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A Glock, one of the most used pistols in modern times.

A Browning 9 millimeter Hi-Power, one of the most famous pistols ever made.

Ordnance pistol of the French Navy, 19th century

A pistol is usually a small, short-barrelled firearm that can be held with one hand. The two most commonly used types of pistols are revolvers and semi-automatic pistols, with others such as derringers and machine pistols seeing less frequent use. In the 15th century the term "pistol", was used for small knives and daggers which could be concealed in a person's clothing. By the 18th century, the term came to be used exclusively to refer to small firearms, or additionally, and more recently, similar devices designed for the aimed discharge of projectiles by the force of gas pressure stored by means other than physical ("Air pistol"). Although all handguns are generally referred to as pistols, some restrict the term "pistol" to single-chamber handguns, such as semi-automatic or single-shot pistols, as opposed to multi-chambered revolvers or multi-barreled derringers, and use "handgun" for the broader category.

The term may be derived from the French pistole (or pistolet), which, in turn, comes from the Czech píšťala (flute or pipe, referring to the shape of a Hussite firearm). Other suggestions have been made—that it comes from city of Pistoia, Italy, where perhaps a manufacturer was one Camillio Vettelli in the 1540s; or that early pistols were carried by cavalry in holsters hung from the pommel (or pistallo in medieval French) of a horse's saddle.

Pistols are used mainly by police officers, military personnel, or civilians who want a compact Defensive weapon, or for shooting sport. Some specialized pistols are also used for hunting. Where available, semi-automatic pistols have become the weapon of choice for civilians, making them widely used outside of the police and military realms where they first became popular over the revolver.

For some military usage, the widespread introduction of body armor has rendered most pistols ineffective. Personal defense weapons are beginning to replace them in some situations.

Hunting pistols often have longer barrels than typical police or military pistols and are often equipped with telescopic sights. Consequently, they are generally less concealable and some cannot be carried in a holster.

Varieties of pistol[]

Mechanism of a 19th-century one-shot pistol

Nowadays there are three main varieties of pistol: "automatic" self-loading pistols and revolvers being by far the two most common types, followed distantly by single-shot hunting or target pistols. In a pistol, the chamber, in which the cartridge is held for firing, is the rearmost portion of the barrel. Thus the term "pistol" technically excludes revolvers, although this distinction is often ignored in colloquial usage, where revolvers are commonly referred to as "pistols."


A 1930s vintage Enfield revolver.

Revolvers feed ammunition via the rotation of a cartridge-filled cylinder, in which each cartridge is contained in its own ignition chamber, and is sequentially brought into alignment with the weapon's barrel by a mechanism linked to the weapon's trigger (double-action) or its hammer (single-action). These nominally cylindrical chambers, usually numbering between five and nine depending on the size of the revolver and the size the cartridge being fired are bored through the cylinder so that their axes are parallel to the cylinder's axis of rotation; thus, as the cylinder rotates, the chambers revolve about the cylinder's axis. Due to simplicity of construction and operation, revolvers are considered to be more reliable then semi-automatic pistols.

Ballistic weapons are cherished throughout the world for their sound drainage but continued reputation of a guns power, the M11 Glove gun pistol (left) is a black latex glove operated single shot fire mechanism pistol with the power to shatter or damage any window or even kill a person if the round it placed correctly with the suppressed barrel, it is a brilliant sidearm.

Many revolvers utilise more powerful, i.e. Magnum ammunition than self-loading pistols. This is possible because loading and cocking a revolver does not require particular strength from the user, whereas Magnum-firing self-loading pistols would require heavy-duty parts to soak up the increased recoil, resulting in a very heavy slide pull.

Automatic revolvers[]

Union Automatic Revolver.

Double action revolvers use a long trigger pull to cock the hammer, thus negating the need to manually cock the hammer between shots. The disadvantage of this is the long, heavy pull that cocks the hammer makes the double action revolver much harder to shoot accurately than a single action revolver (although cocking the hammer of a double action reduces the length and weight of the trigger pull). There is a rare class of revolvers, the automatic revolver, that attempts to overcome this restriction, giving the high speed of a double action with the trigger effort of a single action.

The Webley Fosbery Automatic Revolver was the first commercial example, introduced in 1901. It was recoil-operated, and the cylinder and barrel recoiled backwards to cock the hammer and revolve the cylinder. It was distinctive in that cam grooves were milled on the outside of the cylinder to provide a means of advancing to the next chamber—half a turn as the cylinder moved back, and half a turn as it moved forward. .38 caliber versions held 8 shots, .455 caliber versions 6. At the time, the few available automatic pistols were larger, less reliable, and more expensive. The automatic revolver was popular when it first came out, but was quickly superseded by the creation of reliable, inexpensive semi-automatic pistols.

In 1905, Zulaica patented an unusual .22LR Caliber automatic revolver design, but few were ever manufactured and even fewer have survived.

In 1997, the Mateba company developed a type of recoil-operated automatic revolver, commercially named the Mateba Autorevolver, which uses the recoil energy to auto-rotate a normal revolver cylinder holding 6 or 7 cartridges, depending on the model. The company has made several versions of its Autorevolver, including longer barelled and carbine variations, chambered for .357 Magnum, .44 Magnum and .454 Casull.

Pepperbox revolver[]

A pepperbox revolver looks just like it sounds, a 'pepper box' or pepper shaker. There are two main parts; a grip and trigger, which contained a single trigger and firing pin or hammer, and the 'barrels', which was a metal cylinder made up of multiple barrels. This is not a revolver, or at least not by current definition. To fire, the barrels must be loaded individually with blackpowder, a ball(i.e.: bullet) and a cap. Once reassembled, the first round may be fired. After each firing, the 'barrels' must be rotated to the next barrel for another shot. Unlike even a single-action revolver, to fire more than one shot, two hands must be used; one to hold the grip and pull the trigger, and the other to turn the 'barrels'. Pepperbox revolvers were in use between 1820's and the 1870s, after the invention of the percussion cap, but before the Colt-type revolver was affordable to the masses. Despite falling into obscurity, they were extremely popular in their time; for they were the only, or only affordable, pistol that could fire more than two shots.

Automatic pistols[]

Tisas ZIGANA T, a Turkish 9x19mm automatic pistol from the early 2000s.

Automatic pistols use the recoil or gas energy of each round to cycle the action, extract the spent case, and load the next cartridge. While the term automatic pistol is often applied in colloquial speech or writings to describe what is correctly a semi-automatic pistol, the term automatic rifle almost always refers to a rifle capable of fully automatic fire. Due to the confusion this inconsistent naming convention causes, the term semi-automatic or self loading is becoming more common, to prevent confusion with machine pistols, which are pistols capable of fully automatic or burst fire.

Automatic pistols may be hammer, firing pin, or striker fired. Hunting and target pistols are generally single action, while defensive and military handguns designed since World War II are generally double action for the first shot, single action for the rest. Some of the latest handguns now offer various trigger modes, including double-action-only or a partially pre-cocked striker or hammer, and some even offer the option of changing the mode of operation with the turn of a switch.When the first automatic pistol first came out in the late 19th century,it was no popular at first because the technology of these pistol was not as advanced as compared to today and at that time, due to the technology available, these pistols often malfunctioned.So the public continued to use the revolver due to its reliability.But as time passed by,the technology had solved the problem and after that,it became popular,replacing the old revolvers.

Machine pistols[]

VEB Maschinenpistole of East German origin.

A machine pistol is generally defined as a firearm designed to be fired with one hand, and capable of fully automatic fire. While there are a number of machine pistols such as the Stechkin APS, OTS-33 Pernach, VEB, GLOCK 18 and later models of the Mauser C96, these are rare; the light weight and small size of a machine pistol make them difficult to control, making the larger, heavier submachine gun a better choice in cases where the small size of a machine pistol is required. Most machine pistols have the ability to attach a shoulder stock (the Heckler & Koch VP70 would only fire single rounds unless the stock was attached) while others, such as the Beretta 93R, would fire in a short, controlled 3-round burst. Either of these additions technically create a legal non-pistol under the US National firearms act, as pistols are by definition designed to be fired with one hand. The addition of a stock or forward handgrip is considered a design change that creates either a short-barreled rifle or an any other weapon, and therefore such additions are generally only found on legal machine guns.

"Assault pistol"[]

The Peruvian MGP-15 is an example of an "assault pistol"

Semi-automatic pistols that externally resemble submachine guns, such as the Encom, the Foote-Sterling, and the Holmes MP83, have sometimes been referred to as "assault pistols".[1][2][3] However, this terminology is generally not widely used or accepted.

Service pistol[]

A service pistol is any handgun issued to military personnel, law enforcement personnel, security personnel, or private military corporations.

Legal "Pistols"[]

A Bushmaster Carbon 15 is an example of legal pistol

This is a Semi-automatic carbine that in U. S. law can be considered a pistol, used rifle cartridges like 5.56 mm NATO. These guns only differentiate from carbines cause of their lack of stock and a barrel shorter than 10".

Stopping power[]

So-called "stopping power" is the reputed quality in a handgun projectile that forces a violent attacker to cease aggressive momentum when hit.

Police and military experience, together with ballistics information, show that such a concept is too simplistic. In reality, the ability to truly stop a violent attacker varies with a number of factors, and is not simply determined by the ballistics characteristics of the particular round under discussion. These additional factors include:

  • Bullet placement
  • Distance between the shooter and the assailant
  • Strength of the assailant, including whether drugs or alcohol are influencing the assailant's behavior and physical strength, and possible masking pain in the assailant
  • Mental or emotional strength of the assailant. For example, a soldier may have a level of commitment that is not easily stopped.
  • Interference between the target and the gun (an object in the way).

Some people are influenced by television or movies where assailants are not only stopped by a single shot, but are propelled backwards and are immediately taken out of action. In real life, police can cite many examples where an aggressive person has had to be shot 5 or more times simply to stop an attack. Conversely, there are also cases where a single small-caliber bullet fired into an extremity has resulted in an attacker fainting, effectively providing single-shot stopping effectiveness. There is no authoritative rule of thumb for estimating the stopping power of a single shot or of multiple shots.

For these reasons, police and military personnel (as well as licensed individuals carrying pistols for personal protection) try to maximize as best they can the combination of factors for stopping an assailant effectively. They may:

  • Use calibers and loadings that increase the ballistics coefficients within their limits of good recoil control
  • Train under realistic conditions (and learn from the experience of others) so that once the decision is made to use their weapon, they will indeed stop the individual, even if this means using multiple rounds and reloading and using a second magazine of rounds.

Advantages of pistols[]

Pistols are smaller, lighter, easier to conceal, faster to bring to bear, and sometimes may have more safety features than other firearms.

Generally being an emergency self-defense weapon for use under 25 meters, a handgun bullet neither has the energy of, nor the accuracy of a bullet shot from a rifle.

Pistols and gun politics[]

Smaller pistols can also be easily concealed on a person—a trait that is particularly useful to people wishing to carry a handgun for self-protection or for criminals wishing to bear arms. Larger handguns, including many hunting pistols, are often much longer and thus less concealable. For these reasons, handguns are a particular focus of debates on gun politics, and in many jurisdictions their ownership is much more heavily regulated than long arms.

Gun rights supporters argue that wide legal ownership of pistols, including the right to carry them concealed, actually deters crime rather than increases it. In the United States, 48 states allow some form of concealed carry by citizens meeting training or other requirements. 39 of these states, called "shall-issue" states, require issue of a permit if there is no compelling reason not to issue a permit (such as a prior felony conviction, a restraining order, or history of mental illness). The remaining 9 states, called "may-issue" states, may deny a permit for any reason, usually at the discretion of local law enforcement.

Other related info[]

In the 1780s, Alessandro Volta built a toy electric pistol ([1]) in which an electric spark caused the explosion of a mixture of air and hydrogen, firing a cork from the end of the gun.

See also[]


  1. Assault Pistols, Rifles and Submachine guns, Duncan Long, 1986
  2. Jane's Infantry Weapons, Ian Hogg, 1989
  3. Gun Digest, 1988 edition

External links[]