Owning a firearm is both an amazing right and a huge responsibility. There are many things to consider before making the choice to own a firearm. You're probably asking yourself many questions if you're in the process of making this choice and there are a plethora of things to consider. What sort of action type will you own? How do you safely handle a firearm? What are the pros and cons of each action type? How do you shoot effectively? It may seem overwhelming if you don't have any (or limited) experience with firearms but it is actually very simple.
Luckily you're not the first gun owner on the planet. There is a treasure trove of information out there. A culmination of literally hundreds of years worth of experience has left us with the knowledge of several generations worth of gun owners to draw from. If you follow this guide, you'll have a basic understanding of how to safely handle a firearm and hopefully a better grasp of how the various action types work.
The good thing about the safety rules is that even if you make a mistake, the other rules will help keep that mistake from causing injury or property damage.
A Few Important Safety Rules:
1. Always keep your firearm pointed in a safe direction. Never sweep the muzzle (barrel) of the weapon across anything you aren't willing to cause harm to, even if you're just changing positions. Don't forget to consider people in other rooms of your house, since bullets can easily penetrate most interior walls and some calibers can penetrate exterior walls as well it is paramount to make sure your firearm is pointed in a safe direction. The floor or ground is almost always the best option.
2. Keep your finger and other objects outside of the trigger guard. Negligent discharges happen most often when someone messes up and places their finger into the trigger guard and inadvertently pulls the trigger. You should also be aware of holsters and other objects that can enter the trigger guard.
3. Always treat your firearm as if it is loaded, even if you know it isn't. People make mistakes, it is in our nature. Sometimes you'll remove the magazine but forget to clear the chamber. If you spend enough time around guns you'll eventually do this at some point. As long as you're following the other safety rules you'll still be safe.
4. Store your firearm properly. Loosely thrown into a backpack, drawerwith other objects inside, or purse is a poor way to store or carry a firearm. If the trigger catches on something inside a drawer or a worn holster it could fire and injure/kill someone. Always carry your firearm in a proper holster or store it in a container that doesn't have anything to catch on the trigger. If you're not at home or you have small children, your firearm should always be locked up to restrict access.
5. Be sure what you're shooting at and what is behind it. Going back to rule number one, a bullet will run the risk of punching through almost any target. In which case it will pass through them and continue to travel. Be sure there aren't any houses, people, or property behind the target. Never shoot at hard surfaces such as rocks or the surface of water, which can cause a bullet to bounce and hit an unintended person/object.
6. Listen for any difference in sound/recoil when firing. If a round sounds and/or feels considerably louder or quieter than previous rounds of the same type of ammunition ("ammo") this could indicate an under or overloaded powder charge. An under-loaded charge may not have enough force to push the bullet out of the barrel, in which case the barrel will be obstructed and the next round will most likely cause serious damage to the gun and may cause injury. An overloaded round can cause the gun to crack/fail due to overpressure. These are both uncommon with factory ammunition but does happen and the only way to be safe is to remain aware. If you suspect either of these may have happened, stop firing, unload, and check the gun immediately.
If you follow all of these rules, you'll be able to own and shoot a firearm in a way that promotes responsibility and safety.
Know your weapon:
You know that test you never studied for but passed with flying colors? This is not that test. Each firearm truly is different, with thousands of existing designs. You should always familiarize yourself with the exact model of firearm that you have because if you fail this test, it could cost you or someone around you their life. Some firearms have safety features and quirks that other firearms do not have. Some firearms are not safe to carry with a round in the chamber. Some firearms can safely fire +P (plus pressure) ammunition while others warn that you can damage the gun or become injured by firing it. All firearms are different and the only way to know the specific details of your firearm is to read the manual that came with it.
Many firearms have built in safeties such as drop safeties, firing pin blocks, or manual safeties. They are an extra layer of protection but should never be a substitute for safe handling. Safeties are mechanical devices and are capable of failure. The only way to remain safe is to practice safe handling.
Pistols and Revolvers:
There are no absolutes in firearms but the two most common types of handgun are the semi automatic and the revolver. Since this is for people new to firearms or people with little experience, I've simplified the pistols/revolvers and action types sections somewhat.
A semi automatic is usually fed from a detachable box magazine (don't call it a clip in the majority of designs if you want gun owners to take you seriously) that inserts in the bottom of the grip or just forward of the grip. In order to load the semi automatic handgun you'll need to cycle the slide and let a round feed from the magazine into the chamber. The weapon is then ready to fire. To unload it you'll need to remove the magazine and rack the slide to remove the round from the chamber. Simply removing the magazine does not clear the firearm.
A revolver gets its name from the cylinder, which is loaded with ammunition and spins as the trigger is pulled or the hammer is cocked. Some designs such as the pepperbox require you to manually advance the cylinder between shots. The common double action revolver is more straightforward than the semi automatic in the way that if you visually inspect the cylinder, you can immediately tell if it is loaded or unloaded since the design lacks a chamber.
Common Types of Semi Automatic Actions:
The two most common types of semi automatic actions are blowback and locked breech. Blowback firearms often have a barrel that is fixed to the frame and a slide that moves straight back. These types of pistols rely on the weight of the slide and the recoil spring to keep the action closed when firing until the pressures reach a safe level and then eject the spent casing.
Locked breech firearms have a locking mechanism, and often have tilting barrels, that keeps the barrel locked after firing until the gun reaches safe pressures. As a result, these types of firearms can usually be smaller and lighter than blowback firearms chambered in the same round.
Semi Automatic Firing Mechanisms:
There are several types of trigger/firing mechanisms used in semi automatic pistols both with hammers and internal firing assemblies like strikers. The most common types are single action, single action only, double action only, and double action/single action.
Single action: This type of firing mechanism requires the hammer to be pulled back for the first round fired and the hammer will automatically reset after cycling for subsequent trigger pulls. When the first round is chambered, the hammer will be cocked. Whether a pistol can safely be carried in this mode depends on the design.
Single action only: In semi automatics, this applies to striker fired handguns and means that the internal striker assembly is cocked when the slide is cycled but does not automatically reset unless the gun is fired. With this design, if a round fails to fire, the trigger will be "dead" until the slide is racked and the striker is reset.
Double action only: This type of firing mechanism usually has an internal hammer or may have a hammer that cannot be cocked for single action. A "true" double action only pistol is not partially cocked and can be pulled repeatedly even if a round does not fire and reset the mechanism. This can also be applied to striker fired pistols that do not use a fully cocked striker.
Double action/single action: This type of firing mechanism has a long and heavy double action trigger pull for the first shot but automatically moves into single action for subsequent shots after cycling. If the pistol has an external hammer, it can also be cocked for single action manually. These designs typically have external hammers but there are also double action/single action striker fired handguns that work in a way similar to hammer fired fired pistols. If the hammer or striker falls and doesn't fire the round, the trigger can be pulled again to attempt a second strike.
Revolver action types:
There are three common revolver types out there and all are very simple to identify. These are double action only, single action only, and double action/single action.
Double action only: This type of revolver will typically have either a shrouded (internal) or bobbed (no spur) hammer. It cannot be fired by cocking the hammer. The trigger normally will be long and heavy but consistent every single time.
Single action only: This type of revolver will require you to manually cock the hammer every time it is fired. The trigger will be "dead" until the hammer is cocked. This is typically found on older designs and reproductions of said designs. These sometimes require the cylinder to be rotated and the casings ejected one at a time via an ejector rod.
Double action/single action: This is the most common type of modern revolver. It has a long double action trigger or can be cocked manually for a lighter single action trigger. The double action/single action revolver does not automatically set the hammer to single action for follow up shots. If you want the light and short trigger pull you'll have to cock the hammer, otherwise it will function strictly in double action.
Tips for shooting:
Shooting technique is simple, unless you've learned bad habits from watching too much TV. Always pull the trigger smoothly and deliberately. Never jerk the trigger. This will dramatically move the gun and effect your point of aim. There are various types of sights but typically you'll follow the same rules. When it comes to shooting effectively, the weaver stance is your friend.
It is similar to a boxer's stance. Your body mechanics can either work with the recoil or against it. You want the way you're holding your firearm working for you, not against you. Your primary shooting hand should be up front and your off hand should be wrapped around the front of your hand and pulling slightly inward to help offset recoil. Your shooting elbow should be bent slightly and the elbow on your off hand should be pointing almost straight downward. Do not "brace" your wrist with your off hand or put your off hand underneath your shooting hand as a "rest". Despite prevalent Hollywood use of these stances, they do absolutely nothing to tame recoil or help you keep on target.
You should be leaning slightly forward and your feet about shoulder width apart. The leg opposite of your shooting hand should be forward and the leg on the same side as your firearm should be at approximately 45 degrees rearward. The majority of your weight should be distributed on your forward foot. This technique puts on of the most powerful things in the universe on your side, which is physics. If there is any doubt that you're doing it right just take a look around online at a few pictures and you'll have it right in no time.
Practice is obviously important whether it comes to safety or actually shooting. Understanding the different types of actions for both semi automatics and revolvers also helps.
I hope this has helped someone out there by either answering questions they had about firearms/shooting or at least entertained them. Thanks for taking the time to read!