There are literally hundreds of different models of firearms. Knowing the difference between the most basic types can help when going to pick out your first one. There are three basic categories: handguns, rifles and shotguns.

Two Types of Handguns

Handguns are some of the most common firearms. They are what most law enforcement officers carry and what you see most often on television and in the movies.

The operational definition of a handgun is a firearm that can be operated using just one hand. They have the shortest barrels, and they are the easiest to transport and conceal. Handguns are usually only effective from short to medium range.

Furthermore, there are a handful of handgun subcategories, but two of which are specifically important to know: the pistol and the revolver.

A pistol is a handgun where the magazine, which holds ammunition, is slid into the grip of the gun and the spent case ejects from the top with each shot. The advantages of a pistol are that they are more compact, have a quick firing rate and can fire many rounds without reloading. The downside is that they are mechanically complex. If a round doesn’t fire perfectly, the gun may stop working.

A revolver is a handgun with a rotating cylinder which holds ammunition. When a revolver is fired, the cylinder rotates and the next round is ready to go. The advantage of a revolver is that it uses a relatively simple process to fire. The disadvantages are that it is generally heavier, larger and holds fewer rounds.

What Makes a Rifle?

The second category of firearm is a rifle. A rifle has a longer barrel with spiraled grooves. These grooves are called rifling. A rifle is bigger and longer than a handgun, making it harder to carry and conceal. However, rifles are much more accurate for long range and are much more powerful.

Rifles are most commonly used in hunting, and are used by the military because they can hold a very large number of rounds, are more accurate and are more powerful.

Shotguns and Their Shot

The third and final category of firearm is the shotgun. It too has a long barrel, but the biggest difference between a shotgun and the other two types is what it fires.

The rounds of a shotgun are generally comprised of a shell full of smaller pellets called “shot.” When a shotgun is fired, the shot exits through a smooth thin barrel and the pellets disperse in a wider range than a single bullet. Common applications for shotguns include hunting, sporting and self-defense.

No matter what firearm you decide to own, be sure to get proper safety and operation training, and practice safe storage so nobody gets hurt.

Stay safe!