Many gun people—especially those with a lot of patience—understand a new shooter more than likely learns gun terminology through TV and movies, or perhaps from a friend or family member who never learned the correct words. Unfortunately, many of those commonly used words are, quite frankly, wrong.
Don’t worry, we’re not going to shame you. We just want to educate you and learn the correct way to use the most misused gun terms.
1. Clip vs. Magazine
You know that boxy rectangular thingy that holds cartridges and slides into the bottom of your semi-auto pistol? It’s not a clip — no matter how often the term is misused. It’s a magazine. On the other hand, clips hold cartridges in the correct sequence for “charging” a specific firearm’s magazine.
In essence, clips feed magazines. Magazines feed firearms.
2. Assault Rifles vs. Assault Weapons vs. Semi-Automatic Rifles
The term “assault rifle” is perhaps the most commonly misused gun term, and certainly it’s one of the most damaging to the public’s perception of firearms.
What is an assault weapon?
In 1994, the United States Department of Justice said, “In general, assault weapons are semi-automatic firearms with a large magazine of ammunition that were designed and configured for rapid fire and combat use.”
But, according to Bruce H. Kobayashi and Joseph E. Olson, writing in the Stanford Law and Policy Review, “Prior to 1989, the term ‘assault weapon’ did not exist in the lexicon of firearms. It is a political term, developed by anti-gun publicists to expand the category of ‘assault rifles’ so as to allow an attack on as many additional firearms as possible on the basis of undefined ‘evil’ appearance.”
What is an “assault rifle?”
“Assault rifle,” is a military term referring to a medium-caliber, shoulder-fired rifle that allows the shooter to select between semiautomatic mode (the gun fires one bullet per pull of the trigger) and either fully automatic (the gun continues to fire bullet after bullet as long as the trigger is depressed) or three-shot-burst mode (the gun fires three bullets per pull of the trigger).
Because “assault weapons,” as defined by state and federal law, are semiautomatic only and can fire in neither fully automatic mode nor three-shot-burst mode, they are not assault rifles.
Furthermore, the AR-15 and other civilian carbines errantly called assault rifles are semi-automatic, non-battlefield firearms. To add further clarity, “AR” also does not stand for “assault rifle” or “automatic rifle” — but rather ArmaLite rifle, after the company that developed it in the 1950’s.
What’s the difference between a semi-automatic and an automatic weapon?
An automatic weapon (assault weapon) can shoot more than one round when you pull the trigger. A semi-automatic weapon (“assault rifle”) can load bullets automatically, but it fires only once each time you pull the trigger..
So, while the term “assault rifle” is frequently misused, the term “assault weapon” doesn’t even really exist.
3. Accuracy vs. Precision
These seemingly synonymous terms describe two different aspects of shots on target. Accuracy is a measurement of the shooter’s ability to consistently hit a given target; precision is essentially the tightness of their groups. For further explanation, consider the following:
- Four shots are scattered all across the target. This is neither precise nor accurate.
- There is a tight, four-shot group in the upper left corner of the target. This is precise (the shots are close together) but not accurate (the shots are far off-center).
- There is a fairly wide four-shot group near the center of the target. This is accurate (the shots are near the intended target) but not precise (it’s a wide group).
- There is a nice, tight, four-shot group directly to the bullseye. This is both accurate (the shots hit the center of the target) and precise (all four shots were close together).
4. Pocket Pistol vs. Sub-Compact Pistol
Every sub-compact pistol is a pocket pistol, but not all pocket pistols are subcompacts. That’s because a sub-compact pistol is simply a small, concealed-carry-friendly version of a particular full-size model.
“Pocket pistol,” on the other hand, is a generic, somewhat slangy term for any small handgun suitable for concealed carry in a pocket or otherwise; However, it is a stand-alone pistol, not a smaller version of a full-size gun.
5. Cartridge vs. Bullet vs. Caliber
A “bullet” is merely the projectile that exits the barrel. Specifically, it’s a non-spherical chunk of lead, copper or other material intended for use in a rifled barrel. The bullet’s “caliber” is a numerical approximation of the bullet’s diameter, often expressed in millimeters or hundredths of an inch.
“Bullet” should not be used interchangeably with the term “cartridge” — a bullet is a mere component of it. Cartridges consist of the case, primer, propellant and projectile. Cartridge is also an accurate term for any shotshell.
6. Suppressor vs. Silencer
Many firearm experts believe that the term “silencer” has no correct usage — rather, it’s an inaccurate slang term for “suppressor.” Suppressors aren’t silencers, they argue, because they don’t actually “silence” the firearm. Suppressors merely moderate escaping gases, greatly reducing but not eliminating noise.
The NRA Firearms Sourcebook makes the distinction clear, defining a suppressor as “a device attached to the muzzle of a firearm to reduce the noise of discharge. Sometimes incorrectly called a ‘silencer.’”
When it comes to firearms, there’s no shortage of misused gun terms. So, if we as gun owners don’t accurately apply firearms terminology, who will?
Are there any terms we missed? Let us know in the comment section!