Firearm Terminology You May Not Know

Firearm Terminology You May Not Know

If you’re a new gun owner, you may find yourself occasionally wondering if you’ve stumbled on a new language.

With so many different kinds of firearms, with so many parts and functions, it can get confusing really quickly. It doesn’t help that firearms are so often in the news these days with common terminology frequently used and misused.

Here is a handy glossary of common firearm terminology, so you don’t have to point and say “that thing right there” the next time you have a conversation about firearms.



This is the part of the gun where everything happens: loading, firing, and ejecting the cartridge.


This is what you load into your firearm, usually measured by the number of rounds; it’s also known as “ammo.”


This is the science or study of the effects of cartridge discharge including the launch, flight and behavior of bullets when fired.


These are small pellets made of lead or steel, ranging in diameter from m .20 inch to .36 inch, usually used in shot-shells.


This is the small metal part of a cartridge or round which moves through the gun barrel in order to hit a target.


This is a measurement of the diameter of the inner barrel. It’s expressed in fractions of an inch, and dictates the kind of ammo you can use.


This is a cartridge container which is used when someone wants to reload their firearm quickly.


This refers to the physical action of pulling a hammer back against a spring in preparation for pulling the trigger.


This is a catch-all term for any weapon composed of a barrel and action which work together to rapidly propel a projectile.


Like the word “caliber” which is used for rifles and handguns, this is a term used to describe the diameter of the inner barrel of a shotgun.


This is the container which holds cartridges as they are fed into the gun’s chamber for firing.


This is a word for any handgun that does not have a revolving cylinder. Instead, the chamber is just part of the barrel.


This is the backward energy that a gun exerts when it fires. Another word for it is “kick.”


This is a handgun with a revolving cylinder which holds multiple cartridges. These revolve each time you pull the trigger.


A rifle is a long gun designed to be fired from the shoulder. It’s called a rifle because of the rifling in the barrel.


This is a catch-all term referring to any unit of ammunition, usually meaning one cartridge.


This mechanism prevents the trigger of a firearm from being pulled. It’s a common component of modern guns.


This is a kind of long gun with a smooth barrel, fired from the shoulder. It’s designed to shoot pellets or single projectiles.


This is a suppressor which is attached to the gun’s barrel to reduce or eliminate the sound of its being fired.


With these terms at your fingertips, you are ready not only to own a firearm, but to converse intelligently about it too.


Read about more firearm safety on our Gun Safety Resources page and be sure to check out our Concealed-Carry Collection!