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Jack79's avatar

How do guns work?

Asked by Jack79 (10898 points ) March 5th, 2009

Got this idea from another question about guns. Having lived my whole life in Europe, I really have no clue. I tried wikipedia and figured that some guns need gunpowder before you put the bullet and others don’t. Also that guns come in different sizes and therefore need different bullets.
(I was a nurse in the army so I never needed or wanted to touch an actual rifle).

No, don’t worry, I’m not buying one (yet).

And please remember I’m stupid, so don’t start using words like “calibre”. Just the basics.

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17 Answers

RandomMrdan's avatar

here is a link to see what the inside of a bullet or round might look like…

The “primer” is the part that gets hit when you pull back the trigger on a gun, igniting the inside of the bullet, pushing out the projectile.

After you pull the trigger, it all happens so fast, but there are several different things that happen after you pull back on a trigger, depending on what weapon you’re using.

But in general, pull the trigger, it hits the primer, and it does the rest, just make sure the weapon is pointed away from anyone, and down range towards a target. If you’re shooting a pistol, it’s a good idea to wear eye protection because sometimes the bullet casing comes back at you.

Jack79's avatar

ok, so “primer” is the gunpowder (or equivalent) right?
What do you mean by “casing”?

I understand that hunting rifles use a plastic bullet with tiny little balls inside. When it is shot, they disperse. Am I right? Is this what that site calls a “pellet”?

But pistols just use single bullets, right? Or do they also open?

And what are the different bullets and types of gun? Is it just two types: bullets and pellets? What do rifles use?

Is a shotgun the same as a rifle?

RandomMrdan's avatar

no, the primer is the part that makes the bullet fire. The case is the part that holds all the explosives that shoot the projectile out of the bullet casing.

Shotguns have slugs, or buck shot. Slugs have larger projectile, and buck shot have the pellets for a spray effect.

Pistols and rifles have just one bullet that comes out when you pull the trigger.

Jack79's avatar

ok so the primer is part of the bullet? In other words, whether you use a shotgun, a rifle or a pistol, you don’t need to add gunpowder, it’s all incorporated in either a bullet or a pellet. Did I get it right?

Are there any “everyday” types of weapons that use something different as ammunition? I don’t mean bazookas or flamethrowers, I mean your average type of gun that people might use for hunting or killing other people.

RandomMrdan's avatar

every gun that is common, will have some sort of ammunition. Each piece of ammunition has a “primer” in it that is struck when you pull the trigger back. There is no need to add gunpowder. It is already inside the casing of the bullet. And when that primer is struck, it ignites all the powder inside it, pushing the tip of the bullet, the projectile out, and towards it’s target.

Jack79's avatar

and so basically there’s a bit that stays in the weapon (ie shell) until you reload? does this happen for both bullets and pellets?

Thanks btw, I think I’ve learnt a lot, it’s starting to make sense to me now.

RandomMrdan's avatar

some weapons like a “revolver” will keep the “casings” (which is the part that contains all the gun powder) inside it until a reload. But most weapons that have larger capacity for ammunition, will almost always eject the casing almost simultaneously while you pull the trigger (because it happens so fast).

Bigger weapons like shotguns, grenade launchers usually have a shell that will stay inside the weapon until a reload. But all weapons that you see military people use now a days, will have the casing eject while shooting.

Jack79's avatar

Ok, gotcha. Thanks a lot RandomMrdan, I think that covers what I wanted to know for now :)

RandomMrdan's avatar

if you ever need anymore help, or have any more questions, just let me know.

kevinhardy's avatar

target, point, aim ,shoot

Yetanotheruser's avatar

@Jack79
You mentioned that you thought some firearms need powder before the ammunition is inserted. This was true many years ago, and there are still some clubs or organizations that shoot these older style firearms. Sometimes known as “black powder”, or “front-loading”, the powder needs to be loaded separately from the shot or bullet. Nowadays, as mentioned by others, the powder (or other primer) is included in the shell.

As for your question about other ammunition: Most firearms use some kind of metal for the actual projectile. However, for specialized uses, some can use rubber bullets. I also saw an episode of “Burn Notice” where there was a special “water shot” for a shotgun. I’m not sure if this is pure sci-fi, or if they really exist.

Jack79's avatar

I was just wondering how “normal” guns work. The ones cops use, the ones you see in films, or hunting and so on. In other words, the majority of weapons that are sold in America.

I’m sure there are all sorts of specialised weapons used by the army or organised criminals, but I meant the “everyday” ones.

thanks again for all the answers.

Lupin's avatar

Do not believe the nonsense you see on TV. There is a kick, you have to aim. The magazine has limited capacity. 6, 10 , 15 rounds. If you miss, the bullet keeps going and hits something else.
On TV you see bullets sparking when they hit metal. They don’t. The shooter holds the gun at stupid angles and but the gun never jams. They open a lock by shooting at it and no shrapnel ricochets. They show people shooting shotguns and not recoiling.
Go to youtube a do a quick search. You will find real people shooting real guns. It’s not like the movies at all.
Also every model is different. With different number of safeties and actions. Some have 3 separate actions that must be completed before it will fire.
One of the highest tech units for personal defense out now is the Ruger LCP Light Carry Pistol. It is very small and light but powerful. After one full magazine (6+1) your wrist will be sore for a couple of days.

campbill's avatar

1. Firearms are either muzzle loaded, or breach loaded. black powder can be used in either.(however most firearms utilize what is known as smokeless powder these days as it is less dangerous and less corrosive)
2. The vast majority of firearms are breach loaded with a cartridge or shell. However, at least in North America there are specific Deer hunting seasons where only Muzzle loaded firearms may be used.
3. Their are various types of shells manufactured for all different types of firearms.
a. Shotguns shoot buckshot, birdshot, slugs and a few other exotic types(flachettes, flares, etc.)
b. Handguns(pistols and revolvers) normally fire slugs(single projectile) but can also fire peletts.(usually very small pellets called snake shot, although there is a revolver called ‘the judge’ that fires shotgun shells) There is also quite a bit of variety in slug types.(jacketed, hollow point, frangible, just to name a few)
c. Rifles fire slugs.
4. The description above regarding the ignition of a primer that burns a powder as a propellant to push the bullet/shot charge out of the barrel is basically correct.

Hope that clarifies things at least somewhat.

Jack79's avatar

It would if I knew what a slug or a breach is, but I think I can guess what you mean from context. If I got it right so far, there are all sorts of different types, but your basic pistol (like the ones we see in movies) takes bullets which are something like a 2-in-1, with the gunpowder included in the shell. And the rifle takes something similar except that it has all these little bits inside that disperse (which explains all the empty shells I found in hunting grounds as a kid). Ok, I think I got the main idea. Enough knowledge for now :)

Thank you all for some great answers.

campbill's avatar

Breach is defined as an opening.
In terms of firearms it is the part behind the barrel, but in front of the firing mechanism.
Also known as a chamber.

‘your basic pistol’ as you say does indeed take a cartridge comprised of a primer, gunpowder, and a bullet.

A rifle takes a similar cartridge to a pistol, but it is generally longer.
(some rifles, known as carbines take pistol ammo)

A shotgun ‘has all these little bits inside that disperse’.

Empty shells are not indicitive of a cartridge having been fired.
When the primer is ignited, the gun powder burns.
This expells the bullet out of the chamber, seperating it from the ‘empty shell’.

Jack79's avatar

aha! ok so the cartidges I mean must have been from shotguns (they were red and plastic, not metal). Starts to make sense now. And yeah, I never expected the movies to get it right.

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