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People own handguns predominantly for protection, often because they’re small and concealable. More than half (57%) of handgun owners in California own handguns at least in part for protection against people. Eight percent own handguns for collections, and 5% own for protection against animals.1

Most handguns are one of two types: semi-automatic pistols or revolvers. Pistols and revolvers use generally the same kind of ammunition.


The most common type of handgun is the semi-automatic pistol. Semi-automatic” means that after the trigger is pulled and the gun is fired, a new round of ammunition goes into position, and another trigger pull will fire the gun again.

a 9mm semi-automatic pistol
A 9mm semi-automatic pistol.

Pistols come in a wide variety of sizes. Common pistols include the .22-caliber and the 9mm. Caliber describes the diameter of the bullet, given in hundredths of an inch or in millimeters.

Pistols have ammunition magazines that eject from the bottom of the firearm. These magazines hold cartridges (rounds of ammunition) and feed them one by one into the chamber each time the pistol is fired. Typically these magazines hold between eight and 19 cartridges at once.

a pistol's magazine release mechanism
A pistol’s magazine release mechanism.

Pistol magazines are loaded by inserting cartridges one by one into the detachable magazine while it’s not in the gun.

how to load ammunition magazines
Loading a pistol magazine.


Revolvers are a less common type of handgun. Revolvers can be single action, meaning the user must “cock” the gun by pulling back the hammer each time before firing, or double action, where pulling the trigger will rotate the cylinder, pull the hammer back, and fire the gun all in the same motion.

a .41- caliber magnum revolver
A .41-caliber magnum revolver.

Revolvers don’t have ammunition magazines but instead hold ammunition in rotating cylinders. Revolvers commonly hold six cartridges at once.

loading a revolver
Loading a revolver.

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  1. […] in 2012 but re-enacted in 2020 with a clause that exempts those who hold a valid Virginia Concealed Handgun Permit. Similar laws exist in California, Maryland and New Jersey. Imposing such restrictions on the […]

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