FEATURED IN TACTICS AND WEAPONS
It is not uncommon to misgauge the folks sitting in the jury box. If you are in the Sunbelt you may see them as a bunch of retirees from the cold north, seeking refuge from winter and high taxes. But if you were to see them as individuals, you may well find that the old guy in the end seat was a Marine who went through three island invasions in the Pacific. The lady midway across the second tier of seats is a former championship rifle shooter. And that little, bald headed guy in the second row, he spent 30 years as a machinist in Springfield, Massachusetts for Smith and Wesson. With this audience, when the prosecutor hands you state's exhibit 7, and asks you to identify it, and you state "This is the gun I recovered from the defendant; it had six bullets loaded in its clip when I took it from him," you just lost many points with the jury.
Citizens, especially jurors, expect law enforcement officers to be firearms knowledgeable. They don't expect you to know every little aspect of firearms, but they do expect someone who wears a handgun every working day, and much off duty time as well, to understand the basics. As we know, even in yesteryear officers were not always firearms savvy, while today many cops have not been exposed to firearms until the academy. But to the public, this is not relevant; there is a firearm on your hip, you should be conversant in its terminology.
Common Terms and Common Misstatements
Let's look at some of the most abused words, and correct terms that should be used.
Gun. It has taken on a universal meaning as any firearm. However a military veteran will quake at hearing small arms being referred to as guns. Many are the Marines who were taught as boots "This is my rifle, and this is my gun. One is for fighting, and one is for fun." To the military, a gun refers to artillery, especially the Navy where their ships are armed with guns, their Marines and sailors with small arms.
Firearm is a good, generic term for any small arm. As we get more specific, we are looking first at handguns and long guns. Handguns are further divided among revolvers, these being a handheld firearm using a cylinder to hold its supply of ammunition which is fired as this cylinder rotates into firing position, and pistols, which encompass any other handgun. The Glock in your holster is a semi-automatic pistol, the two shot derringer hidden in your cuff case is also a pistol, and the Glock 18 that is occasionally found in use by an American police agency is a full automatic pistol.
Long guns include shotguns and rifles. A shotgun refers to a long gun with a smoothbore barrel, with bore defined by gauge, i.e. 12 gauge, 16 gauge, 20 gauge, etc., with one offbeat gauge, .410, which is actually the inch diameter of the bore. A rifle is a long gun with a rifled barrel. Either of these may be bolt action, pump action, semi-automatic, lever action, single shot, or even full automatic.
A carbine usually refers to a rifle designed with a shorter length barrel than the normal firearm. In the military, these were usually cavalry, artillery, and officer rifles, designed to be easily carried, trading off long range accuracy for convenience. The exception is the U.S. M-1 carbine, designed as a short rifle firing an intermediate power cartridge, again being designed for personnel not needing a full size firearm to perform their primary duties.
Political Correctness and Terms
This brings us to the world of the assault rifle or assault weapon. The term has been highly politicized in recent years, and if you refer to an SKS, AR-15, or commonly encountered AK-47 as an assault rifle, or a Glock 17 as an assault weapon, you will immediately alienate knowledgeable firearms aficionados. Since WWII, when the Germans introduced the Sturmgewehr, the term has applied to a select fire rifle (full or semi automatic capable), firing an intermediate caliber cartridge, with a shorter length barrel than a main battle rifle. None of the above firearms are select fire as commonly encountered. A true AK-47 is an assault rifle, as would be an M-4 or M-16.
Then there is the PDW -- Personal Defense Weapon. This is the latest direction we are seeing firearms take. These tend to be a low powered rifle cartridge chambered in a short, easily carried select firearm. They are especially useful for entry personnel, or for the same personnel the carbines were designed for -- officers, support personnel, etc. The FN90 is a bullpup design, that is, the magazine is located behind the trigger group, shortening the overall length, while the Knight Armament Corp. PDW appears to be an M-4 with a true folding stock.
Feeding the Firearm
So you have a Sig P226 pistol in .40 S&W caliber on your hip. What holds the ammunition? Not a clip! No, that thing that slides into the grip and locks in place with 12 rounds of ammunition is a magazine. A clip refers to a device used to store ammunition, and which is used to replenish a magazine. The US military loads 10 rounds of 5.56x45 NATO ammunition into a stripper clip; with an attachment tool the ten rounds may be quickly fed into a magazine. The famous M-1 Garand rifle of WWII used an internal magazine, which was then fed a loaded clip with eight rounds of ammunition. Once more, poor terminology marks one as less than the professional expected.
Let's describe ammunition. First, ammo for handguns and rifles. A single round of ammunition is a cartridge. A cartridge consists of a case, which is usually brass and will contain the powder, the primer, and the projectile. Often fired empty cases are found littering our crime scenes. The powder is the explosive material which, when initiated, burns and forms gases which propel the projectile downrange. The primer may be rimfire, such as in common .22 long rifle ammunition, or centerfire, as in the majority of ammunition. When struck by the firing pin, a very sensitive explosive mixture is initiated by friction, causing a powerful spark which initiates the main charge of powder. The powder today is usually smokeless powder, a chemical composition of nitrocellulose and sometime nitroglycerine, although muzzle loading firearms use black powder, a mixture of sulfur, charcoal, and saltpeter.
Projectiles designed for rifles and handguns are usually referred to as bullets. There is a wide variety of bullets on the market, ranging from military full metal jacket bullets, through hollow points, soft points, and then lead bullets. Perhaps some future column we will look at bullets and their specific applications.
Shotgun ammunition is referred to as shotshells. A shotshell consists of a hull, which is usually a plastic case often with a brass head that will be in contact with the shotgun breach. All modern shotshells use centerfire priming, and will use smokeless powder. The loads will vary, generally falling into three classifications. Birdshot is a smaller diameter, hardened lead or other heavy metal sphere, used especially for bird shooting. Buckshot refers to a larger diameter spherical projectile, manufactured from soft lead, and which is used for hunting of intermediate sized animals (deer, bear, or hogs), and is also loaded for defensive shotgun use. Slugs are usually lead projectiles the diameter of the shotgun bore (e.g. .729" for a 12 gauge bore), although some designs may use plastic sabots to encompass a smaller diameter slug, protecting it from deformation and increasing its velocity. Slugs are designed for longer range hunting of medium game, such as deer, and are also used in law enforcement for longer range shots.
If you can incorporate these terms into your vocabulary, you will not lose the respect of the average, firearms knowledgeable juror or citizen when speaking in public. They don't expect us to be gunsmiths, but they do expect us to have basic terms in our vocabulary. Lose one juror, and you may lose the entire jury; misspeak before the public and one knowing citizen may cast doubt on your credibility, and that of the agency. But speak knowingly, and they will be impressed that their local law officers are sharply educated professionals.