Citizens need only be concerned with a few types of firearms. The weapons discussed here are generally available over the counter to the Citizen. This section will discuss the basic technological aspects of the various types of weapons.
Rifles, Carbines, Shotguns
The most useful arms to the Citizen are probably the Rifles, Carbines or the Shotguns. Rifles are a long arm with a rifled (grooved) barrel chambered for a full power cartridge, and intended to be fired from the shoulder. Carbines are simply a more compact version of the rifle, most often with a shorter barrel and chambered for an intermediate power cartridge. Shotguns are smooth bored weapons designed to send a large number of small round projectiles toward the target.
Single shot rifles or carbines are specialized firearms of little practical use as defensive arms as they must be reloaded each time a round is fired. Both the rifles or the carbines are available as repeaters in lever, pump, bolt, or semi-automatic type actions.
The lever action rifle & carbine are probably the most commonly known type to most Americans. This is the weapon usually seen in TV and movie Westerns and typically carried in a saddle scabbard. Spencer and Henry lever action rifles were introduced during the Civil War, though few saw actual service. The standard rifles used by the troops of both the Federal Army and the Army of the Confederacy were either muzzle loaders, or paper cartridge breech loaders, both requiring a fairly complicated process of reloading after each shot. A few breech loading metallic cartridge arms were available, but these were also single shot weapons. A repeating rifle would allow several shots to be fired before reloading and thus dramatically increase the rate of fire.
The Winchester Model 1873 was the first really successful lever action repeater. Several designs were introduced and subsequently discontinued in the evolution of the Winchester lever action, the Model 1894 being the most common and still in production in various forms. Marlin, Browning, and Savage also produce lever action repeaters, the Savage Model 99 and the Browning Model 81 being perhaps the most useful for our purposes.
All lever actions utilize a lever under the action to facilitate repeat shots. After a shot is fired the user lowers a lever under the action which unlocks the breech, extracts the fired cartridge case and cocks the hammer. A fresh cartridge is fed from a spring loaded magazine into position, and when the underlever is raised the fresh cartridge is pressed home into the chamber and the breech locked.
The Winchester and Marlin lever actions utilize a tubular magazine requiring round nosed or flat point bullets. This is a disadvantage as these bullet types lose velocity very quickly and limit the effective range of the arm dramatically. Another disadvantage is that the breech locking system of Winchester and Marlin rifles is not designed for high intensity cartridges.
Savage and Browning both produce lever guns that use a box magazine making the use of ballistically superior pointed bullets possible. The breech locking system is also stronger allowing them to be chambered for modern high pressure cartridges like the .308 Winchester (7.62 NATO).
The pump action (also called slide or trombone action) is today most commonly seen in use on shotguns. At one time pump action type rifles were quite popular. Operation is very similar to lever types, the actuating mechanism being a sliding forearm rather than a pivoting underlever. The drawbacks of relatively weak lockup and extraction, and tubular magazines in this action are similar to lever guns.
Remington, however, produces a pump action in its Model 7600 which utilizes a box magazine and a strong rotating bolt lockup chambered for modern high intensity cartridges. Extraction of fired cases remains the weak point. Keeping the chamber and action clean will help in this area.
The bolt action repeater is the strongest and most accurate action type. Operation and maintenance is simple. Cartridges are usually loaded into a box magazine singly, or in military types by placing a stripper clip containing the appropriate number of rounds in a slot machined above the magazine and pressing them down into place. The bolt is pushed forward, picking up a single round, and sliding it into the chamber. The bolt handle is then pressed down, rotating large locking lugs at the front of the bolt into recesses at the rear of the chamber creating a very solid locked breech.
Very well made and accurate bolt action rifles and carbines are widely available and chambered in a broad variety of powerful calibers. Rate of aimed fire suffers slightly compared to semi-auto types. Accuracy of bolt guns is generally excellent and optical sights (scopes) are easier to mount. The bolt action is the preferred type for long range engagement and sniper use.
This type of weapon is more properly called self-loading. The action extracts the fired case from the chamber and loads another round into the chamber without the assistance of the operator. The trigger must be squeezed to fire each round. The advantage of the self-loading weapon is that the shooter can devote full concentration to target selection and sight alignment, rather than being concerned with operating a mechanism in order to fire repeatedly.
The adoption of the M-1 Garand self-loader by the U.S. prior to WWII gave our soldiers a distinct advantage over German, Italian, and Japanese troops. The Garand was nearly as accurate as the bolt action rifles issued to Axis forces, and provided a greater rate of aimed fire. Disadvantages were increased weight and more required maintenance. The self-loading weapon requires good fire control discipline on the part of the operator. A high rate of AIMED fire is the desired result, rather than spraying bullets in the general direction of the target.
Self-loading mechanisms in firearms suitable to defensive and sporting use are generally gas operated. A round is fired, and propellant gas is bled off behind the bullet as it passes a port in the barrel near the muzzle. This gas pressure is used to move a piston and operating rod, which then unlocks and opens the breech ejecting the spent case and compressing the buffer spring arrangement. Spring pressure then forces the bolt forward again, picking up a fresh round, chambering it and locking the breech. Some systems apply gas pressure to a piston connected directly to the bolt thus reducing moving parts, but increasing the distance powder gasses must travel and possibly increasing fouling.
The modern self-loader is a very effective and dependable weapon. Accuracy can be very good, but is dependent upon the quality control implemented at the myriad and various arms and ammunition manufacturing facilities.
Selective Fire Actions
The standard for military small arms is currently selective fire capability. This means the weapon can be fired semi-auto, or full auto. As explained above, semi-automatic fire requires the trigger to be operated to fire each round. Full automatic fire means that the operator need only pull the trigger to initiate firing. Firing continues as long as the trigger is held back or until all ammunition is expended.
A major problem with full auto operation is that with full power cartridges recoil will force the weapon further off target with each succeeding shot. This is not a problem for tripod mounted weapons such as heavy machine guns, but shoulder fired weapons become difficult to keep on target. The adoption of the M-16 utilizing the small caliber 5.56mm NATO cartridge was intended to minimize this difficulty, while the reduced weight of the new rifle and round enabled the soldier to carry the extra ammo full auto fire necessitated.
Field experience showed that fire control discipline was not adequately dealing with the problem of indiscriminate fire and wasted ammunition. The M-16 A2 thus incorporates a burst mode in place of the full auto mode. Burst mode allows only 3 rounds to be fired before the trigger must be released and squeezed again to reinitiate firing.
Weapons capable of selective fire can be obtained by the Citizen from Class III weapons dealers. Recent legislation prohibits the sale of newly manufactured full auto or selective fire weapons to law enforcement agencies and the military only. Preban autos available to the Citizen are quite expensive and require licensing and payment of a $200 fee to the BATF. One may expect that BATF will keep a record of your possession and visit unannounced to inspect such.
There are many cases on record of BATF raiding law abiding gun owners on trumped up charges, seizing legally possessed weapons, destroying or seizing other personal property, and injuring or killing innocent people. Federal, State, and local authorities refuse to prosecute these illegal activities, or even to cut the budget of the offending agency. Selective and or full auto weapons should not be the weapon of choice for the average Citizen. Careful, well aimed fire from a bolt or semi-auto action is much easier to achieve and more effective. Leave the concept of suppressive fire to the Rambos at BATF, they have the budget and "destroy everything in sight" mentality such foolish policies require.
Shotguns are smooth bored weapons designed to send a large number of small round projectiles toward the target. The projectiles (lead or steel shot) spread out in a reasonably controlled manner as they proceed downrange. Most often used in bird or small game hunting, shotguns are effective in stopping small fast moving targets.
Shotguns are available in single shot, double-barrel, pump, bolt, and semi-auto actions. Such weapons have a definite but limited usefulness. A pump or semi-auto shotgun can be used effectively for defense purposes, but only at close range. Several manufacturers produce shotguns designed specifically for this use.
Two types of repeating handguns are available, the revolver and the semi-auto pistol. Usefulness of both is limited to very close range defense or backup.
The revolver operates by means of rotating cylinder of chambers aligning with a fixed barrel. Commonly called a six-gun, two sub-types are the single action and the double action revolver.
Single Action Revolvers
Single action revolvers require the user to cock the exposed hammer with the thumb, rotating the cylinder to align the next chamber with the barrel. Squeezing the trigger then discharges that chamber. The cylinder of a single action revolver is usually loaded one round at a time through a loading gate at the side of the gun. This requires two actions to reload each chamber in the cylinder - extraction of the fired case and insertion of the fresh round.
Double Action Revolvers
Double action revolvers usually have cylinders that swing out away from the frame of the handgun to allow one operation of the ejector rod to empty the cylinder of all fired cases at once. A device called a speedloader, which holds six rounds in alignment, can then be placed over the cylinder to load all chambers at once. The cylinder is then swung back into position ready to fire. As the trigger is squeezed, a linkage inside the frame cocks the hammer and rotates the cylinder. At the end of the trigger stroke the hammer is released firing the round in the aligned chamber. Double action revolvers tend to have quite stiff trigger pulls as one action has to accomplish many tasks. Most can be fired single action by cocking the hammer with the thumb. The hammer can then be released with a light squeeze on the trigger.
Semi-automatic pistols operate as self-loaders, with each round fired the empty case is ejected, and a fresh round chambered. Pistols may be single action, double action, or double action only.
Single action (SA) pistols require the hammer to be manually cocked for the first round, the trigger is then pulled firing the pistol. Recoil is tapped to provide energy for ejecting the empty case, cocking the hammer, and chambering a new round. The pistol is now ready to fire again, chamber loaded, hammer cocked. Double action (DA) pistols will cock the hammer with the first round's trigger pull, the pistol will fire, eject the empty case, cock the hammer, and chamber a fresh round. The pistol is now ready to fire again, chamber loaded, hammer cocked.
Double action only (DAO) semi-autos eject fired cases and chamber a fresh round with each firing, but the hammer is always cocked by pulling the trigger. The first part of the trigger pull will cock the hammer, the final few ounces will release it. Recoil provides the energy to eject the fired case and chamber a new round only.All handguns are more difficult to shoot adequately than are rifles. A revolver is slightly easier for the novice to learn to operate well than a semi-auto. Semi-auto pistols require diligent effort to learn safe handling and marksmanship.
No Handguns can be made to do the job of carbines or rifles. But all things considered, Handguns are better than no gun, you have a Right, Responsibility, Duty to protect yourself, family. (also others if their life is threatened or endangered.)
Rule #1: Be Armed - Second Amendment