All the Different Types of Handguns, and What They’re Best For

Here are the different types of handguns and their practical uses.

When you are new to the world of weapons, information can be overwhelming. This is especially true when it comes to the different types of handguns.

You’ve probably heard terms like double-action versus single-action and pistol versus revolver.

If you are confused, don’t worry. We’ll try to clear it all up with a basic overview of the different types of handguns and the most common uses for each one.

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Single action revolver

A single-acting revolver refers to a firearm that requires you to manually cock the hammer in order to fire it. Single action revolvers are usually old west cowboy style, as you might see in the movies. However, you’ll also see this action in modern day firearms like the Ruger Super Blackhawk. If you are confused about a single action (or “SA” as it is often called), keep in mind that a single trigger will drop the hammer. With each hammer tap you can pull the trigger and fire a round.

These repetitive handguns are fed by a cylinder that contains several cartridges. The cylinder does not swing out on older revolvers of this type. Instead, for reloading, cartridges are inserted into the fixed cylinder via a side loading gate.

Here in the United States, single action revolvers were used as service weapons in the past through the late 19th century. Today they are usually used for shooting or chasing targets.

You can find these weapons in rounds like .45 Colt, .44 Magnum, .357 Magnum, or .38 Special. Sometimes you can also find rimfire examples in .22 long rifles.

Double action revolver

With a DA (Double Action) weapon, the user has the option of either cocking the hammer manually or simply pulling the trigger. When you pull the trigger, the gun automatically cocks the hammer for you. Remember: when you pull the trigger and the hammer taps, they are two different actions, i.e. double actions.

A good example of a double action revolver is the legendary Colt Python.

The difference between using these two options is that manually cocking the hammer on a double-acting pistol generally results in an easier trigger. Some people prefer this for more accuracy, but it varies from shooter to shooter.

These revolvers usually have a cylinder that swings outward for loading. They can also have an external hammer like the Taurus Raging Bull, but some, like the Ruger LCR, have a “hammerless” design where the hammer is completely hidden in the frame.

The advantage of a hammerless design lies in the concealed carrying. In the absence of a hammer, the weapon has fewer external moving parts or extruded parts hanging while you pull it out of the holster.

You will find these revolvers in almost every imaginable caliber, from the small .22 to the .454 Casull!

Double action revolvers are used for a variety of tasks. They have even been used by law enforcement officers for a long time in recent years. Nowadays the larger caliber cannons with a longer barrel length are generally used for hunting or bear defense purposes. Guns like the Smith & Wesson 500 are a good example of this.

Other revolvers, like the aforementioned Ruger LCR, are usually self-defense weapons. You can find these in popular self-defense rounds like 9mm, but also in larger rounds like .357 Magnum and .44.

Double actions are some of the most common revolvers you will find in the market, and you will find that they have a variety of uses depending on the caliber and overall size of the gun.

Semi-automatic handguns

In addition to the double-acting revolvers, half-automobiles are the most popular type of handgun sold today. Some confusion arises here because some revolvers are also semi-automatic. The difference is that revolvers use a rotating chamber cylinder to move the next round into the position to be fired. Most half cars, however, use a single chamber.

A semi-automatic firearm uses the energy of a fired round to eject the spent casing and position the next round in the chamber to be fired. There are differences in how this action works, including throttle, recoil, and recoil. We won’t go into these systems here because they are more technical and deserve a whole different article.

All you need to know is that a semi-automatic pistol will fire one round every time you pull the trigger. Semi-automobiles can often last more laps than revolvers because of their design. The cartridges are fed from a magazine in the handle of the pistol.

You may have heard the terms “single stack” and “double stack”. This simply relates to the type of magazine. A single stack magazine is thinner and contains all of the rounds in a single column or “stack”. Single-stack cannons are thinner and are typically used for smaller rounds like .380 ACP, which allows them to be highly concealed for self-defense.

A double stack magazine is exactly what it sounds like, two rounds of rounds in a single magazine, but spaced so that only one is drawn into the chamber at a time. While most single piles are no more than seven to nine rounds, you can often get double piles that last 13 to 20 rounds. This depends on the weapon and the caliber. A good example of a double-stack pistol is the Beretta 92FS or the Glock 19.

Semi-automatic guns can be double, single, or a combination of both, known as double / single or DA / SA. The Sig Sauer P226 is a good example of this. It just means the gun can do both. The P226 has an exposed hammer that can be brought into a firing position by placing the slide down. When the safety is off and the hammer is down, it can also go off when the trigger lifts the hammer for you.

Another type of pistol that doesn’t really fit into the single-acting / double-acting form is a weapon fired by a striker. Instead of a hammer, these weapons use a firing pin system to fire the round on the barrel. Glocks are a popular weapon that is fired by strikers, but guns like the Springfield Armory XDM, the Heckler & Koch VP series, and the Walther PPQ have all become just as popular.

Some of the most common calibers of ammunition for semi-automatic handguns are .40, .45 ACP, and 9mm, however larger calibers such as 10mm can be found. Some weapons, like the famous desert eagle, are gas-powered and fire the gigantic 50-caliber Action Express round.

Single shot and break action

We will group these two together because they are rarer and often very similar. Single shot is self-explanatory, the weapon can only take one round at a time. A good example of this weapon is the Thompson / Center Contender. This weapon is both break-action and single shot and is available with extremely long barrels. The Contender, like most single-shot handguns, was developed for hunting big game.

However, there are exceptions to the rule. Take the foldable Lifecard in .22lr from Trailblazer Firearms, for example. This weapon is designed to be ambidextrous in design and there is nothing special about it. It doesn’t even have a trigger guard. The weapon is made of polymer and aluminum and can be folded up to the size of a credit card. Designed for maximum concealment, it is more of a “last ditch” type of firearm.

Break-action handguns also include short, two-barreled derringers designed almost exclusively for self-defense such as those by Bond Arms. They are small, discreet, and hit the mark. You can find these firearms in calibers such as .45 Colt and .357 Magnum.

In recent years, break-action derringers equipped with both .45 Long Colt and .410 shotgun shells have become extremely popular as self-defense weapons.

Both single shot and break action are usually only utility weapons for hunting and defense purposes.

There’s a lot more to read in our guns and ammunition sections, but that should give you a good amount of information on the types of handguns that are out there.

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