We’ve already talked about the general parts of a semiautomatic handgun, but now we’re going to talk briefly about the parts of a handgun barrel. Like with the general parts of the gun, knowing this terminology helps you to understand what we’re talking about later in our discussion. For example, when we talk about clearing a handgun, we talk about checking the chamber. Well, after this section, you’ll know which part is the chamber.
I will be using more slides from the NRA’s Basic Pistol course, as I did in previous sections.
The chamber is the back end of the barrel. When a round is chambered, it means the round has been pushed into the chamber through the work of the slide and recoil spring and is now fully enclosed by the chamber. The gun is ready to fire. The chamber works in conjunction with the slide to contain the high pressures of the round being fired and preventing the gases from leaking back toward the shooter. This means the pressure stays behind the projectile and propels it out of the muzzle.
The illustration here shows an older style of locking lugs, such as those used on the 1911 and Hi-Power handguns. More modern handguns use a very different style. No matter which style is used, the purpose of the locking lugs is to keep the slide and barrel mated together until the pressure in the chamber drops to a safe level. After the pressure drops, the barrel will unlock and the slide will continue to move to the rear, extracting and ejecting the case.
The rifling is composed of two parts – the lands and the grooves. When the round is fired, the lands engage the projectile and begin to rotate it. This rotation stabilizes the bullet and makes it fly through the air more accurately. Rifling is measured in the number of inches that it takes the bullet to make one full rotation. For example, a 1:7 twist means that for every 7 inches of barrel, the bullet will make 1 full rotation. A 1:7 twist would make the bullet spin faster than a 1:9 twist (1 rotation every 9 inches). In most handgun barrels, the bullet will not make a full rotation before leaving the barrel due to the short length of the barrel.
The muzzle is the front of the barrel, and is where the bullet exits the barrel. Because of this, the muzzle should always be pointed in a safe direction. Be careful not to damage the muzzle when cleaning or shooting your gun, as damage to the muzzle can affect accuracy. For practical defense purposes, it likely won’t damage it enough to matter, but for competition shooting requiring extreme accuracy (such as National Matches) it could be an issue.
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