Learning about firearms is like learning a new language, and sometimes you need a cheat-sheet.  This page should help you out. If you have something to add, please submit it on our Gun Glossary Suggestion page.

We’re working on our very own database and adding to it every day. For now, if you have a question about a term that seems a little vague or confusing, consult the National Shooting Sports Foundation’s definitions page: http://nssf.org/newsroom/writers/glossary/index.cfm

 

 

 

 

 

  • ACP: a type of ammunition. ACP stands for Automatic Colt Pistol, which is essentially a specific of size cartridge developed by the Colt company in the early 1900s for the US Army and is a very commonly found in .45 caliber. It can also be found in .25, .32, .38, though those are less common. It is longer than the GAP round.
  • ACTION: Simply speaking, the term action refers to the parts that enable the activity that happens within the gun, specifically in the mechanism that makes all of the ‘action’ possible. The bolt and hammer, for example, are part of the action.
  • ACTION SHOOTING: A type of shooting sport that involves moving and shooting as opposed to static shooting. There are many types of action shooting sports. SHOOT! by Julie Golob explains many of them. If you are interested in getting involved in action shooting sports, definitely pick up a copy of that book.
  • AMMO/AMMUNITION: Also called a round in the singular, ammunition consists of the primer, the powder, and the projectile. There are three different categories of ammunition: handgun, rifle and shotgun. Handgun and rifle ammo are very similar, but shotgun ammo differs in that the projectile part comes in different forms: shot (little pellets that vary in size) and slugs (a solid projectile).
  • BLANK: a type of ammunition typically used in TV and movies that contains no bullet or projectile but has more powder than a live round. The extra powder causes a bigger flash and makes people like Arnold Schwarzenegger and Bruce Willis look tough.
  • BRANDISHING: Pulling your firearms into full view of those around you in a menacing or threatening way. I recommend you try to avoid this unless your life is at risk.
  • BRASS: see casing.
  • CALIBER: refers to size measurement (in inches) of a round of ammunition used in rifles and handguns. Popular calibers include .22, .380, .38, .357, .44,  and .45, among others.  The terms “gauge” and “millimeter” are other methods of measuring the size of a round of ammunition. You must always use the proper caliber, millimeter or gauge of ammunition that the gun requires. If you use an improper caliber, millimeter or gauge, the result could be very serious injury. This is a very important safety note.  If you have any questions about the ammunition for your gun, ask an expert before you load the firearm.
  • CASING: for handguns and rifles, the typically brass shell that holds the primer, powder and bullet (or projectile). For shotguns, the casing is typically plastic with a brass head. The casing is ejected through the ejection port in semi-auto and automatic guns, but must be removed manually in revolvers and single-shot guns. Note: when a casing is ejected it is *hot* and will burn your skin, so avoid making contact with the casing until it is completely cool. Trust me on this one.
  • CHARGING: another term for loading, or inserting a round of ammunition, into the chamber of the firearm.
  • CLEARING: the process of removing a jam, or malfunction, from a firearm.
  • CONCEALED CARRY: Carrying your gun out of plain view of the public. Only you should be aware that you have a firearm hidden on your body when you are carrying concealed.
  • CCW/CCP/CWP: stands for Concealed Carry Weapon/Concealed Carry Permits/Concealed Weapon Permit. In order to obtain one of these, you must pay a fee, take a class, submit fingerprints to the FBI and go through a criminal background check. Some of these elements vary by state. Some state permits have CCP reciprocity with other states. Here is a MAP to help you know where your permit will and will not be honored.
  • DRAW: the process by which you pull your gun out of its secured location (concealed or open), usually on your body, and aim it at your intended target.
  • DRY FIRE: refers to the practice of aiming and firing an empty (no ammunition) gun. The benefits of dry firing are that it requires no ammunition and it can be done in your home. Many instructors recommend you dry fire as much as once a day. The steps to dry firing are 1)unload your firearm and triple check that it is completely empty, 2) put up a backstop (usually a metal plate) for added safety 3) check that your gun is clear again 4) practice your aim and squeeze the trigger on the empty firearm in the direction of the backstop. Tip: If you have kids around who could potentially see you practicing dry fire, it is important to explain to them exactly why you are doing it and inform them of the safety measures you are taking to ensure your safety and that of those around you.  (thanks to Spartan Training Resources for the tip)
  • FLASHBANG: An amazing holster that sits in between the girls and keeps your concealed carry firearm readily accessible at all times. Also a type of small explosive that is typically intended to shock or surprise a person, but not necessarily intended to do any damage.
  • GAP: a type of ammunition. GAP stands for Glock Automatic Pistol. It is shorter, but just as powerful as the ACP round.
  • GAUGE: refers to the size measurement of a round of ammunition primarily used in shotguns. The higher the number, the smaller the round. For example, a 20 gauge has a smaller diameter than a 12 gauge.  The terms “caliber” and “millimeter” aree the other methods of measuring the size of a round of ammunition. You must always use the proper caliber, mm or gauge of ammunition that the gun requires. If you use an improper caliber or gauge, the result could be very serious injury. This is a very important safety note.  If you have any questions about the ammunition for your gun, ask an expert before you load the firearm.
  • HAMMER: the portion of the firearm that is pulled back, either manually or automatically depending on the gun, in order to cock and shoot the firearm. The hammer strikes the primer area of the round (or ammunition) to create the tiny explosion that sends the bullet or other projectile out of the barrel.
  • HOT: A gun is hot when a round is inserted into the chamber of the gun it is ready to be fired. A range is hot when shooters are using life ammunition at that specific point in time. A RSO will give commands including “going hot” or “range is hot” when he or she has designated that all shooters and firearms on the line are safe and it is time to shoot.
  • ITW/ITWB- Stands for In The Waistband and refers to a holster for your firearm. The ITW holster is used for concealed carry and works best with loose fitting clothing. It is important to train in both live fire and dry fire with any holster in order to perfect a quick, safe draw.
  • JAM: see malfunction. Note: does not involve an 80s cover band. Though, let’s be honest, who doesn’t enjoy a good 80s cover band?
  • L.E.: stands for Law Enforcement.
  • LIVE FIRE: refers to the activity of firing ammunition out of your gun, as opposed to dry fire.
  • M&P: stands for Military and Police. Smith & Wesson has a line of firearms called the M&P.
  • MAGAZINE: the part of the semi auto or fully auto firearm that you fill with ammunition. The shooter inserts the magazine into the mag well and it seats so that it feeds the ammo into the chamber in order for the ammo to be fired.  Note: *do not* call this a clip. That would be a huge mistake. If you do, experienced shooters will know that you have no idea what you are talking about. And that you have never read the Girl’s Guide gun glossary.
  • MAGNUM:  refers to a round of ammunition and the fact that it is more powerful than the original round. A .44 Magnum, for instance, is a more powerful round than a regular .44 and therefore kicks harder, or has more recoil and stopping power, than the .44. In order to fit more gun powder into the round, the cartridge is longer and will not fit a typical .44 for safety reasons. Same goes for Magnums in other calibers.
  • MALFUNCTION: a scenario in which the firearm does not perform as it intended. Specifically, if the trigger has been squeezed and the bullet does not exit the muzzle and/or the casing does not ejects improperly, this is called a malfunction or jam. This situation could happen for a variety of reasons including user error, the firearm has not been properly cleaned or maintained, ammunition issues, etc. When a gun significantly malfunctions, you should clear the gun of all ammo (eject the magazine, lock the slide back, manually pull out any blockages in the ejection port or barrel) and check that the gun is in proper working condition. If you feel that it is safe to fire the gun again, reinsert the mag and get after it. In minor malfunction situations
  • MUZZLE: The business end of a gun. The area where the bullet (or projectile) leaves the firearm. Think of the muzzle on a dog – the part that bites. Every gun has a muzzle and you never never never point it at anything you are not willing to destroy. Even if it is unloaded.
  • OPEN CARRY: Carrying your firearm in full view of those around you. While permitted by many states, you want to be especially careful and sensitive to those around you if you choose to carry openly. This MAP and website has helpful information on each state and their open carry laws.
  • OVER-UNDER: refers to a shotgun that consists of two barrels stacked on top of each other. Only one round of shotgun ammo fires per trigger pull. Another type of double barreled shotgun is called a side by side.
  • PRINTING: When carrying a concealed handgun (with your permit, of course), you want to make sure that the gun doesnt print, or show its outline, through your clothes. Not unlike an unsightly panty line peeking through that uber tight new pair of Citizens you just bought, you want to be sure to take care and hide those lines. In some cases, printing can be considered brandishing and you do NOT want to brandish a firearm unless it is absolutely necessary.
  • RACK: refers to the action of putting a round in the chamber of the firearm, thereby making it ready to be fired. Specifically, pulling the slide of a pistol back in order to insert a round from the magazine. If a malfunction occurs in a semi auto pistol, racking the slide often clears the malfunction and makes the gun ready to fire again.
  • RECIPROCITY: the policy between different states as to whether they honor the concealed carry permits of other states. For instance, Utah has reciprocity with Texas, but Texas does not have reciprocity with Florida and nobody has reciprocity with Illinois or the District of Columbia. Note: state reciprocity laws do not apply in all cities in said state. Tragic and confusing, but true. Here is a MAP to help you navigate these murky waters.
  • RIFLING: not to be confused with rifle, rifling refers to the grooves carved out of the metal on the inside of the barrel of a gun. Rifling helps send a bullet farther with more accuracy because of the spiral it puts on the bullet. The same principle applies in throwing a football – the spiral, or spin, that a player puts on the ball causes it to go farther and land closer to his intended target than if he had not used a spiral in his throw.
  • RSO: stands for Range Safety Officer. If the range is a good one, you will see this guy everywhere you go. He is there for your safety and you should respect everything he has to say. Most RSOs are cool, but some are jerks. Either way, obey what they say word for word.  Each range has its own set of rules, aside from the basic firearm safety rules, and you must abide by them at all times. The RSO is there to make sure you do.
  • SCOPE: a type of mouthwash. Also, a self contained series of glass lenses that sits on top of your gun (usually a rifle) and is used to magnify the target for a more accurate shot. Typically used in hunting, sniping and other long range shots.
  • SHELL: see casing.
  • SIDE BY SIDE: refers to a type of double barreled shotgun in which the barrels are, you guessed it, side by side. Another type of double barreled shotgun is an over-under.
  • SIGHT: the typically metal pieces of a gun that sit on top of
  • SILENCER: see suppressor.
  • SMALL ARMS: (not intended to discriminate against or offend little people, children or otherwise short-armed individuals) this term is typically used in military circles and refers to firearms and other weapons that can be hand held. Pistols, rifles (semi- and full auto up to .50 caliber), shotguns and some grenade launchers are considered small arms. Howitzers, for example, are not considered small arms.
  • SQUIB LOAD: Also known as a squib round, pop and no kick, or just a squib, is a firearms malfunction in which a fired projectile does not have enough force behind it to exit the barrel, and thus becomes stuck. This type of malfunction can be extremely dangerous, as failing to notice that the projectile has become stuck in the barrel may result in another round being fired directly into the obstructed barrel, resulting in a catastrophic failure of the weapon’s structural integrity. Meaning the gun can explode. If you experience a squib load, clear the barrel of the obstruction or ask an expert to help you out. Never ever ever try to fire another round before the barrel is cleared.  (h/t Kelli Satterwhite)
  • SUBSONIC: refers to ammunition that does not break the sound barrier when it is fired. The subsonic ammunition holds less powder and is therefore slower and quieter than other forms of ammo.
  • SUPPRESSOR: many experts agree that there is no such thing as a true silencer, though the term has been popularized by movies and TV. Instead, experts choose to refer to the tube placed on the end of a firearm to suppress noise and the flash from the bullet exiting the barrel as a suppressor. A suppressor screws on to the end of the barrel and comes in many different forms. Suppressors require paperwork and a fee to be legally applied to a firearm.
  • TACTICAL/TACTICS: tough to define, but this word applies to types of training, types of firearms and types of gear typically employed by law enforcement or military, though civilians can train and buy the guns and gear in a limited capacity, as well. Tactics are specific, strategic and efficient. Tactical training often involves defending a person, item or location against an enemy. Tactical gear and weapons are employed in tactical training.  For example, the SEALs and other military personnel did extensive tactical training before attacking the Bin Laden compound. Another example:  an over-under skeet shotgun is not considered a tactical firearm. A pump action shotgun that holds 6+ rounds, however, is. A revolver is  not typically considered a tactical handgun, but a semi-automatic pistol is.
  • TAP: typically used in the phrase “tap and rack”, tap refers to the action of forcefully securing the magazine in a semi auto or fully auto firearm to be sure that it seats properly in the mag well.
  • THREADING: this one does not have anything to do with eyebrows. Threading is the screw-like grooves cut in to the tip of the barrel of the gun in order to attach a suppressor, muzzle break, etc.