Happy and Safe shooting – Peggy
Today I am going to take a few minutes for back to basics, and discuss first what a GUN is, and what it isn’t.
A gun is: a mechanical tool, made up of a closed tube and other mechanical attachments used with a propellant to forcefully fire a projectile. It is called many things, including a firearm, pistol, weapon, and sometimes a piece, revolver or semiautomatic.
A gun isn’t: self defense, protection, or an insurance policy so that bad things won’t happen. Those are what you hope to accomplish, and there is a world of difference in possessing a tool, and having a tool you know how to use in order to reach a goal.
A brief look at the history of handguns takes us to China where gunpowder was first developed in the 9th century. Records show that the first “fire stick,” essentially a tube that could forcefully throw flames and occasionally shrapnel was developed by the Chinese in 1232, and further developed to propel objects by 1260. The technology spread to the Middle East, then to Europe with the development of trade routes. Many design innovations were made in the ensuing years, and development leading to modern long guns began in 1364 with the invention of the matchlock musket, and by 1400 the forerunner of the modern pistol, a matchlock gun made its appearance.
It wasn’t until 1835, in the United States, that the first revolver made its appearance – the Colt Revolver, a Single Action handgun, which was a descendent of the Pepperbox, which was a drum containing a number of barrels, each with a chambered round that rotated to bring it in line with the hammer. The year 1877 saw the advent of the first effective Double Action revolver. The first semiautomatic, also called self loading handgun was credited to Joseph Lauman in 1892, but the first semi automatic pistol with separate magazine in the grip was manufactured by Borchardt in 1893. From there the development of the modern handgun as we know it today was firmly on track and the essential mechanics have largely remained the same with variations and features being refined. Modern handguns – whether Revolver or SemiAutomatic, are comprised of three main parts: The frame, the barrel, and the “action.” They also include a trigger mechanism, that releases a hammer or striker to fire the cartridge.
There are many types of pistols, and this article is going to look at the more common breech loading self defense handguns: the Revolver and the SemiAutomatic. Less commonly used for modern self defense are the bolt action pistols, derringers, muzzle loaders, air guns, and so on.
The Revolver gets its name from the rotating cylinder mounted on the frame just before the barrel. The cylinder is chambered to hold cartridges.
A Single Action (SA) revolver must have the hammer manually cocked, which rotates the cylinder, and the trigger’s only function is to release the cocked hammer so that it can strike the primer on a cartridge.
A Double Action (DA) will accomplish two tasks when the trigger is pressed: it will cock the hammer, which rotates the cylinder, and release the cocked hammer. Most Double Action revolvers can have the hammer cocked manually, and then used in Single Action.
An exception is the more modern hammerless Double Action Only (DAO) where the hammer is absent.
Cartridges are manually loaded into the cylinder, and then unloaded by means of an ejector rod. Most single action revolvers are loaded through a spring action loading gate and by rotating the cylinder manually. Most modern double action revolvers have a cylinder release that drops the cylinder to the side of the frame where it is open to be loaded. Some revolvers use a break action to load, which basically drops the cylinder and barrel down exposing the cylinder for loading.
Most revolvers do not have a mechanical safety device although some have a trigger safety that unlocks in response to the trigger being properly pulled. Some revolvers also come with an action locking mechanism for storage.
A semi-automatic pistol has a slide that can freely move back and forth on the frame. The barrel can either move with the slide, or be firmly attached to the frame. The slide houses the firing pin and an extractor, and an ejection port on the slide is where empty shells exit the handgun after firing.
Semi-Automatics can also be Single Action or Double Action or Double Action only.
Cartridges are stored in a magazine that is inserted into the grip, and loaded from the top of the magazine one at a time into the chamber. The first round must be manually loaded on most handguns by racking the slide. There are some models that can have the first round chambered manually through a port/lift up on the barrel. Some semi automatics have an indicator that a round is chambered.
The semi automatic with a blowback operated action, most common with low-powered cartridges like .22, .25, .32 and sometimes .380, utilizes pressure built up from gasses generated by the firing of a cartridge, and with the help of a strong spring racks the slide, ejects the spent cartridge, and loads a new cartridge. A recoil-operated action is more common sometimes with a .380, and with 9mm or greater cartridges. Upon firing, the barrel and slide recoil rearward together, then the barrel unlocks and the slide travels further back to complete the cycle. Another type of action is called gas-operated, where high pressure gasses are “bled off” from the barrel through a small hole and then uses pressure to drive the slide backward.
Semi-automatics have mechanical safeties of many varieties and combinations.
And that concludes a basic introduction to the handgun.
In the next post we’ll look at the basics of ammunition. Until then,
Happy and Safe shooting – Peggy
This post provides a brief review of the “Handi-Racker” tool available for sale for $29.99 online (+they do run introductory “specials”) at http://www.handi-racker.com/
The ability, or lack thereof, to rack the slide to load/unload/clear a round in the chamber of a semiautomatic pistol prevents many people with weak, injured, or arthritic hands from using them. While switching to a revolver may sometimes be of benefit, grip issues while shooting DA (double action) will often persist. To date there are only a couple of manufacturers working to make racking a slide easier or providing an alternative method of loading in the first bullet on the semi automatic. I did a little “surfing” on this issue online and easily found the “Handi-Racker.”
I tested the Handi-Racker, with one of our pistols, a 3″ 1911 Colt Defender. This gun has a very tight 24 lb recoil spring. The Handi-Racker performed easily on the Defender, starting with the hammer down. Normally when racking the slide on this particular gun I cock the hammer back first, which gives me less resistance. I racked it one handed with my left (weak) hand, while taking the picture. While it is easier to use two hands while racking, with your other hand holding the “Handi-Racker” steady. if you are limited to using just one hand, it works really well!
I am pretty impressed.
My husband had been more than a little skeptical when I first purchased this “gadget,” but after watching me easily rack the slides on a variety of our handguns – from a small .380 to the larger 10 mm, he was curious enough to try it out himself.
His assessment, a solid (for him) “Pretty nice.”
This little device can be placed up against any solid surface like a wall, on a counter or tabletop, or held in your hand to assist in racking the slide on the gun and comes in a variety of sizes nicely color coded: SMALL (blue/White), MEDIUM (Black/White), LARGE (Gold/Black) , and XLarge (Tan/Green). I purchased the LARGE, which is advertised as
“Fits most duty sized guns like Glocks, Springield X’s, S&W M&P’s, 1911’s and many more!”
It is well constructed from heavy duty plastic material, fits nicely on the slide of the handgun and in my size-small hand.
Their website is very informative, is full of glowing reviews, and gives instructions right on the first page. The card it ships with also provides all you need to get started using it, and even has a code to scan to watch a video. From the card:
“Handi-Racker was designed to assist people who many have difficulty racking a pistol. It can be used to load or unload rounds, clear jams or field stirpping.
1. Place Handi-Racker on top of muzzle of gun.
2. Push grip towards hard surface till slide is fully racked, then release.”
If I was going to ask for anything more, it would be for somewhere to attach a lanyard, particularly for during shooting practice sessions. While there is a slot about 2/3 of the way lengthwise on the back piece of the block that is used for positioning the front sights (which I wouldn’t recommend using for ANY other purpose), there is no place to attach a cord. You could use a small pouch or put it in a pocket.
Overall I love the way it works, and it is a wonderful assistive device.
I found an excellent review that also gives a narrative history of the device online: Average Joe’s Handgun Reviews: Gizmos, Gadgets, and Goodies for Guns
Happy and Safe shooting – Peggy
When you sign up with an NRA certified instructor, you can expect to receive a packet of information which will inlcude a book “NRA Guide To The Basics of Pistol Shooting.” Whenever possible or practical, you may receive the materials before the date of the class, giving you some time to become familiar with the material and to study before the class begins. As stated in the previous post, if you are unfamiliar with and/or new to pistols, a smaller size class will afford you more individual attention.
Classes are scheduled to run for 8 hours. This time can be split into multiple days or done all at once depending on classroom and range location, the instructor’s style and/or needs of the student(s).
Although a lot of people take this class because it will satisfy the training requirements of concealed carry, that is not the main focus of the course. The NRA has designed the class to cover SAFE firearms handling, and to provide a solid overview of pistol shooting. You can expect to hear the rules of safety emphasized from the moment instruction begins to the last moment when you hand in the final test.
Yes, there will be a test. Actually two tests. A written, open book 50 question test must be passed at the end of the class, and a practical shooting test where you must demonstrate that you can shoot a pistol with passing “grouping” of shots.
Before you decide this isn’t for you because you know you can’t shoot and it’s been decades since you last had a test, please relax. Trust the program. It’s been successful with many graduates for many years. Your instructor has been trained to assist you, and you will be provided the answers needed to pass the test throughout the course. Your instructor will guide and assist you to not only shoot the pistol, but work with you to correct any problems you have in formation of a “grouping” of shots. Again with an all encompassing regard and emphasis on safety.
The instructor will work through the information in the book you have been provided, with of course, SAFETY being emphasized throughout the presentation.
You will handle pistols, ammunition and accessories. The guns may be “plastic models” or the real gun depending on the instructor. If you have questions, special needs or circumstances, you are encouraged to ask. This is a highly participatory course. You will get out of it what you put into it.
The chapter titles of the book provided are briefly recapped below to give you an idea of the material you will cover:
….. Basic Firearm Safety, Safe Firearm Storage
….. Pistol Mechanisms, Revolver & Semi-Automatic Parts and Operation
….. Double Action and Single Action Revolvers & Semi Automatics
….. Ammunition Fundamentals
….. Fundamentals of Pistol Shooting & Pistol Shooting Positions
….. Benchrest & Standing Positions
….. Common Pistol Shooting Errors
….. Clearing Common Pistol Stopages
….. Cleaning & Maintenance
….. Pistol, Ammunition and Accessories Selection
….. Shooting Activities & Opportunities for Skill Development
You will have an opportunity to put the information you learned in the classroom into action at the range. You will begin with a refresher on SAFETY, including range safety rules. The instructor will show you how to communicate and handle the firearms during the range period, and make sure you have the appropriate eye and ear protection.
You may use pistols supplied by your instructor, or if you have made arrangements before the class, your own handgun(s).
You can expect to shoot and handle a revolver and a semi automatic from the benchrest position, and then standing position. You will practice clearing and checking the pistol to make sure it is unloaded, loading and unloading, obtaining a good sight picture and alignment, work on grip and stance, and to practice good follow through. Finally, you will discuss cleaning and maintenance of your firearm.
You will be expected to pass a basic pistol competency test. The instructor will review the expectations with you, and guide you through the test.
Once you have passed the written and practical tests, you will be given a Certificate of Completion. Your instructor will report to the NRA that you have successfully passed the tests, and it is your choice to request only minimal information be relayed if that is what you want.
You are encouraged to keep the completion certificate with your personal papers. It may be required for more advanced training and in obtaining a concealed or open carry permit.
The NRA has in recent years developed a shorter version of its more intensive Basics of Pistol Shooting class that may be offered in your area. It is called ” NRA FIRST Steps Pistol” and is meant for the first time gun owner as a basic introduction into the particular type of gun just purchased. It covers only ONE specific firearm type.
From the NRA description:
“The NRA First Steps Pistol is designed to provide a hands-on introduction to the safe handling and proper orientation to one specific pistol action type for classes of four or fewer students. This course is at least three hours long and includes classroom and range time learning to shoot a specific pistol action type. Students will learn the NRA’s rules for safe gun handling; the particular pistol model parts and operation; ammunition; shooting fundamentals; cleaning the pistol; and continued opportunities for skill development. Students will receive the Basics of Pistol Shooting handbook, NRA Gun Safety Rules brochure, Winchester/NRA Marksmanship Qualification booklet, FIRST Steps Course completion certificate.”
The BASIC CLASSES are entry level courses that open you up to continue with other shooting classes. The NRA has a wide assortment of offerings, and you can click here to look at the course catalog: NRA Course Catalog
There are many other individuals, groups, and companies offering excellent basic, practical, tactical and self defense programs that are designed to help you continue to develop your understanding and skills. Research what is available in your area, talk to people as you practice at the range, join clubs and shooting groups. The shooting sports offers a unique “range” of opportunities from personal defense, hunting, competition, and making good friends in the process. But remember always – SAFETY must be primary.
Happy and Safe shooting – Peggy