Firearms Terms

Many people, including those in the media, have little knowledge of firearms. Gun control advocated demonstrate their ignorance when they incorrectly use the wrong terms when discussing firearms.


The AR-15 is a very popular semi-automatic rifle. The “AR” in AR-15 does NOT stand for “assault rifle,” but is shorthand for ArmaLite, the original manufacturer of the weapon. The AR-15 style weapon was originally designed for the military. I call it a “lego gun” because it is extremely easy to customize and expand. Armalite sold the AR-15 design to Colt. The patent expired in 1977 and other manufacturers produced their own versions. The assault weapons ban nearly banned the AR-15 from 1994 to 2004. 

Assault Weapon

Assault weapon is an artificial term with no clear meaning. The expired 1994 Assault Weapons Ban defined it as, “In general, assault weapons are semiautomatic firearms with a large magazine of ammunition that were designed and configured for rapid fire and combat use.” The term “assault-style weapon” is often used to describe weapons such as the AR-15 which resemble weapons used by the military. Military weapons normally have an automatic firing mode where a single trigger press can fire multiple rounds. Civilian weapons require a trigger press to fire each round.

Automatic and Semi-Automatic Weapons

Automatic and semi-automatic weapons fire a round and then use a portion of the expended gas to load the next round. With a fully automatic weapon the user can pull and hold the trigger to constantly fire rounds. The user does NOT have to repeatedly pull the trigger to fire rounds. With a semi-automatic the user must pull the trigger to fire each round. The vast majority of firearms are semi-automatic and include pistols, shotguns, and rifles. The manufacture and importing of new automatic firearms has been prohibited by the Firearm Owners’ Protection Act of 1986. 

Magazine & Clip

The terms “Magazine” and “clip” are often used interchangeably but this is not correct. A magazine holds multiple rounds and feeds them into the chamber of the weapon. A clip is holds multiple rounds of ammunition together as a unit for insertion into the magazine or cylindear of a firearm (see Wikipedia). 

High-Capacity Magazines

High-capacity magazines typically hold more than 10 rounds. Many places have worked to ban high-capacity magazines. Most automatic handguns hold more than 10 rounds.

Bump stock

A bump stock replaced the standard stock on a semi-automatic weapon. When firing a round the bump stock causes the rifle to move in such a way that the user presses the trigger as the weapon recoils. The effect simulates a fully automatic weapon. It is extremely difficult to shoot with precision when using a bump stock.

Red Flag Law

A Red flag law allows the government to confiscate firearms of a person deemed to be dangerous. A number of states have red flag laws including California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Hawaii, Illinois, Indiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia, and Washington. These laws sound good in theory but the use of such laws and the surveillance required can cause serious problems with civil liberties.