Make Your Editor Cry: All Guns are not Revolvers, Pistols, Rifles, Shotguns, or Carbines

Make Your Editor Cry:  All Guns are not Revolvers, Pistols, Rifles, Shotguns, or Carbines

All rifles are guns.

All pistols are guns.

All revolvers are guns.

Not all guns are rifles, not all guns are pistols, and not all guns are revolvers. There are different types of all of these as well as shotguns, carbines, and other firearms.

The definition of a gun is a tubed device that uses pneumatic force (pressure) to launch a projectile. That means the sudden release of compressed gas in terms of airguns, or the pressure created by the expansion of heated gases caused by the explosion of the powder inside the chamber in terms of bullet or projectile firing firearms is technically a gun. However, anyone who has any familiarity with firearms will be pulled out of your story if you get the terminology wrong.


“Handguns” are either revolvers or pistols. The two are not the same and should not be used interchangeably.


Revolvers are handguns. Revolvers are not pistols. A revolver contains a revolving cylinder in which bullets are loaded. If your character is left-handed, he or she may prefer a revolver to a pistol since they do not eject spent cartridges and are more ambidextrous in overall design than most pistols. There are single action and double action revolvers. Single action revolvers are rare in modern days and require the shooter to cock the hammer back after each firing. A double action revolver automatically revolves the cylinder and lines up the round to the hammer each time the trigger is squeezed. Revolvers usually hold 6 bullets which is why they can be called six-shooters. However, some revolvers such as the “Lady Smith” hold 5 and some specialty pistol cylinders hold 10 or even far more rounds. Revolvers do not automatically eject shell casings.


Pistols are handguns. Pistols are not revolvers. The ATF defines a “pistol” as any handgun that does not contain its ammunition in a revolving cylinder. A pistol can be anything from a hand-made single shot zip-gun to a two-shot palm held barrel loading Derringer to a composite high-capacity Springfield XD-M. Pistols can have a hammer or be “hammerless” and pistols can hold anywhere from typically 8 rounds on average to 13 to 18 rounds in the case of high-capacity pistols, up to far, far more with aftermarket attachments.

It is worth noting that all “automatic” pistols are not “fully-automatic” weapons. An “automatic” pistol is honestly a semi-automatic weapon and is akin to a double-action revolver in that it “automatically” loads and aligns the next round with each pull of the trigger. “Automatic” pistols are not machine guns.


A cartridge is a unit of ammunition. Cartridges consist of a cartridge case, primer, powder, and bullet. A cartridge can so be called a “round”, or “load”. The entire unfired object rightly called a cartridge is not called a “bullet.” The bullet is merely the business end of the cartridge, which is the projectile that leaves the muzzle when the weapon is fired. The spent cartridge case, aka shell or shell casing, is usually ejected from the weapon or remains in the revolving cylinder until removed.

An ejected spent cartridge case, aka shell or shell casing, could accidentally be left behind at the scene. It is likely that partial fingerprints would be found all over the shell. It could also–in most cases–eject directly into the face/eye of a left-handed shooter when fired. There are customizations that a gunsmith can perform to force the shell to eject “forward” but often this can result in a common malfunction–a specific jam called a “stovepipe.”


The typically removable spring-loaded metal or plastic part of the weapon that holds unfired cartridges and feeds them into the firing chamber is not called a “clip.” It is called a magazine, and magazines are inserted into a “magazine port” of a pistol or the “magazine well” of a rifle. Calling it a “clip” is a sure way to alert informed readers that you do not know your subject matter. A clip of ammo is one way ammunition can safely be packaged and shipped before loading it into magazines for use. A specific kind of speed-loader called a “clip stripper” can be used to load an entire clip into a magazine quickly.

Most pistols and rifles have a removable magazine into which cartridges are loaded.

If someone is involved in a prolonged gunfight, it is likely that he would need to reload. A discarded magazine could easily accidentally be left behind at the scene. It is likely that fingerprints would be all over the magazine and the shell casings.

Pistol Operation and Range

Typical automatic pistols have a frame and a slide. The slide need only be operated ONCE before firing the entire complement of cartridges from the magazine. Operating the slide loads a round from the magazine into the firing chamber. Operating the slide more than once will eject that unfired round each time it is operated. If the shooter has only 8 rounds, he has now reduced his capacity to 7 rounds and so on.

It is worth noting that handguns are usually only effective within 50 feet, or just over 16 yards. The term “at close range” can sound ridiculous when used to describe a wound inflicted by a handgun. By definition, nearly all handgun inflicted wounds occurred “at close range.”


Suppressor myth #1: Hollywood and pulp fiction always call this a silencer. Suppressors are not “silencers.” They are suppressors. Suppressors suppress (reduce) the volume of the sound of a gunshot in measurable decibels. Some suppressors are better than others but there is no known way to fully “silence” the operation of any firearm down to zero decibels.

Suppressor myth #2: Hollywood often pictures suppressors affixed to anything from machine guns to sniper rifles. Despite Hollywood portrayals, if the bullet being fired is not from a subsonic round, a suppressor is completely useless and just dead weight since the bullet will exceed the speed of sound and break the sound barrier–and thus create a sonic boom–a very short distance from the muzzle after being fired.

No “silencer” on earth is effective in that case since there is no known way to eliminate a sonic boom inside the earth’s atmosphere. The speed of sound is approximately 767.3 mph which is about 1125.3 feet per second or about 343 meters per second. This means that the vast majority of common store-bought ammunition cannot be “silenced” with any suppressor since the bullets fired will always travel at a speed greater than the speed of sound shortly after being fired.

Example: The popular 9mm round has a typical speed in excess of 1500 feet per second. This means there is no way to silence your typical Barretta 9mm or your typical Glock 9mm. However, traditional .45 ACP caliber ammunition travels at around 850 feet per second. This means you can effectively suppress anything from the venerable Colt 1911 automatic pistol to the Thompson sub-machinegun (aka Tommy-gun) without additional smithing or tinkering with the ammunition.

Suppressor bottom line: Bottom line, if you are writing about a suppressor, call it a suppressor and ensure that the ammunition you choose actually can be silenced.


Rifles are distinct from handguns. A rifle typically has a long rifled barrel, as in a helical pattern of grooves cut into the walls of the bore of a barrel that is 20 inches long or longer intended to stabilize the projectile while in flight. But that’s not the end of the definition of a “rifle” otherwise handguns, most of which have rifled barrels, the main gun on tanks such as the M1-A Abrams, or the main guns on battleships such as the USS Alabama, which also have rifled barrels would be called rifles. Therefore, a rifle is defined as a gun with a rifled barrel that is intended to be held with both hands (unless fired with a front support such as a bipod/tripod) and braced against the shoulder when fired. There are muzzle loading rifles, magazine firing rifles, tube fed rifles, semi-automatic and fully-automatic rifles, bolt action rifles, and single shot rifles.

With rifles, US military targets train as far as 300 or 500 yards away. Specialists train for sniper shots as far as 1000 yards away. Shots at  distances greater than about 150 yards are extremely to incredibly difficult to make. Shots fired outside of 1000 yards border on impossible.


A shotgun is a type of gun that typically does not have a rifled barrel. Instead, it has a smooth bore. Typically, shotguns have a barrel length of 20 inches or more and are intended to be held with both hands and braced against the shoulder when fired like a rifle. A criminal might saw the barrel down making it a “sawed-off shotgun” which is about as accurate as a blunderbuss. The shotgun has a long history, its predecessor being the famous smooth bore muzzle loading musket that soldiers had to load by hand before every shot. Today a wide variety of shotguns are commonly available varying from pump-action, lever-action, semi-automatic, and fully automatic in various guages the most common being 12, 16, and 20.

In Hollywood, a pump-action shotgun gets a serious workout with the “pump” being “actioned” repeatedly before a shot is ever fired. In the real world, each time a shotgun is pumped, an unfired cartridge would be ejected each time. Most pump action shotguns hold at most 8 rounds. Do the math.

The distinctions between a shotgun and a rifle are mainly in the smooth bore barrel and in the type of ammunition a shotgun fires. To fire a shotgun, you need to use the energy of a fixed shell or a solid projectile, the slug. A shotgun typically fires a cartridge that contains, obviously, shot.

Shot pellets range in size from birdshot to buckshot. They all look like somewhat smaller or larger variants of BB pellets. Shot used to be exclusively made of lead. Today, due to restrictions on lead use, other metals such as steel, tungsten and bismuth are used. Common modern shotgun ammunition today will most commonly employ tungsten since it is believed to produce less wear on the barrel of the shotgun.

Other unusual projectiles such as saboted flechettes, rubber balls (riot control round), rock salt and magnesium shards also exist. Some may not be easily available to the public at large.

One round fired from a shotgun usually contains a dozen small pellets. It is easy to aim and it is a great weapon for short range and self-defense. A rifle fires a single bullet in one shot, while a shotgun fires multiple small pellets inside a shell. This makes the rifle good for long-distance use and a shotgun good for self-defense and short-range use. A shot fired from a rifle can hit a target 75 to 100 yards away with great accuracy and effect. A shotgun usually accurately hits targets less than 50 yards away.

Just as with handguns, the term “at close range” sounds a little silly when used to describe a wound or wounds inflicted by a shotgun. By definition, they are close range weapons.


Carbines are a subcategory of rifles. Weapons with rifled barrels greater than 20 inches are usually called rifles unless specifically called carbines by the manufacturer. Rifle-like weapons with a barrel length of less than 20 inches are typically considered to be carbines. By this definition, the venerable M-16 would be classified as a rifle while the modern M-4 would be classified as a carbine.

Also, by this definition, many so-called “Assault Rifles” would technically be classified as carbines. There are two problems with this classification. The first problem with this classification is that “Assault Carbine” doesn’t sound as ominous when used in headlines. The second problem  is that there is no such thing as an “Assault Rifle,” at least not in real life. The term “Assault Rifles” is a pure invention of a political agenda which has been VERY widely propagated by the media. In real life, only an ignorant person would refer to any firearm an “Assault” anything in preference to its actual designation or classification. However, since about the same number of people die in fatal car crashes as die due to gunfire in America each year, it did prompt me to label my automobiles with such grand sounding appellations as “The Attack Fiero,”  “The Assault Mini-Van,” and “White Lightning.”

Trigger Pull

With all hand fired firearms, the trigger is not “pulled” it is “squeezed.” Unless your character is highly inexperienced with firearms, writing that your character “pulled” the trigger will alert your reader to the fact that you do not know your subject matter. If your character does “pull” the trigger, then the resulting shot should end up being wildly inaccurate. The inaccuracy increases exponentially with distance.

Common Movie Firearm Myths:

A common myth is that gunshots can be heard instantly. In reality, depending on the distance from the shooter and the type of ammunition, it is very likely that the bullet, which travels faster than the speed of sound, would arrive well ahead of the sound of the gunshot. Think of lightning and thunder in a thunderstorm. The delay can be THAT significant. It’s just simple physics.

In movies, all weapons have a seemingly infinite number of rounds. In reality, even an experienced shooter with a high-capacity magazine can manually fire 30 rounds in less than FIVE seconds. The corollary is that when bad guys fall in a gunfight, the good guy never picks up their discarded firearms or ammunition even though the good guy is SURELY running low on ammo. Tangentially, good guys never seem to don any of the baddies protective gear, like helmets or ballistic vests. None of this agrees with reality.

In Hollywood movies, obtaining a firearm and proper ammo is about as difficult as buying a Kit-Kat bar. The reality is that obtaining any firearm is just not that simple or easy, especially in the case of criminals obtaining firearms. Rather than go into detail on this point, I encourage you to interview anyone who is an FFL holder about your specific scenario.

In popular shows and films, semi-automatic weapons are nearly always portrayed as if they are fully-automatic weapons. There is a TREMENDOUS difference between the two, which leads to the false claim that all semi-automatic weapons (and by extension all firearms) should be labeled as “Assault” weapons. Despite popular myth, a semi-automatic weapon fires one bullet for each single pull of the trigger. Therefore AK, AR, and other semi-automatic weapons are no different than any other Class I or Class II firearm.

When a person gets shot in a movie, that person is usually thrown clear off his feet, as in lifted up off the ground and thrown several feet behind him into a glass window or some similar spectacular background he can crash into. In reality a gunshot victim may only move a little bit, particularly with “penetrating” rounds such as the 9mm or .32 or .38 caliber rounds. Within about 10 feet, a single large caliber subsonic round such as a .45 or a 50-caliber round may actually knock a person down but they would not fly back several feet.

In Hollywood, snipers in high windows are routinely killed by a single quick but accurate pistol shot from 50 to up to 100 yards away. In reality, it is exceedingly unlikely that such a shot would even land anywhere close to the sniper and, if it did somehow manage to hit the target from that range, it is highly unlikely that the shot would be instantly fatal.

On that note, despite Hollywood portrayals, the fact that a single bullet strikes a character does not mean that character will instantly drop dead like a sack of potatoes. Many (most) low-caliber or high velocity handgun gunshot wounds (.22, .32, 9mm to name a few) and many long-range handgun inflicted wounds (especially if sustained beyond about 50 feet) are survivable. However, for the sake of realism, keep in mind that large caliber close range wounds (.357, 10mm, and .45 ACP caliber for example) are very dangerous, and often fatal if the wound is sustained in the head or ribcage area.

When criminals shoot pistols in the movies, they tend to hold handguns so that the magazine port is angled about 90 degrees from the ground and fire an obscene amount of ammunition in the direction of their targets, usually with fantastically fatal results. In reality, they would likely never even hit the target with the sights so far out of alignment, let alone put enough holes into the other shooter to kill him/her 10 times over. Handguns are only fired accurately by holding the grip with the dominant hand while cupping that hand with the less dominant hand, then aiming with the sights by holding the weapon in an up/down orientation. Despite Hollywood portrayals, firing without aiming and firing while holding the weapon sideways results in unbelievably inaccurate fire, and very likely malfunctions. In the case of automatic pistols, holding a handgun that far out of alignment is begging for a malfunction, specifically a “failure to feed” problem. And of course, all firearms hold only a finite amount of ammunition.

In movies, they often depict a complete novice picking up a large caliber gun and firing it with no problems. “You’re a natural!” In reality, you would need to start off with small calibers and master them before moving on to larger calibers of handguns or rifles. If you use a weapon that has too much recoil, or is too powerful for you to positively control, you can easily hurt yourself and others. My wife is a great shot but a .45 is too much gun for her. A .32, however, is a perfect weapon for her to fire with control and accuracy. Ensure that your character and your firearm are a good match.

Try to imagine suddenly having to land a space shuttle when you have never operated any kind of motor vehicle. For that matter, try to imagine having to dig a perfectly staked-out hole with a back-hoe when you don’t even know how to start the engine. Try to imagine performing an appendectomy when you have no knowledge of human anatomy. You get the idea. Yet in movies, the hero always shoots perfectly with deadly accuracy, even if he has never so much as touched a gun before in his life. Often the coaching pep talk goes something like “point this end at the bad guys and pull this trigger here.” Then, no matter if it is a so-called “lucky shot” at just the right moment, or the hero appears to be some kind of savant who engages in a complex shootout taking out a virtual army of baddies single-handedly, this is HIGHLY unrealistic. In reality, it takes years of disciplined training and solid practice to become a master at shooting a firearm. Not only will a real person have to manage the weapon itself, adrenaline and stress responses can–and will–wreak havoc on that person.

In the movies and on TV, when actors or actresses “accidentally” drop any gun or a door slams or a car comes to a sudden halt and the firearm falls over, it nearly always “magically” goes off all by itself, and more often than not it instantly kills someone as a result. Today, weapons are specifically designed and tested not to accidentally fire when dropped, as required by The Gun Control Act of 1968. Truthfully, most firearms manufactured since the first world war would have a serious problem firing all by their lonesome. Don’t use this scenario because it will certainly inform the reader that you have not done your research.

In movies and shows, separating a trained firearms person–such as a soldier, marine, sailor, or law enforcement officer–from his firearm is a fairly simple procedure. In reality, short of knocking that person unconscious or killing him, it would take a significant effort to get your hands on that weapon without getting shot yourself.

In movies and shows where there is the proverbial “hostage situation,” where the baddie holds a firearm to the head of the hostage for example, and demands that the good guy “drop” his gun, the good guy more often than not sets his gun down to “talk through” the situation. In reality, the good guy would probably shoot the bad guy in such a way that the bullet(s) hit at the point where the first cervical vertebrae attaches to the base of the skull. This would ensure that the brain stem was severed, which would ensure that all motor functions were instantly stopped, which would ensure that the hostage remained utterly unharmed and the bad guy would cease in all of his efforts for good or ill from that moment on.

In movies when the good guys are breaching a structure, the “stars” rarely wear helmets even though the remainder of the team is usually rigged out in full tactical gear. This is a Hollywood-ism, used so that the stars are easily recognizable to the audience, and does not reflect reality.

In movies, tactical teams are normally “tight” as in standing mere feet away from each other. In realty, a tactical team can have up to 20 or 30 feet of separation between team members which allows for overlapping fields of fire and better command and control to react to enemy activity. Having the team deploy close enough for a group photo at any given time is a “let’s pretend” and make-believe Hollywood-ism intended to fit all of the team members into the same camera shot at once. This is not reality.

According to Hollywood, people can just point a shotgun in a general direction of the target and fire. To add insult to injury, once the shotgun pellets hits, everything and everyone is obliterated, destroyed, dead, or dying. The truth is you can’t just “point and shoot” a shotgun and expect to hit the target. With a shotgun, the further away the target is, the greater the shotgun pellets will spread. It is far easier than you might think to completely miss a target and, even so, the pellets are not made of some nuclear explosive that vaporizes anything they touch. When they hit, they are still BB sized projectiles of solid metal.

FINAL POINT. Keep in mind that annual firearm fatality statistics are nearly always badly jerrymandered in keeping with a now ever-present anti-second amendment political agenda. The truth is that 12 fatalities out of every 100,000 people last year were due to firearms, and that number includes nearly twenty-five thousand suicides. To put that in context, that is about the same as fatalities due to automobile accidents, half the number who died due to poisoning, and a third less than the number who overdosed on illegal drugs. If you repeat statistics that are commonly bandied about as “fact” by anti-gun proponents then you are going to sound foolish to those who know the actual numbers, and this will surely remove their suspension of disbelief for the majority of your story.

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