A semi-automatic pistol is a type of pistol that is semi-automatic, meaning it uses the energy of the fired cartridge to cycle the action of the firearm and advance the next available cartridge into position for firing. One cartridge is fired each time the trigger of a semi-automatic pistol is pulled; the pistol’s “disconnector” ensures this behaviour.
Additional terms sometimes used as synonyms for a semi-automatic pistol are automatic pistol, self-loading pistol, auto pistol, and autoloading pistol.
A semi-automatic pistol harnesses the energy of one shot to reload the chamber for the next. After a round is fired, the spent casing is ejected and a new round from the magazine is loaded into the chamber, allowing another shot to be fired as soon as the trigger is pulled again. Most pistols use recoil operation to do this, but some pistols use blowback or gas operation.
Most types of semi-automatic pistols rely on a removable magazine to store ammunition before it is fired, usually inserted inside the grip.
Actions: blowback versus locked breech
Self-loading automatic pistols can be divided into “blowback” and “locked breech” categories according to their principle of operation. The blowback operating principle is suitable for smaller, lower-powered calibres, such as .32 ACP and .380 ACP, as the resistance of the recoil spring and mass of the slide are sufficient to retard the opening of the breach until the projectile has left the barrel, and breech pressure has dropped to a safe level. For more powerful calibres such as the 9 mm Parabellum (9 mm) and .45 ACP, some form of locked breech is needed to retard breech opening, as an unlocked blowback pistol in these calibres requires a very heavy slide and stiff spring, making them bulky, heavy, and difficult to operate. A somewhat commercially successful blowback pistol design in the more powerful calibres was produced; the Spanish Astra 400 in 9 mm Largo and the similar Astra 600 in 9 mm Parabellum. U.S. manufacturer Hi-Point also produces a line of blowback-operated pistols in several calibres, including 9 mm and .45 ACP. Virtually all other service-calibre pistols are locked-breech designs.
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Eric Beer | BC Firearm Academy
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