Every gun owner and shooter needs to understand standard terms associated with firearms. In my article discussing the Golden Rules, I used terms like muzzle, discharge, trigger, trigger guard, etc. These are standard terms used in the firearms industry, but I recognize new gun owners and shooters may not be familiar with them.

In this article, I will define some standard terms associated with handguns and firearms in general. Your comprehensive understanding of these terms will assist you when handling your selected weapon. We will discuss more weapon-specific terms in future articles, but I want you to understand these terms before you begin focusing on weapon-specific nomenclature.

For your convenience, I have also included a .PDF version of the list of terms I discuss in this article. Please feel free to print this and save it with your other training documents.


Any weapon that will, is designed to, or may readily be converted to expel a projectile by the action of an explosive.


Pre-assembled firearm ammunition consisting of a casing (often brass), propellant (usually either smokeless powder or black powder), projectile (often referred to as the bullet), and a source of ignition (primer). 


All ammunition has been removed from the handgun. For the revolver, this means no cartridges are contained in any of the cylinder’s chambers. For the semi-automatic pistol, this means the magazine has been removed, and no cartridge is contained in the firearm’s chamber.


The handgun contains cartridges. For the revolver, this means cartridges have been loaded into the cylinder’s chambers. For the semi-automatic pistol, cartridges have been placed in the magazine, and the magazine has been inserted into the handgun.


The process of working the action of a semi-automatic pistol that will result in a cartridge being stripped from the magazine and locked into the pistol’s chamber.


A controlled explosion resulting from the firing pin striking the cartridge primer, subsequently igniting the powder. As the powder burns, it creates gases that push equally in all directions. With the cartridge properly seated in the weapon’s chamber, this pressure causes the projectile (bullet) to be pushed from the casing, down the barrel, and out the firearm’s muzzle.


The end of the barrel from which the bullet/projectile is expelled. This will also be the opposite end of the barrel from the chamber.


The mechanism that actuates the handgun’s function resulting in the weapon’s discharge.

Trigger Guard

A protective loop around the trigger intended to prevent unwanted contact with the trigger that could result in the negligent discharge of the firearm. 


The portion of the handgun placed into the individual’s hand to manipulate and discharge the firearm.

Standard Terms Reference Sheet

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