When distinguished as a subset of handgun
A handgun is a firearm designed to be held and operated by one hand. This characteristic differentiates handguns as a general class of firearms from long guns such as rifles and shotguns ....

s, a pistol is a handgun with a chamber that is integral with the barrel, as opposed to a revolver
A revolver is a repeating firearm that has a cylinder containing multiple chambers and at least one barrel for firing. The first revolver ever made was built by Elisha Collier in 1818. The percussion cap revolver was invented by Samuel Colt in 1836. This weapon became known as the Colt Paterson...

, wherein the chamber is separate from the barrel as a revolving cylinder
Cylinder (firearms)
In firearms terminology, the Cylinder refers to the cylindrical, rotating part of a revolver containing multiple cartridge chambers. The cylinder revolves around a central axis in the revolver to bring each individual chamber into alignment with the barrel for firing...

. Typically, pistols have an effective range of about 100 feet.


The pistol originates in the 16th century, when early handguns were produced in Europe. The English word was introduced in ca. 1570 from the Middle French
Middle French
Middle French is a historical division of the French language that covers the period from 1340 to 1611. It is a period of transition during which:...

 pistolet (ca. 1550).

The etymology of the French word pistolet is unclear. It may be from a Czech word for early hand cannons, píšťala "tube", or alternatively from Italian pistolese, after Pistoia
Pistoia is a city and comune in the Tuscany region of Italy, the capital of a province of the same name, located about 30 km west and north of Florence and is crossed by the Ombrone Pistoiese, a tributary of the River Arno.-History:...

, a city renowned for Renaissance-era gunsmithing, where hand-held guns (designed to be fired from horseback) were first produced in the 1540s.

The first suggestion derives the word from Czech
Czech language
Czech is a West Slavic language with about 12 million native speakers; it is the majority language in the Czech Republic and spoken by Czechs worldwide. The language was known as Bohemian in English until the late 19th century...

 píšťala, a type of hand-cannon used in the Hussite Wars
Hussite Wars
The Hussite Wars, also called the Bohemian Wars involved the military actions against and amongst the followers of Jan Hus in Bohemia in the period 1419 to circa 1434. The Hussite Wars were notable for the extensive use of early hand-held gunpowder weapons such as hand cannons...

 during the 1420s. The Czech word was adopted in German as pitschale, pitschole, petsole, and variants.

Single shot

These types of handgun were mainly seen during the era of flintlock and musket weaponry where the pistol was loaded with a lead ball and fired by a percussion cap. However, as technology improved, so did the single shot pistol. New operating mechanisms were created, and due to this, they are still made today. They are often used to hunt game.


These were common during the same time as single shot pistols. As designers looked for ways to increase fire rates, multiple barrels were added to all guns including pistols. Some examples of multi-barreled pistols are Derringer
The term derringer is a genericized misspelling of the last name of Henry Deringer, a famous 19th-century maker of small pocket pistols. Many copies of the original Philadelphia Deringer pistol were made by other gun makers worldwide, and the name was often misspelled; this misspelling soon became...

s and Duck's foot pistols
Volley gun
A volley gun is a gun with several barrels for firing a number of shots, either simultaneously or in sequence. They differ from modern machine guns in that they lack automatic loading and automatic fire and are limited by the number of barrels bundled together.In practice the large ones were not...


Harmonica pistol

Around 1850, pistols such as the Jarre harmonica pistol were produced that had a sliding magazine. The sliding magazine contained pinfire cartridges or speedloaders. The magazine needed to be moved manually in many designs, hence distinguishing them from semi-automatic pistols.


This was the next development of the pistol. By avoiding multiple barrels—which need to be individually reloaded—semi-automatic pistols delivered faster rates of fire and require only a few seconds to reload (depending on the skill of the shooter). In blowback
Blowback may refer to one of the following:*Blowback *Blowback *Blowback , vacuum effect created in the barrel of a firearm when it is discharged...

-type semi-automatics, the fired cartridge generates kinetic energy that forces the slide back. This allows the magazine spring to push another round up and into the chamber as the slide reciprocates and returns to battery. A good example of a semi-automatic pistol is the HK VP70.

Machine pistol

A Machine Pistol
Machine pistol
A machine pistol is a handgun-style, often magazine-fed and self-loading firearm, capable of fully automatic or burst fire, and normally chambered for pistol cartridges. The term is a literal translation of Maschinenpistole, the German term for a hand-held automatic weapon...

 is a fully automatic pistol
When distinguished as a subset of handguns, a pistol is a handgun with a chamber that is integral with the barrel, as opposed to a revolver, wherein the chamber is separate from the barrel as a revolving cylinder. Typically, pistols have an effective range of about 100 feet.-History:The pistol...

 that uses the same kinetic forces as the semi automatic pistol; the expelled gasses of each shot recock the gun and trip an automatic sear until the magazine is emptied. Since machine pistols typically have such a high rate of fire, a larger capacity magazine or drum magazine
Drum magazine
A drum magazine is a type of firearms magazine that is cylindrical in shape, similar to a drum. Instead of rounds being stored flat, as in a more common box magazine, rounds in a drum magazine are stored in a spiral around the center of the magazine, facing the direction of the barrel.There are...

is desirable.
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