About Guns

How A Semi-Automatic Gun Works

To best understand how a gun works,  let’s take a look at the two types of handguns, revolvers and semi-automatic pistols. They each work differently and each has advantages and disadvantages. In this article, we will look at the Semi-Auto. If you haven’t already, check out Parts Of a Semi-Automatic Gun here to get an overview of the parts of this type of pistol before learning how they work.

Click here to learn how a Revolver handgun works.

Semi-automatic Pistol

colt defenderA semi-automatic pistol is a handgun where the magazine that holds the ammunition which slides into the grip of the gun. A semi-automatic pistol uses some of the energy created from firing of the gun to eject the spent cartridge and load a fresh one. Semi-automatic pistols have the benefit of magazines that can hold a larger number of rounds. They also typically have an easier trigger pull, have the ability to shoot multiple rounds very quickly and are slimmer and more compact in shape.

Semi-automatic pistols; however, are not as mechanically simple as revolvers and require very good cleaning to insure proper function. Their semi-automatic action is dependent on the first round firing successfully so the next round is cycled into the chamber properly. The reliability of modern pistols is exceptionally high though and makes this less of an issue. The best defensive semi-automatic calibers are: .380, 9mm, .40 S&W, .45 ACP. All of these calibers are available in small sized (compact) pistols suitable for concealed carry.

Special note: In general, a pistol with a long trigger pull that requires a very deliberate and strong pull of the trigger in order to fire is recommended. Under stress when the adrenaline is flowing you want to be sure you really want to pull the trigger and not do so accidentally.

Let’s list and discuss the advantages and disadvantages of the semi-automatic.


  • Slimmer, lighter and easier to conceal
  • Magazines can hold more rounds of ammunition
  • Can fire rounds of ammunition in rapid succession
  • Easier trigger pull
  • “Typically” have less recoil
  • Easy to reload



  • Meticulous cleaning required
  • More likely to misfeed
  • More likely to be “ammunition sensitive”. May not feed all brands of bullets well (practice and trying different brands can minimize these issues).
  • Overall more expensive
  • Takes more hand strength to “rack the slide” to chamber the first round.

Note: the difficulty in racking a slide may depend on which parts of your hands are weak or may be related to technique. Utilizing the proper technique can make all the difference! Some women with hand issues find it more difficult to pull the trigger on a revolver. If this is a serious issue for you, you may want to look at tilt-up barrel semi-automatics. This type does not require the user to rack the slide for loading. Beretta has one, but I believe it is no longer in production. They are however readily available used.

What next?

Still want to learn more about guns? Read my article Let’s Learn About Guns to help guide you to more information!

Ready to start looking for a gun?

We have taken a look at both revolvers and semi-automatic pistols. If you are ready to purchase a gun for yourself, here is a helpful article to guide you in the process. “The Best Gun For Women” . We also have a collection of gun reviews written by women. Here you can learn what they like or dislike about a variety of gun models.

Once you make your selection, get some training and practice. Learn all the safety rules for the proper handling of a gun and handle it often (unloaded only) to get acquainted with it. Learn how to disassemble and clean your gun. And finally, find a suitable firearms instructor and learn how to use it properly. Once you are proficient at using your gun and have had some good training, you’ll be amazed at how natural the gun feels. Most importantly, you will be armed with the confidence that you can handle the unthinkable, should it ever come your way.

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3 thoughts on “How A Semi-Automatic Gun Works

  1. Mary Fenwick says:

    I own a shotgun, but I’m looking for a hand gun to carry. As a single person, I need to protect myself wherever I am. So I came across this website and it is very helpful!

  2. Emily Stevens says:

    I’ve never owned a gun, but I’m looking to buy one very soon. Thank you for this great article! It has a lit of great advice that I definitely needed to know!

  3. Shay Elliott says:

    I am now alone. Living in a relatively safe small town. BUT, I do know that I don’t want to become complacent, I need to be proactive on my own well being.

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