Different types of firearms and what they are used for - We Are The Mighty

Rifles, shotguns, handguns, oh my! Different types of firearms and their uses

Firearms have gone a long way since they were first created. Today, we have firearms made specifically to pierce through armor, for example, or guns with an insanely high rate of fire without overheating.

To make it easy for you to discern what’s what, I decided to break down the different types of firearms, even the exotic ones, and make a short guide on them.

Here are the different types of firearms and what they are used for


Starting with the most basic type of gun, a handgun is any gun with a short barrel. They’re different from all other guns because you can wield a handgun with a single hand (hence the name) and still control it.

If you tried to shoot a shotgun single-handedly, it would most likely fly into the air.

The two basic types of handguns are revolvers and pistols. Among pistols, there are semi-automatic and automatic pistols. 

As the name suggests, automatic pistols are capable of automatic fire – the Israeli Uzi is the most famous example of an automatic pistol.

Semi-automatic pistols can’t fire automatically, but they automatically eject and load new rounds into the barrel. Glock 17 is a popular example of a semi-automatic pistol.

Revolvers, with the Colt Single Action Army as a famous representative, is a handgun with a rotating cylinder feeding the bullets into the barrel.

Handguns usually fire small caliber rounds, with the 9mm being the most popular caliber, and they’re intended for close-quarters combat and hunting small game. 

They’re used by law enforcement and the military (usually as a sidearm).

Sig M17 pistol
A Soldier assigned to U.S. Army Southern European Task Force, Africa engages pop-up targets with an M17 pistol during marksmanship training at Cao Malnisio Range in Pordenone, Italy, Jan. 26, 2021. (U.S. Army photo by Davide Dalla Massara)


Rifles are firearms with long barrels, intended for hunting and long-range shooting with great accuracy.

The first rifles resembling modern-day rifles were invented in 18th-century Kentucky. Around 1740, rifles with grooves inside the barrel started appearing. Gunmakers quickly realized that longer barrels improved accuracy and that grooves within the barrels caused rotation, which kept the round on target.

Since then, we went from a muzzle-loading system to Winchester’s repeating rifle, to modern-day cartridge storage.

Today, there are at least a dozen of different types of rifles and they each deserve their own article, but I’ll break them down very briefly.

Firstly, the two main types of rifles are manual-loading and self-loading rifles. Today, most manufacturers insist on self-loading rifles, among which we have automatic and semi-automatic rifles (some rifles can fire both automatically and semi-automatically).

Regarding purpose, the most common types of rifles are assault rifles, carbine rifles, sniper rifles, various hunting rifles, anti-materiel rifles, and a few obscure and more rare types.

Assault rifles are most often used by the military and law enforcement for medium to long-range engagement with a high rate of fire – the AK47 and the M16 are the most common examples.

m16 types of firearms
M16 rifles sit on a bench at the Custer Sportsmen’s Club in Custer, Wash. (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class George Degener)

Carbine rifles are similar to assault rifles, but they’re lighter and shorter, such as the M4 carbine, making them good for close-quarter engagements.

Sniper rifles are used for long-range engagement and they usually have optics mounted on them – the M24 Sniper Weapon System is a famous example. Some sniper rifles, such as the Remington 700, are used in hunting, but there are also hunting rifles with no optics.


Just like rifles, shotguns also have long barrels, however, they don’t shoot a single round, but a group of small projectiles (called pellets or shells).

This makes them ideal for skeet shooting, hunting, and close-quarters combat.

In hunting, different types of shotguns are used for bird hunting (be it turkey, quail, duck or another species), with the double-barreled shotgun being the most common weapon used.

Shotguns make such good hunting weapons because of their spread. Since the pellets start spreading in a cluster as soon as they leave the barrel, you don’t have to hit the target precisely, but just aim close enough to it.

At close range, shotguns deliver an extremely powerful and dangerous shot, which is why they’re often used by the military and law enforcement, especially in close-quarters combat.

If you try firing them at a longer range, they won’t be as effective because of their spread.

shotgun types of firearms
U.S. Marine Corps Sgt. James Gill with the United States Marine Corps Combat Shooting Team, engages a target during a live fire range. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Staff Sgt. Ezekiel R. Kitandwe/Released)

Machine Guns and Submachine Guns 

Machine guns are large, fully automatic firearms that provide long-range fire at a very high rate of fire. They’re used almost exclusively by the military and law enforcement (although law enforcement rarely uses them).

Because of their sheer power and caliber size, they need to be mounted on a pod for the shooter to retain control. The M134 Mini-gun is the most iconic machine gun today.

Submachine guns are smaller, handheld, fully automatic firearms with a very high rate of fire. The biggest differences between them and machine guns are a more limited range, the size of the weapon itself, and the smaller caliber they use.

The most famous submachine guns are the Thompson submachine gun, the MP5, and the FN P90.

Do Not Sell My Personal Information