types of firearms

What Are the 3 Main Types Of Firearms?

Every type of firearm will fall into a certain category…but we all know that your go-to for a zombie apocalypse will likely be a shotgun. It’s just that much cooler. But what exactly are all of our options for firearms? Well, they all fall into three basic categories: handguns, shotguns, and rifles.

Why Are There Different Types of Firearms?

Each type of firearm is categorized based on it’s features, characteristics, and ammunition types. Just like there are different types of cars (trucks, sedans, SUVs, coupes, etc.) there are different types of firearms. The main reason firearms are categorized is for regulation and sale.

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Handguns, also called pistols, are compact in size, either striker or hammer fired, and fire small arms cartridges such as 9mm, .380, 22lr, 45ACP. Designed to be fired with one hand as opposed to being supported by the shoulder (like a rifle), handguns have a barrel length under 16”. AR15s manufactured with barrels under 16” and pistol stabilizing braces instead of stocks fall into this category as well. Handguns make great firearms for personal defense or target practice because of their compact size and portability.

They typically come in several different sizes; full sized handguns have a barrel of 5”+, compact handguns are usually under 4.25”, and subcompact will have a barrel shorter than 4”. Typically, the shorter the handgun the more “snappy” the recoil will feel as opposed to a full sized handgun due to the weight difference. The extra weight will help with felt recoil. Many new model handguns are being offered the option to install red dot sights to help make aiming easier and faster than traditional iron sights.

pistol handgun diagram

According to the ATF’s end of year report, handguns were the most manufactured type of firearms in 2019, there were 3,046,013 handguns manufactured. This number has been expected to rise as more than 8 million Americans have purchased firearms for the first time in the past 2 years.


Shotguns are longer in size than handguns and fire shotgun shells as opposed to cartridges. Shotguns have barrels over 18” and are designed to be fired from the shoulder. They will also generally feature a smooth bore, although some can also have rifled barrels. There are a variety of actions for shotguns; they are pump action, semi- automatic, side-by-side, over-under, or single shot actions.

Shotgun calibers are measured by their gauge (or bore size); 12ga, 20ga and .410 are the most popular shotgun sizes available. The most common ammo for shotguns are shells filled with tiny metal “shot” (pellets) that spread out as they leave the barrel. Great for target/sport shooting, shotguns are also used for defensive applications, and even hunting. More commonly, people hunt birds with shotguns but with the right round it is possible to successfully hunt deer. Some shotgun shooting sports include skeet, trap, and sporting clays which all incorporate different shooting situations with clay “pigeons”.

shotgun diagram


Rifles are a very broad category for firearms and they are typically used for longer-range applications, but some can be used at closer ranges. They are made to be fired with two hands from the shoulder and have a barrel length of over 16”. These long firearms get their name from the rifled barrels that they use, which have lands and grooves that help spin and stabilize the bullet. Depending on the rifle, they will benefit from using some sort of electronic optic such as a red dot or a magnified scope to help when shooting at distance.

Most rifles are either semi-automatic, lever action or bolt action. Rifles also provide a broad range of use, such as target shooting, hunting, and defensive applications. The most common rifle rounds found today are .22lr, .223/5.56, .308, 7.62×39, 6.5 Creedmoor, 300 win mag, and 338 lapua – jus to name a few.

rifle diagram

Now that you’ve got some basic knowledge of the different types of firearms, swing by the shop and let us help you out with your next purchase. Whether you’re looking for something to go shoot targets with, need some home defense, or are ready to get into your next hunt, come see us so we can help you set up and tune your firearm for your purpose.

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One thought on “3 Types of Firearms

  1. Ohio gun stores near me says:

    Knowing that you have options, especially when faced with a deadly threat, can build confidence … not so much that you become arrogant or complacent but rather that you have a new sense of self-assurance and self-reliance.

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