Firearm Terminology: Basic Firearm Terms you need to know

Terminology in the world of firearms is vast and sometimes confusing. Through usage and time, the definition of a word changes, or the improper use of it can become commonplace. 

To that end, we have put together a quick reference guide to the most used terms when discussing firearms. 

Firearm Terminology: A quick Guide

Long Gun 

Refers to firearms with longer barrels that must be held with two hands and are braced by placing the stock against the shoulder, such as shotguns and rifles. 

Stock 

Also referred to as the butt or buttstock, it is a portion of a long gun that is placed into the should for support when firing. 

Shotgun 

Also known as a scattergun, this type of firearm typically has a long barrel that shoots shells containing shot or slugs.

Gauge

The gauge of a shotgun is in reference to the inside diameter of the barrel. 

Rifle 

A firearm with a longer, grooved barrel that rotates the bullet after firing and thereby makes it more accurate for long-distance shooting.  

Handgun 

A small firearm that can be shot with one or two hands. 

Pistol 

Modern pistols are commonly thought of as ones that utilize a magazine and a slide action, but a pistol is a type of handgun where the chamber is a part of the barrel. 

Revolver 

A type of handgun that utilizes a revolving cylinder to hold ammunition. Revolvers typically hold six cartridges. 

AR 

Stands for ArmaLite Rifle which is a firearm company that developed a specific type of rifle. AR does not stand for “assault rifle” or “automatic Rifle. 

Bolt Action Rifle

A type of rifle where the shooter must physically move the bolt to expel a spent cartridge and load a new one. 

Semi-Automatic 

A firearm that requires the trigger to be squeezed every time for it to be shot.

Automatic 

A firearm that will continue to fire as long as the trigger is depressed. 

Pump Action 

A type of action on a firearm that requires the shooter to physically slide or “pump” the forestock to eject a spent shell or cartridge and load a new one. 

Musket 

A long gun that is loaded through the muzzle. 

Black Powder Firearm 

A firearm that uses black powder as the propellant. The powder and the ammunition are loaded by hand. 


Firearm Anatomy 

Muzzle

The front end of a barrel.

Bolt 

A part of the firearm that blocks the back end of the barrel during discharge and aids in ejecting a spent round and loading a new one. 

Trigger 

This is a mechanism that when squeezed initiates the firing sequence. 

Trigger Guard

A piece of material such as metal or plastic, that surrounds the trigger and helps to prevent accidental discharge. 

Barrel 

This is the part of a firearm that a bullet or shot travels down after it has been fired. 

Action 

The part of a firearm that loads and ejects ammunition. 

Chamber 

This is the area that a cartridge is loaded into before it is fired.

Sights 

A device used to aim the firearm. Many firearms come with “iron sights” that can consist of a front and rear sight that are physically apart of the firearm.  

Clip 

Used to load ammunition into a magazine.

Magazine

An object or part of the firearm where ammunition is held until it is transferred into the chamber.

Safety 

A part of a firearm that is usually a button or slide mechanism that when engaged prevents the firearm from being fired. 

Cylinder 

Found on revolvers, the cylinder is where cartridges are stored before and after firing. It spins as the revolver is fired. 

Firing Pin 

A small metal pin that strikes a cartridge or shell’s primer.

Hammer

This is a part of a firearm that resembles a hammer and acts like one. It strikes a primer, rimfire, or percussion cap. Most commonly found on handguns and traditional long guns. 

Ammunition 

Bullet 

The projectile is found on the end of a cartridge. The bullet is what is propelled from a firearm. 

Cartridge 

Consists of a bullet, a casing, gunpowder, and a primer. 

Shell 

Consists of a shot, a casing, a wad, gunpowder, and a primer. 

Rimfire 

A type of cartridge where the primer is located within a small circular rim on the base.  

Centerfire 

A type of cartridge or shell where the primer is situated at the center of the case’s base. Unlike a rimfire, a centerfire’s primer is separate from the rest of the case.  

Primer 

A part of a cartridge or shell that when impacted by a firing pin produces a spark that ignites the gunpowder. 

Hollow Point 

A type of bullet where the tip has been hollowed out. This causes the bullet to expand upon impact and helps to prevent over-penetration.  


Wrap Up 

I hope that this quick guide to the terminology commonly used when discussing firearms was both enjoyable and informative.

There are a lot of terms that are used incorrectly in this topic and the goal of guides like this is to help curb those mistakes and to give people a better understanding.

Thanks for reading. 

If you have any questions or thoughts about firearm terminology, sound off in the comment section below and let us know.




Written by Bryan Lynch

Bryan grew up in the Midwest and spent every waking moment outdoors. Learning how to hunt, fish, read the land, and be self-reliant was part of everyday life. Eventually, he combined his passions for the outdoors, emergency preparedness, and writing. His goal was to spread positive information about this field. In 2019, Bryan authored the book Swiss Army Knife Camping and Outdoor Survival Guide. His second book, Paracord Projects For Camping and Outdoor Survival, is scheduled to be released on March 2, 2021. Read more of Bryan's articles.