Information & Education, Top 5

5 Commonly Misused Gun Terms

5 Commonly Misused Gun Terms CANFIREARM

5 Commonly Misused Gun Terms

Many misused gun terms are prevalent within the gun world, bringing ire to those that have read their gun terms dictionary. Those that aren’t in the know are sure to use the incorrect gun terminology. Even those that call themselves gun nuts are known to be wrong a time or two.

Gun terminology is vital. Being correct causes you to sound knowledgeable, reasoned, and allows you to hold a legitimate conversation. This is often applicable when teaching others about firearms, and even when debating guns and regulation.

Sometimes the error is committed innocently, an easy mistake due to the shooter’s ignorance. A typical example is the replaceable use of “clip” and “magazine.” Although, other misused terms are more harmful.

They aren’t just inaccurate; their frequent use can negatively affect the general public perception of firearms. Pertaining to a semi-automatic carbine as an “assault rifle” (a term that suggests a totally automatic action designed for purely offensive purposes) is that the biggest offender. More thereon later.

Anti-gun groups, politicians and biased members of the media often use such terms incorrectly, sometimes thanks to lack of data but often with malicious intent. So, if we as gun owners don’t correctly apply firearms terminology, who will? Here are a number of the foremost commonly misused and confused gun terms.

Magazine vs. Clip

This is the most important and hottest gun term people wrongly interchange.

Where the confusion between the two came from is that the swap from rifles just like the M1 Garand to the M14.

For a few reasons, the confusion between a magazine and a clip entered mainstream culture.

clips vs magazines CANFIREARM

A magazine holds shells under spring pressure in preparation for feeding into the firearm’s room. Examples contain box, tubular, drum and rotary magazines. Some are fixed to the firearm while others are portable.

A cartridge “clip” has no spring and doesn’t feed shells straight into the chamber. Rather, clips hold cartridges within the correct sequence for “charging” a selected firearm’s magazine. Stripper clips permit rounds to be “stripped” into the magazine.

Other types are fed alongside the shells into the magazine, the M1 Garand famously works in this fashion.

Pistol vs. Handgun

There is some grey area with this one. Some use the term “handgun” to explain any hand-held firearm, but only use “pistol” in regard to semi-automatic handguns, not revolvers. I’m of the varsity that believes pistol and handgun could also be used interchangeably. Here’s why.

Pistol vs. Handgun CANFIREARM

One authoritative source, The NRA Firearms Sourcebook, describes a pistol as “a generic term for a hand-held firearm”. Often used more specifically to ask a single-shot, revolver or semi-automatic handgun.”

Then there’s the historical document. Though there’s debate over whence the term “pistol” arose, by the late 16th century it had been commonly used to describe any hand-held gun. It even appeared in works by Shakespeare. Then alongside came Samuel Colt, who described his cylinder-firearm invention as a “revolving pistol.”

“Pistol” was a longtime a part of the vernacular long before the semi-auto handgun. Therefore it’s safe to mention all handguns are pistols, and every one pistol is a handgun.

Pocket Pistol vs. Subcompact Pistol

Every subcompact pistol may be a pocket pistol, but not all pocket pistols are subcompacts. Let me explain.

Subcompact has become a catch-all gun term for little automatic pistols. It still hasn’t been applied to revolvers, but it wouldn’t be a surprise. All kinds of firearms are now called subcompacts.

Pocket Pistol vs. Subcompact Pistol CANFIREARM

This includes pocket pistols just like the LCP, to S&W Bodyguard and Walther PPK. These are individual firearms that aren’t the compact or subcompact variant of the other firearm. A subcompact must have a much bigger brother if you’ll.

“Pocket pistol,” on the opposite hand, may be a generic, a bit slangy term for any tiny handgun suitable for concealed carry in a pocket or otherwise. The Ruger LC9, as an example, may be a pocket pistol. However, it’s not a subcompact. it’s a stand-alone pistol, not a smaller version of a full-size gun.

Suppressor and Silencer

Here’s a differentiation that tends to urge people to fire up. Numerous firearm specialists believe that the term “silencer” has incorrect usage, rather, it’s an inaccurate slang term for “suppressor.”

This one’s a touch tricky. The term “silencer” isn’t accurate in the least, but it exists in common use. Although, suppressors are real and accurately describe what’s happening.


Suppressors are tools that attach to the barrel of your gun to reduce the quantity of a gunshot. They don’t completely eliminate the sound but control the quantity of air released to limit the sound.

Silencers are born from the film and tv industry. Just screw on a “silencer” and your gunshots totally silent. This type of thing doesn’t exist.

Here’s where it gets tricky. The ATF defines silencers as a tool designed to reduce the report (sound) of a firearm. These are regulated by the federal.

However, up until recently, the term suppressor was actually used to describe an equivalent thing, consistent with the American Suppressor Organization. It’s all back and forth.

Which term do you have to use then? While either may go, I like to recommend using a “suppressor” because it’s more accurate.

Accuracy and Precision

Even experienced shooters mistake these gun terms. What’s interesting about this nomenclature mistake is that it’s made in other categories also. Outside of firearms, the error is often made with science and experiments, also like watches.

It is totally possible to be both accurate and precise.


Precision measures the proximity of two or more shots fired from a rifle. For instance, if you were shooting at a target and aiming at the middle of the target. If you missed the middle of the target but consistently landed shots within the left corner, you continue to shoot with precision.

Accuracy measures how close you’re to the target. For instance, if you’re focusing at a target and striking the bullseye, but the shots are hitting the highest, bottom, left and right side of the bullseye, you aim with accuracy, but not precision.

If you focus at a bullseye and strike all around on the target, then you’re neither accurate nor precise.


Maybe you found that you simply use a term incorrectly, maybe not. But you’ll be able to use this information to correct common misunderstandings about guns.

By spreading this information, you’re doing your part in ensuring that firearms stay a very important right in our country. On top of that, no one’s going to judge you for using the incorrect word.