Did you know that handguns are among the most popular types of firearms in the United States? Of the 193 million guns in the country, 38% are handguns (source). Contributing to their immense popularity is the fact that they can be operated and carried with just one hand, making them easier to use than other firearms.

You may own a handgun – or you may be considering purchasing one. This handy guide to handguns will familiarize you with the five basic types of handguns, as well as provide you with an important background on this type of weapon.


A Brief History of Handguns

A handgun is a short-barreled gun that can be held and operated using just one hand. Its ease of use makes it a popular choice when it comes to firearms. While the earliest examples of firearms date back to 10th century China, the first device invented for a hand-held firearm was a matchlock. The matchlock held a slow-burning match in a clamp that would drop down to ignite the gunpowder when the trigger was pulled.

The invention of the wheel lock was also a big advancement toward handguns. A wheel lock created a mechanical spark which would propel the bullet, rather than a burning wick.

The first mass-produced handgun was the Colt revolver. This showed up in the 1830s. This more affordable version of a handgun made them easily accessible to the masses.


Action Types for a Handgun

Handguns have many different types of action. The action type is defined by what the internal parts of the gun do before they ignite the bullet. You may have heard of single-action and double-action handguns, but there are also such things as a hammer-fire pistol versus a striker-fired pistol. Read on for some important terms to help you understand the different types of action.

Firing pin: The part of the gun that hits the bullet, which is powered by spring tension. This is also known as a spring-loaded striker.

Single-action handguns: Single-action guns must be cocked before they can shoot. This is because the trigger only performs a single action – releasing the hammer.

Double-action handguns: Double-action handguns perform two actions: they cock and release the hammer. With each trigger pull, the force of that action also compresses the spring, which make the gun ready to fire.

Hammer-fired pistols: When the trigger of a hammer-fired pistol is pulled, the pin is tripped and the primer is detonated.

Striker-fired guns: Rather than using a hammer, striker-fired guns use a firing pin with an additional part on the end, which is known as a striker. With each trigger pull, the pin is tripped and detonates the primer. Striker-fired pistols are the most common type manufactured today.

Handgun and target

Five Types of Handguns

When it comes to handguns, there is quite a variety of different types of handguns. This includes guns such as the single shot pistol, the revolver, the semi-automatic pistol, and more. Here are the five basic types of handguns, as well as an explanation of what makes each type unique.

Single Shot Pistols

Single shot pistols are considered the most basic type of handgun. Single shot pistols discharge one round of ammunition and are reloaded manually. They are easy to conceal, hence their nickname, “pocket pistols.”

Multi-barreled Pistols

Multi-barreled pistols allow the gun operator to be able to fire multiple shots without having to reload their weapon.


Introduced in the 19th century, revolvers utilize a rotating cartridge-filled cylinder that contains between five and eight rounds. The cylinder rotates when the trigger is pulled, loading a fresh round into the chamber. Compared to other handguns, revolvers are more accurate and powerful.

Semi-automatic Handguns

Semi-automatic handguns (also known as semi-automatic pistols) utilize the energy produced by the discharge to reload the chamber automatically for the next shot. The semi-auto pistol is often used by United States infantrymen as a sidearm.

Automatic Handguns

Automatic handguns (also known as machine pistols) produce rapid and consecutive fire with just one press of the trigger. The machine pistol is actually a rare type of handgun, and they can be hard to control due to how lightweight they are.

Factors to Consider When Choosing Handguns

When selecting a handgun for yourself, you’ll want to consider a variety of important factors. This includes accuracy, reliability, durability, ergonomics, safety, concealability, as well as many other important factors. Whether you are using your gun for self-defense or for some other purpose, such as a firing range, will also determine what type of gun is best for you.

To help you determine the best handgun to purchase, here’s a checklist for choosing your handgun that can help aid you in your decision.


What is the most common type of handgun?

Striker-fired pistols are among the most common type of gun manufactured today.

What is the difference between a pistol and a revolver?

A pistol feeds bullets into the chamber of the barrel through a magazine, which is a spring-loaded box that pushes the bullets up. A revolver has a cylinder attached to it, which rotates new bullets into place when the hammer is cocked or the trigger is pulled.