The first recorded use of a firearm occurred at the end of the 14th century, in 1364.

Since then firearms have changed, with guns of every shape and size appearing on the battlefield and market. Guns have gone from an oddity to the most potent weapon ever carried in a person’s hand. With so much change and evolution, you may wonder, how do guns work?

Let’s take a look at how all guns work, and what unites them throughout the years.

Types of Guns

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There are several types of guns that you may be familiar with, but in the end we’ll organize these weapons into three broad categories. Pistols, rifles, and shotguns are the categories that we’ll choose, though you could make the argument that there are many more.

For the most part, everything you read here will apply to all three groups. Later on we’ll talk about what makes them different.

Basic Components

All guns have a set of components that may be different lengths and thicknesses, but they are the same piece. This includes the grip or stock, trigger, hammer/striker pin, barrel, chamber, magazine, and safety. Not all modern guns have safeties, but most have at least a trigger safety or other mechanical failsafe.

Grips and Stocks

When shooting a pistol, some shotguns, and some rifles, the grip is what you hang on to. It is usually designed to be a flattened circle, making it comfortable for the fingers to circle around it. With rifles, there isn’t always a grip, and in that case, you’ll be dealing with the stock.

The stock is a piece of wood that extends past the action of the gun and rests on your shoulder. Getting a good, snug fit of the stock into your shoulder is essential for accurate shooting. Unlike a grip, where the recoil of the gun goes straight into the hand and wrist, a stock transfers that energy into the shoulder.


When shooting a gun, the trigger is what you put your index finger on. Never put your finger onto the trigger until you’re ready to take the shot. This is a fundamental rule of gun safety, no two triggers are alike, and misuse could lead to injury or death.

When you squeeze the trigger back it will release the striker or hammer of the gun. This will in turn strike the primer at the base of your bullet. Triggers are classified and judged based on how many pounds of pressure it takes to activate the weapon.


The chamber of the weapon is where the bullet sits. In older rifles, they would insert the bullet, powder, and wad into the chamber before firing. On modern guns, the chamber is often occupied by a bullet or will be after you cock the weapon.


At the back end of the chamber rests the hammer or striker. A striker is a pen-like object that snaps forward when you pull the trigger. A hammer is an actual metal piece that snaps forward.

Most modern guns and rifles use a striker instead of a hammer.


The barrel is the passage through which the bullet or shell exits the chamber. The longer the barrel the more speed and accuracy the bullet will have. In most modern guns the barrel is also etched with a circular pattern that spins the bullet as it travels down, this is rifling.


There are both internal and external magazines that hold bullets. This process is often known as cocking, with most modern weapons auto-cocking when the weapon is put into the battery.

Older terms, like a clip, are often used to refer to a magazine. Clips were common in the early 20th century to hold lines of bullets which could speed up the loading process.


A safety operates as a mechanical block to prevent the weapon from firing. Many weapons have this feature, while some have what we call trigger safety. A trigger safety isn’t a true safety but it does prevent accidental discharge.

Safeties often have indicators, such as a red dot visible when the safety isn’t on. Others will have a pictogram that may show a crossed-out bullet if the safety is on. Make sure you understand how the safety of your gun works.

Operating a Gun

Now that we have a basic understanding of the essential components, let’s find out how do guns work. Before you ever discharge a firearm make sure that you have read through and understand gun safety. This will prevent accidents, injuries, and potential death from occurring.

Load the Gun

Make sure that either the internal or external magazine has a bullet in it and is ready to go. Depending on what kind of gun you have you’ll need to cock and ready the gun. Readying the gun will be different, depending on what kind of gun you’re using.

  • Semi-automatic pistols ready by having the slide pulled back and let go.
  • Pump shotguns make ready by having the slide pulled back towards you and then pushed forward.
  • With a bolt action rifle, you have to work the action, lift up on the bolt, pull it back, and then return it forward to its resting position.
  • Lever action rifles require that the lever comes down and then back into its original position.
  • Double action revolvers are ready to go once loaded.
  • Single action revolvers need the hammer pulled back.
  • Break over shotguns, either side by side or over-under, require only loading, and then the hammer is pulled back or cocked.

If you have a weapon that isn’t listed here, make sure that you consult with a professional or someone knowledgeable about firearms.

Take Aim

Make sure that you line up the sights on the target that you want to shoot. Once the weapon points at the correct target take a deep breath and slip your finger onto the trigger. Don’t pull or just rest the finger on the trigger for a moment.

Fire the Gun

Once you have let out your breath, squeeze your finger back towards you. This doesn’t require any pulling or jerking, just a smooth, steady squeeze. If you do it right, you may find yourself surprised when the gun fires the first time.

This will continue to happen until you get a better feel for that particular gun and how far the trigger needs to move. Once the trigger is back, a number of things happen inside the action of the gun.

How do Guns Work?

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Guns work because when you pull the trigger, the action engages. This means that the primer of the round is ignited by the hammer or striker. Once this happens, all the gunpowder in the bullet or shell ignites.

This rapid ignition causes the energy released by the burning powder to push the slug, pellets, or bullet down the barrel of the gun. What the gun powder produces is chemical energy. When that energy is transferred to the bullet, it becomes kinetic energy.

This is always accompanied by a loud bang, so make sure to wear hearing protection. You may also notice a bit of a kickback, as pressure increases in your hand and the gun jumps, or pushes your shoulder. This is recoil, it is the excess energy of the weapon firing.

The bullet then leaves the barrel, continuing on its journey downrange. If you’re firing a rifle bullet, the spin will help keep the bullet accurate. If you’re shooting a shotgun, for instance, it is a smooth bore and the slug or pellets won’t spin, but they will fly in a straight line towards the target.

As long as your aim is true, the bullet or projectile will impact the target where you wanted it to. If it doesn’t land where you wanted the first time, don’t worry, you just need to keep practicing. One of the most fun things about owning a gun is practicing your aim and shooting.


Buying a gun straight from a gun store won’t always give you the best possible bang for your buck. In order to improve the weapon, you can always put on custom parts and equipment. You can change out almost every aspect of the weapon, replacing them with parts, like Magpul products.

This way you can make sure that every part of the gun fits you and works as well as possible. You may want to spend some time getting better with the weapon before you customize it, or speak to a person you trust about what your gun needs. The cheaper the gun when you buy it, the more necessary new parts will be.

Owning and Shooting a Gun


Millions of gun owners across the United States enjoy shooting, hunting, and the feeling of safety a gun can give to you and your family. Whether you use your weapon for self-defense, home defense, or hunting the key is always training.

If this article helped you understand how do guns work, please take a moment and check out our website for more information.

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