Handguns: An Introduction to the World of Handheld Firearms

Handgun Anatomy
Handgun Anatomy

A handgun is a small, portable firearm that is designed to be carried and operated with one hand. Handguns have a long history. The first hand-held firearms date back to the 14th century. They’ve come a long way since then to become a one of the defining inventions of modern times. Today, people use handguns for many reasons:

  • survival (self-defense & hunting)
  • law enforcement
  • military
  • target shooting

Types of Handguns

There are several different types of handguns available. Each type has its own unique characteristics and intended use. Here is a list of some common types of handguns:

  • Revolvers
  • Semi-Automatic Pistols
  • Derringers
  • Single-Shot Pistols
  • Flintlock Pistols
  • Percussion Cap Pistols

Let’s take a deeper look into each kind of handgun.

Revolvers

A revolver is a type of handgun that uses a rotating cylinder to hold the ammunition. The cylinder holds a number of rounds (usually six, but can be as many as eight or nine). Firing the gun rotates the cylinder to bring a new round into position.

Keep your revolver near you night and day, and never relax your precautions.

Arthur Conan Doyle

Revolvers are more reliable and easier to maintain than semi-automatic pistols. But they can be slower to reload because the cylinder must be manually rotated to load each round.

Examples of Revolvers:

  • Smith & Wesson Model 29
  • Colt Python

Semi-automatic Pistols

A semi-automatic pistol is a type of handgun that uses the energy from the firing of a round to cycle the action and load the next round into the chamber.

If worms carried pistols, birds wouldn’t eat ’em.

Darrell Royal

This allows the user to fire multiple rounds in rapid succession without manually operating the action between shots. Semi-automatic pistols come in a wide range of sizes and calibers and are popular for self-defense, target shooting, and competition.

Examples of Semi-Automatic Pistols:

  • Glock 17
  • SIG Sauer P226

Derringers

A derringer is a small, pocket-sized handgun that is typically chambered for a low caliber cartridge. Derringers are characterized by their short barrel and overall small size, and are often used as a last resort for self-defense.

Derringers usually have a single barrel and can only hold one or two rounds. They are generally simple in design and do not have a removable magazine. To reload a derringer, the user must manually remove the spent cartridge and replace it with a fresh one.

Derringers are generally not considered to be suitable for long-range shooting or for shooting at multiple targets. However, they are easy to carry and can be quickly drawn in a self-defense situation. These guns are often available in a variety of calibers and finishes, and may be customized with different grips and barrels.

Examples of Derringers:

  • Bond Arms Snake Slayer
  • Cobra Derringer

Single-shot Pistols

A single-shot pistol is a type of handgun that can only fire one round before it must be manually reloaded. Single-shot pistols are generally simple in design and are often used for target shooting or hunting.

Single-shot pistols usually have a single barrel and do not have a removable magazine. To reload a single-shot pistol, the user must manually remove the spent cartridge and replace it with a fresh one. Some single-shot pistols have a break-open action, which allows the barrel to be swung open to facilitate loading and unloading.

Single-shot pistols are generally not suitable for self-defense or for shooting at multiple targets. However, they can be accurate and reliable at long ranges and are often used for target shooting and hunting.

These guns are often available in a variety of calibers and finishes, and may be customized with different barrels, sights, and grips.

Examples of Single-Shot Pistols:

  • Ruger No. 1
  • Thompson/Center Contender

Flintlock Pistols

A flintlock pistol is a type of handgun that uses a flint and steel ignition system to fire a round. Flintlock pistols were popular in the 17th and 18th centuries and remained in widespread use until the mid-19th century.

The flintlock ignition system consists of a flint, a steel frizzen, and a pan of gunpowder. When the trigger is pulled, the flint is struck against the frizzen, which creates sparks that ignite the gunpowder in the pan. The burning gunpowder then ignites the main powder charge in the barrel, firing the round.

Flintlock pistols were generally simple in design and were often used for hunting, self-defense, and military purposes. They were also popular among duelists, as they were accurate and reliable at close range. These guns are now generally considered to be antique or collectible and are not commonly used for modern shooting sports or self-defense.

Examples of flintlock pistols:

  • French Mle 1777
  • Repeating Flintlock Pistol

Percussion Cap Pistols

A percussion cap pistol is a type of handgun that uses a percussion cap ignition system to fire a round. Percussion cap pistols were popular in the mid-19th century and remained in widespread use until the late 19th century, when they were largely replaced by cartridge-based firearms.

The percussion cap ignition system consists of a percussion cap, a nipple, and a main charge of gunpowder in the barrel. When the trigger is pulled, the percussion cap is struck against the nipple, which causes a spark that ignites the gunpowder. The burning gunpowder then ignites the main powder charge in the barrel, firing the round.

Percussion cap pistols were generally simple in design and were often used for hunting, self-defense, and military purposes. They were also popular among duelists, as they were accurate and reliable at close range. These guns are now generally considered to be antique or collectible and are not commonly used for modern shooting sports or self-defense.

Examples of percussion cap pistols:

  • Colt Model 1851 Navy
  • Remington New Model Army

History of Handguns

Handguns have a long and fascinating history that spans over 600 years. The earliest hand-held firearms, known as matchlock guns, were developed in the late 14th century and used a slow-burning fuse, or “match,” to ignite the powder charge.

In the 16th century, the wheel lock pistol was developed, which used a spinning steel wheel to create sparks and ignite the powder charge.

The flintlock pistol, which used a flint and steel ignition system, became popular in the 17th and 18th centuries and remained in widespread use until the mid-19th century.

The revolver, which uses a rotating cylinder to hold multiple rounds, was developed in the early 19th century and quickly became popular due to its improved reliability and ease of use.

In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, semi-automatic pistols were developed, which use the energy from the firing of a round to cycle the action and load the next round into the chamber. This allowed users to fire multiple rounds in rapid succession without manually operating the action between shots.

Modern handgun designs continue to evolve, with new materials, features, and technologies being developed to improve performance and reliability.

Today, handguns are widely used for a variety of purposes, including self-defense, target shooting, and hunting. They are also used by military and law enforcement units for a range of missions and tasks.

Handguns Timeline

Here’s a brief timeline of how handguns evolved over time:

  • 1232 First Gun
  • 1364 First recorded use of a firearm
  • 1400 Matchlock guns
  • 1509 Wheel lock guns
  • 1630 Flintlock guns
  • 1825 Percussion-cap guns
  • 1830 Back action lock
  • 1836 Colt revolver
  • 1840 Pin-fire cartridges
  • 1859 Full rim-fire catridge
  • 1861 Breech loaded guns
  • 1869 Centerfire ammunition
  • 1871 Cartridge revolver
  • 1877 Double-action revolver
  • 1892 Automatic handguns invented by Joseph Laumann
  • 1893 First automatic handgun with a separate magazine inside grip: the Borchardt C93 pistol

 

How Handguns Work

Handguns operate on a variety of principles, depending on the type of handgun in question.

In general, however, handguns work by using a firing mechanism to ignite a cartridge, which contains a bullet, a primer, and a propellant.

When the firing mechanism is activated (usually by pulling a trigger), the primer is struck, which in turn ignites the propellant. The burning propellant creates gas, which exerts pressure on the bullet, causing it to be forced out of the barrel and towards the target.

One key factor in the operation of a handgun is the caliber, or diameter, of the bullet it fires. Common handgun calibers include .22, .38, .45, and 9mm. The caliber of a handgun can affect its stopping power, accuracy, and recoil. For example, a .45 caliber handgun may have more stopping power than a .38 caliber handgun, but it may also have more recoil and be less accurate.

Different types of handguns have their own unique operating characteristics. For example, revolvers use a rotating cylinder to hold the ammunition and use a hammer to strike the primer. Semi-automatic pistols use the energy from the firing of a round to cycle the action and load the next round into the chamber. Derringers and single-shot pistols are usually very simple in design and require the user to manually operate the action to load and fire each round.

How a Handgun Works: The internal mechanics of a 1911 .45 caliber pistol
How a Handgun Works: The internal mechanics of a 1911 .45 caliber pistol

Anatomy of a Modern Handgun

Barrel

The barrel is the tube through which the bullet travels when the handgun is fired. The length, caliber, and rifling (grooves on the inside of the barrel that spin the bullet) of the barrel can affect the accuracy and performance of the handgun.

Slide

The slide is the part of the handgun that moves back and forth when the gun is fired. On a semi-automatic handgun, the slide cycles back to eject the spent cartridge and load a new one into the chamber.

Chamber

The chamber is the part of the handgun where the cartridge is held before it is fired. On a revolver, the chamber is part of the cylinder. On a semi-automatic handgun, the chamber is located at the rear of the barrel.

Trigger

The trigger is the mechanism that the user pulls to fire the handgun. The trigger is usually located in the center of the grip and must be pulled in a smooth, controlled motion to fire the gun.

Grip

The grip is the part of the handgun that the user holds onto when firing the gun. The grip may be made of wood, plastic, rubber, or other materials and is often textured to provide a secure hold.

Magazine

The magazine is a removable container that holds the cartridges for a semi-automatic handgun. The magazine is typically located in the grip of the handgun and is inserted into the gun before firing.

Safety

Most modern handguns come with one or more safety features designed to prevent accidental discharge. These may include a manual safety that must be engaged or disengaged by the user. A grip safety that prevents the gun from firing unless it is held properly. A trigger safety that prevents the trigger from being pulled unless it is fully depressed. It is important for handgun owners to familiarize themselves with the safety features of their firearm and to always follow safe handling practices when using a handgun.

Sights

The sights are the mechanisms on the handgun that allow the user to aim at the target. Sights may be fixed or adjustable and may include a front blade and a rear notch.

Hammer

The hammer is the mechanism that strikes the firing pin on a handgun. On a revolver, the hammer is visible and can be manually cocked to prepare the gun for firing. On a semi-automatic handgun, the hammer is usually hidden inside the slide and is automatically cocked when the slide cycles back.

Firing pin

The firing pin is a small metal rod that strikes the primer of the cartridge to ignite the powder charge. On a revolver, the firing pin is usually part of the hammer. On a semi-automatic handgun, the firing pin is usually hidden inside the slide.

Extractor

The extractor is a mechanism on a semi-automatic handgun that removes the spent cartridge from the chamber after the round is fired. The extractor is usually located on the slide and is responsible for pulling the spent cartridge out of the chamber and ejecting it from the gun.

Handgun Manufacturing

Handguns are typically manufactured using a combination of automated and manual processes. Modern handgun manufacturing techniques have evolved over time to produce firearms that are accurate, reliable, and cost-effective.

The first step in handgun manufacturing is the production of the barrel. Barrels are usually made from steel or other high-strength materials and may be cold hammer forged or rifled using a process known as button rifling. Once the barrel is made, it is attached to the frame, which is the main body of the handgun.

The frame is usually made from steel, aluminum, or polymer materials. The frame houses the firing mechanism, the magazine well, and the trigger assembly. The frame is usually machined or molded to precise tolerances to ensure proper fit and function.

Once the barrel and frame are assembled, the slide is added. The slide is responsible for cycling the action of the handgun and is usually made from steel or aluminum. The slide is usually machined or forged to precise tolerances to ensure smooth operation and reliability.

Other components of the handgun, such as the grips, sights, and safety mechanisms, are usually added at this stage of the manufacturing process. The handgun is then cleaned, lubricated, and inspected to ensure that it meets quality standards.

After the handgun has been assembled and inspected, it is ready for final testing and quality control. This may include firing the handgun to ensure that it functions correctly and meets accuracy and reliability standards. Once the handgun has passed all testing and quality control checks, it is ready to be shipped to dealers and consumers.

Handgun Manufacturers List

There are many handgun manufacturers around the world, ranging from small, specialized companies to large, multinational corporations.

Here is a list of some of the major handgun manufacturers & brands:

  • Glock: Glock is an Austrian firearms manufacturer that is known for its polymer-framed semi-automatic pistols. Glock is one of the most popular handgun brands in the world and is widely used by military, law enforcement, and civilian shooters.
  • Smith & Wesson: Smith & Wesson is an American firearms manufacturer that is known for its revolvers and semi-automatic pistols. Smith & Wesson has a long history in the firearms industry and is one of the most well-known handgun brands in the world.
  • Ruger: Ruger is an American firearms manufacturer that is known for its wide range of firearms, including revolvers, semi-automatic pistols, and rifles. Ruger is popular among hunters, target shooters, and self-defense enthusiasts.
  • Beretta: Beretta is an Italian firearms manufacturer that is known for its high-quality handguns, shotguns, and rifles. Beretta is widely used by military and law enforcement agencies around the world and is popular among civilian shooters as well.
  • Sig Sauer: Sig Sauer is a Swiss-German firearms manufacturer that is known for its semi-automatic pistols and rifles. Sig Sauer is popular among military, law enforcement, and civilian shooters and is known for its high-quality, reliable firearms.
  • Colt: Colt is an American firearms manufacturer that is known for its revolvers and semi-automatic pistols. Colt has a long history in the firearms industry and is known for producing some of the most iconic handguns of all time, such as the Colt Single Action Army revolver and the Colt M1911 pistol.

Other handgun manufacturers & brands:

  • Accu-Tek
  • American Derringer
  • American Tactical
  • AMT
  • Archon
  • Arcus
  • AREX-Rex
  • ArmaLite
  • Arminius
  • Armscor-RIA
  • Arsenal
  • Astra
  • Autauga Arms
  • Auto-Ordnance
  • Baikal
  • BBTechs
  • Bersa
  • Boberg
  • Bond Arms
  • Browning
  • BUL
  • Cabot Guns
  • CAG
  • Canik
  • Caracal
  • Charles Daly
  • Charter Arms
  • Chiappa
  • Citadel
  • Cobra
  • Comanche
  • Coonan
  • Cugir
  • CZ
  • Daewoo
  • Dan Wesson
  • Detonics
  • Diamondback
  • Dreyse
  • DWM
  • EAA
  • Ed Brown
  • Excel Arms
  • FEG
  • FIE
  • FireStorm
  • FK Brno
  • FMK
  • FNGirsan
  • Grand Power
  • H&R
  • Heizer
  • Heritage
  • Hi-Point
  • Hi-Standard
  • HK
  • Honor Defense
  • HS Produkt
  • Hudson
  • Inter Ordnance
  • ISSC
  • Iver Johnson-New
  • Iver Johnson-Orig
  • IWI
  • Jimenez
  • Kahr Arms
  • Kel-Tec
  • Kimber
  • Korth
  • Laugo Arms
  • Les Baer
  • Lionheart
  • Llama
  • Magnum Research
  • Mauser
  • Metro Arms
  • Mossberg
  • NAA
  • NEF
  • Nighthawk
  • Norinco
  • Olympic Arms
  • Para
  • Phoenix Arms
  • Pietta
  • PSA
  • Radom
  • Randall
  • Raven
  • Remington
  • Republic Arms
  • Rexio
  • Rohrbaugh
  • Rossi
  • RRA
  • Sarsilmaz
  • Savage
  • SCCY
  • Seecamp
  • Shadow Systems
  • Sphinx
  • Springfield Armory
  • Staccato
  • Star
  • Steyr
  • STI International
  • Stoeger
  • Tanfoglio
  • TARA
  • Taurus
  • Tisas
  • TriStar
  • Tula
  • Uberti
  • US Firearms
  • Walther
  • Whitney
  • Wilson Combat
  • Zastava
  • ZEV

 

Legal Considerations for Owning & Using Handguns

The possession and use of handguns is regulated by law in many countries and regions. In the United States, for example, laws governing handgun ownership and use vary by state. Some states have relatively strict gun control laws, while others have more permissive laws. In general, however, most states require individuals to be at least 21 years old and pass a background check in order to purchase a handgun.

I have a very strict gun control policy: if there’s a gun around, I want to be in control of it.

Clint Eastwood

In addition to federal and state laws, there may also be local ordinances that regulate the possession and use of handguns. For example, some cities or counties may have laws that prohibit the possession of handguns in certain public places, such as schools or parks. It is important for handgun owners to familiarize themselves with the laws and regulations governing handgun ownership and use in their area.

Handguns Summary

Handguns are a popular and widely-used type of firearm that are designed to be carried and operated with one hand. There are many different types of handguns available, each with its own unique characteristics and intended use. Handguns have a long and fascinating history, and their design and operation have evolved over time.

An armed society is a polite society.
Robert Heinlein

It is important for handgun owners to be familiar with the laws and regulations governing handgun possession and use in their area, and to always follow safe handling practices when using a handgun.

 

References / Sources