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What Are the Different Types of Firearms? A Guide

Are you new to the world of guns? Understanding the different types or categories of firearms will help you become a more responsible gun owner and user. It also helps you choose when learning to shoot or getting a gun for your protection needs.

Whether you are a new gun enthusiast or looking for answers to questions like” how does a semi-automatic pistol work?” this article is for you. Learn the different types of firearms so you can confidently identify them and choose the right one for your needs.

3 Main Types of Firearms

The most common way to classify the different types of firearms is based on physical characteristics. Usually, firearms come in two primary forms: short ones that you can hold with one hand and long ones that require two hands and shoulder support when firing. Based on these factors, there are three types of firearms: handguns, rifles, and shotguns.

1. Handguns

Handguns are small firearms designed to fire bullets while being held with one hand. Handguns also fire small ammunition, such as the 9mm and 22lr, and the barrel length is usually less than 16 inches. However, handguns come in various barrel sizes; the smaller and more compact it is, the snappier the recoil will be due to size. While handguns are sometimes called pistols, they come in two forms, pistols and revolvers.


Pistols are handguns that have stationary chambers instead of revolving cylinders. The most popular pistols are semi-automatic pistols which load cartridges through a detachable magazine at the grip. Modern pistols can hold up to 17 rounds in a magazine, unlike revolvers, whose limit is seven. Examples of pistols include the Glock 17 and Glock 19. When shooting a semi-automatic pistol, it automatically removes and loads cartridges from its chamber after every shot. Thanks to detachable magazines, pistols are much faster to reload.


A revolver is a type of handgun or repeating pistol that uses a revolving cylinder and multiple chambers behind one barrel. When you cock the hammer or pull the trigger, the revolver feature rotates the cylinder and aligns the next cartridge with the barrel before firing. Revolvers can fire various types of ammunition, including low-pressure and full-power combat loads. They also do not have a limitation on the shape of the bullet. Popular revolvers include the Colt Single Action Army and the Ruger Blackhawk.

2. Rifles

Unlike smaller handguns, rifles are longer-barreled firearms that require two hands and shoulder support to use accurately. The longer barrels are designed to increase accuracy when shooting. These firearms also feature rifled barrels with different twist rates. The twist rate refers to the interval at which the rifling aids the ammunition in making a complete rotation.

For example, a rifle with a twist rate of 1:8 will help a bullet make a full rotation every 8 inches. According to The GCA, rifles must have barrels at least 16 inches long, and any rifle made from a rifle should be at least 26 inches long. However, the firearms industry defines rifles as having 18 inches or longer barrels. Rifles can be semi-automatic, bolt-action, or lever-action. They are excellent for shooting stationary objects, and the barrels are usually made for a specific caliber of ammunition.

3. Shotguns

Shotguns are long firearms designed to be fired from the shoulder like rifles. However, shotguns come with smooth bores to minimize friction and thinner walls since it doesn’t use much pressure. Shotguns are designed for moving targets, which makes them a popular accessory for hunters. The barrel length and overall length of a shotgun depend on its purpose. For example, waterfowl hunting calls for longer barrels, while target practice or home defense requires short barrels.

Shotguns come in various actions, including gas-operated shotguns, break-action, and pump-action shotguns. Some shotguns have one barrel, while others have two side by side or in an over/under fashion. You’ll also find shotguns in different gauges, such as the 20 gauge and 420 Bore. According to The NFA, any shotgun with less than 18 inches barrel length or an overall weapon length of fewer than 26 inches is a short-barreled shotgun (SBS) and requires a tax stamp and paperwork. If you wonder “how does semi-automatic pistol work” or want to try different firearms, Las Vegas Shooting Center has what you need. From a wide range of guns to explore to trained staff and safety guarantee, you are assured of a memorable shooting experience. Contact us today to schedule your visit!

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