Owning a handgun can be incredibly beneficial, commonly used by individuals and force members, and infamous for functionality, reliability, and accuracy. But, it can become perplexing when differentiating between handgun types. So, what types of handguns are there?
Handguns have become the most popular choice for concealed carry, totaling 38% of the 193 million guns in the United States. There are five main types of handguns, besides hybrids and subtypes, based on functionality and construction. Join us as we discuss the different types of handguns, their design, their functionality, and how they differ from each other.
Types of Handguns’ Origins
The concept of a handgun revolves around a compact and short-barreled firearm that can be handled and operated with one hand. Many types and subtypes have been created as time has progressed, but the first types of “handguns” were relatively primitive in nature.
Modern handgun types were born from primitive handgun types, including various handgun types as a source of developmental guidance and constructive ingenuity. This includes the Hand Cannons, Matchlocks, Wheellocks, Flintlocks, and Caplocks. Many of these preceding handgun varieties would be classified as pre-cartridge single-shot firearms in modern times.
However, the widespread awareness of handgun types and usage began prevailing from the 14th century onwards. Before mass production, handguns were primarily used by law enforcement and authority but have become legally available to citizens of certain countries as a form of self-defense in recent years.
Single Shot Handguns
Closely related to the functionality of earlier handgun concepts and developments, the single-shot handgun was modernized following technological developments and resources. Over the years, many varieties have been created, most functioning with cartridges and some functioning without cartridges.
Many initial forms of single-shot handguns were essentially miniature imitations of rifles. Single-shot handguns are considered the most basic variant of a handgun and are known as the earliest form to date. They have gained the nickname of “pocket pistols” due to their smaller size and high capacity for concealed carry.
The functionality of single-shot handguns is comparable to a miniature cannon, whereby each explosive round of ammo is launched, after which another round would need to be manually loaded. Single-shot handguns were relatively slow and complex to use, and many modern single-shot handguns have been optimized.
Some of the most iconic single-shot handguns to date include the Remington Rolling Block. Infamous single-shot models and makes were created in succession, but many of these models were discontinued in the 1900s. Single-shot pistols are not common in modern times, but single-shot pistols can still be located and purchased and are predominantly used for big game hunting.
Multi-barreled handguns followed the creation of the single-shot handgun. These dated back to the 14th century and were initially created with numerous single-shot barrels. They are were created to fire multiple shots in unison for increased power or a higher probability for landing hits.
These handgun variants were designed with the primary intention of surpassing the functionality of single-shot handguns by enabling users to fire more than one round of ammo before needing to reload. Some of the most popular and iconic multi-barreled handguns include the Remington Model 95, COP .357 Magnum Derringer.
Revolvers were the next step after creating multi-barreled handguns, designed and produced in the 19th century. These handgun variants were designed to allow users to fire multiple shots, necessitating multi-loading through a rotating cylinder filled with cartridges.
The cylinder was designed to rotate upon each trigger press, enabling the barrel to be filled with another round. The limitations vary between models with the capacity to hold from 5 – 8 rounds, depending on the design and make.
Revolvers became incredibly popular since they offered superior accuracy and convenience topped with the use of powerful ammo. This handgun variety formed an iconic part of crime-fighting, war, and the Wild West commonly referred to as a “wheel gun”. After the initial creation, two forms of this handgun type were developed, after which a hybrid was created.
Single Action (SAO)
Single action revolvers are iconic for their association with Western history, and these variants necessitate a thumb cock, after which it can be fired. Single action only results in the trigger depression releasing the hammer or striker, which is why it needs to be completely cocked to discharge ammo.
Double Action (DAO)
Double action revolvers are commonly used by police and enforcement and perform two actions upon pressing the trigger – partially or entirely cocking the hammer or striker and releasing it. This variety features a harder trigger depression and can be fired in a series of ammo discharges.
Double-Single Action (DA/SA)
Double-single action revolvers offer the benefit of both single-action and double-action functionality. These forms are hybrids and can be operated as SAO or DAO by switching between configurations.
Traditional revolvers featured a loading port whereby every individual chamber would need to be emptied and reloaded. However, the design of revolvers has progressed as time has passed, and modern revolvers allow users to reload when necessary utilizing a swing-out chamber. The chambers can eject live rounds and spent casings and be reloaded.
Some of the best and most popular modern revolvers include the Kimber K6S TLE, Colt King Cobra, Taurus Judge, Ruger GP100, Smith & Wesson Model 69, and the S&W Performance Center M&P R8.
After the development of the revolver and its forms, the semi-automatic handgun was created. Commonly referred to as self-loading, auto, or auto-loading, the semi-automatic handgun variety works by utilizing the energy created from the ammo discharge to reload the chamber for the next shot. This makes them easier to use and a popular option for foot soldiers within the United States military.
Due to the functionality of semi-automatic handguns, these gun varieties commonly utilize gas for power or use recoil recovery. There are various semi-automatic handguns, offering differing power levels, accuracy, and capacity for rounds. Some semi-automatic handgun models can carry up to 20 rounds at a time.
Some of the most iconic semi-automatic handguns include the Colt 1911, TT pistol, Browning Hi-Power, and the Glock 17 Gen 4. Semi-automatic pistols are incredibly popular for individuals using handguns for self-defense, since users do not need to reload as frequently, but benefit from relatively user-friendly handling and control.
Automatic handguns are the most modern form of handguns, being designed and developed in more recent times. These handgun variants are sophisticated and powerful, capable of discharging ammo consecutively with rapid succession, necessitating one trigger depression. Contrary to popular belief, automatic handguns do not fire multiple rounds with a single trigger depression.
Magazines are needed for automatic handguns since this handgun variant features a single barrel and chamber. The successive round is loaded from the magazine, the method by which would depend on the design and make of the automatic handgun. Automatic handguns extract and eject casings with each discharge.
Typically, automatic handguns are selective fire, allowing the alternation between fully automatic shots and 3 round bursts per trigger depression. However, automatic handguns take skill and finesse to handle safely and proficiently since their lightweight and rapid-fire capacities make them challenging to control.
However, some users still enjoy utilizing automatic handguns for concealed carry, and their usage can be safe and skillful provided that those handling these firearms receive training. The most popular automatic handgun types include the Kimber Stainless Target II 9MM, Glock 34 9MM, SIG-Sauer P232 .380, Ruger LCP .380, and the Heckler & Koch USP .40 S&W.
Handgun Type Considerations
When purchasing a handgun, it vital to understand what type you are handling since the approach and methods required for proper handling and usage will differ. Unfortunately, it may not always be as straightforward to identify the type of handgun variety, and there are some discrepancies concerning the method of classification.
Cycle of Operation
In some cases, handguns may be identified or classified based on the cycle of operation, whether single-shot or repeating, since every handgun type has a specific cycle of operation and chamber construction. This category is commonly comprised of revolvers and automatic handguns.
Some classify handguns according to their action type as well. Handguns may be single-action, double-action, or double-single action (DA/SA). The physical features, such as the number of chambers and the overall construction, will help determine the type of handgun.
Break action or hinge action handguns hinge around one point, exposing the chambers. Break-action handguns can have a single or double barrel with the ability to hinge down or upwards to expose the chambers, allowing the extraction of casings and the reloading of replacement cartridges.
But, this design means it may be classified as a single-shot handgun or a revolver, depending on the design. Some automatic handguns or revolvers may be classified as DAO, and some revolvers may be identified as break-action.
Considering all of the variations and sub-categories based on numerous aspects and features, identifying the type of handgun may be slightly more complex, over and above the type of design. Nevertheless, there are exceptions in any case, and the specific design, construction, cycle of operation, and action should all be considered when identifying the type of handgun.