The four main types of modern firearms today are bolt-operated, pump action, semi-automatic, and automatic weapons. In a bolt-action weapon, each new round must be loaded manually, by moving the breech to eject the empty casing. In pump action guns (usually shotguns) a new round must be manually loaded by pulling back on pump of the gun, located underneath the barrel.
In semi-automatic weapons, each pull of the trigger fires a bullet, each shot ejecting spent brass and loading new ammunition until the magazine is depleted. In fully automatic weapons, bullets will be fired as long as the trigger is depressed. Fully automatic fire will cause the gun to heat up very quickly, which can become dangerous as it can burn exposed flesh and because rounds may "cook off" or fire unexpectedly due to the chamber becoming hot enough to ignite the propellant.
Gunpowder was invented around the 800s AD. Firearms appeared after 1200, and became military weapons around 1600. The musket could not hit a small target, so armies fired them in volleys, giving a shotgun effect. Rifles were indeed accurate but were very slow to reload until the 1850s, when an expanding-base bullet was invented. Rifles were the main weapon on both sides of the American Civil War.
The right to own a firearm and use it to defend oneself from threats has been a fundamental part of the system of human rights since the Feudal Era. In the United States, widespread gun ownership allowed settlers to quickly tame the entire continent and paved the way for entrepreneurs who drove the economic engine behind America's superpower status. Today, gun ownership is not only a tool for self protection, but for sport and for environmental protection. Hunters have been the most effective voice behind the movement to preserve America's natural abundance of fish, game and majestic forest. By helping to manage animal populations, funding conservation efforts through permit fees and taxes, and advocating for the responsible use of America's resources, hunters have been able to preserve a tradition of uniquely American self-reliance and ruggedness that stands as an ideal for others to follow.
Gun control consists of limitations on the ownership of firearms, and by extension restricts the fundamental right of self-defense.
Conservatives usually emphasize the individual the right to self-defense through the use of guns. Liberals more often stress the dangers of unrestricted ownership. They are, however, much more likely than conservatives to oppose measures to educate the public about proper gun use and safety. Conservative gun safety measures in several states are currently languishing in liberal-dominated legistlative committees due to obstructionist political maneuvering by Democrats.
Guns are said to be effective at deterring crime and protecting the gun owner. Scientific studies point to dramatic drops in crime as non-criminal gun ownership rises as proof that universal gun ownership is a deterrent to violence. Police officers often use guns to enforce the law, except in some countries where the police are not armed. The mere presence of a gun often discourages criminals from attempting to resist arrest or harm an officer. The lack of armed police can actually increase violence towards officers, who must rely on less-effective means of controlling criminals. England, where police are famous for not being armed, recently suffered a breakdown in police effectiveness when a liberal riot mob managed to shut down parts of London for several days and cause massive amounts of damage to local businesses and homes.
In the Republic of Ireland, the Garda Síochána has since its foundation held that uniformed officers do not carry guns - "The Garda Síochána will succeed not by force of arms or numbers, but on their moral authority as servants of the people", as the first Commissioner said. The current Commissioner of the Gardaí has stated that "we do not live in a 'gun culture'", despite a recent rash of armed crime. In Iceland, there are no armed forces, including the Police, and all Police only carry a baton on duty. In addition, the regular Police forces of the UK and the Police Force of New Zealand do not carry firearms while on normal patrol, or in the latter case describe themselves as "generally unarmed". However, each of these Police forces also has highly trained specialist teams of armed Police, who are brought into play at time of need.
Studies have repeatedly shown that law-abiding citizens carrying guns are an effective deterrent against crime. Further comparison between different states by John Lott indicates that states that have more conservative gun laws have lower crime rates, violent crime rates, and firearms homicides than states with more liberal gun laws.
Science fiction, such as Star Trek, has postulated many different types of directed energy weapons. These are guns that fire beams, waves, or packets of energy. Some energy guns can be set to stun, not to wound or kill. Most firearms legislation would not classify these as firearms, so their ownership would be unrestricted.
One unusual type of gun is a minigun. Despite what you would think from the name, a minigun is the biggest of all small-arms. A minigun has multiple barrels which are driven by a loud electric motor. This allows it to have a very high rate of fire, and is a major difference from the systems of operation described at the top of the article.
Miniguns are commonly seen in the movies, notable examples being Terminator 2 and Predator, where miniguns can be seen exploding multiple police cars or cutting down whole areas of forest. In reality miniguns probably cannot actually cut down trees, and standard 7.62mm ball ammunition would not cause a car to explode, although a tracer round might if it hit the gas tank.
- Hess, Earl J. The Rifle Musket in Civil War Combat: Reality and Myth. (2008) 288 pages, ISBN 978-0-7006-1607-7
- The National Rifle Association Everything firearm related. Includes information on Second Amendment rights, NRA Training and Education, Politics and Legislation pertaining to gun rights.
- A Human Right Discussion of the human right to self defense with a firearm.
- Learn About Guns Firearm information and politics from a pro-firearms perspective.
- Gun Owners of America A no-compromise pro-gun lobby in Washington, D.C.