Definition Series - Part 4: "Handgun"
by Kirk Lawson


In our continuing series of definitions for the firearms community, we will look at the term "handgun." We know what a "gun" is, what a "rifle" is, and what a "shotgun" is, as well as "short-barreled" rifles and shotguns. How is that different from a "handgun?"

18 U.S.C. § 921. (a) (29) writes:
The term "handgun" means -
(A) a firearm which has a short stock and is designed to be held and fired by the use of a single hand; and
(B) any combination of parts from which a firearm described in subparagraph (A) can be assembled.
[ ref: of Federal Firearms Laws - 2010.pdf ]

So a "handgun" is a "gun" which is designed to be held and shot with one hand. If the gun is designed and intended to be shot with a two-handed grip, as is the standard for the "Modern Technique" of handgun use, is it still a "handgun?" Yes, it is still a handgun. The grip used does not necessarily change the intention of how the gun was designed. If the gun is designed to be fired with one hand, then it is a handgun. That technical definition covers a lot of really big guns as well as, according to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives, even accessories which are could be used in ways other than what the manufacturer intended such as a "stabilizing brace."

Interestingly, the law also defines a collection of parts which could be assembled into a handgun as legally a handgun. This has also been extended to parts which could be assembled into a short-barreled rifle or shotgun. Called "constructive intent" just having the parts laying around to build a short-barreled rifle or shotgun is the same thing to the Bureau as having a fully assembled item, which it wants you to already have a special permission slip (costing $200) for.

There are some special rules for building variation, but, in general, if you buy a "gun" from a federally licensed dealer (FFL) then they should lead you through all the right paperwork.