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Speak Like a Gun Scholar: Firearm Terms You Need to Know

With all the talk of guns in the news, I find myself giggling at the use of incorrect firearm verbiage. Sadly, I sometimes even hear these same incorrect words during conversations in gun shops and at ranges. To avoid confusion, I’ve compiled a list of firearm terms I often hear used improperly. 

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Scenario 1: You’re on the range, perhaps even at a match, and you overhear one fellow say to his girlfriend, “Hand me that 20 round clip over there.” OMG … it’s like nails on a chalkboard. 

hairclips
Clips for your hair.

This is a clip for your hair. At a match, it keeps your hair out of your eyes.

revolver moon clips
Moon clips

A moon clip is a flat, ring-shaped piece of metal designed to hold several cartridges together for simultaneous insertion and extraction from a revolver. 

stripper clip
Stripper clip

A stripper clip is a device that holds several cartridges together in a single unit for easier and faster loading of a firearm’s magazine.

Firearm Terms Magazine
Magazine for an AR

Magazines are usually detachable and refillable. They hold cartridges under spring pressure in preparation for feeding into the firearm’s chamber.

Scenario 2: Have you ever watched a movie where someone is shooting an AR or pistol that is completely silent? Ugh … the only way to make a gun close to movie quiet is by shooting a particular type of ammunition that is slower than 1050 feet-per-second. Sure, firearms can be almost silenced, with the right type of ammunition and a quality suppressor. However, that is not what’s usually seen in movies.

Firearm Terms Suppressor
Suppressors

A suppressor attaches to the end of a gun’s barrel and reduces the sound of its discharge, making it less intense.

Scenario 3: You turn on the local news to see a photo of an AR-15 and hear the anchor discussing the banning of assault rifles. For goodness’ sake, AR does not stand for assault rifle! 

Firearm Terms AR-15 Springfield
Springfield Saint AR-15

AR-15 stands for ArmaLite Rifle-15. Also called a “modern sporting rifle,” it’s a semi-automatic rifle that comes in a wide variety of models. 

Automatic rifle
Automatic rifle selector switch

An assault rifle is a rapid-fire, magazine-fed rifle designed for military use. The shooter selects between semi-automatic, fully automatic or three-shot-burst modes.

Firearm Terms muzzle brake Springfield
Muzzle Brake

Two other often confused terms are muzzle brake and flash suppressor or flash hider. Although both attach to the end of a muzzle, they each have very different purposes. A muzzle brake redirects some of the pressurized gas that propels the bullet to counter recoil and unwanted muzzle rise. A flash suppressor lets hot air escape the barrel making for a smaller flash of light as the bullet exits, improving visibility for the shooter.

ammunition parts

Many people use the words round, cartridge, ammo, ammunition, bullet and shell interchangeably. This doesn’t bother me as much as the above mistakes, but I feel it’s still important to include these terms. 

pistol rifle round
Pistol and rifle round

A round or cartridge is a complete unit of ammunition. It contains a casing, primer, propellent and a projectile. 

Ammunition (ammo) is measured in rounds, which is what’s loaded into a gun. Ammo is available in hundreds of sizes, and it must match the firearm you’re using. 

bullets
A bunch of bullets

The projectile in a cartridge or round of ammunition is a bullet. 

2 shotgun shells and a rifle shell (casing)

The term shell is a synonym for casing, which is the unit that holds the gunpowder, projectile and primer for handguns, rifles and shotguns. Some people also use it as a term for shotgun ammunition. 

Feel free to share this list firearm terms with those just learning the lingo, or maybe forward it to “that friend” who consistently uses the word clip incorrectly.

  • About Michelle Cerino

    Michelle Cerino, aka Princess Gunslinger, is the managing and social media editor at The WON. Michelle is the president of Cerino Consulting and Training Group, LLC, a firearms training company she built with her husband Chris in 2011. Her path in the firearms and outdoors industries is ever progressing. She is writing, hunting, competing and doing contract work for major manufacturers.