When a person decides to purchase a firearm and learn about how it functions, the first thing that might frustrate them is vocabulary. With the abundance of information available on the internet, interchangeable usage of gun part names and misinformation are common. And when it comes to such a sensitive matter as handling a firearm, ignorance of a newly-hatched gun owner can be dangerous not only to this person but also to other people around.
Education is the cure for ignorance. That’s why GritrSports decided to write this article and shed light on the basic handgun parts and how they function. Knowing what parts a handgun consists of and how it operates will help you understand the working principle, ease the caring process, and eventually enhance the handling experience.
All firearms fall into three major types: rifles, shotguns, and handguns. Each type has its specialization, to put it crudely. Rifles are good at long-range shooting, shotguns have a large effective area shooting numerous projectiles that scatter, and handguns are small and easy to carry.
Lightweight, compact, and portable, handguns are great firearms for personal and home defense. You can buy a compact EDC pistol for concealed carry. Or you can choose a full-size revolver for home defense and feed it with magnum cartridges that possess sufficient stopping power.
Anyway, what is a handgun and how does it differ from other firearms?
What’s a Handgun?
As the name suggests, a handgun is a short firearm you can hold with one hand and not press its rear portion against your shoulder.
While people often use the words “pistol” and “handgun” interchangeably, pistols are just a subtype of handguns. In most cases, people refer to a semi-automatic pistol by calling it those words. These terms may not be as important as the names of parts, but it just feels good to learn something new. Well, simply remember that every pistol is a handgun, but not all handguns are pistols.
Today, the absolute majority of people possess either revolvers or semi-automatic pistols. One more type of handgun is a single-shot pistol (muzzleloader). You must have seen those in historical or pseudo-historical movies like Pirates of the Caribbean or Patriot. What differentiates a muzzleloader from the other handgun types is that it is loaded from the muzzle (open end of the barrel), not from the breech (rear portion of a handgun).
Single-shot pistols are obsolete and make much as collector’s items and weapons for re-enactment. So let’s move on to the more common handguns.
The three basic handgun parts are:
Frame – Single piece of metal that houses and connects other parts of a handgun. Serves as a handle.
Barrel – A metal tube by which a bullet travels when a handgun is fired.
Action – All moving parts responsible for loading, firing, and ejecting cartridges.
Let’s subdivide all parts into stationary and moving parts for better understanding.
Parts of a Revolver
Revolvers are these cool-looking cowboy handguns you’ve seen in the movies so many times. It is a handgun that uses a revolving cylinder in which the ammo goes. Though there were revolvers before, the widespread use of these handguns began in 1836 when Samuel Colt patented his revolver.
Stationary Parts of a Revolver
The grip is the portion by which a shooter holds a revolver. It’s ergonomically designed and has wooden or rubber panels with patterns that prevent slippage.
It’s a rounded-profile piece of metal that guards the trigger against accidental pulls.
The barrel is a top portion of a revolver attached to the frame. The inside of the barrel is called the bore, and it contains rifling. The term “rifling” describes a spiral pattern that consists of lands and groves. When a revolver is fired, the gasses created by the ignited powder expand inside the barrel and propel the bullet forward, and rifling causes it to spin, which increases accuracy.
It’s the front end of the barrel through which the bullet exits.
The rear and front sights sit on the top of the barrel and aid precision. A shooter needs to align them with the target.
Moving Parts of a Revolver
It’s a lever that you pull to fire a revolver.
It’s located at the rear upper end of a revolver, just behind the cylinder. When you pull the trigger, the hammer either strikes a firing pin or makes direct contact with the cartridge primer. The powder ignites, and the exploded gasses propel the bullet through the barrel and out of the muzzle.
At this point, we need to distinguish between single-action and double-action revolvers. In single-action revolvers, the trigger does one thing. It releases the hammer. To fire a single-action revolver, you need to cock (pull back) the hammer manually and lock it in before each shot. As you cock it, the cylinder revolves and aligns the next cartridge with the barrel. If you don’t cock, nothing will happen.
In double-action revolvers, the trigger does two things. It pulls the hammer back and releases it. The cylinder revolves as you pull the trigger during the backward motion of the hammer. A double-action revolver allows you to make a sequence of shots without cocking.
Though a single-action revolver is a slower type, you can fire it nearly as quickly as any double-action handgun. It’s called fanning. To fan, you need to always have your finger on the trigger and catch the hammer with your non-dominant hand.
It’s a metal part of a revolver that accepts the cartridges and rotates, aligning them with the barrel. The cylinder has five or six chambers. Each chamber holds one cartridge. To unload and load a double-action revolver, you need to press the cylinder release lever. It either allows the cylinder to swing out to the side or to break forward together with the barrel.
Parts of a Semi-Automatic Pistol
Semi-automatic pistols comprise many of the mentioned gun parts. The trigger, trigger guard, barrel, sights, hammer, and muzzle perform the same as in the revolver. So we won’t be talking about them in this part.
In semi-auto pistols, the grip not only serves as a handle but also houses the magazine inside.
It’s a removable part of a pistol that feeds and stores ammunition. A spring platform on the bottom pushes cartridges upward as the gun cycles. Magazines can accommodate more rounds than a revolver cylinder, and the reloading is faster. For these reasons, law enforcement agents prefer semi-auto pistols over revolvers as their sidearms.
The slide sits on the top and moves back and forth as the pistol cycles. To load a cartridge into the camber, you need to pull back and release it. By the way, the positioning and quantity of chambers distinguish pistols from revolvers. As we’ve mentioned above, revolvers have multiple chambers, and each of them aligns with the barrel as the cylinder revolves. Pistols have a single chamber integral with the barrel.
When a semi-auto pistol fires, the recoil forces the slide backward, causing the extractor attached to the slide to eject the spent cartridge and the hammer to re-cock. The forward motion of the slide inserts the next round.
Recoil Spring and Guide
These parts are typically attached under the barrel, inside the pistol. The recoil spring returns the slide after it was forced back by the recoil.
Mag release unlocks the magazine when pressed.
This part is located on the frame and above the trigger. The lever releases the slide and the barrel for the pistol to be disassembled.
This level is located near the takedown lever. When the last cartridge is fired, it locks the slide in the open position, and when pushed down, the mechanism releases it.
This mechanism serves two purposes. It lowers a cocked hammer and blocks the pistol to prevent firing.
We haven’t mentioned each and every gun part here because it would be difficult to perceive all these definitions in text form. Instead, we enumerated the basic handgun parts that put gun anatomy in the picture. Now you know what parts of a pistol or a revolver do what and serve what purposes.