Basic Civilian Gun Types

Antique Gun Rifle Vintage Weapon Gun Gun G

This article is supposed to be a 5-minute explanation of legal gun types currently available to citizens of america. I hope to provide a basic understanding for all those new or merely interested in the definitions of gun types.

For this report, I am not going to be including exotic, military, illegal, home made, or simulate weapons. This boils down to basically 3 categories: Handguns, Rifles, and Shotguns. First, however, there are a couple of terms that apply to all three types. I’ll cover those first.

Double action refers to being able to cock and fire the weapon with a single trigger pull.

All of the weapons below are available in single or double action. Semi-automatics are also available in double/single action. Meaning the first trigger pull is double action and all subsequent pulls are single action.

We have single shot, which can be typically bolt action, lever action, or fracture violation, being fed ammo manually, by tube, or clip. Revolvers and semi-automatic weapon automatically load another round to be fired from the next trigger pull. Ammo is held in the cylinder or fed by tube or clip. The words clip and magazine imply the same thing.


The expression handgun refers to handheld weapons which don’t use shoulder stocks. These range in size from derringers, to subcompacts, compacts, full size, and specialty weapons. There are single shot, revolvers and semi-automatic, and are fed ammo manually, by cylinder, or clip. All types can be found in a wide range of calibers. Handguns are usually designed for targets under 100 yards away.


This refers to weapons with a shoulder stock, and a barrel over 16 inches long. Rifles are designed to accurately fire farther than handguns. More than 100 yards, a skilled shooter with the right equipment could fire accurately 1000 yards or more. Rifles can be bolt, lever, or semi-automatic, and fed bullets , by clip or tube. Rifles also have a wide assortment of calibers available.


Shotguns fall below the rifle category in size, but fire a shell full of shot rather than a bullet. Shells range in gauge and power and may contain a single slug or hundreds of birdshot. Shotguns can be found in fracture violation, bolt, pump and semi-automatic, fed shells , by tube or clip. Shotguns are designed to shoot a pattern of shot on a short distance.

Meaning a fully automatic weapon that fires more than 1 round per trigger pull. These aren’t accessible to the public without extensive licensing.

Another honorable mention is Assault Weapons. This is merely a name many people unfamiliar with firearms associate with fully automatic weapons. While the army version usually is, civilian versions aren’t. “Assault Rifle” only refers to a weapon that looks military. It has nothing to do with the capability or function.

I hope this has been informative. I will discuss, in more detail, each of these kinds of weapons, their individual performance and uses, calibers, ammunition and accessories in future posts.

Be Safe

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