Education| Beginner’s Guide To Firearms

Welcome to part four of The Beginner’s Guide To Firearms. Perviously, we covered Revolver Basics and Nomenclature. In this entry we will continue to cover handguns and will be focusing on semiautomatic pistols. This guide is designed to give you the basic understanding of a semiautomatic pistol and its operation.

The pistol basics I will be covering are: the different types of pistols and their nomenclature, the cycle of operations, the benefits of hammered fired and striker fired pistols, and common ammunition used in those pistols.

I This information is here to provide new shooters basic understanding of the parts of a pistol and the ammunition that is best tailored for either training or defense.

Pistol Basics

What Is A Pistol?

Let’s start at the beginning and answer the question, “What is a pistol?” A pistol is defined as a semiautomatic handgun that utilizes recoil to extract, eject, feed, and chamber a new round. This action is made possible by the pulling of the trigger allowing the discharge of the handgun.

Nomenclature Of A Pistol

A Hammer Fired Pistol

Barrel– A tube, usually metal, through which a controlled explosion or rapid expansion of gases are released to propel a projectile out of the end at high velocity.

Front Sight– is the aiming sight of the firearm located towards the front of the muzzle.

Rear Sight– The sight nearest to the the stock of a firearm.

Muzzle– The part of a firearm at the end of the barrel from which the projectile exits.

Takedown Lever– The takedown lever of a pistol allows for you to take your pistol apart to separate slide and barrel from the frame of the pistol.

Hammer– The function of the hammer is to strike the firing pin in a firearm, which in turn detonates the impact-sensitive cartridge primer.

Slide– The slide is the complete assembly that houses the upper section of the weapon. This assembly is of metal to withstand the harsh forces at play when the gun is fired. The slide usually contains a ribbed pattern for gripping and is pulled back manually to load the gun. In subsequent shots, the slide is automatically recoiled and is part of the mechanism used to introduce a fresh cartridge from the magazine into the firing chamber.

Slide Lock/Slide Release– The slide lock allows you two functions. First, to lock your slide to the rear to make sure your firearm is clear of ammunition or to clear a malfunction. Two, to release the slide forward to feed and chamber a new round after conducting a reload of your pistol.

Safety Lever– Allows for the user to toggle the pistol from safe to fire when the weapon is loaded with a round in the chamber.

Trigger – A mechanism that actuates the firing sequence of a firearm. Triggers almost universally consist of levers or buttons actuated by the index finger.

Triggers Guard– The trigger guard is a fixed ring set around the exposed parts of a trigger lever. This only partially protects the firearm from discharging accidentally when kept/drawn in/from a holster.

Magazine Release Button – The magazine release is used to eject the magazine from the grip of the handgun.

Magazine Well – The magazine well is the well that accepts the magazine. It usually features smooth walls and grooves to direct the magazine up towards the firing mechanism and slide.

Front Strap– The forward facing part of the firearm’s two grip straps, located between the grip panels, and usually connects to the trigger guard.

Back Strap– The rear facing part of firearm’s grip strap, located between the two grip panels.

Grip– The grip is used by the operator’s dominant hand (shooting hand) for holding the handgun. A typical hold involves both hands, one wrapped around the grip and the other around both the grip and dominant hand.

Grip Panels– these panels go on either side of the frame between the front and the back strap.

A Striker Fired Pistol

Photo from Military Factory

Barrel– A tube, usually metal, through which a controlled explosion or rapid expansion of gases are released to propel a projectile out of the end at high velocity.

Muzzle– The part of a firearm at the end of the barrel from which the projectile exits.

Front Sight– Is the aiming sight of the firearm located towards the front of the muzzle.

Rear Sight– The rear sight is nearest to the the stock of a firearm.

Slide– The slide is the complete assembly that houses the upper section of the weapon. This assembly is of metal to withstand the harsh forces at play when the gun is fired. The slide usually contains a ribbed pattern for gripping and is pulled back manually to load the gun. In subsequent shots, the slide is automatically recoiled and is part of the mechanism used to introduce a fresh cartridge from the magazine into the firing chamber.

Slide Lock/Slide Release– The slide lock allows you two functions. First, to lock your slide to the rear to make sure your firearm is clear of ammunition or to clear a malfunction. Two, to release the slide forward to feed and chamber a new round after conducting a reload of your pistol.

Ejection Port – The ejection port is a port used to extract a spent or misfed/misfired shell casing or complete cartridge. It is a cutout along the middle portion of the slide and can also be used to check the condition of the firing chamber (i.e. to see if the chamber contains a live round or to clear a misfeed/misfire).

Accessory Rail– The accessory rail is used to mount any supported tactical accessory by the user. For handguns this typically involves laser aimers or flashlights.

Trigger – A mechanism that actuates the firing sequence of a firearm. Triggers almost universally consist of levers or buttons actuated by the index finger.

Trigger Guard– The trigger guard is a fixed ring set around the exposed parts of a trigger lever. This only partially protects the firearm from discharging accidentally when kept/drawn in/from a holster.

Magazine Release Button – The magazine release is used to eject the magazine from the grip of the handgun.

Magazine Well – The magazine well is the well that accepts the magazine. It usually features smooth walls and grooves to direct the magazine up towards the firing mechanism and slide.

Takedown Lever– The takedown lever of a pistol allows for you to take your pistol apart to separate slide and barrel from the frame of the pistol.

Grip– The grip is used by the operator’s dominant hand (shooting hand) for holding the handgun. A typical hold involves both hands, one wrapped around the grip and the other around both the grip and dominant hand.

Pistol Actions

Hammer Fired Pistol Actions & Striker Fired Pistol Actions

Hammered Fired Pistols

Single Action(SA) – In a single action pistol the trigger performs a single function. Pulling the trigger, causes the hammer to drop. This means that the hammer must be manually cocked in order for the firearm to discharge a round. The accuracy of a SA handgun may be better than a DA handgun. The trigger pulls of a SA are generally lighter and have a very short travel distance for the trigger to release the hammer. An example of a single action pistol would be a 1911 pistol.

Double Action(DA)– in double action the pull of the trigger pull generates two actions:

  1. The hammer is pulled back to the cocked to the rear.
  2. The hammer is released to strike the firing pin.

Single/Double Action(SA/DA)– a single/double action allows you the shooter to shoot the pistol in both actions. With DA the hammer will be forward and the pull of the trigger will cock and release the hammer allowing for the pistol to fire. Single action the hammer will be cocked and the pulling of the trigger drops the hammer and allows for the hammer to hit the firing pin causing the pistol to shoot. On average the DA will have a greater trigger pull weight of 7-10 lbs. Where single action will have a reduced pull weight of 3-5 lbs.

Striker Fired Pistols

Striker Fired– with the striker fired system, the striker that is housed in the internals of the slide. The firing pin is under spring tension. As, the pistol is being fired, the retracted firing pin is released to strike the primer of the chambered round.

Cycle Of Operations

• Feeding: The cartridge is being fed into the firearm from the magazine of the weapon.

• Chambering: The cartridge is then fed into the barrel of the firearm.

• Locking: From there the round is locked into place inside the barrel. The locking of the round will occur on the bolt face of a rifle or breech face of a pistol. Through locking, the mechanical alignment of the major parts within the firearm will ensure gas expansion is captured and focused on propelling the bullet through the bore and ensuring the operation of a semi-auto firearm. Once locked, the weapon is ready to fire.

• Firing: The user of the firearm squeezes the trigger which sends the firing pin to hit the primer of the cartridge. Causing the ignition of the powder. This results in gas expansion within the chambered cartridge which propels the projectile into and through the barrel.

• Unlocking: In semi-automatic weapons, the gas expansion causes a backward movement of the bolt (rifle) or slide (pistol) unseating the cartridge case from the chamber.

• Extraction: Continued backward movement of the bolt (rifle) or slide (pistol) in semi-automatic weapons causes the extractor to “pull” the cartridge case out of the chamber.

• Ejection: Prior to the termination of backward movement of the bolt (rifle) or slide (pistol), the cartridge case being pulled by the extractor comes in contact with the ejector which “pushes” the spent cartridge case through the ejection port and out of the firearm.

• Cocking: Returning the firing mechanism to the cocked position, ready to fire another round.

Strengths & Weaknesses of Hammer Fire & Striker Fired Pistols

Just like all weapons pistols have their own benefits. When assessing those strengths you can choose the right weapon for you as the shooter. Even if that is semiautomatic pistol over a revolver or vice versa.

Hammer Fired

Atlas 2011 Titan

Weight– Hammer fired guns are usually heavier that striker fired pistols. This added weight of a steel frame and slide allows for a smoother shooting experience.

External Safety- most hammered fired pistols feature an external safety allowing you to put the pistol on safe when the hammer is cocked.

Additional Remedial Action– double/single action pistols give you the ability to pull the trigger again in case of a light primer strike to fire the round in the chamber. Before you to move to unloading your pistol and further corrective actions.

Crisp Triggers– most hammer fired pistols have a lighter and crisper triggers compared to a striker fired pistol.

Weaknesses

Reduce Round Capacity– some hammered fired pistols have magazines that are single stack that reduce round capacity. i.e. an 1911 which features a 7-8 round single stack magazine.

Cost– hammered fired pistol tend to cost a little more than there striker fired counterparts. On average $100-200 dollars more.

Striker Fired

SIG P320 X-Carry

Greater capacity– semiautomatic pistol have greater round capacity compared to their revolver counterparts. Most modern pistols have a round capacity 10,15,17, & 20 round magazines. A much greater round count compared to single stack pistols, or revolver of 5-6 rounds.

Concealment– modern pistols come in a variety of sizes. From full size hand gun to new micro subcompacts which allows you a pistol for different tactical scenarios.

Cost– Striker Fired pistols have a tendency to be cheaper than their hammer fired counterparts.

Lightweight– Most modern day pistols especially striker fired pistols feature polymer frame with metal slide and internals making the the pistol lighter.

Improved Simplicity– modern day pistols have fewer moving parts which makes it easier for maintenance and diagnosing a potential problem. For example a Glock 17 has about 30 or so parts. Where a 1911 has 50 plus parts to assemble.

Weakness

Lack Of An External Safety– some shooters enjoy the addition of an external safety on their pistols. Striker fired pistols have internal safeties in place. Some shooters want that added external safety for a little extra piece of mind.

Ammunition

Lastly, we will discuss ammunition. Ammunition is a board spectrum to cover. There are different ammo types for competition shooting, range shooting, and defensive purpose. Most common calibers of pistol ammo are .380, 9mm, .40 S&W .45 ACP, and 10mm. All these ammunition comes in normal range and defensive ammunitions. Pistol ammunition can be found at your local gun store or sporting goods store. In another guide I will cover ammunition and their variety of configurations.

Conclusion

That about wraps it up for Pistol Basics and Nomenclature. In part four of this guide we covered the basics of pistols. We covered the different types of pistols and their nomenclatures, pistol actions, cycle of operations, benefits of each type of pistol, and ammunition. Hopefully this guide provided you with the basic understanding and building block to further grow your firearm knowledge.

If you have any questions drop them in the comments below.

Thanks For Reading

If you enjoyed this post, hit that like button, share it a friend, and subscribe. If you have any suggestions, ideas, or comments. Please feel free to drop a comment. Be Humble. Train until only savagery remains and stay deadly ladies and gents.

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