Thursday, January 28, 2010

Handguns 101: Load Cartridges - Shoot Bullets

Without fail, almost all students in my Michigan Concealed Pistol License (CPL) Class - at one time or another - improperly use the term 'bullet.' The purpose of this article is to definitively define the term and how to properly use it within the context of using a handgun.

What Is A Bullet?
A bullet is a projectile, usually made of lead, that exits the muzzle of a discharged firearm. However, handguns are not directly loaded with them. Instead, handguns are initially loaded with a device, known as a cartridge, which has a bullet as one of its constituent components. The other three parts of a cartridge are a casing, primer, and a smokeless powder charge.

What Are The Other Components Of A Cartridge?
The casing of a cartridge for handguns is usually made of brass, cylindrical in shape, and has a flat face - the headstamp - at one end. Headstamps usually have markings to indicate the caliber, the manufacturer's mark, and any +P or +P+ designations.

In .22 caliber handguns, the primer - a spark creating substance - is placed around the bottom rim of the casing. Thusly, it is known as a "rimfire" round of ammunition.

In contrast, higher caliber rounds of ammunition have a small metal cup of primer pressed into place into the center of the casing's headstamp. It is thusly known as a "centerfire" round of ammunition.

In either scenario, rimfire or centerfire, the pulling of a handgun's trigger causes the firing pin to strike the primer which causes a spark. This resulting spark ignites another cartridge component - smokeless powder - which causes an explosion. The generated forces cause the casing's wall to expand outwards to meet the wall of the handgun's chamber.

With no other path to follow, the cartridge's remaining component - the bullet - is rapidly propelled down the feed ramp into and through the spirally cut grooves of the barrel until it exits the handgun via the muzzle. Upon its exit at a high rate of speed, it spins like a top along its aerial path until it hits a target.

Bottom Line:
Handguns are loaded with cartridges, which have a bullet as one of its components. Bullets are projectiles that are discharged from a handgun's muzzle. Thus, you should not ask to purchase bullets at the gun shop when you wish to directly load your handgun. You should ask for cartridges.

Many gun shops also sell bullets to gun enthusiasts who like to "reload" their ammunition. So, if you ever ask for bullets you may get a bag of them from a clerk with an absolutely wicked sense of humor.
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