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The word "pistol" is often synonymous with the word "handgun". Some handgun experts make a technical distinction that views pistols as a subset of handguns. Sometimes in usage, the term "pistol" refers to a handgun having one chamber integral with the barrel, making pistols distinct from the other main type of handgun, the revolver, which has a revolving cylinder containing multiple chambers. But UK/Commonwealth usage often does not make this distinction. For example, the official designation of the Webley Mk VI was "Pistol, Revolver, Webley No. 1 Mk VI", and the designation "Pistol No. 2 Mk I" was used to refer to both the Enfield Revolver and the later Browning Hi-Power semi-automatic
The etymology of the French word pistolet is unclear. It may be from a Czech word for early hand cannons, píšťala "flute", or alternatively from Italian pistolese, after Pistoia, a city renowned for Renaissance-era gunsmithing, where hand-held guns (designed to be fired from horseback) were first produced in the 1540s.
The first suggestion derives the word from Czech píšťala, a type of hand-cannon used in the Hussite Wars during the 1420s. The Czech word was adopted in German as pitschale, pitschole, petsole, and variants.
The second suggestion is less likely; the use of the word as a designation of a gun is not documented before 1605 in Italy, long after it was used in French and German. The Czech word is well documented since the Hussite wars in 1420s. 
The most common types of pistol are the single shot, and semi-automatic.
Single shot handguns were mainly seen during the era of flintlock and musket weaponry where the pistol was loaded with a lead ball and fired by a flint striker, and then later a percussion cap. However, as technology improved, so did the single shot pistol. New operating mechanisms were created, and due to this, they are still made today. It is the oldest type of pistol, and is often used to hunt wild game.
Multi-barreled pistols were common during the same time as single shot pistols. As designers looked for ways to increase fire rates, multiple barrels were added to all guns including pistols. Some examples of multi-barreled pistols are Derringers and Duck's foot pistols.
The forerunner to Samuel Colt's "Revolving Gun" - the name he originally gave his invention on his 1836 patent - the pepperbox revolver, developed in the late-18th century, became a somewhat-common style of pistol by the mid-19th century, but was superseded by the lighter-weight and more-compact Colt-type (single-barrel) revolvers, in which the firing chambers rotated separately from the barrel. A modern "pepperbox" - essentially a barrel-less "mini-revolver" - can also be custom-built using standard manufactured revolver parts, but without the presence of at least a marginal-length barrel with rifling to impart spin on the bullet, accuracy would be questionable at best.
Around 1850, pistols such as the Jarre harmonica gun were produced that had a sliding magazine. The sliding magazine contained pinfire cartridges or speedloaders. The magazine needed to be moved manually in many designs, hence distinguishing them from semi-automatic pistols.
With the development of the revolver in the 19th century, gunsmiths had finally achieved the goal of a practical capability for delivering multiple loads to one handgun barrel in quick succession. Revolvers feed ammunition via the rotation of a cartridge-filled cylinder, in which each cartridge is contained in its own ignition chamber, and is sequentially brought into alignment with the weapon's barrel by an indexing mechanism linked to the weapon's trigger (double-action) or its hammer (single-action). These nominally cylindrical chambers, usually numbering between five and eight depending on the size of the revolver and the size of the cartridge being fired, are bored through the cylinder so that their axes are parallel to the cylinder's axis of rotation; thus, as the cylinder rotates, the chambers revolve about the cylinder's axis.
The semi-automatic pistol was the next step in the development of the pistol. By avoiding multiple chambers—which need to be individually reloaded—semi-automatic pistols delivered faster rates of fire and required only a few seconds to reload (depending on the skill of the shooter). In blowback-type semi-automatics, the recoil force is used to push the slide back and eject the shell (if any) so that the magazine spring can push another round up; then as the slide returns, it chambers the round. An example of a modern blowback action semi-automatic pistol is the HK VP70.
Target shooting is common in the United States. The most common type of target shooting is bullseye shooting. The shooter uses a still target and aims for a certain point on the target. Most competitive handgun target shooting is done with a .22 or .45 caliber semi-automatic or single-shot pistol. Targets are commonly placed at a distance of 25 and 50 yd from the shooter.
Another type of target shooting is silhouette shooting. Metal targets shaped as silhouettes of animals or other shapes are set up at a distance of 200 m. When the projectile hits the silhouette, the target will spin around its frame, allowing the shooter to know that they scored a hit.
3D printed pistol
The Liberator is a physible, 3D-printable single shot handgun, the first such printable firearm design made widely available online. The open source firm Defense Distributed designed the gun and released the plans on the Internet on May 6, 2013. The plans were downloaded over 100,000 times in the two days before the US Department of State demanded Defense Distributed retract the plans.
- The War Office (UK): Textbook of Small Arms (1929), page 86. H.M. Stationery Office (UK), 1929.
- Karel Titz (1922). Ohlasy husitského válečnictví v Evropě. Československý vědecký ústav vojenský.
- Jarre harmonica pistol
- "Target Shooting." Guns in American Society: An Encyclopedia of History, Politics, Culture and the Law. Santa Barbara: ABC-CLIO, 2003. Credo Reference. Web. 17 September 2012.
- "US government orders removal of Defcad 3D-gun designs". BBC News. Retrieved 13 May 2013.
- Biggs, John. "What You Need To Know About The Liberator 3D-Printed Pistol". TechCrunch. Retrieved 13 May 2013.
- Hutchinson, Lee. "The first entirely 3D-printed handgun is here". Ars Technica. Retrieved 13 May 2013.
- Greenberg, Andy. "3D-Printed Gun's Blueprints Downloaded 100,000 Times In Two Days (With Some Help From Kim Dotcom)". Forbes. Retrieved 13 May 2013.
Media related to Pistol at Wikimedia Commons