Types of Handguns

The general types of handguns are listed below in their order of historical appearance. Each type can be classified into many subtypes. Some of these types can also be differently classified using the general distinction between muzzle-loading firearms (loading from the front of the barrel) and breech-loading firearms (loading from behind the barrel).

Single-shot pistols

Western European handgun, 1380. 18 cm-long and weighing 1.04 kg, it was fixed to a wooden pole to facilitate manipulation. Musée de l'Armée.Single-shot pistols are the theoretically simplest pistols. The earliest handguns were single-shot, muzzle-loading guns with ignition provided by inserting a smoldering match cord into a touch hole. As such, they were essentially nothing more than miniature cannons, small enough to be handheld.
Improvements followed in subsequent centuries, as various types of locks (ignition devices) were invented. In the matchlock, the separate match cord was affixed to a spring-loaded pivot which could be tripped by a trigger. In the wheellock, a mechanism analogous to that used in today's cigarette lighters replaced the smoldering match cord. In the 17th century, the flintlock, which strikes a flint against steel, appeared. (The flintlock, amazingly, remained state-of-the-art for some two hundred years.) In the 19th century, percussion caps were developed, followed shortly by modern integrated-primer cartridges, and hammers therefore traded their flint for firing pins.
Single-shot pistols are not completely things of the past, as they have continued to be built (for various reasons) throughout the breech-loading era. However, for most applications, the single-shot handgun has been replaced by revolvers and semi-automatic pistols.

Multi-barreled pistols

Not long after the very beginning of firearms, inventors began experimenting with multi-barreled weapons in the quest for the ability to fire more than one shot before needing to reload. Not surprisingly, all types of firearms were included in their efforts, from volley guns to analogously devised handguns. Before anyone developed a practical capability for delivering multiple loads to one barrel in quick succession (which is how repeat fire is usually accomplished today), they were aggregating multiple loaded barrels into one place.

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