Continuing Monday education series:
Pistol and action types:Handguns come generally in two flavors; (1) Revolvers, and (2) semi-automatic. Let's take them one at a time. Revolvers are simple to operate. Generally speaking they are point and shoot like your favorite instamatic camera. There are no buttons, levers or switches to operate in order to fire the gun. Simply aim using the proper grip, stance, sight alignment and sight picture (more later) and press the trigger. No need to fumble with a safety, slide release, decocker, etc. Revolvers very rarely jam and if they do, something is broken and generally cannot be repaired in the field. These are all the "pros" of revolvers. The "cons" of revolvers are that they generally hold fewer rounds of ammunition (typically 5-6 rounds but there are some variations), are much more difficult to reload in a hurry, and their shape (because of the cylinder) makes them much less comfortable to carry concealed in the waistband. There are double action (DA), single action (SA) or combination revolvers (SA/DA). The action type refers to how many functions the trigger performs. If the trigger only releases the firing mechanism (must be hand-cocked / think of "old west" guns) it is a single action firearm. Double action firearms are those that the trigger performs two functions. It both readies (cocks) the firing mechanism, and releases it. A combination pistol is one that can be fired either single or double action. While the trigger will cock the firing mechanism, you can over-ride that and cock it yourself by drawing the hammer back (which also moves the trigger backward to the ready to fire position). This is a much slower method, but results in more accuracy because trigger movement is much smaller and therefore the pistol doesn't move around as you press the trigger. Semi-automatic pistols perform some of the loading and unloading (by firing) the handgun automatically between shots. As the gun is fired and those pressures build and push the bullet down the barrel, Newton's law says, "For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction." The same pressure that is working forward to push the bullet out the barrel also works rearward and moves the slide to the rear. The slide is then under spring tension which (at the end of the cycle) pushes the slide forward again. During the rearward movement, a small hook-like device called an extractor grabs the back of the empty cartridge case and draws it out of the chamber, ejecting the spent case from the pistol. CAUTION: When standing to the right of a shooter using a semi-auto you will likely have hot brass cases coming toward you. Invariably, these hot cases find their way down the front of your shirt and are not comfortable ! When observing a shooter of a semi-auto, stand behind, or to the left of the shooter. Like revolvers, semi-auto pistols come in different action types. Single, double, or combination. A single action only (SAO) semi-auto pistol must have the hammer manually cocked to fire the first shot (the exception here is striker-fired pistols which are always cocked) . In subsequent shots, the gun is always firing in single action because the slide cocks the hammer as it moves rearward. Therefore, the trigger always only performs one function; releasing the firing mechanism. Double action only semi-auto pistols (DAO) have a hammer that is internal and cannot be cocked manually. Like revolvers, DAO pistols have a longer/heavier trigger pull which can result in movement of the pistol during the trigger press. Combination semi-auto pistols (SA/DA) function like revolvers in that the shooter has the option to cock the hammer or allow the trigger to do so. Most new semi-auto pistols are what is called "striker-fired" meaning they have a striker rather than a hammer. The striker is a long rod inside the slide that has a pointed tip (firing pin) at the front. The striker is held back under spring tension and is released by the trigger. Striker fired pistols therefore are of the SAO variety as the trigger only releases the firing mechanism (striker). The advantages of semi-auto pistols include: MUCH higher ammunition capacity, reduced trigger press resulting in less movement of the pistol during firing in single action (more accurate), flat sides that make inside-the-waistband carry much more comfortable. It is CRITICAL when firing a semi-auto to use the proper grip. BOTH thumbs MUST be on the same side of the slide or injury can result. (more on this in a future discussion). The disadvantages of semi-auto pistols are that they are more complex machines that are subject to a wider variety of failures. Usually these failures are ammunition or shooter technique related. Semi-autos can be fussy about what type of ammunition they "like" and function well with. This may take some experimentation on the part of the shooter to learn which ammunition is best for that particular pistol.There are usually buttons and levers to learn how to use, and require practice to learn the skills to use them efficiently. SAO semi-automatic pistols are always cocked and require minimal trigger movement to fire them. This can lead to accidental discharge more easily in an inexperienced shooter than with a revolver. It takes proper training and practice to use a semi-auto pistol safely and efficiently. That said, they are not inherently dangerous in properly trained and practiced hands. When handled properly they are certainly safe to carry and use. Semi-automatic pistols can be difficult to cock (work the slide) for people with less strength in their hands, however there are options to help with this. As always, please feel free to ask questions. When deciding on what type of pistol to buy/carry, it is imperative that the dealer spend time with you learning your specific needs and not just sell you "the coolest one" or "that pretty pink one". The proper choice must fit your hand, your personality, and your skill level.