If you’re new to the world of firearms, you probably have questions. Lots of questions.
But don’t worry, you’re not alone! Everyone has to start somewhere, and brushing up on your firearm terminology is a great place to begin.
Once you’ve familiarized yourself with all the basic gun terms, you’ll be ready to have more in-depth conversations surrounding firearms and may even use your new knowledge to choose a weapon for yourself. Some of these terms may even clue you in to some concepts you want to learn more about.
So, without further ado, here is a complete glossary of firearms terms to help you get started in learning more about the gun world. Happy scrolling!
ACP stands for Automatic Colt Pistol and refers to a style of cartridge designed by John M. Browning in the late 1800s and early 1900s.
The mechanism that loads, locks, fires, extracts, and ejects ammunition. There are many different types of actions, including single action, double action, break action, and bolt action among others
Also known as ammo for short, this is what is loaded into a firearm. It is usually measured in rounds and is composed of multiple parts, including gunpowder, primer, and a projectile wrapped in a casing.
Appendix carry, also known as AIWB, is a popular concealed carry position. In this position, the firearm is carried in the 12 o’clock region on the waistband, or right below the belly button.
Some people believe that AR stands for assault rifle, but it actually refers to the ArmaLite Rifle and the AR-15.
Most commonly used by the police or military, this is a selective-fire rifle that has a detachable magazine and fires reduced-power ammunition.
An automatic firearm fires multiple rounds with a single pull of the trigger. Commonly referred to as a “machine gun,” these firearms continue to chamber, fire, and eject cartridges as long as the trigger is held down and there is ammunition in the magazine.
Refers to the exposed area of a pistol at the rear of the grip. Some pistol backstraps are interchangeable to make it easier to hold depending on hand size.
The science of the motion, path, behavior, etc. of a projectile. Mostly in bullets, bombs, and missiles.
The tube-shaped portion of a firearm where the bullet exits. It also dictates the direction and velocity of the bullet.
A support device commonly used when shooting rifles. It is similar to a tripod but only has two legs. They help reduce fatigue from holding a firearm and increase accuracy.
A round that contains no bullet. It still contains black powder, which allows the gun to fire without shooting a propellant. Blanks are commonly used in films, for training, and to start a race.
A metal finish often used on firearms to protect them from scratching and to give them an aesthetic blue or black color.
This kind of action fires a single round at a time. Once the bullet is fired, the shooter must manually pull back the gun’s bolt to expend the empty shell before loading a new cartridge.
The interior of a gun’s barrel.
Displaying a weapon in a threatening, angry, or unlawful manner while in the presence of another person.
An empty cartridge case.
Located behind the bore, the breech is an opening into which ammunition is loaded.
The metal projectile portion of a cartridge, located at the very tip. This is the part that is expelled from a gun when it is fired.
Caliber refers to the diameter of a barrel and the bullet that passes through it. The caliber is what distinguishes the ammo size for any given gun.
The angle at which a holster is tilted. Read our article “ What Is Holster Cant and Why Is It Important?” to learn more.
Capacity refers to the number of rounds a magazine can hold.
A single piece of ammunition. A cartridge is a complete round, containing a case, bullet, and a propellant such as gunpowder.
The metal shell of a cartridge. This is the outside portion of a round that holds the gunpowder, primer, and bullet together.
A type of cartridge where the primer is in the center. Commonly used in all but the smaller caliber cartridges.
The part of a firearm that holds a round right before it is fired.
Not to be confused with a magazine, a clip is a device that holds rounds together to be inserted into a magazine all at once. Learn more about the difference by reading our article “ What’s The Difference Between Clip And Magazine?”
The act of manually pulling a gun’s hammer back and into the firing position.
Carrying a hidden firearm while in a public setting.
CONCEALED CARRY PERMIT
A concealed carry permit or license allows one to legally carry a concealed handgun on their person. Each state has different concealed carry laws, so it’s important to check yours to see how they work where you live.
The act of drawing a handgun across your body. That means carrying a gun in the 9-11 o’clock position for right-handed users, or the 1-3 o’clock position for left-handed users.
The drum-shaped rotating part of a revolver that holds cartridges.
The firing of a weapon.
DOUBLE ACTION/SINGLE ACTION (DA/SA)
A single action trigger performs one action (firing a round), while a double action trigger performs two (cocking the hammer and firing).
Double/single action (DA/SA) revolvers can be switched between the two actions by either cocking the hammer or not. When it comes to semi automatic double/single action pistols, the first shot will be single or double depending on whether the hammer is cocked or not. Each subsequent shot will be single action.
DOUBLE ACTION ONLY (DAO)
Double action only (DAO) is when the handgun must take two actions to initiate the firing sequence; cock the hammer and release the hammer, thus initiating the firing sequence.
A shotgun with two barrels instead of one.
DOUBLE STACK MAGAZINE
Sometimes just called “double stack,” this refers to the way rounds are placed inside a magazine. In a double-stack magazine, they are in two columns with more of a zigzag feeding pattern.
Two shots fired in quick succession.
The act of firing an unloaded weapon. Typically used for at-home training sessions. Check out our article “ Beginner’s Guide to Dry Fire Training at Home” to learn more.
A cartridge that fails to fire when its primer has been struck.
A round of ammunition that contains no explosive charge. Dummy rounds are often used for training purposes.
The part of a firearm that pushes the casing of a fired bullet out of the chamber. This makes room for a new round to be moved into the chamber.
EVERYDAY CARRY (EDC)
The items a person carries with them every day. Read more here: “ What Is EDC: Beginners Ultimate Guide to Everyday Carry.”
The mechanism in a firearm that pulls cases from the chamber after a round has been fired.
A specific cant angle between 10-15 degrees. Learn more by reading “ FBI Cant: What You Need to Know.”
Disassembling a firearm as much as possible without the use of tools to repair or clean it.
The federal government states a firearm is any handheld or portable weapon that expels or is designed to expel a bullet, shot, slug, missile, or any projectile by use of gunpowder. In order for it to be a firearm, combustion must occur.
The part of the firing mechanism that hits the cartridge, initiating the detonation that releases a bullet.
Buildup that occurs in the bore of a gun as the weapon is fired.
The part of a handgun that houses its hammer, bolt or breechlock, and firing mechanism.
FULL METAL JACKET (FMJ)
A type of ammo that has a soft lead core surrounded by a copper, brass, or steel “jacket.” This type of cartridge is most commonly used in competition shooting and target practice.
A unit of measurement that refers to the size of a shotgun’s bore.
The weight or mass of a bullet.
The “handle” portion of a pistol.
A safety mechanism located on a handgun’s grip. Usually a lever on the back side of the grip, this type of safety automatically unlocks the trigger mechanism when pressure is applied to it.
A belt that is specifically designed to support the weight of a firearm. Gun belts are typically made from stiffer, more durable materials. For more information, read “Do I Need A Gun Belt for IWB Carry? Gun Belt vs Regular Belt.”
A flammable powder that acts as a propellant in ammunition.
A person who is skilled in building and repairing firearms.
A trigger that can be pulled with very little pressure.
The portion of a gun that strikes the primer or firing pin to initiate the firing sequence. Can be internal or external.
A gun that conceals its firing pin and hammer within its frame.
A magazine with an exceptionally large round capacity.
A type of cartridge in which the bullet expands upon impact with its target.
A holster attachment used to keep your gun close to your body to reduce printing. It utilizes the natural curve of your body by pressing against your belt to push the grip end of your gun back toward you. For more information on holster claws, read “Holster Claw: What Is It and How Does It Work?”
A holster made from a combination of Kydex and another material, such as leather.
INSIDE-THE-WAISTBAND (IWB) HOLSTER
A holster that is placed inside the waistband of your pants and typically has a clip or loop that attaches to your belt. These are popular holsters for concealed carry.
A metal device located on the top of a pistol to help aim.
The metal part of a cartridge that wraps around its lead core.
A firearm malfunction in which a round is not properly loaded into the chamber and becomes stuck.
Kydex is a lightweight thermoplastic material used in aircraft manufacturing, auto parts, gun holsters, and more due to its durable and semi-flexible properties.
An attachment that projects a laser beam onto a target to aid in aiming.
A type of firearm that requires the user to pull a lever to feed a new cartridge into the chamber. Usually a rifle.
A storage and feeding device for ammunition. Magazines can be removable or fixed, depending on the gun.
A cartridge with a high-velocity load or a heavier projectile than a standard round.
When the gun does not fire or discharge properly, also called a failure.
The very end of the barrel of a gun where bullets exit.
A term that refers to the unintentional firing of a weapon as a result of carelessness or negligence.
ONE IN THE CHAMBER
Carrying a pistol with a round already loaded into the chamber. For more information on carrying with one in the chamber, check out “Should You Carry With One In The Chamber.”
Carrying a firearm that is not concealed.
An aiming device attached to a firearm to increase accuracy. Optics can be telescopic or reflective.
OUTSIDE-THE-WAISTBAND (OWB) HOLSTER
A holster that is worn on the outside of your waistband and typically attaches to a belt using clips or loops.
Also known as +P ammo, overpressure ammunition is loaded with a higher internal pressure.
A holster with a paddle-style clip that attaches to the outside of the waistband.
A mounting interface for firearm accessories such as lights, lasers, etc.
Also referred to as a “handgun,” pistols are smaller firearms that fit in one’s hand.
Target shooting using non-traditional targets such as cans, bottles, and balloons.
Point of aim.
A holster designed to be carried in the pocket of a pair of pants.
The controversial act of pushing the slide of a gun back slightly to see if there is a round in the chamber. Learn more here: “ What Is A Press Check?”
A chemical or device inside a cartridge that ignites the propellant powder that pushes a bullet out of a cartridge.
In reference to concealed carry, printing is when the outline of your gun is visible through your clothing.
A rifle or shotgun action in which a handgrip must be pumped back and forth to eject a spent round and chamber a new one.
A place or facility specifically dedicated to shooting sports and training.
The exchange of privileges between one organization or country and another. When applied to concealed carry, many states have reciprocity agreements honoring CCW permits across various states.
Sometimes called kickback or kick, recoil is the backward movement created when a gun is fired.
RED DOT SIGHT/RMR
A weapon-mounted sight that projects a red dot onto a piece of glass within the sight to aid in aiming.
Reloading, or handloading, is the act of making one’s own cartridges by assembling the various components instead of buying ammo from the store.
An aspect of a Kydex holster that prevents the gun from falling out. Learn more here: “ Basics of Holster Retention.”
A type of handgun designed with a multi-chambered rotating cylinder.
When a bullet strikes a hard surface and bounces off of it.
How high or low a holster sits on one’s waistband.
A firearm with a long barrel that is designed to be pressed against one’s shoulder during firing.
Spiral grooves found inside a gun’s bore designed to spin a bullet for a more stable and accurate shot. Read more here “ What Is Rifling, and Why Does It Matter?”
A type of cartridge in which the gun’s firing pin strikes the rim of the round, thus igniting the primer.
A mechanism that helps to prevent a firearm from accidentally discharging. A safety can be internal or external as a lever.
A gun that fires, ejects, and reloads a single cartridge each time the trigger is pulled.
Grooves in the slide of a firearm designed to improve grip when racking.
A type of rifle that shoots groups of pellets or slugs housed in a shell rather than a single bullet.
A small device at the top of a firearm that aids in aiming.
SINGLE ACTION (S/A)
See “Double Action/Single Action.”
SINGLE ACTION ONLY (SAO)
A single action only (SAO) handgun takes only one action to initiate the firing sequence: releasing the hammer.
A gun that only holds a single round of ammo and must be reloaded after each use.
SINGLE STACK MAGAZINE
Sometimes called single stack, this refers to the way rounds are placed inside a magazine. In a single stack magazine, the rounds are placed in one column.
The upper part of a pistol that recoils after the gun is fired and can be pulled back to reveal the chamber.
SMALL OF BACK CARRY
Carrying a gun in the 6 o’clock position on the waistband, right over the spine. This method of carry is not recommended because of safety concerns. Learn more here “ What Is Small Of Back Carry?”
A revolver with an unusually short barrel.
A bullet with an exposed nose, allowing it to expand upon impact.
A device that makes loading ammunition into a magazine faster and easier.
The part of a rifle that is held against the shoulder during firing.
A pistol that uses a striker in lieu of a traditional hammer. These handguns are a combination of double and single action. When the slide is racked, an internal spring is partially cocked. Pulling the trigger cocks it the rest of the way and releases a striker, initiating the firing sequence.
STRONG SIDE CARRY
Carrying a pistol on the side of one’s hip closest to their dominant hand.
A device that silences, muffles, or otherwise quiets the sound of a firearm being shot.
Sights that are elevated to see over a suppression device.
A cartridge that is lacking the proper powder charge, and only fires a bullet part way down the barrel of the gun.
The person or object one is aiming at.
The arc a bullet makes between exiting the muzzle and striking the target.
The device that must be pulled to initiate a gun’s firing sequence.
The act of keeping one’s finger off the trigger until they are ready to shoot.
A protective loop that curves around a trigger to help prevent accidental discharge of the weapon.
The act of intentionally releasing a trigger only to the point where it resets before firing again. Learn more here “ What Is A Trigger Reset And Why Is It Important?”
The measurement used to determine a projectile’s speed.
WEAPON MOUNTED LIGHT (WML)
A light attached under the barrel of a pistol to illuminate the area in front of the gun.
No matter your experience level, there’s always something new to explore in the world of guns. We hope you found this list of firearm terms useful, and maybe even learned a thing or two!
Now that you’re familiar with all the gun terms for beginners, you may be ready to shop for a holster for your new weapon. If you’re looking for a new IWB, OWB, or pocket carry holster, visit our Holsters by Gun Model page for Kydex holsters that are custom-made for your weapon of choice.
Interested in items beyond holsters? Check out our Resources Page for links to recommended products like lights, lasers, first aid, maintenance, and more, and browse our selection of apparel, and accessories at our website, vedderholsters.com.
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