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Spy Truth & Fiction–Common Handgun Misnomers

Bayard & Holmes

~ Piper Bayard & Jay Holmes

There are basically three types of handguns—the revolver, the semi-automatic, and the automatic. All three are commonly misnamed or misrepresented in fiction.

Before we get to the differences in those three weapons, we need to address the most common gun misnomer of all time — the “clip” vs. the “magazine.”

Time and time again, shooters are reloading their “clips” into their “automatic” pistols, when they are actually loading their “magazines” into “semi-automatics.” There are extremely few modern weapons being manufactured today that use clips unless they are replicas of old weapons. One rare example of a modern weapon using a clip is the Smith & Wesson 9mm revolver, which uses a moon clip. So unless a character is using a historical weapon or one of the rare modern firearms that take actual “clips,” the terminology is a fiction.

This is one example of a “clip.”

K31 Stripper Clips for Swiss Karabiner Standard issue for Swiss Armed Forces 1933-1958 Image by GaryArgh, wikimedia commons

K31 Stripper Clips for Swiss Karabiner
Standard issue for Swiss Armed Forces 1933-1958
Image by GaryArgh, wikimedia commons

 

K31 Stripper Clip in Swiss Karabiner Image by GaryArgh, wikimedia commons

K31 Stripper Clip in Swiss Karabiner
Image by GaryArgh, wikimedia commons

 

These are “magazines.” Magazines are widely used in both handguns and rifles.

They hold cartridges and can be quickly and easily reloaded.

 

Magazines for SigSauer P239 and Smith & Wesson .380 Image by Piper Bayard

Magazines for SigSauer P239 and Smith & Wesson .380
Image by Piper Bayard

 

These magazines fit into the handles of the pistols. Contrary to popular belief among certain circles of politicians who I shall not name, they can be reused countless times. They don’t magically get used up just because all of the cartridges are fired.

 

SigSauer P239 and Smith & Wesson .380 with accompanying magazines. Image by Piper Bayard.

SigSauer P239 and Smith & Wesson .380
with accompanying magazines.
Image by Piper Bayard.

 

Now that we’ve cleared that up, let’s move on to the different types of firearms–automatics, semi-automatics, and revolvers.

 

Gunner's Mate 1st Class Montrell Dorsey with M240B automatic weapon Image by US Navy, public domain

Gunner’s Mate 1st Class Montrell Dorsey with
M240B automatic weapon
Image by US Navy, public domain

 

With an automatic weapon, the cartridges load into a removable magazine. The weapon is called automatic because when you pull the trigger, it automatically fires repeated bullets until you take your finger off of the trigger. When the shooter fires, the brass shells of the cartridges are ejected from the weapon. Modern automatic weapons are generally illegal for private ownership without special licenses, a ton of paperwork, and a background check so thorough that it would make your personal physician cringe. These licenses are also so expensive that you’d be better off opening a small business instead of pursuing one.

 

Smith & Wesson Bodyguard .380 semi-automatic Image by Avicennasis, wikimedia commons.

Smith & Wesson Bodyguard .380 semi-automatic
Image by Avicennasis, wikimedia commons.

 

A semi-automatic also has cartridges that load into a removable magazine. However, one trigger pull equals one shot, and the brass shell from each cartridge is automatically ejected. The weapon does not automatically keep firing.

Semi-automatics are legal in all states, but only to varying degrees in different places. In a few states, they practically come as prizes in the bottom of cereal boxes, while in others, only bodyguards of celebrities and politicians that advocate gun control get to carry them. In fact, if the celebrities and politicians are vocal enough in their opposition to private firearms, their bodyguards are approved to operate drones, drive tanks, and launch thermonuclear devices and other weapons of mass destruction.

It’s extremely common for a semi-automatic to be inaccurately referred to throughout media, movies, and TV as an “automatic” weapon. No matter how hot the journalist, movie star, or soap opera star might be, don’t believe it just because they say it.

 

Piper in the remake of Dirty Harry

Piper in the remake of Dirty Harry

 

A revolver is so called because the cartridges reside in a revolving cylinder. Like the semi-automatic, one trigger pull equals one shot. However, the brass shells are not ejected automatically. A shooter must open the cylinder and eject all of the shells simultaneously. Again, the legalities of ownership vary from state to state.

Not to knock one of Piper’s favorites, The Walking Dead, but if you listen closely when Rick fires his Colt Python .357 revolver, you will sometimes hear the sound of ejected brass hitting the floor with each shot—something only semi-automatics and automatics do. Total audio fiction.

Watch for our upcoming Bayard & Holmes release, SPYCRAFT ESSENTIALS, for more Spy Truth & Fiction.

cover-spycraft-essentials-for-writers

 

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Bayard & Holmes Official Photo

‘Jay Holmes’ is a field intelligence veteran of the Cold War and pretty much every war since then. He remains an anonymous senior intelligence operative. Piper Bayard is an author and the public face of their partnership. Together, they are the bestselling authors of The Spy Bride.

To follow Bayard & Holmes, sign up for the Bayard & Holmes Covert Briefing, or find them at their site, Bayard & Holmes. You may contact them in blog comments at their site, on Twitter at @piperbayard, on Facebook at Bayard & Holmes, or by email at BH@bayardandholmes.com.

© 2016 Bayard & Holmes. All content on this page is protected by copyright. If you would like to use any part of this, please contact us at the above links to request permission.

 


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