Gun Terminology of the Day: 1911

One of the reasons I started writing Insanely Practical Guides was to help acclimate new shooters and gun owners to the confusing world of guns, shooting and etiquette. Here’s a quick excerpt from The Rookies Guide to Guns and Shooting, Handgun Edition

If you talk to a couple of gun aficionados, you’re likely to hear about what sounds like yet another type of handgun – the 1911. No worries, it’s just a type of semi-automatic pistol. People tend to get pretty passionate about 1911 style pistols so they tend to get placed in their own category.

Gun Terminology Alert!


You’ll hear gun folks talk in reverential tones about something called a 1911. Yes, it’s a year. It also sounds a little bit like a famous model of Porsche. But in context of this book, it’s a pistol design. Not a manufacturer or a specific model, but a design. Kind of like how a pickup truck is a design. Lot’s of car manufacturers make them, and you can get them with different size engines, but they all have some common features, like seats in the front and a cargo bed in the back.

Here’s a 1911 model pistol made by Springfield Armory. It’s the TRP Armory Kote model.

Springfield Armory TRP 1911 Armory Kote shown with Galco Miami Classic II

The Springfield Armory TRP 1911 Armory Kote shown with Galco Miami Classic II

It’s not a perfect analogy, but 1911’s are kind of like pickup trucks. They are all based on a semi-automatic pistol design, invented and brought to market in, you guessed it, the year 1911 by one John Moses Browning. 1911’s have a number of common design elements, regardless of which manufacturer makes them and often parts are interchangeable. For example, classic 1911’s are all single-action semiautomatics, have a thumb and grip safety, and a similar design to lock and unlock the barrel during recoil.

1911’s have a lot to live up to. They have been known to take down both a Japanese Zero fighter  and German Storch observation plane in World War II. In fact, some believe that a stray 1911 .45 ACP round inadvertently destroyed the city of Dresden. OK, the Dresden thing may be a slight exaggeration, but the 1911 has been a phenomenally successful and long-lived design.

The Rookie’s Guide to Guns and Shooting, Handgun Edition is available in print and Kindle format at Amazon:

The Rookie's Guide to Guns and Shooting, Handgun Edition

The Rookie’s Guide to Guns and Shooting, Handgun Edition

How To Deal With Gun Terminology Snobs

Half-Cocked: Gun Terminology Gone BadWe’re not going to get wrapped up too much in the specifics of proper gun terminology. It can be intimidating and quite frankly, it’s not all that important as long as people know what you’re trying to say. But we will try to be accurate most of the time so you have the full picture.

Right off the bat, we’re going to run into a problematic situation. You see, some gun folks are so darn persnickety about using the correct words that someone, somewhere, is bound to correct you on your use of a gun word. Maybe you’ll walk into a gun store and ask if they carry extra clips for your Springfield XD handgun. Or perhaps you’ll refer to your Smith & Wesson 642 Airweight as a “pistol”. Do they know what you mean? Yes. Is it really necessary to cop an attitude and correct you? No.

Here’s one way to deal with that kind of thing should you walk into a gun store and get the terminology treatment…

You: Hi! I have a question…

Surly Gun Store Clerk: (Ignores you and continues talking to the gun shop groupies behind the counter)

You: Ummm, hello! I was wondering if you could help me out?

Clerk: Yeah, what?

You: I need to see if you have some extra clips for my new Glock.

Clerk: (Slowly turns to friends and does a full-body eye roll…) No, sorry, we don’t.

You: Aren’t these Glock clips here in the display case?

Clerk: Nope, those are magazines.

You: Well, do you have any that fit a Glock 17?

Clerk: Yeah.

You: Bless your heart… Now will you be a dear and sell me some of those MAGAZINES?

See what you did there? Here in the south, the phrase “bless your heart” loosely translates into something along the lines of “you’re really a clueless jerk, aren’t you?” The beauty is that you can say it with a bit of an accent and dripping with more sweetness than an extra large Chick-Fil-A iced tea. It’s a beautiful solution to many of life’s challenges. While we’re on magazines, let’s define “magazine” and “clip.”

Gun Terminology Alert!

Magazines and Clips

You know how you can spot a high school prom couple at an exclusive restaurant? Like when the pimply mannish boy requests A-1 Steak Sauce with his Chateaubriand?  Well, there’s a similar thing in shooting – when people carelessly throw around words like clip.

Clips and magazines are both legitimate shooting related objects. While sometimes subtle, there are differences.

A clip is a device used to hold cartridges for the purpose of storage, packing, and easy loading into a magazine. Clips were a big deal back when the world had anger issues expressed by frequent large-scale wars. Five or ten rounds of ammo might be attached to a clip, which would allow a soldier to slide the rounds into the magazine of his rifle or handgun quickly and easily. Clips are still used today. Some .223 or 5.56 ammunition comes on clips to make it easier to load lots of rounds into a magazine at once.

A magazine is the container that holds cartridges for the purpose of feeding them into the chamber of a firearm. Magazines can be built into the gun, as with many rifles, or they can be removable, as with most semi-automatic pistols and AR type rifles. That thing that falls out the bottom of a Glock? That’s a magazine.

Confused? No problem. We’ve got a near fail-safe tip for you. These days you’re pretty safe referring to most things that hold bullets as a magazine. More often than not, you’ll be correct referring to it that way.

Read more about guns and shooting, in plain English, in our newest book, The Rookie’s Guide to Guns and Shooting, Handgun Edition.

The Rookie's Guide to Guns and Shooting, Handgun Edition

The Rookie’s Guide to Guns and Shooting, Handgun Edition

Single-Action Handguns: Not Much To Do With Chance Laundromat Encounters

Here’s an excerpt from our brand new book, The Rookie’s Guide to Guns and Shooting, Handgun Edition. It’s the second in the Insanely Practical Guide Series

Single-action is a pretty simple concept. And it has nothing to do with online dating sites, chance encounters at the laundromat or a night on the town with two wild and crazy guys.

A pair of single-action handguns

When a handgun is single-action, whether it’s a pistol or revolver, it does one thing, or action, when you pull the trigger. The descriptor, single-action, must be entirely coincidental right?

While I’m sure there’s an exception out there, in most cases, pressing the trigger of a single-action gun will release a hammer or striking contraption of sorts, allowing it to strike a firing pin that whacks the back of a cartridge and ignites it. So, pressing the trigger does one action – which results in firing the gun.

Here’s where it gets tricky. Some single-action guns need to be manually cocked between each shot. Perhaps the best example of this is the traditional cowboy six gun, or single-action revolver. The shooter must “cock the hammer” to prepare it for the single-action release by a trigger press. In old western movies, this is done really fast – sometimes with the shooter smacking the hammer with one hand while holding the trigger down with the other.

Gun words explained - Insanely Practical Guides

Hammer [ham-er]

- Noun

  1. The part of a firearm designed to provide energy to the firing pin in order to strike the primer of a cartridge. Some hammers, such as those on older revolvers, have the firing pin attached to the hammer and directly impact the primer. Others, generally on more modern designs, impact a transfer bar or mechanism to provide energy to the firing pin. The hammer of a gun does not have to be exposed or visible. For example, the Smith and Wesson 642 revolver and M1 Garand semi-automatic rifle both have internal hammers.
  2. Easily confused with similar terms. For example, Hammer Time is not an appropriate usage in the context of guns. Unless you got slick moves and a pair of parachute pants capable of providing wind power for San Francisco or maybe smuggling dozens of illegal immigrants across the border. Otherwise, you can’t touch this.

Important Safety Tip: While it’s OK to cock your hammer, don’t ever hammer your… Ummm. Never mind.

However, just because a gun is single-action does not mean it has to be manually cocked between each shot. Some single-action designs, like the 1911 pistol, are cocked for the first shot. Each subsequent shot uses the recoil action to automatically cock the hammer for the next shot. Since the trigger still does only one thing, release the hammer, these guns are still considered single-actions.

Ruger single-action revolver

So what’s the big deal about single-action handguns?

Generally speaking – again, I’ll bet a nickel someone will find an exception – single-action guns have relatively light triggers since the trigger only serves to release the hammer. That doesn’t take a lot of pressure. A light trigger pull makes for a gun that is easier to shoot accurately. It’s not technically more accurate, just easier to shoot accurately. This is because the force of your finger is less likely to pull the sights off target. If it takes 8 pounds of pressure to press the trigger, and the gun only weighs 2 pounds, then the shooter really has to concentrate to keep that gun perfectly still during a trigger press. On the other hand, if the trigger press requires 2 pounds, and the gun weighs 3 pounds, then the shooter is less likely to pull the gun off target while pressing the trigger.

So, all of that is a fancy way of saying that many folks like single-action guns because they can be easy to shoot accurately.

There’s a lot more to consider when deciding whether to use a single-action gun, so for now, let’s just stick to the definitions. We’ll talk about pros and cons later in the book.

The Rookie's Guide to Guns and Shooting, Handgun Edition

Gun Word of the Day: Field Strip

Field Strip [feeld] [strip]

– noun-verb-ish

Gun Word Of The Day

Gun Word Of The Day

1. To clear out or empty; to deprive of clothing; make bare or naked. Derived from middle english terminology meaning to rob or plunder.

2. A rhythmic dance ritual, popularized at Woodstock in August, 1969.

3. Field stripping simply refers to taking your gun partially apart in order to clean it.

Manufacturers design guns so that some of the major assemblies come apart fairly easily in order to make the gun easy to clean and lubricate.

After all, it’s important that a gun be easy to disassemble and reassemble. If it’s hard to put back together after a simple cleaning, then there’s a chance it won’t work right. And manufacturers certainly don’t want to hear about someone’s gun not working right when they really, really needed it. So a simple field stripping procedure is in everyone’s best interest. Certainly yours!

Half-Cocked: Gun Terminology Gone Bad…

Half-Cocked: Gun Terminology Gone Bad

Half-Cocked: Gun Terminology Gone Bad

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