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The world keeps getting more complex, filled with niche groups and knowledge. While you can’t be expected to know everything, having some background in common topics keeps you in the global conversation.

Guns are a lot like computers when it comes to common knowledge. Everyone has picked up some basic terms about each but only the enthusiast crowd really understands their use. Thankfully, it doesn’t take a lot of time to learn everything you need to know about guns.

The most important information can be gained in minutes! Perhaps you’re thinking of becoming an owner of one of the 857 million civilian firearms in circulation. Perhaps you just like knowing things.

Whatever your reason, getting started with a cursory knowledge of the types, parts, and lingo will let you go deeper at your own pace.

Everything You Need to Know About Guns

No understanding of guns and gun ownership can begin without first going over the safety rules. These rules have gone beyond boilerplate to be foundational to the concept of firearms.

Always treat firearms as dedicated tools with an equally dedicated purpose.

Safety First

Any hunter’s safety course, gun range placard, or conceal/carry class will go over these four rules ad nauseam. Learn them thoroughly before you pick up your first piece.

Rule 1 – All Guns Are Loaded Guns

Treat every firearm as though it’s loaded and ready to fire. This goes for any weapon that you didn’t personally unload. This accounts for times when you clean or modifies a firearm.

Pieces of a gun are not a gun any more than pieces of a car are a vehicle.

This rule protects you and others. Remember, a weapon that discharges while you are holding it is your responsibility.

Rule 2 – Only Point a Firearm at Things You Intend to Shoot

Any time you point the gun, you should be prepared to fire at whatever is at the end of the barrel.

This keeps you aware of what it’s pointing at. Same as in rule 1, if the weapon discharges, you bear the responsibility.

Rule 3 – Practice Trigger Discipline

Compounding on the previous two rules, don’t put your finger through the guard and onto the trigger. Not until you are intending to fire.

This keeps you from discharging the weapon until you are ready. It’s also about physical memory. Don’t ready your body and weapon until you ready your intent.

It’s a straightforward physiological reaction to tense up when stressed or surprised. You don’t want either reaction to fire a weapon you aren’t prepared to fire.

Rule 4 – Know Your Target and Beyond

Even when you have selected a target and point with purpose, it’s important to know what’s beyond the target. Comprehensive situational awareness matters when wielding deadly force.

Never take as granted that your shot will hit what you want. Know what it also might hit. Again, you own the consequences and responsibility of your shots.


Safety doesn’t end with the rules for holding a weapon. You also want to store your weapons carefully.

A gun that you own, that gets out of your possession, and ends up in the hands of someone else is also your responsibility.

Lock up your guns when not in use and promptly report a missing firearm.

Parts (by Firearm)

Now that you understand how to treat a firearm, it’s time to learn about gun basics.

In general, there are three different types of firearms: handguns, rifles, and shotguns. Variations exist within these basic types but everything falls within one of these designations.

Each type is composed of the same basic four parts: a frame, an action, a barrel, an ammunition storage device. Terms related to some of these basic parts change across types.

All modern firearms have a safety mechanism, usually in the form of a trigger lock or an action brake.


Typically short-barreled and handheld, handguns have two current subgroups in service. Handguns are designed to be short-ranged firearms.


The frame of a handgun is made of metal, carbon fiber, titanium, or a similar alloy. The frame includes the grip, an ammunition storage device, and a trigger guard.

The other parts of a handgun mount to the frame. Expansion kits add additional tactical features to a handgun. Commonly, these attach to the frame or the housing along the barrel.

Check out the line of products from Arisaka Defense for ideas on advanced handgun tactical gear.

The top portion of a frame houses sights, mounting points for optics, or a slide, depending.


The action of a handgun includes the hammer, firing pin, chamber, and trigger assembly.

Actions in a handgun are single action or semi-automatic. In rare cases, you’ll find a full auto action in something like a machine pistol.

Single action fires one round, cycling the spent cartridge out of the chamber without moving in another. Semi-automatic fires the loaded round when the trigger is pulled, ejects the cartridge, and then loads another in so it’s ready to fire.


The barrel of a gun guides the bullet out of the breach, through the bore, and out the muzzle.

Rifling spins the round as it travels through the bore, causing it to travel further and maintain accuracy over distance.

Ammo Storage

The final part of a handgun is the ammo storage. In handguns this is usually a magazine. A magazine is a spring-operated box that pushes cartridges into the gun as it is fired. Magazines are detachable through a release and allow for rapid reloading.


Revolvers differ from pistols in the function of the action and ammo storage. In a revolver the magazine is replaced with a cylinder that rotates to bring the next cartridge in line with the breach.

The action of a revolver can also be double action, requiring the hammer to be pulled back or cocked before the trigger pull will release it.

Revolvers normally load one cartridge into one cylinder at a time. Some cylinders swivel out, allowing them to be speed-loaded with clips.


Rifles include any of the long-barrel weapons that fire single shell projectiles.

Many of the parts are the same as a handgun but may have different names.

Rifles are intended for medium to long-range tasks.


The frame of a rifle is commonly referred to as the stock. The stock is also the butt-end that presses into your shoulder when aiming or holding a rifle.

Stocks, like handgun frames, come in carbon fiber, wood, and metal alloy varieties.

The frame supports the barrel, the trigger assembly, and the action.


Single action rifles use a lever or bolt to load in a new shell and eject the previous one. These are called lever action and bolt action, respectively.

Semi-automatic actions can be spring or gas-driven to load and eject shells.

Fully automatic actions continue to fire as long as there is ammo remaining and the trigger is held down. Fully auto rifles may also have a burst fire option, which fires a number of rounds with a single trigger pull. Bursts can be in three, five, or more rounds per pull.


The barrel of most rifles is identical to that of a handgun. The bullet travels from the breech, through the bore, spins via the rifling, and exits via the muzzle.

In the case of some fully automatic rifles, the barrel may have a shroud which assists in venting heat from the barrel to keep it from warping.

Ammo Storage

Most rifles use a magazine to hold ammo. Some older rifles make use of a spring-loaded receiver that pushes rounds into the action. These can use clips of ammo to quickly add rounds to the reservoir.

Though most people use the terms interchangeably it’s important to know the difference between a clip vs magazine. A clip is a disposable clamp that holds a string of ammo. A magazine is an enclosed box.

Lever action rifles frequently also have internal storage that has to be loaded one round at a time.


A shotgun is a long-barreled weapon that fires unrifled projectiles. Shotguns are meant to be short to medium ranged weapons.


The frame of a shotgun resembles that of a rifle. The key difference is the underside of the barrel may have a tube. This is an empty space used as ammo storage.

The frame of a shotgun typically doesn’t have optic mounting points.


Shotgun actions have more mechanical variety than rifles though most are still single action.

Breech loaders have one or two tubes that must be manually loaded, secured, then fired. Ejection of shells may be assisted or manual when opening the breech.

Pump-action shotguns cycle the shell in the receiver the same as a lever-action rifle, ejecting the old and loading in a new shell.

Automatic shotguns come in cylinders, like a revolver, or a large spring-loaded drum.


Shotgun barrels are smoothbore. This indicates that they have no rifling. The projectiles fire without being spun as in handguns and rifles.

Ammo Storage

Ammo storage differs widely for shotguns. One shell is loaded at a time in breech loaders. Side by side and over-under types hold two.

A tube for a pump-action holds up to eight shells loaded manually one at a time.

Drum and cylinder shotguns use large specialized magazines.

Stay in the Know

It’s a lot to take in at first, but now you know the terminology used in firearms. This represents everything you need to know about guns to gets started in the selection process. From here, it’s best to learn more about individual manufacturers.

There’s always more to learn, come back here for more articles on topics of interest.