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A Countable Explainer On Gun Vocabulary

by Countable | 2.21.18

What’s the story?

With the recent upswell in conversation about gun control, multiple proposals will emerge attempting to address the issue as a whole, or in part. It's important, therefore, for everyone to understand the vocabulary, so we know, specifically and clearly, what we're talking about and what the implications are of each proposal.

Here’s a glossary of basic terms that come up around discussions of gun control. Use them accurately!

Assault Rifle: A civilian designation for a firearm with at least these four characteristics, though it may have more.

  • It must be capable of selective fire, though only the semi-automatic mode is legal for civilian ownership in the U.S..

  • It must have an intermediate-power cartridge: more power than a pistol but less than a standard rifle.

  • Its ammunition must be supplied from a detachable box magazine.

  • It must have an effective range of at least 300 metres (330 yards).

Not to be confused with the term "assault weapons", which is a non-specific term coined by legislators to cover a whole variety of firearms, and changes definition depending on the jurisdiction.

Automatic Weapon: Any firearm that allows the user to fire multiple rounds with a single-trigger pull. Illegal for civilian ownership in the U.S. since 1934 via the National Firearms Act except under very specific circumstances. Private individuals that want to own an automatic weapon manufactured prior to May 19, 1986 must register that weapon with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms and Explosives (ATFE), undergo extensive background checks, fingerprinting and registration, receive written ATFE permission to transfer the weapon across state lines, and pay a tax. All automatic weapons manufactured after May 19, 1986 are banned for civilians.

Semi-automatic weapon: Any firearm that both requires a trigger-pull for every round fired, and also automatically loads the next round in anticipation of firing. There are semi-automatic pistols, rifles and shotguns.

Pistol: A type of handgun with a single chamber integral to the barrel.

Revolver: A type of handgun with a multiple-barrel, rotating chamber.

Rifle: A portable long-barrelled firearm designed for precision shooting, to be held with both hands and braced against the shoulder during firing, with a grooved barrel.

Shotgun: A portable long-barrelled firearm designed for precision shooting, to be held with both hands and braced against the shoulder during firing, with a smooth barrel. Ammunition for a shotgun is referred to as "shot", “shotshells”, or “slugs”.

Bump stocks: A rifle attachment that allows a semi-automatic to fire faster, in the range of some automatic weapons, by using the kickback of the stock against the user’s shoulder to push the trigger against the user’s finger quickly and automatically. However, since technically the user’s finger is still "pulling" for every round fired, it is not considered currently subject to the bans on automatic weapons.

Clip: An ammunition device used to store individual rounds of ammunition together as a single unit that is then ready for insertion into the magazine of a gun.

Magazine: A device or chamber for holding a supply of cartridges to be fed automatically into the firing chamber. Can be integral or detachable. Magazines holding more than 10 rounds are considered "high-capacity" and are banned in some states.

Silencers: Also referred to as a "suppressor", it is an attachment for the muzzle or barrel of a gun that reduces the noise and visible flash generated by the gun’s firing. Regulated and taxed via the National Firearms Act, but legal to own in 42 of 50 states.

Concealed Carry: the practice of carrying a weapon in public in a concealed manner, either on one's person or in close proximity. Requires a state-sanctioned permit in some states, but not others. Some states do not allow concealed carry, though recent legislation passed in the House would require any state that allows concealed carry to honor the permit of another state.

What do you think?

Any definitions we’re missing, that would be helpful to you in conversations about guns, gun rights, or gun control measures?

Tell us in the comments what you think, then use the Take Action button to tell your reps!

— Asha Sanaker

(Photo Credit: Wikimedia / Creative Commons)

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