Let’s face it – a woman trying to learn about guns in the male-driven, testosterone-filled world of guns is quite the undertaking, but having to learn an entire new language might just be too much! That’s where this gun glossary of gun terms and definitions comes in. Hopefully this resource will help to take some of the confusion out of the complex terminology of the gun world for women.
INTEGRAL LOCK – A built in lock that may prevent the firearm from being fired
INTERNAL SAFETY – A safety which is placed within the gun and is not accessible to the user. Internal safeties are generally designed to prevent unintentional discharges when the gun is dropped or mishandled.
IRON SIGHTS – The mechanical sighting system which usually comes with the firearm made of metal with no optics.
ISOSCELES STANCE – A shooting stance in which the gun is held thrust straight out from of the body, with both arms straight.
JACKET – The envelope enclosing the core of a bullet.
JAM – A malfunction which locks up the gun so badly that tools are required in order to fix it. Sometimes used to denote a simple malfunction, but many people make a distinction between a complete jam and a simple malfunction.
KEYHOLE – An oddly-shaped hole in the target caused by a bullet which was unstable during its flight and entered the target sideways rather than nose-on. Key-holing sometimes can indicate a safety issue such as using the incorrect caliber for the gun.
KICK – Slang for Recoil.
LANDS – Raised portions of the bore left between the grooves of the rifling in the bore of a firearm. The portion of the bore in a rifled barrel (see rifling) that protrudes into the bore itself. The top surface of the lands is approximately the same diameter as the bore was prior to rifling.
LASER – A laser is an alternative sighting device which enables the shooter to quickly and accurately see where the firearm is aimed even when lighting or other conditions prevent using the gun’s normal sights. Lasers may be located within the grips, hung from accessory rails at the front end of the gun, or placed within the firearm.
LASER GRIP – A grip which contains a pressure-activated laser pointer which enables the shooter to quickly and accurately see where the firearm is aimed even when lighting or other conditions prevent using the sights.
LC – Long Colt, a type of ammunition.
LEAD – To aim at a spot just in front of a moving target, so that the target moves into the line of fire as the trigger is pulled.
LEAD – The metal from which bullets are traditionally made. They may also be made of steel, copper, or other materials.
LENGTH OF PULL – 1) The distance between the face of the trigger and the rearmost surface of the gun. 2) The distance the trigger must travel before it fires the gun.
LEVER-ACTION – A rifle mechanism activated by manual operation of a lever. The user manually brings this lever down and back up again to eject the spent case and bring a new round into the chamber ready to be fired.
LIGHT DOUBLE ACTION (LDA) – A double-action semi-automatic firearm which is designed to have a much lighter trigger pull than is usual for a double action.
LIMP WRISTING – A floppy, limp wrist while shooting.
LOADED – A firearm is loaded when a cartridge is in its firing chamber. However, for safety reasons all firearms are always treated as loaded at all times. See The 4 Rules.
LOADED CHAMBER INDICATOR – A mechanical device that protrudes from the gun when a round is in position ready to be fired, giving a visual and tactile indication that the gun is loaded. Loaded chamber indicators are required by law in some states.
LONG GUN – A firearm with an extended barrel, designed to be fired while in contact with the shoulder of the shooter and include rifles and shotguns.
LONG TRIGGER – A trigger with an exceptional length of pull.
LOW KNEELING – A shooting position in which one or both knees are touching the ground and the shooter is as low as possible.
LONG RECOIL – A semi-automatic pistol in which the barrel and breechblock are locked together for the full distance of rearward recoil travel, after which the barrel returns forward, while the breechblock is held back. After the barrel has fully returned, the breechblock is released to fly forward, chambering a fresh round in the process.
LR – Long Rifle, a type of ammunition.
MACHINE GUN – A fully automatic firearm that rapidly fires multiple rifle-caliber shots with a single pull of the trigger.
MACHINE PISTOL – A fully automatic Small Arm using a cartridge designed and intended for use in pistols. Commonly called a “submachine gun.”
MAGAZINE – A container, either fixed to a pistol’s frame or detachable, which holds cartridges under spring pressure to be fed into the gun’s chamber. Detachable magazines for the same gun may be offered by the gun`s manufacturer or other manufacturers with various capacities. A gun with a five-shot detachable magazine, for instance, may be fitted with a magazine holding 10, 20, or 50 or more rounds. Box magazines are most commonly located under the receiver with the cartridges stacked vertically. Tube or tubular magazines run through the stock or under the barrel with the cartridges lying horizontally. Drum magazines hold their cartridges in a circular mode. A magazine can also mean a secure storage place for ammunition or explosives.
MAGAZINE DISCONNECT – Sometimes called a magazine safety. A mechanism that prevents the gun from being able to fire when the magazine is removed from the gun, even if there is still a round in the chamber. Magazine disconnects are required by law in some states.
MAGAZINE LOADER – A mechanical device to make it easier to fill magazines using less hand strength and without hurting one’s fingertips or thumbs.
MAGAZINE POUCH – Commonly shortened to mag pouch, this is a device to hold extra magazines which fastens to the shooter’s belt.
MAGAZINE WELL – The opening in the bottom of the gun into which a box magazine is fed. On a semi-auto handgun, the magazine well is at the base of the grip; on a rifle, it is usually placed in front of the trigger guard.
MAGNUM – A term indicating a relatively heavily loaded metallic cartridge or shotshell and a gun safely constructed to fire it. It generally indicates a round which cannot be interchanged with other loadings of the same caliber (for example, a .22 Magnum shell does not fit within a firearm designed to fire .22 Long Rifle ammunition).
MAINSPRING – Term often used for the hammer spring.
MALFUNCTION – A misfeed or other failure to fire which can be cleared on the spot and without tools.
MANUAL SAFETY – A safety which the shooter must deliberately disengage in order to fire the gun. The most common form of safety mechanism is a switch that, when set to the “safe” position, prevents a pull of the trigger from firing the firearm.
MASTER MARKSMAN – A person who can shoot up to the mechanical capability of their weapon.
MATCH GRADE – A higher quality item used to increase accuracy — generally used for competition in a match. Match grade ammo and barrels are the most common improvements made to a firearm to improve accuracy for competition.
MINUTE OF ANGLE (MOA) – A unit of angle that is equal to one1/60 of one degree. Used to adjust sight angles to aim a firearm.
MISFEED – Is a failure of the next round to completely enter the chamber. Misfeeds and failures to feed are very similar, a failure to feed is a round that never even leaves the top of the magazine, while a misfeed is a round that leaves the magazine but does not enter the chamber.
MISFIRE – The condition of a cartridge not firing when an attempt to fire it is made. It can be caused by either a defective cartridge or a defective firearm. The term is frequently misused to indicate a Negligent Discharge of a firearm.
MOON CLIP – A flat, circular loading device for revolvers and is designed specifically for rimless cartridges (such as 9mm Luger or .45 ACP), and it becomes an integral part of the revolver while firing.
MOUSE GUN – A name for any palm sized handgun which fires a small caliber.
MUFFS – Hearing protection which completely covers both ears and is usually attached to a headband (sometimes to a neckband rather than a headband).
MULTI-BARRELED – A gun with more than one barrel, the most common being the double-barreled shotgun.
MUSHROOMED BULLET – A description of a bullet whose forward diameter has expanded after penetration.
MUSKET – A long gun which has a completely smooth bore and is intended to fire a single projectile rather than a collection of shot. Muskets were common before rifles were invented, but now they are mostly collector’s items.
MUZZLE – The open end of the barrel from which the projectile exits.
MUZZLE CONTROL – Being aware of and responsible of which direction your firearm is pointed at all times, and always keeping it pointed in a safe direction.
MUZZLE BRAKE – An attachment to or integral part of the barrel that redirects some of the pressurized gas that propelled the bullet out the muzzle to the sides and possibly rearwards from the direction of the bullet travel. This reduces the recoil of the firearm.
MUZZLE FLASH – A muzzle flash is the visible light of a muzzle blast, which expels high temperature, high pressure gases from the muzzle of a firearm. The blast and flash are caused by the combustion products of the gunpowder, and any remaining unburned powder, mixing with the ambient air. The size and shape of the muzzle flash is dependent on the type of ammunition being used and the individual characteristics of firearm and any devices attached to the muzzle (such as a muzzle brake or flash suppressor)
MUZZLELOADER – The earliest type of gun, now also popular as modern-made replicas, in which blackpowder and projectile(s) are separately loaded in through the muzzle. The term is often applied to cap-and-ball revolvers where the loading is done not actually through the muzzle but through the open ends of the cylinder`s chambers.
MUZZLE VELOCITY – The speed of the bullet, measured in feet per second or meters per second, as it leaves the barrel.
NEGLIGENT DISCHARGE (ND) – The unplanned discharge of a firearm caused by a failure to observe the basic safety rules, not a mechanical failure of the gun. See The 4 Rules.
NFA 34 (NATIONAL FIREARMS ACT OF 1934) – The set of federal regulations that govern the sale and possession of certain classes of firearms. It among other things:
NIGHT SIGHTS – A type of iron sights that glow or shine in the dark, intended for use in low light conditions. Some night sights consist of tiny tubes of tritium, while others use a phosphorus paint
NRA – The National Rifle Association. This organization coordinates shooting events on a national level, provides firearms training to civilians and law enforcement, fights restrictive firearms legislation and supports the constitutional right of law abiding citizens to own and carry firearms.
OFF HAND – 1) means to shoot while standing and without bracing against anything. It also means the non-dominant hand.
OGIVE – A type of curve represented by the curved section of a bullet between its bearing surface and its tip.
OPEN BOLT FIRING (SYSTEM) – A type of firearm in which the action is in the open position and the chamber empty prior to firing. When the trigger is pressed the bolt moves forward, chambering a cartridge and firing it and returning to the open position. When firing is stopped the bolt remains open and the chamber empty. Most submachine guns utilize this type of action.
OPEN FRAME – Refers to a revolver frame that has no top-strap over the cylinder.
OPEN SIGHTS – A common type of iron sights in which the rear sight is an open-topped U or a V or a square-notch shape and with a blade type front sight, in contrast to the closed circle commonly found in aperture sights.
OTM (Open Tip Match) Bullet – A rifle projectile made with the tip of the bullet open as a means of increasing accuracy as compared to standard military bullets that are made with a closed tip and an open base. The are not designed to expand like a hollow point bullet but may fragment.
OUT OF BATTERY – A semi-automatic is said to be out of battery when the slide fails to come all the way forward again after the gun has fired. This condition can be created by a misfeed, a dirty gun, weak springs, the shooter’s thumbs brushing against the slide, riding the slide, or any of several other causes.
OVER/UNDER – A shotgun with two barrels that are vertically aligned with each other, one on top of the other.
OVERSHOOT (TO) – A term used in artillery to indicate a projectile impact beyond the designated target.
OVER TRAVEL – If the trigger is able to continue moving to the rear after the shot has fired, the trigger is said to over-travel.
OVERBORE CAPACITY – Is that combination of caliber, barrel length, bullet weight, and case volume which does not allow the complete burning of the charge of ballistically correct powder within the volume of case and barrel.
P+ AMMUNITION – Is small arms ammunition that has been loaded to a higher internal pressure than standard for it’s caliber. Many calibers are available in both standard and +p or +p+ variants. Ammunition marked +p produces more power and higher pressures than the standard ammunition. Not all firearms are designed to handle the increased pressure consult your owner’s manual or gun manufacturer before using +P ammunition.
PAIR – Two shots fired very quickly with the use of the sights.
PARALLAX – This occurs in telescopic sights when the primary image of the objective lens does not coincide with the reticle.Telescopic sights often have parallax adjustments to minimize this effect.
PASSIVE SAFETY – Any safety, internal or external, which functions apart from the shooter’s conscious control. Grip safeties are one example of a passive external safety.
PATTERN – A shotgun term which refers to the manner in which the pellets spread out as they exit the gun. THE pattern refers to the overall shape of the entire set. A tight pattern is one in which the pellets are closely grouped when they land on target. A loose pattern is one in which the pellets are widely spread.
PEEP SIGHT – An alternate name for Aperture Sight.
PELLET GUN – A rifle or pistol using compressed air or CO2 to propel a skirted pellet as opposed to a spherical BB. Not a firearm.
PELLETS – Small spherical projectiles loaded in shotshells and more often called “shot.” Also the skirted projectiles used in pellet guns.
PISTOL – Synonymous with “handgun.” A gun that is generally held in one hand. It may be of the single-shot, multi-barrel, repeating or semi-automatic variety and includes revolvers.
PISTOL GRIP – An extra handle behind the trigger for the firing hand to wrap around. A “semi-pistol grip” is one less pronounced than normal; a “vertical pistol grip” is more pronounced than normal.
PLINKING – Informal shooting at any of a variety of inanimate targets. The most often practiced shooting sport in this country.
POINT SHOOTING – Shooting without using the sights. Point shooters use body position or other cues to provide a a sense of where the shots will land.
POINT BLANK RANGE – The farthest distance that a target of a given size can be hit without holding over or under with the sights. The exact range is determined by the performance of the cartridge used, the ZERO range, and the accepted size of the target area.
PORT – An opening. The ejection port is the opening in the side of a semi-auto from which spent cases are ejected.
PORTING – Openings at the muzzle end of the gun through which some of the spent gases can escape. Porting reduces perceived recoil and lessens muzzle rise but increases the noise and flash.
POWDER – The chemical propellant which is burned to produce the hot gases which send the bullet flying downrange.
PRE-TRAVEL – Some triggers can be pulled slightly backwards before the shooter can feel any tension and before the hammer or striker begins to retract. Pre-travel is any movement of the trigger that begins before the trigger starts to engage.
POWDER CHARGE – The amount of propellant powder that is suitable for specific cartridge-bullet combination, or in the case of shotshells, for a specific weight of shot and wad column.
PRACTICAL SHOOTING – A shooting sport that simulates the use of a small arm in its intended role either as a tool for hunting or personal defense. True practical shooting limits the small arms, ammunition, and accessories used to those items that would actually be used in the role simulated.
PRIMER – A small metal cup that contains a tiny explosive charge that is sensitive to impact. A primer is placed in the base of a shell casing to ignite the powder of the completed cartridge. It is detonated by the striking of a firing pin in the firearm.
PRIMER POCKET – The counter bore in the center of the base of a centerfire cartridge casing in which the primer assembly is seated.
PRIMER RING – Refers to a visible dark ring created by the primers in centerfire ammunition around the firing pin hole in the frame after much use.
PRINTING – Is when the outline of the concealed handgun may be discerned through the outer clothing.
PROPELLANT – In a firearm the chemical composition that is ignited by the primer to generate gas. In air or pellet guns, compressed air or CO2.
PULL – 1) The entire process of making the trigger complete its journey past the trigger break. 2) What a shotgun shooter yells when she wants a target (typically a clay pigeon) to be thrown into the air to shoot.
PULL DISTANCE – The distance the trigger must travel before it reaches the break point and fires the gun.
PUMP ACTION – Pump or Pump Action – A type of mechanism for removing a spent shell casing from the chamber of a firearm and inserting a fresh cartridge into the chamber. This type of mechanism is most commonly used in shotguns and rimfire rifles.
PYRODEX – A trade name for a blackpowder substitute, the only such safe substitute known at this time.