A pistol or handgun is a usually small, projectile weapon, normally fired with one hand. Thus either a revolver or a semi-automatic pistol meant for personal use (used by one person) in short-range action. In the 15th century the term pistol was used for small knives and daggers which could be concealed in a person's clothing. By the 18th century the term came to be used exclusively to refer to small firearms, or additionally, and more recently, similar devices designed for the aimed discharge of projectiles by the force of gas pressure stored by other than chemical means ("air pistol"). Although all handguns are generally referred to as pistols, many people restrict the term "pistol" to single chamber handguns, such as semiautomatic or single shot pistols, as opposed to multi-chambered revolvers or multibarreled derringers, and use handgun for the broader category.

They are used mainly by police officers, military commissioned officers, and civilians who want a compact self-defense weapon, or for shooting sports. Unlike rifles and shotguns, they are very rarely used for hunting. Revolvers tend to be somewhat more common for civilian self-defence weapons, while semiautomatic pistols are issued to police and military personnel.




Before use, locate the safety, learn how to safe the gun, remove all cartridges from the gun, and reload it. Learn how the "sight picture" of the sights should look, and have the sights adjusted for accuracy (by a recommended gunsmith if they appear unadjustable). Revolvers usually do not have a safety. Some automatic pistols (see below) may have more than one

Practice with the gun until these motions can all be performed properly by muscle memory during the first shot of the day.

Wear hearing and eye protection, and follow gun safety rules at all times, and the range safety rules and laws of your area.

Aimed fire

Move the safety to off. Using both hands, raise the pistol to eye level, lining up the sights with the dominant eye to make the specified sight-picture. Be sure to hold the pistol tightly, but not so tightly that it trembles. Using the ball of the finger, squeeze (don't pull) the trigger straight back in a controlled way, and have a goal to fire as the sight picture drifts over the point of aim. When aimed properly, the center of a gun's sight picture will drift in small circles, with the edge of the circle vertically passing through the point of aim. The firing should be a surprise; anticipation of the shot can lead to a poorly aimed shot. Do not let the barrel rise, or move after or because of firing. Immediately repeat the motions needed to fire again. When done, move the safety to on. Before storing the gun, unload it.

Two hands reduce tremble and movement more than twice as much. The classic shooting error is to jerk the trigger or gun as a result of, or in anticipation of discharge. Many people naturally want to hook the trigger with the first joint of the trigger finger, which pulls the aim to one side. Strength training can reduce the width of the circle of tremble.

Offhand fire

Pick a gun which points well, and practice offhand fire. Prepare as for aimed fire, if time permits. Focus on a point of aim, but do not think about the position of the gun. Aim for the largest part of the target, and shoot until the gun is empty. In ranges above 10m, always use aimed fire, which is far more effective.

Clean up

Always clean the gun immediately after use, and periodically. Store it well, service it periodically, and follow gun safety practices to secure it from unauthorized use. Guns rust, and many bullets use corrosive primers. For most users, pistols are safety equipment.


Pistols are an emergency self-defense weapon, for use when nothing else is available. Almost all pistol fights are surprise encounters closer than 10 meters. Most policemen fight less than two such fights in a thirty-year career, and most police fire three bullets or less per gun fight. If a shooter has a choice, any long-arm is more effective.

If pistol fighting in general is like police pistol fighting, then it is rare. In general it begins with a situation which rarely makes a fight, a stage of finding out what the situation is, who the other side is, what they have done, what they want, and what they will give up to get it. This involves conversation, negotiation, pat-downs, and strategic walking around. Rarely, this will quickly and unpredictably degenerate into a fight, which still involves some aspects of the first stage. Suspects are rarely polished, prepared fighters with their mood under control, as they are often drunk, poisoned with recreational drugs, or irresponsible to the point of being labeled deranged, mentally ill, or retarded.

Police pistol fighting only occasionally begins with more than 2 fighters on each side. In fact it is often just beyond or at arms length, involves running around on a one fighter-one unit basis, shots from a gun that is drawn, fired downward from the hip, and raised to eye level in one motion, shots where the guns muzzle presses into the target and directly delivers a shot, knives, shotguns, rifles, and hand to hand fighting, like fighting over a pistol, wrestling, kicking, and hitting with fists.

Someone in the stress of a life-or-death struggle often does not even notice being hit or where they were hit. They then must be told that they have been shot or where, but they as often as not know it instead; being shot can sometimes be extremely and/or immediately painful. Knife waving is common, and hard, accurate knife throwing is not unheard of. Even when brought to bear directly against personnel, knives are not nearly as effective as guns. Someone noticing that they have been slashed with a knife do not necessarily notice the penetration, only the impact. Effective fighters can often continue to fight after being shot. Deliberate contact shots are almost always effective and completely accurate, but generally do not hit the head, so they sometimes do and sometimes do not knock out an enemy right away. In very close combat, contact shots are common and each such shot is a quite separate attack or event in the fight, and often is that fighters only shot, whether or not the shooter or the target survives or whether the target is knocked out.

For these reasons, there are no extremely-experienced pistol fighters. Most pistol fights are at such short ranges, and so dangerous that participants are wounded or killed very quickly if either side is at all skilled. Due to the stress and difficult conditions under which gunfights occur, it is not uncommon for dozens of rounds to be expended with no hits. Pistol fighting could be characterized as absurdly and immoderately intense; in a word, insane.

SWAT forces may sometimes lead a charge with a handgun, but they are heavily armed, so most of their weapons of each type pistols, shotguns, and rifles have front grips and shoulder stocks. SWAT uses more headshots than regular police shootings, their fights are more common on a per fighter per year and per fighter total bases, and they operate in large groups compared to most pistol fights. They also use all the sophisticated police technology, use more long guns, and face more armed suspects, and more numerous and more grave hostage situations. SWAT fights are obviously not the same as typical non SWAT pistol fighting.

For inexperienced or panicking shooters, the most reliable shot is the center of the torso, which has many essential organs. Even trained police officers are trained to shoot handguns here. The usual fight-stopper is to shoot for the head, but this is has a much greater chance of missing, especially for unskilled pistol shooters and at range. Many authorities therefore recommend shooting two in the chest, one in the head, and repeat until the enemy stops moving in response to hits.

The only practical way to stop an enemy from firing in response to being shot (important against hostage takers) is to shoot them in the brainstem (a very difficult target). Torso shots are relatively easy, but even a heart-shot enemy can take as long as twenty seconds to lose enough blood pressure to faint, and pistol fighters sometimes have vests covering their entire torso and chest. Pistol fighters tend to have body armor and even helmets when they expect combat and/or come from powerful organizations. Being shot can still be deadly, painful, disorienting, or uncomfortable even if the armor stops the bullets from going into the body or head. Shooting an unprotected part of the body, (like the head or long bones of the legs) or using a more powerful pistol or especially using a rifle can defeat body armor. Head shots are difficult in part because the skull can deflect the bullet. See internal ballistics and terminal ballistics.

The above section is based on "Into the Kill Zone: A Cop's Eye View of Deadly Force" by David Klinger. The book is a compilation of interviews of police officers in the USA that have been in deadly fights.

Stopping Power

Ballistics and elementary physics easily show that a gun has no "stopping power" in terms of knocking someone back from its recoil. If it did, the recoil would break the shooter's wrists. Purpose designed antiaircraft gun systems can have enormous recoil, but are always in gun emplacements and never expose the operator to very much recoil. Standing enemies logically fall when any weapon takes away their strength to stand.

Advantages of Pistols

Pistols are smaller, lighter, cheaper, easier to move with, faster to bring to bear, and sometimes have more safety features. Being an emergency self defense weapon for use under 10 meters, the effectiveness of the weapon is not connected to the great accuracy or firepower of long guns. Basically, a pistol fighter must have the inexpensive and convenient ability to quickly begin firing at very close range, while keeping some marksmanship. Those that carry and can expect to use pistols often do not have shooting as their mission, and the effectiveness of the weapon itself is connected to its concealability, quick draw and simplicity. The effectiveness of the pistol fighter is strongly connected to their sobriety, self-discipline, speed, hand to hand combat strength, familiarity with operation (whether they know and remember how to draw, operate the mechanical safety devices and reload and fix jams if necessary), and whether they can still hit someone at close range when they begin shooting quickly.

Pistols and gun control

Unlike rifles and shotguns, which are used for hunting, pest control, and sometimes livestock destruction, pistols (except in very rare circumstances) are useful only for competitions or for shooting at people (for self-defense or otherwise). They can also be easily concealed on a person - a trait that is particularly useful for committing crimes, and handguns are indeed widely used in gun crimes. For these reasons, handguns have been a particular focus of gun control advocates, and in many jurisdictions their ownership is much more heavily regulated than long arms.

Opponents of gun control sometimes argue that wide legal ownership of pistols, including the right to carry them concealed, actually deters crime rather than increases it. They also argue that gun crimes are a small minority of all violent crimes of private citizen against private citizen.

See the main gun control article for more details on this debate.

Varieties of pistol

Nowadays there are three main varieties of pistol: "automatic" self-loading pistols, and revolvers, being by far the two most common types, followed distantly by single-shot hunting or target pistols. Pedantically, the chamber wherein a pistol's charge is ignited, is fixed in relationship to its barrel—thus the term technically excludes revolvers, although in colloquial usage this distinction is often ignored, and revolvers are quite commonly, albeit informally, referred to as "pistols".


Revolvers feed ammunition via the rotation of a cartridge-charged cylinder, in which each cartridge is contained in its own ignition chamber, sequentially brought into alignment with the weapon's barrel by a mechanism linked to the weapon's trigger (double-action), or its hammer (single-action). These nominally cylindrical chambers, usually numbering six, are bored through the cylinder so that their axes are parallel to the cylinder's axis of rotation; thus, as the cylinder rotates, the chambers revolve about the cylinder's axis.

Missing image

Semi-automatic pistols

"Automatic" pistols use the recoil or gas energy of each round to cycle the action, extract the spent case, and load the next cartridge. Automatic pistols are more accurately semi automatic, in that each pull of the trigger fires a single bullet; however, there are a number of fully-automatic pistols such as the Glock 18 and later models of the Mauser C96. Single-shot pistols are loaded manually via the breech, either from a small magazine or by hand.

Other related info

The term may be derived from the French pistole (or pistolet), which, in turn, comes from the Czech pistala (flute or pipe, referring to the shape of a Hussite firearm). Other suggestions have been made—that it comes from city of Pistoia, Italy, where perhaps a manufacturer was one Camillio Vettelli in the 1540s; or that early pistols were carried by cavalry in holsters hung from the pommel (or pistallo in medieval French) of a horse's saddle.

In the 1780s, Alessandro Volta built a toy electric pistol ([1] (http://ppp.unipv.it/Volta/Pages/eF5struF.html)) in which an electric spark caused the explosion of a mixture of air and hydrogen, firing a cork from the end of the gun.

See also

weapon, gun, small arms, machine-pistol, blowback

A pistol is also the mechanical components of a fuse in a bomb or torpedo responsible for firing the detonator.

External links

de:Pistole es:Pistola fr:Pistolet he:אקדח nl:Pistool ja:拳銃 pl:Pistolet pt:Pistola sl:Pištola uk:Пістоль zh:手枪


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