Spy Truth & Fiction — Automatics, Semi-Automatics, and Revolvers

By Piper Bayard & Jay Holmes

There are basically three types of handguns—the revolver, the semi-automatic, and the automatic. All three are commonly misnamed or misrepresented in fiction.

 

Gunner's Mate 1st Class Montrell Dorsey with M240B automatic weapon Image by US Navy, public domain

Gunner’s Mate 1st Class Montrell Dorsey with
M240B automatic weapon
Image by US Navy, public domain

 

With an automatic weapon, the cartridges load into a removable magazine. It’s called automatic because when you pull the trigger, it automatically fires repeated bullets until you take your finger off of the trigger. As the shooter fires, the brass shells of the cartridges are ejected from the weapon.

 

Smith & Wesson Bodyguard .380 semi-automatic Image by Avicennasis, wikimedia commons.

Smith & Wesson Bodyguard .380 semi-automatic
Image by Avicennasis, wikimedia commons.

 

A semi-automatic also has cartridges that load into a removable magazine, which, in a pistol such as this one, fits into the handle of the gun. However, one trigger pull equals one shot, and the brass shell from each cartridge is automatically ejected. The weapon does not automatically keep firing.

It’s very common for a semi-automatic to be inaccurately referred to throughout media, movies, and TV as an “automatic” weapon. No matter how hot the journalist, movie star, or soap opera star might be, don’t believe it just because they say it.

 

Piper in the remake of Dirty Harry

Piper in the remake of Dirty Harry

 

A revolver is so called because the cartirdges reside in a revolving cylinder. Like the semi-automatic, one trigger pull equals one shot. However, the brass shells are not ejected automatically. A shooter must open the cylinder and eject all of the shells simultaneously.

Not to knock one of Piper’s favorites, The Walking Dead, but if you listen closely when Rick fires his Colt Python .357, you will sometimes hear the sound of ejected brass hitting the floor with each shot—something only semi-automatics and automatics do. Total audio fiction.

Now it’s your turn. What Spy Truth & Fiction questions do you have for us?

 

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11 comments on “Spy Truth & Fiction — Automatics, Semi-Automatics, and Revolvers

  1. Don Royster says:

    Thanks for the education. Never know when it might come in handle.

  2. kerrymeacham says:

    Model 29 S&W, nickel plated, 8 3/8″ target barrel, .44 Mag, Piper? I have a Model 57, nickel plated, 8 3/8″ target barrel, .41 Mag, fitted with neoprene grips. I think my wife bought it for me as a Christmas gift in ’81 or ’82. And people wonder why I stayed married to her for 35 years. ‘Nuff said.

    • Piper Bayard says:

      Awesome! So glad you have a wonderful woman who understands the art of gifting.

      My hubby and kids gave me a set of Airsoft pistols one year for Christmas. As soon as I unwrapped them, we loaded them up and shot the few plastic ornaments on the Christmas tree. Another year, hubby gave me an S&W .38 titanium Airweight. It’s awesome, but it sets off the shoplifting monitors at the doors of some of some stores. I can’t carry it when I’m out shopping.

      I can see you and your wife are excellent role models for the world’s newlyweds. 🙂

  3. Jess Witkins says:

    Fun fact about Walking Dead! I didn’t know that…or any of this, but that’s cool. At one point in my life, I wanted to be the person that works in the sound booth making noises and audio for TV shows.

  4. Lee S. Hawke says:

    Thank you for this! Never had it explained to me so concisely. If I do any military sci-fi, I’ll be browsing through your archives for sure.

  5. majroj says:

    You know, fictional characters are always immune to freshly-fired casings bouncing into a shoe, deflecting off a hat’s brim or bill into an open shirt collar, etc. I guess Murphy’s Law only works selectively in the world of make believe! 😉

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