Tag Archive for Terminology

Dry fire

Today we’re going to talk about a type of shooting practice called dry fire.

Dry firing is simply pulling the trigger on a gun that is not loaded with live ammunition. The gun can be empty or can be loaded with dummy rounds or snap caps. Both dummy rounds and snap caps look and may feel like real cartridges but are fake and cannot be fired. They are designed to reduce wear on a guns firing pin by giving it something to hit and transfer its energy to.

Dry firing guns can have many useful results. One benefit is that it helps you become familiar with a new gun. With dummy rounds, you can practice loading and unloading the gun safely. You can get used to the weight of the gun and the feel of it in your hand. And you can get used to the trigger pull (every gun is different!).

Dry firing can also be used to overcome common problems new shooters have, such as flinching. Flinching often happens when a shooter anticipates the recoil of the gun and tightens up their muscles right before the gun fires. This can result in a badly spoiled shot. Dry fire can be a cure for this problem as it allows the shooter to focus on the fundamentals of pistol shooting without worrying about the recoil. The body becomes accustomed to the process of firing a gun without flinching and that can translate to greater success on the gun range.

Dry fire is also far cheaper than going to the range and can be done from the comfort of your own home. This lets a shooter work on proper grip, stance, sight alignment, sight picture, trigger squeeze, and follow through on a more regular basis. It is also very useful for practicing drawing and reholstering a firearm.

I like using dry fire to help with target acquisition and decision making. A good monster movie or crime thriller is good for this. Because the camera jumps from person to person quickly, when the bad guy or monster appears on the screen you have to quickly recognize the threat and engage.

However, there are several serious safety issues requiring careful precautions to be taken before every dry fire session to reduce the possibility of an accident.

First, no live ammunition is to be present in any room where dry firing is taking place. Not in magazines, speed-loaders, pockets, bags, boxes, or lying around. This is a zero tolerance policy!

Second, you should always dry fire with the gun pointed at something that could stop a bullet should there be an accident. A bookcase, solid door, brick wall, gun safe, etc. are all good choices.

Third, keep distractions to a minimum. Don’t talk on the phone, surf the web, or carry on conversations with others. Keep your focus on what you are doing. If you set your gun down for any reason, check to be sure it is unloaded when you pick it up again.

Fourth, when dry fire is done it is done. I know of one person who after a dry fire session was putting his stuff away and decided to fire “one last shot.” Unfortunately, he had forgotten that he had reloaded his gun and the gun went “boom” instead of “click.” Luckily, nobody was injured.

Dry fire can be a great practice tool and can be done safely as long as those basic rules are followed religiously.

Concealed carry

After being a gun rights activist for over eight years now, I find it easy to forget that not everyone thinks about guns when they hear the words “concealed carry.” Every so often I’ll mention it and get a quizzical look while the person tries to figure out what I’m talking about carrying concealed.

Concealed carry is simply carrying a weapon, usually a firearm in this context, that cannot easily be seen (like a plain clothes police detective), as opposed to “open carry” which is carrying one in plain sight like you see uniformed police do. You’ll often see it referred to as CCW (Carrying a Concealed Weapon).

There are many ways to carry concealed, but the easiest way to do so while carrying a gun on your person is to simply wear what’s called a cover garment, which is generally a loose outer shirt, jacket, or vest. In the picture to the right, you can see a shirt being used as a cover garment. When carrying like this it is helpful to have a holster that holds the gun close to your body (we’ll talk about holsters another time) because otherwise there will be an obvious bulge (called “printing”) if you’re wearing a thin cover garment.

It is for this reason that some people carry a smaller gun in the summer than in the winter. In the winter, you can wear a heavier shirt or a sweater which hides the gun better because it is thicker. You’ll also be wearing a heavier coat while outdoors.

One important thing is to not put yourself in a position where you’d want to remove your cover garment if you want to stay concealed. If, for example, you’re relying on a jacket for concealment and you go into a warm room where a jacket makes you too hot you could end up uncomfortable or look out of place.

Another simple way to carry concealed is to put the gun into a purse, briefcase, backpack, fanny pack, or other similar container. Purse carry is very popular with women. One thing to keep in mind if you’re going to do that is how fast you can get to your gun if you need it. It is advisable to use a container made for carrying a gun.

A quick search in the internet will reveal a wide variety of purses, bags, etc. that are made for doing so. The reason for this is that these containers hold the gun in a very specific place where you’ll know right where it is at. Anyone who has ever dug through a purse or briefcase looking for something knows that is not what you want to have happen when being confronted by a mugger.

Another concern with “off body carry” is that these bags, purses, etc. can be set down, which opens a whole new can of worms. It could be stolen, forgotten, rummaged through by a kid, or any other variety of things when the gun is beyond your immediate control. Purse snatching is a common crime and if you’re not careful the thief will have your purse and your gun. Not to mention the fact that you have to then go to your container in order to retrieve your gun if you need it.

Speaking of that, there is another thing to keep in mind when carrying concealed versus openly, and that is getting to your gun. If it is in a container, you usually have to first open that container. While a lot of containers designed for carrying a gun usually have a quick opening mechanism like velcro pull tabs, that still slows you down.

If carrying on your person, you have to “clear” your cover garment first, meaning move it out of the way. This can be done with your shooting hand or your opposite hand, but does require practice to do it smoothly. You can also have a problem with your gun snagging on the cover garment, such as if an exposed hammer catches in the material. For this reason, many guns designed for concealed carry have rounded edges, bobbed (shortened) hammers, or hammers that are shrouded (covered) or not there at all (hammerless).

It is important to remember that in Ohio, like most states, a license or permit is required to carry concealed. Each state varies in their procedures and we’ll talk about getting one in Ohio in a future article. Basically, you have to take a class and apply for a license at your local sheriff’s office.

For more information about concealed carry, a great resource is the Ohio CCW forums.

Revolver vs. semi-automatic

One question that is always sure to spur a lot of debate is whether a revolver or semi-automatic pistol is the better choice for self-defense. While the pros and cons of each are many and provide far more material than can be covered in one article, I will lay out the primary arguments for each.

A revolver has fewer moving parts than a semi-automatic pistol. This tends to make them very reliable with very little maintenance required. There are simply fewer parts that can break on a revolver and fewer things that can go wrong while firing one. In most cases, if the pistol fails to fire when you pull the trigger (bad ammunition can cause this to happen) you simply pull the trigger again and a new cartridge rotates into place. That’s part of the reason why some call the revolver the original point and click device.

There are some drawbacks to revolvers, however. Since the ammunition is contained in the round cylinder, they tend to be fatter than a similarly sized semi-automatic. This can make them more difficult to conceal, though only slightly so, particularly with a smaller round like a .22.

Most revolvers only have six shots, though many ultra-compact semi-automatics don’t have many more than that. Revolvers are also slow to reload. Speed loaders (special tools that hold extra ammo for a revolver) can make reloading faster, but still not as fast as a semi-automatic.

One of the biggest drawbacks is that if a revolver does fail, it can do so spectacularly and completely lock up the gun. Anecdotal evidence seems to indicate this is very rare, but if it happens the gun is usually completely useless and requires a gun smith to make it function again.

Semi-automatic pistols try to make up for the deficiencies of a revolver, but add numerous shortcomings in the process.

They are often thinner, lighter, and can hold more ammunition (often twice as much or more). The removable magazines make them quicker to reload for most people. However, semi-automatic pistols also have some drawbacks.

The first of which is that they are more complicated to load. With a revolver, you load the cylinder, close it, and you’re ready to go. With a semi-automatic, you insert the magazine and must rack the slide. Not that much more complicated, but if you forget that all important second step (under stress while being attacked or simply because you forgot two years ago when you loaded the gun) nothing will happen no matter how many times you pull the trigger.

If a cartridge fails to fire, you must rack the slide to get rid of the bad cartridge and load a fresh one. A cartridge can also fail to extract when the slide cycles (moves back and forth) causing a jam. Jams in a semi-automatic are often easier to clear than with a revolver, but you still must know how to do it.

The slide itself can be a problem. You must have sufficient strength to pull back the slide, and I’ve witnessed many people who simply can’t do it if the internal springs are too strong. I’ve never seen anyone unable to close the cylinder on a revolver.

Many semi-automatic pistols have a safety that must be disengaged before firing. Again, failing to do so means the gun won’t fire. I’ve also heard stories of untrained individuals attempting to disengage the safety and instead hitting the magazine release button causing the pistol to unload.

More moving parts means there is more to break, though most quality semi-automatics tend to have long service lives. These moving parts do require more maintenance and also provide more opportunities for the gun to jam when dirty, something that rarely happens with a revolver.

In my opinion, revolvers are the better choice for a person who wants a reliable firearm and does not want to invest the time into proper practice. Though, for me, the semi-automatic is the better choice.

I practice regularly to be sure I’m familiar with the controls and have built muscle memory for dealing with malfunctions. I can also shoot a semi-automatic faster than a revolver. My pistol holds 11 rounds of .40 caliber ammunition, as opposed to the six rounds in a revolver. With one extra magazine, I have 21 shots versus the 12 I’d have with one speed loader for a revolver.

It all boils down to a matter of personal preference, and really any gun is going to be better than no gun. It is a decision you have to make for yourself.

Firearms terminology

One of the most daunting things for a new gun owner is dealing with the terminology. Below is a list of some of the more common terms and what they mean. This is obviously not all inclusive, and mostly just covers the basics.

Action: The group of moving parts for loading, unloading, and firing a gun.

Automatic: A gun that fires many times rapidly while the trigger is held down. A “machine gun.”

Barrel: A metal tube through which the bullet travels to leave the gun.

Bore: The inside of the barrel.

Breech: The back end of the barrel, opposite of muzzle.

Bullet: The projectile, usually made of lead.

Butt: The back end of the stock or grip.

Caliber: System of measurement of the bore of the gun.

Carbine: A short barrel rifle.

Cartridge: Sometimes referred to as a “round”, the cartridge contains the primer, case, powder charge, and the bullet.

Case: The metal tube that contains the powder and forms the body of a cartridge. Sometimes referred to as “brass” as this is a common metal used.

Chamber: The part of the gun where the cartridge resides just prior to being fired. In a revolver, the chambers are in the cylinder. In a semi-automatic, the chamber is at the breech of the barrel.

Choke: A slight tapering of the barrel of a shotgun just before the muzzle. This tapering controls how tightly the shot is compressed before it leaves the gun.

Choke tubes: Short pieces of metal which screw into the muzzle of a shotgun that allow you to change the choke of the gun.

Cock: Prepare the gun to fire, typically by pulling back the hammer.

Comb: The top part of the stock of a shotgun.

Cylinder: The part of a revolver where the cartridges are loaded. It spins as the gun is fired.

Cylinder catch: A button or lever which is used to release the cylinder on a revolver so it swings out.

Decocking lever: A lever on some guns used to help safely uncock the gun.

Double action: When the trigger is pulled on a double action gun, it pulls the hammer back before releasing it.

Dry fire: To pull the trigger on an empty gun. Useful for practicing techniques like trigger squeeze, sight alignment, and holding the gun steady while pulling the trigger.

Ejector: Mechanism in the inside of the action which ejects a spent casing from the gun so a new one can be loaded.

Ejector rod: A rod of metal in a revolver used to manually eject cartridges from the cylinder.

Firing pin: A small piece of metal inside the action which strikes the primer of a cartridge causing it to fire.

Frame: The backbone of the gun, the framework to which all the other parts are attached.

Gauge: The measurement of caliber specific to shotguns.

Grip: The part of a gun you hold on to, most commonly used to refer to handguns. Often made of wood, rubber, or plastic.

Hammer: A piece of metal on some guns used to strike the firing pin when the trigger is pulled.

Magazine: Stores ammunition. For many handguns, it is often removable and can be loaded ahead of time for quick reloading. Sometimes incorrectly referred to as a “clip”.

Magazine release: A button or lever on a gun which is used to release the magazine from the gun.

Muzzle: The end of the barrel where the projective exits, the “business end”.

Powder: A chemical compound (gunpowder) that catches on fire and burns rapidly. This produces a lot of gas which expells the bullet out of the gun.

Primer: The part of a cartridge that is struck by the firing pin to make a spark which ignites the powder charge.

Receiver: The outside frame of the action where information about the gun (caliber, chamber length, serial number, etc.) is often stamped.

Safety: A mechanical device in the action of a gun designed to prevent the gun from firing if the trigger is pulled. As a mechanical device, it can break so should not be relied upon totally.

Scope: An optical sight similar to a small telescope used most commonly on rifles but also occasionally on handguns and shotguns.

Semi-automatic: A gun that will fire each time the trigger is pulled and reloads a new cartridge each time. Not to be confused with “automatic”.

Single action: The gun must be cocked before each trigger pull.

Sight: Used to aim a gun, typically a combination of a front sight and rear sight which must be aligned.

Slide: The outer portion of the action on a semi-automatic handgun which slides back and forth as the gun fires.

Snap cap: A “dummy round” that is used to dry fire a gun. It contains a spring inside to absorb the energy of the firing pin.

Stock: Rear and front outer portions of a rifle or shotgun used for holding the gun. Typically made of wood, but also can be plastic.

Trigger: A lever on the lower portion of a gun used to fire the gun.

Trigger guard: The semi-circular piece of metal around the trigger which helps prevent it from accidentally being pulled.

What is caliber?

Last time, we talked about buying a gun and some of the things you need to know. One thing that’s obvious when you first walk in to a gun store is the wide variety of guns available. Rifles, shotguns, and handguns of all makes and models.

These different guns are divided into sizes called “caliber.” The caliber of the gun is a measurement of the inside of the barrel, which is called the bore. In most modern rifles and handguns, there are spiral grooves cut into the barrel. These grooves make a bullet spin like a football so that it is more accurate. To get a bit technical, the high part of the spiraling is called the lands and the low part is the grooves. Caliber in these types of guns is usually measured as the distance between the lands.

Shotguns handle their caliber designation a little bit differently. Instead of being a direct measurement of the diameter of the bore, they instead use a measurement of weight. The gauge of a shotgun is the number of lead balls the diameter of the bore that it would take to equal one point. So, if you had a lead ball the same diameter as the inside of a 12 gauge shotgun, it would take 12 of them to equal one pound. A 20 gauge would take 20 balls for its smaller diameter barrel. This is why, for shotguns, the lower the gauge the bigger the gun.

An exception is the .410 shotgun, which is a measurement of the caliber instead of the weight.

For rifles and handguns, the bigger the number the bigger the bullet. So, a .375 is much bigger than a .22. Both of those are measured in hundredths of an inch, but caliber can also be measured in millimeters. However, even then things aren’t always so simple.

Some rifle calibers, for example, denote not only the diameter of the bullet but also can include the length, weight, or grains of powder in the cartridge. That’s a bit complicated for this article, though. One thing that should be pointed out, though, is for the common .22 cartridge. There are .22 long rifle cartridges and .22 shorts. As you would expect, one cartridge is longer than the other. It is important to know which cartridge your gun is chambered in when buying the ammunition.

Caliber itself as a measure of diameter can be confusing as well, though, because sometimes estimations are used to distinguish between different sizes of cartridges. For example, a .357 and a .38 are the same diameter bullet, being 0.357 inches. However, the .357 has a lot more gunpowder in the slightly larger cartridge.

Some of the more popular cartridges for handguns are the .22, .38, .357, .40, .45, and 9mm. Which one is right for you is subjective. Many people will tell you that the smallest caliber you should consider for self defense is a .38 because the larger bullet and more gunpowder gives a better chance of stopping someone from attacking you. However, lower caliber handguns are popular because they have less recoil or “kick” when they are fired. On the other hand, if you are in a self-defense situation, your body will be filled with adrenaline and you will not feel the recoil anyway.

There is far more to caliber than can be covered here. For more information, I recommend you read this excellent article on Wikipedia.