How Much Do You Know About Pistols?

John Miller

Image: shutterstock

About This Quiz

The history of humankind is marked by the evolution of many types of weapons, from simple spears to atomic bombs. But few firearms have had the kind of pervasive impact of handguns. In our quiz, we’ll blast through pistols of all shapes and sizes — do you really know anything about the weapons called “sidearms”?

Pistols aren’t just lighter and easier to transport than rifles and shotguns. Modern versions are also accurate at long range, and so powerful that some versions are intended for big game hunting, or you know, chasing annoying neighborhood children off of your lawn. (Note: We are not recommending you engage in this activity. Use a garden hose like normal people.)

Pistols began in the early days of gunpowder and were used for self-defense, war and hunting. Black powder versions eventually gave way to more advanced rimfire models. As the market evolved, legendary companies were born, including Colt, Glock, Smith & Wesson, Luger and Browning.

Single-action pistols started the handgun revolution. These days, though, semi-automatic versions are all the rage. The Beretta M9 and Browing Hi-Power are two famous semi-auto pistols. Now it’s time for you to take aim at our pistols quiz and see if you really understand these powerful and deadly tools!

Pistols are basically just ______.

We won’t bore you with semantics. Handguns and pistols are essentially the same thing. They are small sidearms that can be fired using one or both hands.

What’s special about a "revolver"?

Revolvers have multiple chambers but just one barrel. After firing one cartridge, the chambers spin (revolve) to provide a fresh cartridge for the shooter.

What’s slang for a revolver?

Revolvers often carry six cartridges. They are "six-shooters." Bon Jovi knows all about six-shooters.

Which company made a famous pistol often called the "Peacemaker"?

Colt made a revolver officially named the Single Action Army. But in the days of the Wild West, it was often referred to as the "Peacemaker."

The first pistols had which sort of action?

The very first pistols were primitive devices. They were single-shot firearms with basic functionality.

What was one way that early gun designers increased the firing rate of pistols?

Want a faster pistol? Just add more barrels. In the early days, some pistols had multiple barrels — as many as eight — which made the firing rate faster, but increased the weapon’s heft.

When did revolvers first become popular?

Gun makers began making revolvers in the 19th century. By the end of the 1800s, revolvers were exceedingly popular, used both in war and in self-defense.

What’s the spinning part of a revolver called?

The cylinder is the spinning part of a revolver. Be sure to flick the cylinder menacingly before you step into any Old West gunfight.

What sort of gun is the Webley?

The Webley is a famous revolver of the late 19th century. It was most popular in the United Kingdom, and many variants of the weapon made it into the trenches of WWI.

What’s special about an "Apache revolver"?

Apache revolvers include multiple weapons — they can fire bullets and they may double as knives, too. They’re often linked to early 20th-century gangsters in France.

What was one major drawback with Apache revolvers?

Apache revolvers were like the Swiss Army knives of sidearms. But they had no real sights, so it was nearly impossible to accurately aim at a target more than a few feet distant.

How do blowback-style handguns reload themselves?

Blowback-style semi-automatics harness recoil energy to eject spent cartridges and load fresh rounds. This system greatly accelerates the weapon’s firing rate.

What was the name of the first Colt revolver to see mass production?

The Colt Paterson was the first mass-produced revolver. It was a five-shot weapon produced in both .28 and .36 caliber varieties.

What are "harmonica" pistols?

Harmonica pistols appeared in the mid-19th century. They used sliding magazines that looked a little like harmonicas, thus the name.

The Heckler & Koch P11 is meant to be fired _____.

In the 1970s, Heckler & Kock unveils the P11, an underwater handgun. These stubby-looking pistols fire darts using an electronic system.

What’s the underwater range of the Heckler & Koch P11?

Water makes it very difficult for pistols to fire projectiles with any real accuracy or distance. The P11 shoots steel darts and has a range of between 40 and 50 feet, in other words, uncomfortably close if you’re trying to kill an attacking shark.

True or false, did Soviet cosmonauts have pistols on space missions?

You never know when your return trip will go awry and you wind up in the Siberian wilderness facing off with wolves and bears. That’s why Soviet spacecraft are equipped with pistols.

For years, the TP-82 was the pistol used for Soviet space missions. What was special about this pistol?

The TP-82 had three barrels so that it could fire cartridges and also shotgun shells. And the stock? It included a fold-out machete. We are not making that up.

What was the name of the very first pistol made by Smith & Wesson?

The Smith & Wesson was unveiled in 1857, and it was the first revolver to find success with rimfire cartridges. It was just the first of many famous guns made by this company.

In 1835, a man named Richard Lawrence attempted to assassinate President Andrew Jackson with a pistol. What happened?

Lawrence’s pistol misfired, so he drew a second pistol ... which also misfired. Jackson then took his cane and beat the would-be assassin. Lawrence was mentally deranged and spent the rest of his life in an asylum.

What is a major advantage to top-break revolvers?

Top-break revolvers have a hinged design that, once opened, allows the shooter to dump all spent cartridges at once. This design makes for much faster shooting.

Why did Gaston Glock, the maker of famous Glock pistols, supposedly test his newest inventions with his left hand, even though he was right-handed?

Glock had no real firearm engineering experience, and he was reportedly worried about one of his test guns exploding and ruining his right hand. So for experiments, he used his left hand.

When firing a semi-automatic pistol, how does a shooter load the first round?

On a semi-auto pistol, you usually pull the slide to load the first round. Then, thanks to gun’s mechanics, subsequent rounds are loaded after each shot that’s fired.

Which action star helped made the Smith & Wesson Model 29 even more famous?

In the ‘70s, Clint Eastwood was "Dirty Harry" in a series of popular action films. He played a cop who loved his Model 29, which he used to intimidate the bad guys.

True or false, does a semi-automatic pistol fire just one shot per trigger pull?

It’s true, semi-automatic pistols fire one round for every time you pull the trigger. But they’ll typically fire just as fast as you can pull the trigger, making them very effective weapons.

What sort of cartridge does the famous Smith & Wesson Model 29 fire?

The Model 29 is a big, beefy gun that fires .44 Magnum cartridges. The largest versions sport a barrel that’s more than 10 inches long.

In 1881, Charles Guiteau assassinated President James Garfield using what sort of pistol?

Guiteau was angry that Garfield wouldn’t hire him on as part of the administration. So he decided to settle the matter by killing Garfield with a British Bulldog revolver.

When Charles Guiteau chose a gun to kill President Garfield, he specifically chose an ivory-handled revolver. Why?

Guiteau clearly had ego issues. He purposely bought a really nice-looking ivory-handled .442 Webley caliber British Bulldog revolver because he figured that it would be handsome in a museum exhibit about the president's assassination.

True or false, if a semi-auto pistol is in the half-cocked position, will it fire?

Many semi-auto pistols have a half-cocked position, and the gun won’t fire from this position. With a flick of the thumb, though, the weapon is ready to shoot.

What is the official sidearm of the U.S. Army?

In 2017, the U.S. Army announced that it has selected the Sig Sauer P320 as its next-generation sidearm. The 9mm semi-automatic will be replacing the popular Beretta M9.

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