Guns in America: Glossary of Terms

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Every week, we'll add terms and definitions used in the gun control debate to this glossary. We'll add more terms each Thursday this month with Paul Barrett, assistant managing editor of Bloomberg Businessweek and author of Glock: The Rise of America's Gun.

Semi-automatic:  A shooter has to pull the trigger each time to fire a shot. "The term refers to the method by which the ammunition is loaded into the firing chamber," Barrett says. "In any semi-automatic gun (and a pistol or handgun can be called semi-automatic) what happens is that the operation of the firing mechanism first ejects the spent casing and then automatically pulls a new round up and places it into the firing chamber so it's ready to go for the next pull of the trigger." A glock, for example, is a semi-automatic weapon. 

Fully automatic: A shooter can keep firing bullets as long as the trigger is kept down. The mechanism which pulls a new round up and places it into the firing chamber is automatic. 

Magazine: Stores ammunition. 

Magazine capacity: How many rounds can the shooter fire without having to reload.

Clip: Fits inside the magazine, and stores multiple rounds together at once. 

Permit/License: Some states and municipalities require anyone wishing to possess a firearm to obtain a license prior to purchase, usually issued through the police department. Background checks and fees pertain. For example, the NYPD issues five types of handgun licenses (premises, carry business, limited carry business, special carry, and carry guard) and also requires a license for rifles and shotguns.

Registration: Ownership of some individual firearms is registered in various national, state and local databases. A national database of gun registrations would allow tracking of all gun purchases in one nationwide database (a "radioactive" gun safety option according to guest Paul Barrett)

Confiscation/Mandatory Buy-Back: New restrictions on gun ownership bring up the question of what to do with existing, legally manufactured and purchased weapons. For example, the U.S. 1994 assault weapons ban grandfathered in all guns manufactured before the law went into effect, while Australia instituted a mandatory buy-back program when they passed their assault weapons ban in 1996.