. Usually between 5mm and 6mm. Note: these do not always include full auto settings. The modern M16 variants can only be fired in semi-automatic or 3 round burst.

Battle Rifle: A select fire weapon chambered in a high power rifle round (roughly 7.6mm). This includes the M14 and AK47/AKM. Misidentifying a battle rifle as an assault rifle is… eh. It happens.

Carbine: A shortened rifle. Usually assigned for use in tight quarters, or vehicle crews. Historically these were also issued to cavalry. Sometimes issued to support personnel, depending on the military.

Light Machine Gun: Also sometimes referred to as a Squad Support Weapon is an unusually heavy automatic rifle intended for use in suppression. Sometimes abbreviated LMG.

Submachine Gun: An automatic weapon chambered to fire a pistol round. Sometimes abbreviated SMG.

Machine Pistol: A submachine gun that retains an overall pistol design. Informally, these terms can get mixed up pretty heavily.

Caliber: This is the imperial system of measuring bullet diameter. It’s expressed as a period with a two digit number. (EG: .45 or .38) This indicates the size of the cartridge in 100ths of an inch. So .50 is, roughly, half an inch in diameter. Additional digits beyond the first two denote differences in the cartridge, but not significant changes in the cartridge size. (EG: .308, .303, 30.06 are all .30 caliber rounds, roughly.)

Gauge: The imperial system for measuring the size of a shotgun shell. This one’s a little more idiosyncratic. It’s calculated based on the weight of a solid ball of lead, that barrel would accommodate. So 12 gauge will fit a single 1/12th pound ball of lead. This also means, as the gauge goes up, the size shrinks. 20 Gauge shells are significantly smaller than 12 gauge, for example. This is abbreviated as “ga”, so “410ga” would indicate a 410 shell.

Millimeter (mm): The metric system for measuring the size of a bullet. Usually expressed as a simple value. (EG: 9mm or 5.56mm). When multiple cartridges exist that are of similar sizes, other terms will be applied. (Technically, this also occurs with calibers. For example: .357 Magnum, and .357 SIG.) With metric measurements, the length is frequently added to distinguish two similar rounds, (for example: 9x19mm vs 9x18mm) or some other distinguishing characteristic. (for example: 9mm Parabellum vs 9mm Makarov). Usually you do not need to include both together. For example: 9x19mm Parabellum would be redundant, because 9mm Parabellum is a 9x19mm round.

Grain: The amount of powder loaded with a bullet. (Literally, an archaic unit of measurement.) Bullets in a specific caliber are usually available with multiple grain variants. For example: .45 ACP is commercially available anywhere from 185 grain to 230 grain.

Handload: The act of manufacturing your own bullets. Also a term for non-standard rounds produced this way.

Load: A term for the individual characteristics of a round that go beyond the size of the bullet. This includes the grain, and may include the kind of bullets (see below).

Magnum: A term denoting an unusually high grain load. Most commonly associated with the .357 Magnum and .44 Magnum rounds. Though other magnum rounds exist.

Ball: A bullet with a rounded tip. The most common kind of ammunition for handguns.

Hollowpoint: A bullet with a divotted tip. On impact, it causes the bullet to expand flattening. In a human body, this can sometimes sheer apart, and can cause catastrophic internal damage.
While illegal, an individual can add a small high explosive to the tip of a hollowpoint round, converting it into an improvised high explosive round. The most commonly available materials that would react appropriately are primers.

Wadcutter: A bullet with a flat tip. Usually employed in target shooting, to create clean holes in targets.

[Material] Jacketed: Frequently copper, though other soft metals are sometimes used. This is used to partially shield the user from the bullet’s lead, and the associated health risks.

[Material] Core: Most often, the material is steel, though spent uranium (in this case, spent is a nuclear term, not the firearms meaning), is an exotic variant. The core will push through materials that would stop normal bullets. Lead shields the core from the barrel. (Firing a steel slug from a firearm would shred the rifling, so the softer metal contacts the metal.)

Tracer: A pyrotechnic round that ignites on contact with air and shows the shooter exactly where the round went. These are also mildly incendiary, and can start fires if they connect with something flammable on the other end.

I’m not going to give a full list of what you can stick in a shotgun, because it’s a very long list. But, a few quick highlights.

Buckshot: Ball bearings, usually lead or steel.

Slug: A single, solid, bullet.

Flechette: A steel dart, usually with fins to stabilize it in flight. Fired with a plastic sabot system that falls away once the dart is in the air.

FRAG-12: A small, impact detonated grenade, designed to be fired from a 12 gauge shotgun.

Flares: Commercial flare guns fire a low power 12 gauge shotgun shell. While you cannot load normal shotgun shells into a flare gun (it’s not designed for that kind of power, and will explode), 12 gauge flare shells can be loaded into a shotgun and fired. If the shotgun is semi-automatic the flare will probably not provide enough force to cycle the action, so the user will need to do that manually.

Dragon’s Breath: A shell loaded with a mix of oxygen igniting metals. Metallic Sodium and Potassium are most common. This creates the effect of the shotgun blasting flames.

I feel like I’ve only scratched the surface, and I know I’ve missed a few things. I’ll try to remember to revisit this in the near future.

Hope this helps some of you get started.

-Starke

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