Posted by Hexmag on 21st Apr 2017

Basic Firearms Safety – Learning the Different Types of Firearms & Firearm Actions



At Hexmag, we take firearm safety seriously, and we hope our customers do, too. That’s why we spent time with NRA firearms safety instructor Paul Morgan to create this series on gun safety. Here is Part 2, and please remember, this series should in no way replace an in-person firearm safety class.

Firearm instructor Paul Morgan studied the small arsenal. Pistols and rifles and shotguns of every variety were on display, some carefully hung like pieces of artwork in a gallery, others tucked safely beneath glass countertops. A few of the most prized firearms were stowed away behind lock and key.

“We’ll use that one. And this …” Paul darted back and forth, plucking guns from their spots, but not at random. “And we’ll need this one.”

Soon an array of guns lined the counter, each glistening because that’s what they do when they’re made at Phoenix Weaponry in Longmont, Colorado. Here, the firearm manufacturer is happy to host safety classes at its facility, and with such a gleaming arsenal at Paul’s disposal, the students here feel like a bunch of kids in a candy store.

But that’s just it … with so many flavors to choose from, Paul spends a good chunk of his basic firearm safety class teaching about guns themselves, starting with the different types and then breaking it down by each gun’s anatomy.

Let’s face it. There’s more to shooting a gun than just pulling a trigger. A revolver must be cocked to rotate the cylinder. Some are single action, requiring the hammer to be engaged before each shot. Others are double with the trigger performing two actions (cocking and shooting). Then there are shotguns (lever-action and pump-action) and rifles (bolt-action, lever-action, pump-action, semi-automatic and finally, automatic).

Each gun loads, fires and ejects the cartridge differently, and Paul will be the first to tell you that if you don’t know how a gun functions, you’re less likely to be able to operate it safely. So with that spirit in mind, here’s a quick primer on firearm action (the guts of the guns responsible for ejecting cartridges differently).



A handgun, a handheld short-barrel firearm, come in two types — a pistol, which is fed by a magazine (a spring-operated container) and a revolver, which is fed by a cylinder, which rotates to bring each chamber in alignment with the barrel. (If you’re a Glock-loving pistol carrier, watch for the NEW Hexmag Glock-compatible magazine, available in spring of 2017.)

Keep in mind, there are different revolver actions. The trigger of a single action revolver performs a single task (releasing the external hammer or internal mechanism, which causes the firing pin to hit the cartridge). Meanwhile, the trigger of a double action revolver performs two tasks (cocking AND releasing the external hammer or internal mechanism). Finally, the trigger of a double action only revolver cocks and releases the internal hammer or internal mechanism on the first shot and successive shots.

In short, pulling the trigger doesn’t always result in a fired shot. Sometimes, you’re only cocking the revolver, which to an untrained gun user feels like a malfunction. In reality, the gun is ready to fire and WILL the moment you pull the trigger again. You can see how understanding this one fundamental will keep you safe.


A rifle is a gun designed to be held by two hands with a barrel 16 inches or longer and a stock that rests on the shoulder. A semi-automatic rifle uses a magazine to feed the gun, shooting one cartridge each time the trigger is pulled. The energy from the firing eject the empty case and insert the next cartridge into the chamber, thus the semi-automatic name.

While a lot of rifles are magazine fed, there are some other rifle actions worth mentioning. A bolt action rifle uses a bolt (a nearly cylindrical rod) to push the cartridge into the chamber. The bolt is turned and locked into place to create an enclosed firing chamber. After firing the gun, the bolt must be turned and pulled back to eject the cartridge.

Meanwhile, pump action rifles use a “pump” (located under the barrel and in front of the trigger) and a lever action rifles uses a “lever” (which hinges under the trigger) to enter and eject cartridges. BB guns are lever action rifles.


Finally, shotguns fire shells containing either shot (small round pellets that spread after leaving the barrel) or a slug (solid projectiles). While the energy of one ball of shot is fairly low, shotguns can be extremely effective for small game hunting, close-quarter combat and as an at-home defensive weapon. Shotguns can be semi-automatic or pump, bolt, break or lever action. There are also single barrel, double barrel and combination barrel shotguns. A double barrel shotgun can be particularly useful in sporting clay shooting when targets may approach or recede from the shooter.


While we’ve spent a lot of time talking about how each gun fires the cartridge, it’s also important to understand how each firearm extracts empty cases and how the shooter unloads unspent cartridges. It’s important to understand how to assess if your gun is unloaded, but remember the first rule to firearm safety — treat all guns if they are ALWAYS loaded.

Finally, no matter what gun you’re using, located the safety switch, a mechanism that makes firing the weapon impossible when it is engaged. “Up” means the safety is “on.” Usually the safety is designed within reach of your thumb and is often labeled. And while you should ALWAYS use the safety switch when you’re not firing, Paul is swift to point out that a safety switch is a mechanism — it CAN fail. And that brings us back to Rule No. 2 of the Four Rules of Firearm Safety we covered in our last series — keep your finger off the trigger until your sights are on the target. And of course, never point the gun at something you’re not willing to destroy.

In the end, a gun is a machine, and like a machine, there are levers and buttons and switches that do different things, and like a machine, if you don’t know how to operate those levers and buttons and switches, you can get hurt. Familiarize yourself with your gun long before you ever load it. It’s that simple.