If you’ve browsed Triangle Shooting Academy’s inventory or watched any popular shows recently then you probably have seen a handgun before, and could pick one out of a lineup of other firearms. Handguns have been such iconic items in culture and media that one would be hard-pressed to find someone that couldn’t give you a general description.
Being able to describe a handgun and actually understanding the mechanisms and engineering are two separate things. The purpose of this resource is to delve into the latter and provide a more in-depth look and understanding of the workings of a handgun. For some people, this information is already known and it will be a good refresher, but for others, it will be useful knowledge in better understanding the firearm. When you have a deeper understanding of a thing, especially firearms, you are able to ask better questions and make more informed decisions.
To start off, it should be noted that not all handguns are created the same. There are multiple manufacturers who all have their own models of handgun that may differ between one another. Such as the difference between a hammer-fired handgun and a striker-fired, but those differences will be touched on in another resource. For this particular article, we’re only going to concern ourselves with the general overview of the parts that can be found on nearly every handgun.
- Slide & Slide Components
- Magazine & Magazine Components
- Variant: External Safety
On most stock handguns the sights set into the top of the slide are posts that allow for the acquisition of your target and lining up the barrel with the area of the target which you want to hit. The manner in which you set your sights using these posts is to align the front post perfectly between the two back posts when looking down the slide of the handgun. While focusing on the front post, you place it over the area of the target you wish to hit. As long as this front post is between the two back posts and level with them, the bullet will travel to the area under your front post if nothing else (like grip, trigger pull, etc) acted against it. On some models of handguns, the slide comes cut with a plate that allows for use of a red-dot sight for faster target acquisition.
The barrel of a handgun is one of the more important parts in regards to quality and craftsmanship and is responsible for the delivery of the bullet down-range. The length of the barrel can affect the velocity of the bullet, how far it will travel, and how straight the flight will be. All handgun barrels are rifled with a specific twist ratio that will normally be listed as 1:X where X is the number of inches the bullet has to travel inside the barrel in order to make one full rotation. So a 1:8 twist barrel means it will take the bullet 8” to spin one full rotation in the barrel. Depending on the caliber of bullet you are looking to fire you want a certain twist rate to ensure the bullet travels efficiently.
The slide is where the barrel, guide rod, extractor, and firing pin is housed. It’s called the Slide because when firing a semi-auto handgun the recoil of the shot causes the top half of the pistol to slide backward. This backward motion ejects the fired casing, re-arms the firing pin or striker, and then pushes the next round from the magazine into the chamber to be fired. When the final round of the magazine has been fired, the slide-lock (located on the side of the handgun) will catch the slide and hold it open until a new magazine is inserted and the slide released.
The trigger is an easily recognizable part of any firearm and is going to be located close to the grip within reach of the shooter’s hand. Around most triggers, there will be a trigger guard that acts as a barrier to keep anything from sliding up into the trigger or coming into contact with the trigger unnecessarily and causing it to fire the handgun. Even with this guard though it is important to practice firearm safety and keep your trigger finger resting along the slide of the firearm until you are ready to shoot. In a properly functioning firearm, the only thing that will cause it to fire is the trigger. Triggers, like barrels, can be manufactured in different ways to tailor to the user and the job. You will find both curved and flat triggers, varying pull-weights to engage the trigger, and varying breakpoints. Figuring out what is best for you and your situation will make your shooting experience that much smoother and easy to practice.
The magazine is where your ammunition is housed within the handgun and will determine how many rounds you are able to carry. Magazines for most popular handguns will come in varying capacity sizes and can be bought to tailor to your needs. A single-stack (where rounds are stacked single-file) pistol will use a magazine that is thinner and carries fewer rounds but it will allow the handgun to be lighter and more compact. With a double-stack (where the rounds are stacked inside the magazine two at a time) pistol, the magazine will carry more rounds but the magazine and grip will be wider and a bit heavier.
The grip is the part of the handgun where you actually will be placing your hand in order to hold it for firing. Like most other things in the firearms world, the grip for any particular handgun is going to differ based on the manufacturer and the model itself. Some companies have deeper grip angles while others have more relaxed holds. Some will have tough knurling to allow for a better grip surface and others are easier on the hands. It is recommended that before purchasing a handgun you take the time to hold all the different types so that you can decide what grip works best for you as they are all different and no one hand is the same.
Variant: External Safety
Some handguns will come with an external safety. The safety switch makes it where the firing pin cannot be released and the primer on the round struck in order to fire it. But no safety mechanic is ever absolute and the last line of safety is always with the user and their hand. Which is why practicing firearm safety and trigger discipline is so important. Most handguns that are hammer-fired will include a safety of some type that will allow the firearm to be carried with the hammer cocked but the safety preventing it from being released even with a trigger pull. Some striker-fired handguns will also have external safeties but they are normally rarer. The decision to have a safety or not on your handgun is a personal preference and one that someone else cannot make for you. Like before, it is best to rent or try as many handguns as you can before you decide on purchasing any so that you know what works best for you personally.
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