Believe it or not, guns are an integral part of our society and have been that way since a very long time. The earliest form of a weapon known to us (a bamboo tube powered by gunpowder) is dated back to 10th century A.D.
The next major reform in guns came in the form of Arquebus in the 14th century, followed by matchlocks and flintlocks. It was not until the late 1800s that any major advancements in guns were made.
While discussing some of these advancements, we have penned-down a list of major types of guns that all weapon enthusiasts must know.
Bullet Types & Calibers
Whenever there is any discussion about guns, there ought to be a mention of “caliber”. So what does caliber mean anyway? In simple terms, it is a way to distinguish the type of cartridge or round a weapon uses based on its internal diameter.
The .22 round used in a wide range of handguns and rifles has a diameter of 0.222 inches, hence the name. All other caliber rounds including .38, .45, and so on are named in the same fashion. The diameter of bullet rounds can be expressed in both inches and millimeters.
At this point, you’re probably wondering whether or not a bullet could fit in every gun of its diameter? Well, the answer is not straight forward, but it usually doesn’t. Almost every bullet caliber has more than one variant and each of them is designed for different use.
For instance, a .357 SIG pistol cartridge won’t fit in your Smith & Wesson Model 686 revolver chambered in .357 Magnum. On the other hand, there are few pistols that can fire .357 Magnum round (IMI Desert Eagle). Furthermore, a 9 mm Luger (9×19 mm) cartridge used in Beretta M9 will not fit in your Glock 42 chambered in .380 ACP (9×22 mm).
Things may get more complicated if we go a little deeper, however, this much basic knowledge is adequate for us to move on to the matter at hand.
Guns can be broadly divided into two categories; handguns, such as revolvers and pistols, and long guns, including rifles and shotguns.
A rifle, by definition, is any long-barrelled gun that requires both hands to operate and is supported against the shoulder for precision shooting. While the exact origin of rifles remains unclear, various studies have indicated that the first line of rifles could have originated in 15th century Europe.
The name (rifle) is actually derived from the term ‘rifling’, a helical groove design inside the gun’s barrel which causes the ejected bullets to spin. This spin allows projectiles to maintain the necessary stability to reach their intended target.
Rifling of .35 Remington
As with other firearms, a rifle’s bullet carries small amounts of explosive compounds such as nitrocellulose (historically, black powder and cordite) to gain necessary thrust after being triggered.
Based on their operating mechanism, most modern rifles can be classified as either bolt-action rifles or semi-automatic rifles.
Bolt-action rifles: In a bolt-action rifle, the cartridges are loaded manually into the gun’s barrel using a cocking handle which is attached to a bolt.
Each time the handle is pulled back, two things happen simultaneously; the spent ammo cartridge is ejected from the firing chamber, and the sear (part of gun’s trigger mechanism) is activated. When the handle or bolt is pushed forward, a simple mechanism loads a new cartridge into the chamber ready to fire.
The iconic Lee-Enfield Mk III bolt-action rifle that can carry 10 bullets
Bolt-action rifles remain the most preferred gun type for hunting and sporting activities due to its reliability, lightweight and most importantly high potential accuracy.
They can carry somewhere between two to ten bullets in either a detachable or an internal magazine. Some of the most popular bolt-action rifles include Winchester Model 70 and Remington 700.
Semi-automatic rifles: In contrast to bolt-action rifles, the semi-automatic ones are designed to complete the cartridge cycle (ejecting and reloading) automatically. These firearms operate either on gas, blowback or recoil reloading mechanism to eject the spent cartridge and insert a new one into the firing chamber.
The only similarity between bolt-action and semi-automatic rifles is that only one shot can be fired with each trigger pull. So basically, a semi-automatic rifle is automatic when referring to loading but not firing.
Modern semi-automatic rifles have an advanced selective fire capability that allows users to choose between different firing modes from the default semi-automatic, three-round burst (three rounds per trigger pull) to fully automatic fire. Assault rifles such as StG 44, AK-47 and M16 are good examples of select fire rifles.
Though fairly uncommon, various pump-action rifles are also in circulation such as German made Krieghoff Semprio and Remington Model 7615.
Smith & Wesson Model 625 with .45 ACP ammo | Image Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons
A revolver is repeating handgun that can hold rounds in multiple chambers inside a cylindrical module. Unlike single-shot firearms, such as matchlock and flintlocks, a revolver allow users to fire shots without manually reloading each bullet. They were practically the first ever multi-shot handguns designed.
Basically, when the hammer in a revolver is cocked a mechanical process aligns the next bullet chamber in the cylinder with the barrel and the firing mechanism. A trigger pull finally fires the shot.
Revolvers can be distinguished by their loading/unloading mechanism, and action. The most common revolvers in use today are double-action revolvers which basically saves the user from manually cocking the hammer. Each trigger pull in a double-action revolver completes the entire sequence; starting from trigger pulling, revolving the cylinder and then tripping the hammer.
Although the revolver action is usually found in handguns, other firearms such as grenade launchers, rifles, and shotguns can also employ revolving chambers.
A U.S Marine reloads an M1911 onboard USS Wasp | Image Courtesy: Lance Cpl. Angelo Garavito/marines.mil
Pistols have a long, illustrated history starting from flintlock styled single-shot ones produced in the 16th century Europe to the modern day semi-automatics.
In simple terms, handguns that do not feature revolving cylinders are pistols. Instead of revolving chambers, a pistol has only one chamber fixed to the barrel, with bullets being feed into it by a magazine usually located inside the pistol’s grip.
Most semi-automatic pistols use recoil operation to reload a new round from the magazine after each trigger pull. Other mechanisms such as gas operated and blowback are also deployed.
Animation of a simple blowback action pistol | Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons
A standard issue pistol magazine can carry between 15-17 rounds. Examples of popular pistols include Glock 17 and Sig P320.
Like rifles, pistols also have fully automatic variants such as Brügger & Thomet MP9 and Glock 18, both of which can fire 1100 and 1200 bullets per minute.
A U.S Marine with 12 gauge Benelli M4 in Arta, Djibouti.
According to the United States Code (18 USC 921), a shotgun is ‘a weapon designed to be fired from the shoulder and uses explosives in a fixed shell to fire through a smoothbore either a single projectile or a number of balls shot with every single pull of the trigger.’
In more simple terms, shotguns are long guns with large barrel(s) that fire either a solid projectile called Slug or multiple small pellets known as shot with each trigger pull. Depending on the shot size, they can either be birdshot (smaller than 5 mm in diameter) or buckshot (anything larger than 5 mm).
Shotguns in circulation today can be distinguished by their operating mechanism; breech-loading, pump-action, lever-action, revolver-action, and semi-automatic. They are mostly used in hunting, sporting events. In local law enforcement or military operations, shotguns are usually employed in a support role.
Benelli M4, Mossberg 500, and Remington 870 are some of the most popular examples of shotguns.
1. Fully Automatic Firearms
Unlike semi-automatics, a fully automatic firearm continuously fire shots until either the trigger is released or the magazine runs out of ammo. The term ‘fully automatic’ is used to avoid possible confusion since semi-automatic firearms are also technically “automatic.”
A U.S Marine operating on L7A2 machine gun at training during the operation Desert Shield | Image Courtesy: SSGT. J.R. RUARK
Although a wide variety of rifles, shotguns, grenade launchers, and even pistols are capable of fully-automatic fire (selective fire), they are not equipped for suppressive fire role or simply sustain that rate of fire for long.
This brings us to the machine guns, which are heavy but portable guns designed to fire rounds in quick succession. Machine guns are usually supported by a bipod/tripod and are often fed by cartridge belts.