Terminology question: Are Handgun and Pistol synonymous?

Discussion in 'General Handgun Discussion' started by RichNH, Jan 30, 2013.

  1. RichNH

    RichNH New Member Supporter

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    As someone new to the handgun side of shooting I wanted to ask to get some clarification on how terms are typically used. I'm only asking because I've seen posts here or there which seem to contradict my basic understanding of the term pistol.

    Term: Handgun

    This is the generic term for a firearm which is designed to be fired with one hand. (Yes I know the typical stances use both hands for stability.) This would include semi-autos, revolvers, single-shots, etc..

    Term: Pistol

    According to dictionary definitions (and my uneducated understanding), this is synonymous with handgun. However, I've seen more than one posting that seems to indicate the term pistol does not apply to revolvers.

    So how do you all use these terms? Do you consider it incorrect to call a revolver a pistol? And if so, what about things like Derringers, are they pistols?
     
  2. danf_fl

    danf_fl Retired Supporter

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    The BATF form 4473 has a block (29) that the LGS completes to identify the firearm as "pistol, revolver, rifle...."
    http://www.atf.gov/forms/download/atf-f-4473-1.pdf

    We tend to go along with the meanings as on the ATF Form 4473.
    Your terms, as used here, are correct.
    And those handguns that do not have a cylinder are typically called "pistols".
     

  3. Sniper03

    Sniper03 Supporting Member Supporter

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    Rich,

    You will probably get a number of different individual definitions and designations. But I use the following terms in the following way to specify.

    A Handgun can be any of the guns that is normally shot being held and shot with solely the hands. So Pistol, Revolver, Derringer and others would fall into this General Category of Handgun for me.

    Then there are Pistols (Which some have always used as I use the general term Handgun.

    To Me:
    A "Pistol" designation equates to a Semi-Auto Handgun
    A "Revolver" designation equates to a Revolver (Cylinder) Handgun
    A Single Shot designation to me equates to a Single Shot Handgun
    A Derringer is a Derringer still a Handgun

    That way when someone advises me about any of the above there is no doubt which one they are speaking about. If I have any doubts I will ask them. Are you speaking of a Semi Auto Pistol or a Cylinder Type Revolver so on and so on.
    If they were to use the general handgun designation it could be any of the above. Some phrase it's as a general pistol term which if so who knows what type handgun they are talking about without asking for details.
    This is only my way of speaking about the Handgun classifications.

    03
     
  4. 30-30remchester

    30-30remchester New Member

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    I read the definition of a pistol as a single chambered handgun such as a self loading handgun as well as a single shot. A revolver has multiple chambers. I read this description in a dictionary IIRC.
     
  5. c3shooter

    c3shooter Administrator Staff Member

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    Agree. And while from a pure LANGUAGE standpoint, revolvers can indeed be handguns, and CAN be pistols, there are separate LEGAL points for revolvers (how you measure barrel length is different).

    There have been revolvers that were rifles and shotguns- so they were NOT handguns. There have been handguns with a revolving action that were not called revolvers (pepperbox, turret pistols, etc)

    He who is generally considered the father of the revolver- Sam Colt- in fact called his product the "Revolving Pistol".

    colt 1.jpg

    colt 3.jpg

    colt 2.jpg
     
  6. JonM

    JonM Moderator

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    etymology of the word pistol

     
  7. 30-30remchester

    30-30remchester New Member

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    Just checked four dictionaries. They seem to be in agreement on one thing. A pistol is defined as a handgun with a single chamber "integeral" with the barrel. Their words, not mine. It has been brought up before about Sam Colt marketing a revolving "pistol". It must be remembered when he patented these, single barreled handguns were the only handguns available, with a few rare exceptions. Im GUESSING he had not other option to call his new invention. I catch myself using the term pistol for any firearm needing just one hand to operate.
     
  8. hiwall

    hiwall Well-Known Member

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    C3, did you have to show a picture of the Colt Root side-hammer? Is it because you know I do not have one in my collection?
     
  9. JonM

    JonM Moderator

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    one thing i forgot to add. arguing over pistol vs handgun is like arguing over whether a coke is a soda or a pop...
     
  10. locutus

    locutus Well-Known Member Supporter

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    All handguns are pistols and all pistols are handguns.

    Semi auto pistols are pistols and revolvers are, and always have been pistols.

    If Samuel Colt referred to his invention as a "revolving pistol" that should answer the question for ALL TIME.
     
  11. robocop10mm

    robocop10mm Lifetime Supporting Member Lifetime Supporter

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    The term pistol was synonymous with handgun for many hundreds of years. Recently some folks have felt the need to change the definition. Normally "pistol" refers to a semi-auto or single chambered handgun. Revolver is pretty self explanatory. Then there are multiple fixed chamber handguns like derringers with 2 barrels and the old COP 4 barreled .357 Magnum handgun. WHat to call those?

    I generally try to refer to semi-autos as pistols and revolvers as revolvers. I do not get too upset when others use pistol to describe a geneeric handgun.
     
  12. AR10

    AR10 New Member

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    I see my G20 as a pistol, my Ruger Super RedHawk as a revolver, and both as handguns.

    If it don't revolve, it is a pistol. Pistol is a little more generic, and could include all handguns, but revolver, always means revolver. As I see it. Then again, I am comfortable calling magazines, clips, so what do I know. Lol
     
  13. Vincine

    Vincine New Member

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    Boy, this is even more fun than the magazine/clip discussions!
     
  14. JonM

    JonM Moderator

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    You are a very bad person bringing that up.
     
  15. beenz

    beenz New Member

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    I have a pistol handgun ;-p
     
  16. BeyondTheBox

    BeyondTheBox New Member

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    My take/how I use it and will continue to:

    Yes, they are synonymous.

    Any gun that can be handheld and shot without the need of any other appendages or assistance to do so accurately and repetitively, until emptied, is both a handgun and pistol. They are interchangeable in use and application across the categories of semiautomatic and revolver.

    Same goes for the clip/mag thing & receiver/grip/handle.

    There's simply WAYYYY too much specific nomenclature and designations in the gun world for me. I mean seriously, back strap? There's no strap there at all, it's a narrow end of the handle. If there's a separate, removable part then it deserves a name, otherwise it's just a section of the frame. I'm going to start calling them bumpers.

    That's it, I'm going to start referring to parts of the gun as the car parts they most resemble, just to make a point of how ridiculous it all is. Lol
     
  17. danf_fl

    danf_fl Retired Supporter

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    There is a difference between a barrel and
    cylindrical device with a coil-like internal pattern used for projectile stablization.
     
  18. DrumJunkie

    DrumJunkie New Member

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    This is how I look at it but I have caught myself using pistol for handgun a couple times.
     
  19. RichNH

    RichNH New Member Supporter

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    Well, thanks all for sharing your thoughts. It sounds like there are reasons other than habit (e.g., ATF form terminology) for trying to split revolvers from the term pistol. My curiosity is satisfied, and I guess I'll stick with handgun for the generic term instead of pistol.