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Definition: Firearm from The SAGE Glossary of the Social and Behavioral Sciences

A device (e.g., rifle, pistol) that can be used as a weapon by discharging either single or multiple shells, shots, or bullets propelled at high velocity using an explosive substance such as gunpowder. In the United States, firearm ownership restrictions are highly controversial because the Second Amendment of the Constitution protects the right to arms.

See also

Constitution (political science), Weapon


Summary Article: firearm
from Philip's Encyclopedia

Term used usually to describe a small arm - a weapon carried and fired by one person. The first effective firearms were made c.1425, when a primitive trigger to bring a burning cord known as a match into contact with the gunpowder charge was invented. Such firearms, called matchlocks, were heavy and cumbersome, and needed a constantly lit match and careful loading with loose gunpowder. The lighter flintlock (which used the spark produced by flint striking steel to ignite the powder) superseded the matchlock in the mid-17th century and remained essentially the same for a further 150 years. During the 19th century there were great changes. In 1805, the explosive properties of mercury fulminate were discovered; it was used in the percussion cap (invented 1815) to provide a surer, more efficient means of detonation. This permitted the development by 1865 of the centre-fire cartridge, which has been the basic type of ammunition used in firearms ever since. Faster breech loading became practical. Rifling - the cutting of spiral grooves along the inside of a barrel in order to make the bullet spin in flight, stabilising it - became widespread with the development of new machine tools. During the 1830s Samuel Colt perfected the revolver, a pistol which could fire several shots without the need to reload. Magazine rifles were in use by 1880 and became more effective with the introduction of a bolt action after 1889. Development of a weapon that could fire a continuous stream of bullets began with the manually operated gatling gun, but the first modern machine gun was the Maxim gun, invented in the 1880s. In the twentieth century guns became lighter, faster firing and cheaper to manufacture.

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