9 Most Misused Gun Terms

9 Most Misused Gun Terms

"Assault weapon." Sixteen-round "clip." A box of "bullets." When it comes to guns and gun accessories, there's no shortage of misused terminology in the firearm industry.

Sometimes the error is committed innocently, a simple mistake owing to the shooter's ignorance. A common example is the interchangeable use of "clip" and "magazine." However, other misused terms are more harmful.

Misused-Gun-Terms

They aren't just inaccurate; their frequent use can negatively affect the public perception of firearms. Referring to a semi-automatic carbine as an "assault rifle" (a term that implies a fully automatic action designed for purely offensive purposes) is the biggest offender. More on that later.

Anti-gun groups, politicians and biased members of the media often use such terms incorrectly, sometimes due to lack of knowledge but often with malicious intent. So, if we as gun owners don't accurately apply firearms terminology, who will? How can aspiring shooters, genuine journalists or the public at-large hope to receive reliable information? Here are some of the most commonly misused and confused gun terms.

Clip vs. Magazine

You know that boxy rectangular thingy that holds cartridges and slides into the bottom of your semi-auto pistol? It's not a clip, no matter how often the term is misused. It's a magazine.


A magazine holds shells under spring pressure in preparation for feeding into the firearm's chamber. Examples include box, tubular, drum and rotary magazines. Some are fixed to the firearm while others are removable.


A cartridge "clip" has no spring and does not feed shells directly into the chamber. Rather, clips hold cartridges in the correct sequence for "charging" a specific firearm's magazine. Stripper clips allow rounds to be "stripped" into the magazine. Other types are fed along with the shells into the magazine, the M1 Garand famously operates in this fashion. Once all rounds have been fired, the clip is ejected or otherwise released from the firearm.


In essence, clips feed magazines. Magazines feed firearms.

Assault Rifles vs. Assault Weapons vs. Semi-Automatic Rifles

The term "assault rifle" is perhaps the most commonly misused gun term, and certainly it's one of the most damaging to the public's perception of firearms. Most often, the media, anti-gun groups and all-too-many gun owners incorrectly use it to describe an AR-15 rifle.

As noted by David Kopel in an article in the "Journal of Contemporary Law," the U.S. Department of Defense defines assault rifles as "selective-fire weapons that fire a cartridge intermediate in power between sub-machine gun and rifle cartridges." The AR-15 and other civilian carbines errantly called assault rifles do no such thing. They are semi-automatic, non-battlefield firearms.


To add further clarity, "AR" also does not stand for "assault rifle" or "automatic rifle" as is occasionally implied, but rather ArmaLite rifle, after the company that developed it in the 1950s.

However, anti-gun groups have been hugely successful applying the false label to convince Americans that AR-15's and other semi-auto rifle platforms are a fully automatic, public threat. Much of the mainstream media now uses the "assault rifle" label broadly and without question.

To further capitalize, anti-gun groups completely invented the term "assault weapons" to broadly cover everything from home-defense shotguns to standard-capacity handguns, anything they wish to ban.


accuracy/precision

In fact, according to Bruce H. Kobayashi and Joseph E. Olson, writing in the Stanford Law and Policy Review, "Prior to 1989, the term 'assault weapon' did not exist in the lexicon of firearms. It is a political term, developed by anti-gun publicists to expand the category of 'assault rifles' so as to allow an attack on as many additional firearms as possible on the basis of undefined 'evil' appearance."

So, while the term "assault rifle" is frequently misused, the term "assault weapon" doesn't even really exist.

Accuracy vs. Precision

These seemingly synonymous terms are often used interchangeably, but they describe two distinct aspects of shots on target. Accuracy is a measurement of the shooter's ability to consistently hit a given target; precision is essentially the tightness of his groups.

That's the same thing, you say? Perhaps further examples are in order. The best illustration of the differences I've come across is courtesy of an unlikely source: the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The NOAA's article "Accuracy vs. Precision" was written with surveyors in mind, but its examples include four, four-shot groups by a rifleman (who we shall assume has a perfectly zeroed firearm and is aiming for the center of the target).

In example No. 1, the rifleman's four shots are scattered all across the target. This is neither precise nor accurate.

In example No. 2, the rifleman places a tight four-shot group in the upper left of the target. This is precise (the shots are close together) but not accurate (the shots are far off-center).

In example No. 3, the rifleman lands a fairly wide four-shot group near the center of the target. He is accurate (his shots are near the intended target) but not precise (it's a wide group).

In example No. 4, the rifleman delivers a nice, tight, four-shot group directly to the bullseye. This is both accurate (he hit the center of the target) and precise (all four shots were close together).

So, while a rifle that consistently produces tight groups is often described as "accurate," it's more properly an indication of good precision.

Pistol vs. Handgun

There is some gray area with this one. Some use the term "handgun" to describe any hand-held firearm, but only use "pistol" in reference to semi-automatic handguns, not revolvers. I'm of the school that believes pistol and handgun may be used interchangeably. Here's why.

One authoritative source, The NRA Firearms Sourcebook, defines a pistol as "a generic term for a hand-held firearm. Often used more specifically to refer to a single-shot, revolver or semi-automatic handgun."

Then there's the historical record. Though there's debate over whence the term "pistol" arose, by the late 16th century it was commonly used to describe any hand-held gun. It even appeared in works by William Shakespeare. Then along came Samuel Colt, who described his cylinder-firearm invention as a "revolving pistol."

"Pistol" was an established part of the vernacular long before the semi-auto handgun. Therefore it's safe to say all handguns are pistols, and all pistols are handguns.

Pocket Pistol vs. Sub-Compact Pistol

Every sub-compact pistol is a pocket pistol, but not all pocket pistols are subcompacts. Let me explain.

A sub-compact pistol is simply a small, concealed-carry-friendly version of a particular full-size model. For example, the Springfield XD 9mm Subcompact is a 3-inch barrel version of the full-size 9mm XD with 5-inch barrel. There are no standard dimensions per se that constitute a subcompact, and thus sizes vary among manufacturers.

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"Pocket pistol," on the other hand, is a generic, somewhat slangy term for any small handgun suitable for concealed carry in a pocket or otherwise. The Ruger LC9, for instance, is a pocket pistol. However, it is not a subcompact. It is a stand-alone pistol, not a smaller version of a full-size gun.

Cartridge vs. Bullet vs. Caliber

Given the vast differences between the terms "bullet," "cartridge" and "caliber," it's amazing anyone with a modicum of experience would confuse them. And yet how many of us have been in a gun store when someone walked in looking for "a box of .30-'06 bullets" when he obviously wanted actual cartridges?

A "bullet" is merely the projectile that exits the barrel. Specifically, it's a non-spherical chunk of lead, copper or other material intended for use in a rifled barrel. The bullet's "caliber" is a numerical approximation of the bullet's diameter, often expressed in millimeters or hundredths of an inch.

"Bullet" should not be used interchangeably with the term "cartridge," a bullet is a mere component of it. Cartridges consist of the case, primer, propellant and projectile. In the case of rifles and handguns, the bullet is seated in the cartridge case. Cartridge is also an accurate term for any shotshell.

Extractor vs. Ejector

There are two main errors with these terms: using them interchangeably or the false assumption that the extractor also ejects spent shells. Designs vary, so some generalities are in order.

In most firearms, the extractor hooks onto the head of a chambered cartridge and pulls it rearward as the action is cycled. The extractor alone does not eject the spent casing, that's the job of the ejector.

In many semi-automatic firearms, the ejector typically looks like a small blade positioned opposite the ejection port. In a nutshell, the extractor pulls the shell rearward until it contacts the ejector, which flings it out the port.

There are exceptions. Some double-barrel shotguns, for instance, are "extractors-only." They are equipped to slightly extract spent shells from the chamber, easing removal by the shooter's fingers. Other double-barrel shotguns have ejectors that spring spent shells from the gun, no need for extractors.

Shells vs. Shotshells

The confusion with the term "shells" perhaps stems from its similarity to the word "shotshells." I've run across folks under the impression that "shells" only refer to shotgun cartridges (shotshells). In reality, "shells" is an accurate, albeit somewhat colloquial, descriptor for any handgun, rifle or shotgun cartridge or cartridge case.

Shotshell, on the other hand, refers to a round of shotgun ammunition, most accurately one that contains pellets rather than a slug or other projectile.

Suppressor vs. Silencer

Here's a differentiation that tends to get people fired up. Many firearm experts believe that the term "silencer" has no correct usage, rather, it's an inaccurate slang term for "suppressor." Suppressors aren't silencers, they argue, because they don't actually "silence" the firearm. Guns that fire silently exist only in Hollywood. Suppressors merely moderate escaping gases, greatly reducing but not eliminating noise.

suppressor-misused-gun-terms

The NRA Firearms Sourcebook makes the distinction clear, defining a suppressor as "a device attached to the muzzle of a firearm to reduce the noise of discharge. Sometimes incorrectly called a 'silencer.'"

I believe that's the most accurate definition. However, here's where things get muddy: The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms uses the term "silencer" in its official paperwork.

So, I suppose, either term is accurate. Still, I advise sticking with "suppressor" and avoiding use of the word "silencer."

LaRue Tactical Costa Edition Hybrid

The Costa Edition Hybrid rifle has a number of features that make a tremendous amount of tactical sense. My favorite features of the Hybrid rifle are the barrel length, handguard length and placement of the muzzle device. A carbine should be as short as possible, and the decision to shorten the barrel as much as possible so that it just makes the 16-inch legal limit once the muzzle device is pinned into place is awesome.

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Benelli M2 Tactical

Besides the shorter barrel, the main differences between the M2 and my old M1 Super 90 were the redesigned magazine tube (5+1, no barrel clamp, no fore-end washer/flat spring arrangement), the square-backed synthetic triggerguard (as opposed to the old rounded alloy one), a redesigned safety button, a more user-friendly contoured bolt handle and the choke tube-threaded Crio barrel.

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Beretta 1301 Competition Shotgun

The most noticeable aspects of the 1301 are the oversize controls — bolt handle, bolt release and crossbolt safety button (reversible for lefties). The bolt release consists of a large, serrated tab right below the ejection port. It'™s very quick to access from under the receiver with your support hand (assuming you'™re right-handed). One caveat: If you'™re carrying the gun with the bolt locked back, do not grasp the receiver over the top.

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Colt Mustang XSP

The slide and barrel are machined out of solid stainless steel bar stock, then given a blackened finish. Next, even the serrations on the slide have been improved when compared with the original Mustangs and the Pocketlite. While both the Pocketlite and XSP have the same dovetailed notch rear sight, the XSP has a better front sight.

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Daniel Defense DDM4 300 SBR

The DDM4 300 SBR Blackout gives the shooter a .30-caliber projectile fired from an AR platform without the need to increase receiver size, magazine type or bolt. Though the dimensions and handling characteristics are similar to a 5.56-chambered rifle, this Blackout offers its user comparable ballistic qualities as the .308 Win. and venerable 7.62×39. And felt recoil is similar to shooting a 5.56, if not a little less with certain subsonic loads.

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Glock 20 Gen 4

The Gen 4 Glocks feature a more aggressive nonslip frame surface; replaceable backstraps and enlarged magazine-release catch; a notched magazine to allow a more positive operation; and a dual recoil-spring assembly to increase spring life and decrease felt recoil.

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Mossberg Maverick HS12

With the Maverick HS12, those looking to defend themselves and their family have another viable option. The HS12 compares favorably to the side-by-side coach guns available. Mounting accessories is easy, and because of the low price you will have enough left in your bank account to buy plenty of practice ammo. Trap, skeet and wing shooters who are already familiar with over/under shotguns should fall instantly in love with this home defense tool.

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Nighthawk T4

Barrel length is 3.8 inches, and the frame has been thinned out. The latter feature allows more grip purchase for smaller hands and a flatter presentation against the body for concealed carry. I don'™t have big hands, and I find the thin frame noticeably more comfortable. The ramped National Match barrel is flush-cut to the frame and nicely crowned. There'™s a small window cut at the chamber end to serve as a loaded-chamber indicator.

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Nosler Varmageddon AR

Operation is standard direct-gas impingement, and both upper and lower receivers are mil-spec with brass deflection knob and bolt-assist lever. The upper receiver has an integral Picatinny rail, and the supplied battle sights fold down so as not to interfere with scope mounting. The safety is ambidextrous and has about a 60-degree rotation vice the customary 90 degrees, a 'œlittle' feature I found very handy in the field.

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Remington R1 Carry

The R1 Carry slide is blued steel, with Novak-like sights front and back. If you reload, you'™ll be happy to know that the ejection port has been lowered and scalloped at the rear, so your empty brass will have an easier — and less dinged — path to the ground. These are all things we used to pay extra for that now, in the 21st century, expect out of the box. Here, we get them out of the box.

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Saiga-12

Overall length is just 363/4 inches. Balance point, with no magazine, is right at the bolt handle. With target loads and low-recoil LE buck and slug loads, it'™s fairly pleasant to shoot. However, with full-house 00 buck or slug loads, the narrow military buttplate will not be denied its pound of flesh. However, recoil is quite tolerable with 2¾-inch low-recoil 00 buck and slugs. Controllability is also quite good.

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Springfield XD-S 9mm

The short barrel and slide make it a whole lot more pleasant (and comfortable) to carry, but I'™m sure some are wondering, 'œWhat is the cost in velocity?' After all, while the .45 ACP does its work mostly through bullet mass and frontal area, the 9mm depends on velocity to try and keep up. The pumpkin-like bullets out of the XD-S .45 are slowed some, but not so much that it really matters.

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Weatherby SA-08 28-Gauge Deluxe

The real sex appeal of the new 28 gauge became apparent when I switched back to a 'œreal' gun. I'™d always considered my old A-390 a near-perfect shotgun — light, yet still soft-kicking. But when I picked it back up after a round with the 28, I was shocked to find that it felt like a recoil monster. What really impressed us was just how hard the Weatherby 28 hit the clays. I expected them to break, sure, but I didn'™t expect to smoke them with a 3/4-ounce shot load.

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Wilson Combat Recon Tactical

Button rifled and machined with a 1:8-inch twist, this version measured 16 inches. Wilson offers 11.3-, 14.7- and 18-inch barrels with optional 1:7 or 1:8 twist rates. Built specifically for suppressed fire with heavier projectiles, the match-grade barrel handles the supersonic stuff just as well when there is a need to shoot at farther distances. When shooting the heavier loads versus 5.56 offerings, I noted that the recoil from the Recon'™s gas system was pleasantly soft.

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NEMO Omen .300 Win. Mag.

An entire generation of riflemen has grown up with the AR and is intimately familiar with its handling characteristics. The modularity of the design lets the user tailor the rifle to exactly what he wants and draw from several options that already exist on the commercial market. Last, but not least, we get the superb external and terminal ballistics of the .300 Win. Mag., a cartridge much superior to the 7.62 NATO for long-range work.

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