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A pistol is a type of handgun. Some handgun experts and dictionaries make a technical distinction that views pistols as a subset of handguns; others use the terms interchangeably. 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 does not always make this distinction, particularly when the terms are used by the military. For example, the official designation of the Webley Mk VI revolver was "Pistol, Revolver, Webley, No. 1 Mk VI". In contrast to Merriam-Webster the Oxford English Dictionary (a descriptive dictionary) describes 'pistol' as a small firearm to be used in one hand and the usage of "revolver" as being a type of handgun and gives its original form as "revolving pistol"  For the purposes of this article, revolvers will be treated as a separate type of handgun.
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. One example of a multi-barreled pistol is the Duck's foot pistol, which generally had either four or eight barrels, although some 20th century models had three barrels.
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.
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.
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- "British Dictionary definitions for pistol". Dictionary.com. Retrieved January 19, 2015.
- "Revolver – Definition". Free Merriam-Webster Dictionary. Retrieved January 19, 2015.
- "Revolver – Define Revolver". Dictionary.com. Retrieved January 19, 2015.
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- "revolver, n.". OED Online. December 2014. Oxford University Press. http://www.oed.com/view/Entry/164985 (accessed January 21, 2015)
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- "revolver: definition of revolver". Oxford Dictionaries. Retrieved January 19, 2015.
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- 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.
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