Introduction to Handguns

A handgun is a small firearm designed to be fired from one hand. They are usually small and can be concealed easily. They offer good stopping power and so are very useful for personal defence. They are also used by law enforcement agencies and the military.

Types of handguns

Single-shot pistols

Single-shot pistols can fire only one shot before needing to be reloaded. These were the first to be invented. The earliest single-shot pistols were loaded from the muzzle and ignited using a smouldering cord.

Multi-barrelled pistols

Multi-barrelled pistols have multiple barrels. These were designed to deliver multiple shots without having to reload the gun. Subsequently, these were replaced by revolvers that were capable of firing multiple shots.


The revolver was invented in the 19th century and it was the first handgun capable of firing multiple shots successively. In a revolver, ammunition is stored in a cylinder which has slots to hold the cartridges. The slots align perfectly with the barrel when the revolver is fired. The cylinder rotates when the trigger is pulled and so it is possible to obtain continuous fire by pulling the trigger. Revolvers usually have 5 to 8 chambers.

Lever action pistols

Semi-automatic pistols

The semi-automatic pistol uses some the energy from the cartridge to load the next cartridge into the chamber. Usually the cartridges are loaded using the energy of the recoil. However, some heavier guns such as the Desert Eagle operate on gas.

Semi-automatic pistols are also known by other terms such as automatic pistol, autopistol, self loader, etc.

Machine pistols

A machine pistol is a handgun capable of firing in fully-automatic mode. Machine pistols are very difficult to control during fire and so some machine pistols come with a stock for additional stability. Examples of machine pistols include the Glock 18 and Mauser C96.

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